Meet Your Maker: Carey Nordstrand Of Nordstrand Guitars

GOOGLE THE NAME NORDSTRAND and two companies come up—one dedicated to guitars, and the other to pickups.
Publish date:
Updated on

Welcome to “Meet Your Maker,” a series dedicated to bringing you closer to the individuals behind the instruments that inspire us.

GOOGLE THE NAME NORDSTRAND and two companies come up—one dedicated to guitars, and the other to pickups. At the head of both sits Carey Nordstrand. Since his company’s launch in 2003, an increasing number of guitar companies have begun offering Nordstrand pickups in their instruments. The growing demand for his electronics, however, has not kept Carey from building basses. In fact, in many ways his success with pickup design has allowed him to refocus his attention on his original goals with bass design. The result has led to renewed creativity at Nordstrand Guitars, both for its founder and its mission.


His parents’ turntable provided Carey with his first inspiration to create music. As age seven, he remembers sitting between their large stereo speakers and playing the Bee Gees at full volume, attending carefully to all the instruments. Thus inspired, in fourth grade he picked up the saxophone and began his musical training. After his seventh-grade year, his family relocated from Minnesota to Alaska—a transition that proved difficult for the young Nordstrand. “When we moved, I was totally alone and depressed,” he recalls. “Around that time I started listening to Phil Collins and Genesis, and I really connected with the music.” For Nordstrand, this connection marked the beginning of an emotional commitment to creating music. When he and his family moved to Riverside, California after high school, Carey formally commenced his own musical journey.

Interestingly, that path took an unexpected turn at a local Kenny G concert, where Carey found himself paying more attention to the bass guitar than the wind instruments. “At one point, everybody left the stage except bassist Vail Johnson and the drummer. They started playing some funk tunes, and I was blown away. I had no idea you could do that with a bass, and I soon started thinking about getting one.” The next year he attended the University of California, Riverside, and joined the jazz band. But when it disbanded that same year, he traded in his saxophone for a bass. He also decided that the structured education of the university didn’t fi t him well, and he enrolled in the Grove Center for Contemporary Music, where he focused on studio work as a player and engineer.

Working part time at a studio in Anaheim, Carey started hanging out with a local music store owner who was working on a travel-style guitar. Nordstrand began to provide his input into the design process and before long found himself producing the Traveler Guitar series. Although he enjoyed the work, he yearned for more inspiring projects. “I was frustrated with the lack of creativity in mass producing such a small guitar,” he recalls. “I wanted to build my own instruments.” To that end, in 1996 he began working on electric uprights for Steve Azola, and then later legendary guitar builder John Suhr in 1998. Around 2002, he started building various instruments on his own and, thanks to an active website and TalkBass discussion boards, received a number of orders. In 2003, he purchased a Tanac winding machine and began building his own pickups alongside his instruments. “I was always building basses during this time,” he says, “but we started getting well known for our pickups, and the orders just kept coming in.”

The high volume of pickup orders allowed him to continue to design and build instruments, and thus the Nordy Bass was born—a vintage-inspired J-style bass well received by players and critics alike. Spending the last few years juggling bass and pickup orders, however, has led Carey to modify his building schedule. He plans to continue to produce Nordys on a custom basis, but otherwise will be building according to his own designs and desires as a player. “The whole idea is to give myself the time and space to walk into my workshop and say, ‘What do I want to make today?’” He’s built some fantastic instruments over the past year and argues that the best ones have come about as a result of allowing for creative space. Such space is hard to fi nd with a tight schedule, but Carey is committed to finding ways to free up more time to explore and experiment with bass designs.

Nordstrand’s most recent bass creations speak to a departure from his past Fender-inspired instruments. Boasting sleek curves, access to the upper registry, and exotic woods, Carey’s current NX model is a manifestation of his earliest bass designs, which he tabled some years ago in favor of ones that were more mainstream. “Life has a way of beating the creativeness out of you,” he says. “I’ve always had extreme resistance to that.” This return to his creative roots can be seen in a variety of current projects—not just ones that concern bass. His workshop includes a recording studio, complete with bass, drums, guitars, and high-end preamps (some built by him). On any given day, Carey will venture out from his workshop into the studio to work on music, and his interest in recording has led him to explore audio component construction. “For some time, I’ve had this idea for ‘Nordstrand Audio.’ I could see making a full line of audio gear—preamps, EQs, compressors, and whatever else I can think of.” While he doesn’t have formal training in electronics, Carey’s friends in the industry have provided him the necessary technical guidance, and his EQ DI pedal that debuted at the Winter 2012 NAMM show indicates his seriousness with this mission.

But Carey’s interest in recording doesn’t end there. “I want to communicate my experience through music, so I’ve been composing a lot lately,” he says. “I would also love to start a record label and help other artists find their own spark of originality.” If such goals sound farfetched, it’s worth mentioning that one of Carey’s early jobs after college was working at Devonshire Sound in North Hollywood, where Green Day mixed its major-label debut, Dookie. “New things move and stir you,” says Carey. “As much as I can, I want to try and create as much as possible.” With his growing list of potential projects, it doesn’t look like he will be at a loss for ideas.

Although a multi-instrumentalist— he plays drums, guitar, bass, and saxophone—Carey Nordstrand has focused his creative energy over the last decade toward the bass community, and it looks like he plans to continue to build with an eye toward low-end instruments. Along the way, he’s working hard to follow his own advice for musicians: “Produce one creative thing every day, no matter what it is.” A lofty goal, perhaps, but one that will surely benefit his future endeavors.

Builder Carey Nordstrand
Location Redlands, CA
Price range $3,400–$8,500
Mission To build basses that inspire rewarding musical journeys
Notable players Al Turner, Bruce Stone, Howard Ulyate, Stew McKinsey