Jackie: Hello and welcome. I always admired people who could make things. From the time I was a girl scout or went to camp, kids who had such a talent for art. Now when I go to craft fairs and see so much handy work, from quilting to embroidery, jewelry making to woodworking. I admire and am fascinated by what people can do, what they can create. My guest today has a unique talent. I bet he was one of those kids who really did well with arts and crafts projects. He is Matthew Rogers of Gloucester. He makes bass guitars from scratch. Matthew, a very warm welcome to you, great to meet you. Matthew, we’ll be talking about the creating project you go through to make your guitars. First, let me ask you of your thought process, how did you come to this and when did you begin focusing on this art of bass guitar making?
Matthew: We are all made differently. It wasn’t until recently that I recognized it was something I had talent for. I have gifts in ways other people aren’t talented, just as they have gifts I don’t have. It is natural for me to be adventurous with murals and venturing the thought to come up with ideas and invent things, imagine things and make them. From murals, to garage, to leftovers. Now being self-employed, you can buy your own materials and bring them to life. Coming to know how you’re made…
Jackie:…how you’re made. Was there a point where you made a decision to do this as a vacation and not a hobby?
Matthew: Being under the radar, it’s interesting. Advertising, why you’re going word of mouth. Time would come and it would bloom. It’s been happening automatically. Committed to making good work and doing everything you can to make instruments, the binding, painting, furniture and all the things I do for clients. Knowing that these instruments have a synthesis. From electrical to carving, to playing music– are the perfect length to all my talents.
Jackie: You’re a graduate of Gordon College. Talk a little of you interests. I know philosophy and theatre, book binding, furniture. What are your passions?
Matthew: I think it narrows down to two. I can list things but to live and be honest with what makes me care of love. Those things you knew you need challenge them. I am trying to live deliberately and seriously. So paint one yourself….
Jackie: And you do it.
Matthew: You do it, it’s just stuff.
Jackie: I see you brought in one of your bass guitars. That’s not just stuff; it’s a work of art. A base guitar with the most beautiful wood. Are there major differences between making guitars and bass guitars
Matthew: The difference is as a player, the guitar is limited by what it could do.
Jackie: Guitars or bass guitars?
Matthew: Guitars, I didn’t get my creative, artistic juices flowing. Suddenly I was thinking: What if we moved it around, put this over here, cut this off, shorten it a little.
Jackie: And that happened with the bass guitar.
Matthew: Oh my goodness, it got me flying, so I just started making them when I was 14 or 15.
Matthew: It its one of those things that gets you created. If you change the tools, you change what you can do musically.
Jackie: Give me an example of that.
Matthew: My musical talent, whatever level it is at, there are people that area better than me of course. We’re all different levels. My musical talent can do what it can do. And the instrument you buy, it can do things. You’re limited by the tool and your talent. Of course in a performance, excitement factors in. But if you can alter the instrument, location of knobs and strings, it changes the dynamics of the instrument. It changes the kind of residence. Longer strings have different response than shorter strings.
Jackie: Those are really technical things, not just the aesthetics.
Matthew: Aesthetics matter; you want to hold it and squeeze it and enjoy doing. It is the blend of art and utter freethinking, taken for granted. Any store wall, you see the same instrument. Take for granted, the Spanish guitar mixed with the Hawaiian guitar. Recognize our assumptions, rethink those things.
Jackie: So you do things that would make a difference in the sound. Handmade versus factory-made guitars, what is the most glaring difference; aesthetics and structurally?
Matthew: One of the most humorous distinctions knowing it was made or made just for you. The size of your hand, length of your arm, type of music you play. Those are fine tuning things you can’t get on the shelf. When you take how you play and you’re raw and honest of what to say. Custom is the area where you say what if and play higher stuff.
Length of neck affects the sound and width of fingers that spread. I like playing a faster, more melodic. I would prefer a shorter neck, narrower spaces so fingers can move faster. I make 30” necks, it’s a scale length, makes for faster playing for me, makes the instrument explode. If other people like a different length, that is what brings them out.
Jackie: Do you model your guitars after any factory made instrument? Can you translate any particular aspect of guitars into your own process?
Matthew: I think we all learn to play instruments on instruments. When we have existing conditions of these instruments, they’re there for very good reason; it has to be able to sit on your lap, be able to be close to you body.
Jackie: So you don’t change things just for the sake of doing things?
Matthew: There are reasons these things exist. So I found as I was letting myself go. You find people that are already doing that. It comes out of a fresh part of you. You have to except and enjoy it. There are ideas I have for instruments that I need patens for. I ran into a technical wall, needing those ideas to be protected. I know some other companies are trying to develop the same idea.
Jackie: You do need to paten them.
Matthew: That’s a very different process from just making things and selling them. You can have them stolen or copied.
Jackie: That’s the reality of art. It’s not probably your favorite part.
Matthew: It’s enjoyable but it takes a lot of time. Bought brand new building, empty space built all second floor, molding, to make an environment that is gorgeous. I make all my own tools.
Jackie: You make own tools!!
Matthew: You start over, start fresh, make what want to use.
Jackie: Do you buy anything?
Matthew: I buy materials.
Jackie: What about wood for guitars?
Matthew: It can come from other people’s scrap lumber yards, trees taken down. It’s just wood. It’s just metal. It takes longer to make some parts machines do well. You don’t need to make some parts, the electrical magnetic pick up. You can buy fine pickups.
Jackie: We’re talking about the fabrication of bass guitars. Matthew, can you take us through the basic steps to begin and finish one of your base guitars, just so we get a sense of sequence of what you do?
Matthew: Think of what the instruments capable of or what it could be capable of. Something you’d like to play, then think of an instrument that could pull it off. Design work on paper, location of items.
Jackie: So before you pick up materials at all you have that all in your head and on paper.
Matthew: Then you begin with the aesthetics, the beauty of the wood, and the shape of the instrument, carved she’ll pattern in the top horn. Website is Wallpusher.com
Jackie: So people can see the shape and wood. They’re just beautiful.
Matthew: You start with aesthetics and blend those two. You’re limited by shape of guitar, thickness of wood. Fit into dimensions, the physical limitations inside this piece of wood. Can you carve it? Fit into space you have? Sometimes you have to rethink some things. Everything is done by hand, unless I can avoid it. Large machines good for getting work swiftly done.
Jackie: How do you get the wood? Many different shades, meshed perfectly together?
Matthew: When lay out wood, find something beautiful.
Jackie: Then start with hardware
Matthew: We glue it together, have rough shape. Rest if shaping it by hand, treat like carving work of art.
Jackie: What can’t you do by hand?
Matthew: Things like ban saw, cuts straight down like laser cutting down very versatile; cuts curves, if not; use hand saw. Larger saws still achieve work, but saw is time saver.
Jackie: Talking about time, what is the time frame for making a guitar?
Matthew: I can make them very quickly, in 1 week; give self month or more depending on parameters. Fun and simple process for me to carve, easy like breathing. Difficult in cerebral process where really trying to invent new things and answer questions. That can take a lot longer. That can take years to explore an idea. In terms of actually fabricating a piece, you’re only limited by time.
Jackie: Do you work by yourself?
Matthew: No, I delight in community. Trying to hire people is difficult. People have woodworking experience but not in etching, metal, lapidary
Jackie: Have facilities to do anything?
Matthew: Why don’t you look for retirees? Skills not commonplace. That’s what I would love to hire.
Jackie: Materials you use…woods generally use. Reason prefer one to another, or matter of taste?
Matthew: Denser woods reflect sound differently. Reasons why newer spruce is inferior to older denser, higher grain. Hard to get stuff. Instrument makers look for wood
Jackie: Do you use same wood for body and neck of instrument?
Matthew: Debate over neck should be solid. When a string is played, is vibration, movement of air, electrical current down the wire, pushes another magnet, pushes air, ear pick up, ea r is another speaker.
Do you want body to vibrate? Hollow is hard to vibrate. Solid absorbs some. Different vibrations.
Jackie: These are kinds of questions you ask to get preferences.
Matthew: Total virginity to type of sound coming out.
Jackie: How does size affect guitar? What’s normal?
Matthew: Bass guitars have 12 strings, concept that has audible range from low to high. Reason for stopping arms length; is it audible useful notes (play but no hear, only feel). Decimal can make house vibrate, but don’t hear sound.
Jackie: Can go to extremes.
Matthew: Yes, still want to hear.
Jackie: Who do you most admire?
Matthew: I love music, things that make jump, has exuberance for life, first to run and climb. Can criticize music all want but for me, best to be allowed to be me, things that potentially only I can do.
Jackie: How relate?
Matthew: Can see his influences immediately, for him, music was fresh, rhythmic, punchy, and very creative. Whole experience is what can do with item.
Jackie: You are talented guy. Terrific to hear of specialized field. Must feel incredibly good when completed instrument.
Matthew: When I finish something, I can get on to next thing, move on, and let myself sleep.
In fine arts, when make something, can edit self to death. My job is to make something and let others tell what means.
Jackie: …and judge.
(Transcribed by Chrissy Bongiorni)