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This issue we talk with George Furlanetto, creator and owner of F Basses of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. The F Bass was actually the first 'boutique' bass I was aware of in the late 70's/early 80's. At the time I 'discovered' Furlanetto basses, the shop had a large inventory of basses in different colors, finishes,  with models of both fretted, fretless, 4, 5 and six string. 

However, if you drop by the store front these days, the small shop on McKinstry Street has 2 actual F Basses on the racks. The rest of the instruments in the store are used copies of other manufacturers, probably acting as trade-ins towards what many bassists believe to be one of the absolute aristocrats of bass. Who can blame them? 

Over the years George has built a reputation that stretches around the world, so much so that he finds it impossible to fill those racks as in days of old  with F Basses. He has the pleasant pain of being too good at his job for his own good!  In this article we will feature some great photos of an incredible line of instruments and some words from this thoughtful and unprepossessing man. 

Global:   What year did you actually get started at this and what prompted you to get into luthier work to begin with?

George:   It was around `76. I liked working with my hands. I fixed a few friends guitars and from there it bloomed. I did repairs from `69 to `76, well, I still do repairs, but mainly until `76 when I started up my own business. 

GB:   With the reduced in-store inventory, this indicates to me there's not such a focus on walk-in trade anymore. 

George:  Um, I guess not, because it's spread from local to worldwide. It's much more comfortable that way because your customer base is huge. 

GB:  Would you say that most of your marketing & promotion is done by word-of-mouth?

George:  We do some advertising, but not a whole lot. We always take advantage of any write ups. Also the pro's speak to the pro's. We try to hit the elite, finding some high profile players that suit our instrument and visa versa.

GB:  Alain Caron immediately comes to mind. Would you say he is pretty well your highest profile endorser at this point in time?

George:  He's also our big R & D (research and development) guy right now. 

GB:  Where did the original body shape for the F Bass come from?

George:  I just based it on your classic body style, then developed it and stylized it. For accessibility and comfort.

GB:   It does not look like a J-Bass or a P-Bass.

George:   No, not at all!

GB:  For your woods, do you go hunting for them or do you have suppliers in place?

George:  Again, we've established a lot of the processes where it's known what's required. But I also go out and scout and if I find some choice pieces I will collect them, either for myself personally or just to keep on hand, to make some choice pieces.

GB:   Are you self-taught when it comes to woods or did you attend a luthier as an apprentice?

George:   No, back then there was nothing!  The book I started from was Irving Zloans classic guitar building, that was the only one available on the market. 

GB:     You have used ebony wooden bridges on many of your basses, in fact it's been on your fretless basses for years. 

George:   It think our first fretless bridge was metal and the second one was wood. It was that fast, but then I was only building one or two a year! It gives it a more 'woody' sound. Also by getting the strings through the body to move the body a little more. 

GB:    What kinds of woods do you tend to learn towards, or will any exotic blend do at all?

George:  No, the woods do have a great deal of influence on the final tone. We collect specific types for both fretted and fretless. There are some combinations that are not in the pamphlet but which you can order. We do those occasionally. Some wood that people choose may not have any bottom end in them. We're making basses here! You can dial it out, but you can't dial it in.
(via tone controls)

GB:    As long as I can think back you have always favored pickup covers that match the finish of the instrument they are built for. Is the pickup cover made of wood or plastic?

George: It's made of wood. So also is the back plate. We use as much out of the wood as possible just for aesthetics . I've always wanted to make pickups 'disappear'. I've never really like that big black thing in the middle of a nice piece of wood.

GB:    You have had some truly inventive and beautiful finishes on these basses over the years. Did you develop some of these?

George:  No, it was Mike Spicer our head repair guy. Way back then he was the finishing guy. He would come up to me and say, "Hey, look at this!". He was just fooling around with finishes.

GB:    What was your first bass like?

George:  I really don't remember. The first thing I built was a guitar and the first bass came off in `78. What prompted me into building was that a guy came through from Connecticut, he was a traveling musician. We just kind of hit it off really well, the chemistry of our friendship was superb. He started coming up here from Connecticut and started building guitars. They were his forte. 

GB:  As a bass player yourself you are still actively involved in playing, correct? Are you ever aware of having to play down who you are to avoid you getting some hotshot 16-year-old coming up that wants to start a guitar war? Face it, as the builder of one of the finer basses in this world, at least to these kids, that means you should probably either be so good or so busy in the industry that all will take their hat off to you. If you are not, the pressure will still be there. Agreed or not? I don't really know the level of player you are.

George:  I'm horrible! I am an amateur.

GB:   Have you ever dealt with anybody who says you...

George:   ...play like shit, you mean?

GB:  Well I know I'm no Stanley Clarke.

George:  Yeah, I actually do play like shit. I have a bad sense of timing without much rhythm. Our drummers not that good either. The only dressing down I get is from our musical director in our band. He likes to say, "You really don't play that well, do ya?" We recently did some recording and when I heard the playback I was saying, "I play like that? Here and I thought I was gettin' better!!!  And I probably have, so you can imagine what I was like a couple of years ago."

