Who invented The Low-B 5-string bass? Anthony Jackson is widely recognized as the first to extend the bass guitar’s range via a low B and a high C on his 6-string contrabass guitar, which he conceived of in 1972, and first had built by Carl Thompson in 1975. That same year in Minneapolis, Jimmy Johnson had the idea for a low B 5-string inspired by the C-extension on his father’s orchestral upright, and Alembic built him a custom 5 that was the first of its kind. Not long after, Vinny Fodera pondered the idea while working on a contrabass for Jackson.
Trained by classical-guitar guru Thomas Humphrey, Vinny had begun to build basses in Stuart Spector’s shop in 1977. Three years later, Ken Smith hired Spector to make instruments for him; Vinny was put in charge of the operation. In 1981 he left Spector to work exclusively for Smith, which was when he first encountered Jackson, who had hired Smith to build his second contra-bass. In 1983, Vinny decided it was time to set up shop on his own, and he partnered with bassist Joey Lauricella to open Fodera Guitars. One of their early projects was building what would become the first of a series of contrabasses for Jackson. “We had to figure out how to implement a low B string,” Vinny says, “but Joey and I realized that many bassists might find the 6-string daunting. Maybe a 5-string would be more approachable.” That thought led to the Fodera Monarch 5-string, which was probably the first production-model low-B 5-string on the market.
“We had gotten the same idea independently [of Jimmy Johnson],” says Vinny. “We had no knowledge of what he had done. Back in those days, Joey and I were stimulated by the idea of doing something different. We enjoyed seeing if we could come up with something better.”
That creative philosophy has led to many more innovations at Fodera Guitars. One example: Responding to another request from Anthony Jackson, Fodera built the first single-cut contra-bass in 1989, a design that has been much admired—and much copied. “Other builders have come up with their own versions, and that’s wonderful,” says Vinny, “but some people may have forgotten the origin of that design.” Victor Wooten has been another key customer, beginning with the Monarch 4-string he received in Fodera’s first year (#37) and through a number of subsequent instruments, including his trademark yin-yang bass. “Victor has challenged us with many creative requests,” says Vinny. “His genius and sheer virtuosity have excited and inspired us to build ever-better instruments worthy of him.”
While custom basses are still the heart of Fodera’s business, the company’s line has expanded to include the Standard Series. “We make them all in our Brooklyn shop, in small batches, with few options,” says Vinny. “That way, we can keep the price down and satisfy more of our customer base. That helps us to continue to produce the more innovative custom pieces. One helps the other.”
Perhaps the most exciting of Fodera Guitars’ recent creations are its Hybrid basses. “Some years ago, I had an idea for an acoustic guitar that had a different construction form. I found that no one had come up with this before, so we applied for and received a patent. I adapted some of the ideas from that into a semi-hollow bass we built for Matt Garrison, and then fully implemented the concept in a bass we built for Anthony Jackson. It has a unique internal structure that gives the bass an incredible character—very different from anything else that’s out there.” Vinny explains that the Hybrid has tone characteristics of both acoustic and electric instruments, thus the name. The Fodera website shows several versions, including the Anthony Jackson Presentation II, the Emperor II Hybrid, and the Yin Yang II Hybrid. “Right now, they’re hard to build and expensive,” says Vinny, “but we’re working on making them more affordable.”
Despite the uncertainties of the musical-instrument market, Fodera Guitars has remained on course for 35 years, resisting takeovers and solidifying its business. Nine years ago, Jason DeSalvo came on as the third partner, bringing financial acumen as well as enthusiasm for playing bass. “That’s been great for us,” says Vinny. “I’m still glued to my bench. I love building, and that’s what I do. Having Jason on board has allowed us to grow the business and keep going forward.”
For more about Fodera basses, go to fodera.com.
Jim Roberts was the founding editor of Bass Player and also served as the magazine’s publisher and group publisher. He is the author of How the Fender Bass Changed the World and American Basses: An Illustrated History & Player’s Guide (both published by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard).