Pedulla Guitars 40th Anniversary Interview With Michael Pedulla
Article by Eric Larson, © Copyright 2015 FretlessBass.com
For the past forty years the sound of Pedulla basses has been embedded in music of all genres. From Anne Murray to Eagles to Kiss. From Lynyrd Skynyrd to Elton John to Brooks & Dunn. From Mark Egan to Tim Landers to countless other players, Pedulla basses have been heard all over the world. If Michael Pedulla hadn’t combined his love for music, woodworking, and engineering in a small guitar shop near Boston in 1975, who knows how that music may have suffered? How would the musicians have been different, lacking the unique inspiration of a Pedulla, had he not committed his passions to building the best basses possible without compromise? Fortunately, as we enter into the year 2015, answers to those questions are not something to be pondered.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask Michael a few questions about the last 40 years, from the humble beginnings, to the equally as humble present day, and what tomorrow may hold.
FB: Congratulations on 40 years making Pedulla guitars. You have spoken about how you had worked on one of Jaco’s basses in the 1970’s, that Mark Egan brought in to your shop, and how the idea of using something instead of epoxy entered your mind, if you ever made a bass yourself. Mark had told us in an interview about how Jaco gave him that bass. What was it like to examine and work on one of Jaco’s basses?
Michael Pedulla: Of course I was happy to work on a “Jaco” bass, huge fan (who wasn’t) but I must say, looking over the bass I saw huge room for improvement, not only on basses in general, but specifically fretless bass. At the time, fretless bass was an afterthought; just yank the frets out of a fretted bass. I treated the fretless as a separate instrument and got to work on the design and execution of the BUZZ bass. Looking back, I feel very lucky to be part of that time when bass players were taking the bass to new places, and needed instruments that would allow them to do so. It was not only the fretless, but fretted bass had new demands, both on the player and the instrument. For example, about the same time, Tim Landers was playing with Al Dimeola and was required to play Al’s guitar riffs with him on the bass. This required extended range (24 frets as opposed to the existing 21, and a whole bunch of chops), more even tone, easier neck facility and action, and had to cut through the mix without getting lost. Which is why the MVP and Buzz were both 24-fret neck-through basses. It was fun.
FB: After that, I understand that you made two fretless prototypes, one for Mark Egan and one for Tim Landers. Were those the first fretless basses that you made? If not, what was the first fretless bass that you made from scratch, and do you know if it still exists somewhere? Do those two prototype basses still exist, and have you ever had them back in the shop to be worked on?
Michael Pedulla: Both Mark and Tim still have them; I have done no further work on them. I did other prototypes as experiments before the basses I made for Tim and Mark, but I do not have them, they were not what I wanted, so as I normally do to this day, they were destroyed.
FB: Mark has mentioned you many times over the years I have been in contact with him. Do you still keep in touch with Mark and Tim?
Michael Pedulla: Yes, we are in touch and I see them, I just spent time with Tim at the 2015 NAMM show. I have also been to Mark’s new studio and recorded videos which appear on our website. I cannot say enough good things about them, both as people and musicians.
FB: Do you have many of your earlier creations still or were they all sold?
Michael Pedulla: I still have a few.
FB: Are there any basses that you have regretted selling and wish you could have back?
Michael Pedulla: No, never. I endeavor to instill life and energy to each and every instrument I build. They are tools with a life to lead. So no, I am happy to pass them on. I have never regretted selling any of them. My pleasure is in building the next one.
FB: Aside from your time in the mid 1980’s to late 1990’s as a larger shop with a bigger team, how have things changed, comparing yourself today, a one-man builder with the one-man builder 40 years ago?
Michael Pedulla: I like having the experience, knowledge, tools and skill that I did not have 40 years ago (although many of my shop tools are reaching that age). The actual “business” of selling basses has changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet and social media. Back then, basses sold on their merit alone. People could not make false claims, you could not reach a million people to promote your product or bash someone else’s without the huge expense of print advertising, and it just was not part of the times. It all just seemed more honest and personal, seemed to be more about the bass and music rather than marketing and self-promotion. Luckily for me, Christine tends to all business aspects, allowing me to happily build basses without distraction. It doesn’t get better than that. I do miss some of the excitement of breaking new ground back then, taking on new challenges and providing innovation where there had been none for decades. However, there is always room for improvement with anything, which I work at with every bass I build. All in all, today is great, just different. It’s still a great industry to work in and our dealers and customers are a pleasure to work with.
FB: How has the change in technology over the past four decades (computers, machinery, tools, electronics) affected your bass making?
Michael Pedulla: Not in the least. Most of my major machinery is nearing 40 years old but is like new because I had bought high quality products and make an effort to keep them well maintained. A musician’s instrument is his tool to create, to provide pleasure, and often to earn a living. If you are serious about something, you buy the best, the most high performance, and it will allow you to express yourself without constraint and meet all demands of the profession. A good bass transcends all fads, hype, “trends”, and is inevitably expensive (the old adage you get what you pay for holds true). It will perform any task you ask of it if you are good enough, and will last lifetimes if properly maintained and cared for. That’s exactly how I feel about my tools. Like playing a great instrument, I take great pleasure in my tools, they are my treasure, they always perform up to my skill level, and the next, and the next. I have no use for CNC machinery; they are for mass production by unskilled hands, not making instruments as I define an instrument. I take very seriously that each Pedulla bass guitar has my name on it. That has kept me from ever having any import models, and more recently, brought me to returning to making every single bass 100% myself.
FB: How has the availability or scarceness of wood changed over the years, and how has it affected your business or your basses?
Michael Pedulla: Good wood is still available; the key is having suppliers who know your needs.
FB: How much different is your approach making a fretless bass, in comparison to a fretted bass? Are they similar or completely different?
Michael Pedulla: The instruments have different purposes, they sound different, and there is a difference in the playing technique. Therefore, my approach to design and execution of the two is different.
FB: Has your process for making a fretless bass changed much over the last four decades?
Michael Pedulla: It has simply evolved. As you gain experience, knowledge, and skill, you can always do things better. I still use a rasp and files and feel while carving a neck.
FB: What is the percentage of basses built as fretless presently, and has it changed much over the years?
Michael Pedulla: About 30% of sales are fretless, and has averaged that over the years.
FB: Tell me more about the evolution of the polyester fingerboard finish. What other finishes did you experiment with?
Michael Pedulla: I experimented with epoxy, lacquers (from nitrocellulose to a catalytic lacquer), and urethanes.
FB: What inspired you to try polyester?
Michael Pedulla: I spoke to a chemical engineer and after describing my intended use of finish on a fretless bass and some of the problems I foresaw using epoxy, he suggested what was then a relatively new and untried finish. Polyester, unlike epoxy, retains flexibility when cured. Polyester can be applied as a much thinner coating, the SWAD number was high (it’s about 80% as hard as glass), was more lustrous, and provides a superior vapor barrier. The flexibility is important on wood; it means the finish will “give”, rather than chip away, not to mention the fact that wood expands and contracts with swings in humidity to some extent. It also means that it is less apt to crack due to temperature swings. A thin durable coat of polyester allows the finger board wood to “color” the sound, protects the fingerboard from string “grooving” (which can eventually result in a very costly fingerboard replacement), and adds sustain and growl without sacrificing the low end. After some trials, which worked out well, I started using polyester as a clear coat on the entire bass.
FB: How has your polyester process evolved over the decades?
Michael Pedulla: My process has changed; the entire finish process has changed substantially over the past 5 years. It actually takes about 30% longer than it used to and results in a much better finish.
FB: Has the finished product changed much over the years?
Michael Pedulla: Yes, absolutely. The build is better, the feel is better, the look, longevity, finish, hardware and electronics are all better. As I grew, so did the basses. Older to newer is night and day to me.
FB: Have you ever built an acoustic fretless or upright bass? Is that something you that interests you?
Michael Pedulla: I have not. I did build a number of acoustic guitars in the early years. It has always interested me, but I have had my hands full filling orders for the existing models.
FB: Do you yourself play fretless bass or other instruments regularly, aside from in the shop?
Michael Pedulla: These days I don’t seem to have time to play much of anything. Over the years I have played bass, guitar, and piano. I began as a classically trained violinist. Better builder than player.
FB: What do you like to do when you are not building basses?
Michael Pedulla: I love to solo backpack, take pictures, and fly, none of which of which I do often enough.
FB: Do you think you’ll ever retire?
Michael Pedulla: Yes, one day I will. I don’t know when that will be, but I do know that I will begin cutting back on production somewhat this year and each year in the future in order to have time to do some other things.
FB: Looking back over the last 40 years, what are you most proud of?
Michael Pedulla: Pride is a difficult one for me. Pride in accomplishment is fleeting, as I am never fully satisfied with any achievement for very long, it fades very quickly. It matters more to me what I am doing in the moment, what I do next, and that I am able to do it better than yesterday.
A big thank you to Michael and Christine for this interview and congratulations on this milestone! Innovation, quality, integrity, and a focus on the present day, every day, always striving, always improving, always putting the music first, are all critical factors in four decades of success for Pedulla basses. Please visit www.pedulla.com for more info.