GB:   When we were talking the other day, I got the impression that in spite of the fact that your basses are known and respected around the world, there is a part of you that wants to reach farther, so develop F Basses even further than they are now. Is this accurate?

George:  Yeah, it's just a matter of doing a little bit more work on the business side. But our problem right now is we can't keep up with the orders we have! I'd like to cover those and to have a couple available to hang in the showroom. That's why there's nothin' in the showroom! (laughs)

GB:   Our lives breathe...there are times when growth is all we think about and there are other times where we coast and no one can get us to move until we are ready. Where are you now with your business?

George:   We are ready for growth. We could at least double our numbers, without any real problem.

GB:  So what is stopping you?

George:   Growth is a hard thing to do, it takes in a lot of different things.

GB:  Including a LOT of money, doesn't it? You need money to make that money.

George:  Yeah, I don't know if you've interviewed a lot of luthiers but none of us make that huge of an amount of money.

GB:   The irony is that people look at the price of a hand-made bass and say "an Alain Caron bass is $6000 dollars!!!"  But as a boutique bass there is not the luxury of lower costs through mass production.

George:   Also then it becomes a totally different instrument. Yeah, it's a tough grind, but I could be working in an office!

GB:   And still playing bass badly!  There are some companies that sell exclusively via the internet, how do you feel that would work for F Basses?

George:   I think for high end instruments people want to grab and feel and touch if they are going to lay out that kind of money.

GB:    So it's been said that the shoemakers children go barefoot, how many basses do you have George?

George:   Two.  The first bass I made for myself was last year.

GB:  What, did you say the first bass you made for yourself you made only last year?

George:   Yeah, before that I just had one I used for experiments. Before that I used a Fender Jazz bass for the longest time.

GB:   While you ran your own business building premiere instruments coveted the world over you used a Jazz?

George:  It was a great bass. It was just the same old thing. I just didn't have time to make myself one or it wasn't economically feasible. Now that production is set I have time to build custom basses. I now also have time for myself. Right now I am doing custom orders, R & D, some repairs. I'll just do repairs for friends that ask specifically for me. I've two or three customers that just want me to touch their basses.

GB:    If a person came in and asked for a custom order, one that took special or particular parts and woods, what kind of lead time are they looking at?

George:   Those go from 3 to 6 months, it depends on what's required. If production can handle it, they can do it, but if they are too busy, I do the whole thing. At this time though we are not actively pursuing custom orders. They are time consuming. We do charge a great deal for them because that's what they are worth, so I don't have that many. I'll pick and choose, I'm doing one now for a really good customer who has bought 3 basses so far.

GB:   You seem to understand the necessity for being a salesman as well as a builder. For many luthiers that is an impossibility. They can't separate themselves from the fact that these instruments are their 'children'. Do find it difficult being that salesman?

George:   No, because I really enjoy my product and I enjoy seeing people play it. I know it's a great product. It's been 30 years, I'd better! I've had a long track record. It's a long trek. 

GB:   So if you find the means to increase production, you feel the demand is there in the market for your basses?

George:   Yup. Life can be a long tough road, but you've gotta work at it to make it happen. I've got the design and the credibility in place, I've just got to get the numbers.

GB:    Do you see yourself doing this for a long time to come, pretty well till you fall off your perch?

George:   Yeah, I do. Pretty much.

GB:  You're basses have never been and are not now inexpensive. Was it difficult for you to ascertain a price for your basses, even taking costs into account?  Fender Jazzes in 1970 were $720 Canadian and Precisions were $490 Canadian, and at that time your basses were $1500 up to $2000. So even at that time they were quite expensive for the market, was there a part of you that found it difficult to ask that price, or did you know in your heart of hearts that you had something so unique that you could find buyers for your basses?

George:  I  kind of based it on what was in the marketplace and how much work went into them. You do have to keep within market boundaries and you've gotta work around your costs. (Editors Note: Alembic, some BC Riches, Lado, and other top end basses were in that price range as well.)

One thing to note here is that with boutique basses you are getting a unique or rare instrument. That in and of itself gives the instrument its true collectors value. Also with a hands-on production procedure, a small number of people are involved in all stages of the instruments construction, whereas in a factory environment, it's pretty well one person per job. You are paying for that personal touch and its much valued attention to detail.

Over the past few issues we have looked at a number of luthiers work. There seems to be a consistent line of thought here with all of them. It simply comes down to this: you get what you pay for.

If you want a elite instrument, you are going to pay for it but you are also going to have something to show for it. An instrument of a lifetime that can last a lifetime. Odds are it will be patently obvious that you have an extraordinary instrument in your possession. The 'WOW' Factor is what it's all about anyway, isn't it? 

You can gather more information on options, prices and photos for F Basses at:  http://www.fbass.com/

or by calling them at:  1-905-522-1582

Mailing address:

16 McKinstry Street

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

L8L 6C1


Next month's feature: HotWire Basses.

 

 

                                  

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