Brooklyn's Fodera Guitars is in a cinematically rundown warehouse district on the Red Hook waterfront. One needn’t squint hard to picture a pair of thugs in a beat-up Crown Vic rolling up on a misty night to unload their unlucky cargo. The creepiness continues as one makes their way up to Fodera’s upperfloor workspace; imagine flickering fluorescents and indeterminate stains on the concrete floors. But being buzzed through Fodera’s heavy steel door is like a sudden rainbow after rain: the place is brimming with life and beauty—the opposite of its dreary surroundings.
Fodera is among the most well regarded boutique builders, for good reason. Its stunning instruments show obvious care and expertise. It’s not beauty for its own sake, but rather Fodera wants to make musical instruments that inspire unimpeded expression. Their heavy-hitter endorser list reinforces Fodera’s success (Victor Wooten, Anthony Jackson, Matthew Garrison, and Richard Bona are just some of its top-flight enthusiasts). The hitch for us normal folk, however, is the Fodera custom-shop’s exorbitant prices. While the prices vary greatly depending on the model and Fodera’s extensive option list, in general, think of the price of a late-model compact car, and you’re in the ballpark. Let’s say you can muster the money; well, get ready for a nearly two-year wait list for a custom bass.
Needless to say, there are barriers to Fodera ownership. Fortunately, this is not lost on Vinnie Fodera, Joey Lauricella, and Jason DeSalvo, the men behind the brand. Beginning in 1994, Fodera sought to bring more of its instruments to the masses with its NYC line of J-Style bolt-ons. Yet, over time, Fodera realized that its customers wanted a more affordable version of its custom-shop basses, not an entirely different instrument with unique hardware, pickups, neck profile, etc.. Thus, the new NYC-series basses are much more like their custom-shop counterparts. Among the many similarities are the neck profiles, bridges, pickups, and hardware. The stock preamp is designed to sound similar to the customshop preamp, and the custom-shop Michael Pope-designed preamp is available as an upgrade. Perhaps most important, Fodera uses the same woods for its NYC line as for its custom line. The big cost savings come in production: the NYC’s body and neck woods are sent to Japan and carved by Fodera-trained luthiers in six-instrument batches. Final assembly, fretwork, and electronics installation are done in the New York shop.
Fodera sent a pair of top-of-the-line NYCs for testing. The 5’er includes upgrades like dual-coil pickups, a three-piece angled headstock, a deluxe 5A quilted maple top, and the Pope preamp. The NYC-4’s upgrades from stock include a figured top and the Pope preamp.
Each bass was exquisitely constructed and exuded a high-end attention to detail. The only fault was a loose pickup screw on the 5, which I remedied with a quick tightening. The finishes were stunning, bringing out the woods’ three-dimensional figure and showing no blemishes. Ergonomics were comfortable for both, although the 5 is on the heavy side. The necks were also comfortable, with shallow-C profiles and relatively flat radii. I found the 5’s string spacing a bit wide along the neck, but that’s somewhat adjustable at the bridge, and it certainly made for comfortable and precise slapping. The electronics assembly and construction was top-notch, and each piece of hardware was solidly installed and of a high quality.
The NYC-5 and 4 are two entirely different animals, so I’ll discuss each separately. With all the controls set flat on the 5, the overriding impression was one of richness and evenness—a quality suggested by the bass’s big acoustic tone. Top to bottom, the NYC speaks with a well-textured and precise voice that’s balanced across the frequency spectrum. Note-to-note consistency is extraordinary. The open B had excellent pitch definition, and this characteristic continued up the fingerboard all the way to the 24-fret bass’s highest G. The pickups-blended slap tone was superbly modern and hi-fi sounding. Slaps were thick and throaty and pops sizzled without being grating. Rolling on the bridge pickup made for a mellifluous soloistic sound, particularly when the treble control was backed off a bit to tame the highs. Soloing the neck pickup rounded out the sound, adding a touch of hollowness to the mids and a wood-y bark to a fingerstyle approach. In a band context, the bass spoke with authority and presence—it was particularly ideal for R&B, jazz, and other contemporary styles that call for full-bodied bass support that has good seperation in a dense mix.
The NYC 4 was much more J-Bass-like than the 5, due in no small part to its custom-wound single-coil J-style pickups. It shared the 5’s evenness and balance through the range, but spoke with a more aggressive and furry voice. Its blended pickup tone is a bit thinner, with a more hollowed-out midrange response when slapped, and its bridge-pickup-soloed tone was pure Jaco, with burpiness and authority in spades. Even though the pretty bass seemed ill-suited to down-and-dirty rocking, digging in with a pick yielded a strong and mean-sounding grind that’d be perfect for more assertive contexts. Just like the 5, the 4 had a rich and gorgeous midrange texture— a quality I found that best emerged once I rolled down the treble a bit.
The Fodera NYC basses are tough to fault. They’re beautifully built, sound superb, and are blessed with a wide variety of tones that seem incapable of sounding bad. Having not spent too much time with Foderas in the past—but being well aware of their reputation—I have to say, I get it. They are absolutely killing basses.
Pros Top-notch construction; excellent, versatile, well-balanced tone
Pros Great J-style tone with an aggressive edge; excellent construction
String spacing at bridge 19mm
Weight NYC-5, 10 lbs; NYC-4, 8.6 lbs
Made in Japan and U.S.A.
Warranty Five years on woodwork; one year on parts and electronics