THE 1970s WERE A HEADY TIME FOR electric bassists and bass builders alike. The musical and technical innovations of the ’60s had been absorbed into the mainstream, and the dawn of the decade saw the bass taking an increasingly large role in the direction of contemporary music—even before disco hit in the mid ’70s. During this same time a new generation of builders began to spread their wings as well, and by the end of the decade many forces were at work to reinvent and refine not only the role of the bass, but the instrument itself.
Stuart Spector was one of those drawn to bass building in the mid ’70s. As he put it, his initial desire was “to build something I couldn’t afford to buy.” Before long, he was sharing space in a woodworking collective in Brooklyn, and in partnership with Allan Charney, Spector Guitars was born in 1975. A chance meeting with furniture designer and builder Ned Steinberger in 1976 proved to be a pivotal moment for both men, and for bass players as well. Ned became interested in musical instrument design and soon offered to design something for Spector as an experiment.
His first attempt was a home run, and became known as the NS-2. The innovative curved body shape made for ease of playing and the neck through design simplified the construction process as well, as the carved body sides were attached as “wings” to the neck. The original version, which came out in 1977, featured a reverse P-style and J-style pickup configuration. It was an instant hit in the bass world, and has been used consistently by many prominent players ever since.
In 1982, Spector began making a bolton version of NS-2, using a deep-set neck pocket for stability. This 1983 NS-2JA, which once belonged to bass icon Willie Weeks and is owned by Spector enthusiast Kirk Eberhard, was one of the first dozen bolt-ons to come out of the factory. It is surprisingly light, and the body’s gently curved shape and slim, fast neck makes it feel very natural to play. The NS-2J has a distinctive tone— even, punchy and focused, with an articulate upper midrange that you can also hear when you play it acoustically. It has no apparent dead spots, and the sustain is surprising for a bolton instrument; the heavy-duty Leo Quan Badass Bridge no doubt contributes in that department. The two EMG J-style pickups and Hazlab preamp, with active treble and bass controls, give some amount of variation, but the basic essence of its sweet sound comes through no matter what the settings. The action, set-up, and fretwork are still great some 27 years later, and you can bend the strings up a full tone and more without the notes fretting out.
A lot of top bassists have turned to the NS-2, from Doug Wimbish and Garry Tallent (E Street Band) to Mike Inez and Quintin Berry (the Ugli Stick). This bass defined “ergonomic” years before the term was common, and its body shape has certainly inspired more than a few other bass designs. Stuart Spector finally regained the legal rights to use the Spector name in 1998 (after Spector was sold to Kramer Musical Instruments in the ’80s), and he continues to build an increasing variety of quality basses both here and abroad. He and NS Design’s Ned Steinberger are both still going strong after all this time, and so is their first brainchild, the NS-2, which has proven itself over the past 30 years to be a modern classic.