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Scott Surine

 

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by Ross Krutsinger,  Colorado, USA

I first met Scott Surine, founder and principal designer of Surine Basses, in about 1994 when one of my bands merged with one of Scott's groups.  I have known Scott since then and have found him to be one of the nicest guys on the planet, in addition to being a fine bassist.     

Scott and partner/luthier Kenneth S. Lofquist produce hand-made custom basses in several designs and price points.  If you had the opportunity to visit the Surine Basses booth at the 2002 NAMM show in Anaheim, California, then you have had the pleasure to meet Scott and play his wonderful basses.  I had a few minutes to sit down with Scott between appointments at NAMM to discuss his basses and aspects of the custom bass business. 

RK:  Scott, it's great to see you again!   You've got a great line-up of basses here at NAMM.  What is your  favorite bass at the show this year?   

SS:  Hey Ross, great to see you too! It's a toss-up between the Regency 6-string and the Quest 5-string fretless. They're both calling out to passers-by.  A lot of players are really digging those two body-styles, as well as the extended fingerboard range on both . . . and when they get in closer they really zoom in on the unique soundhole design of the Regency. Then they take a closer look at the Quest and notice how the fingerboard extension doubles as a truss-rod cover. As far as I know, this is a new concept. 

RK:  The Regency bass has been popular since you introduced it--tell us about that bass and your bass-building approach in general.  Your slogan "If you can dream it, we can build it" probably gets you some very unusual requests.   What is the most elaborate/unusual request you have had? 

SS:  The Regency was my response to a semi-acoustic design. I noticed a lot of builders creating either neck-through instruments with F holes (or some derivation of), or bolt-ons with the soundhole butting to the end of the fingerboard.  It was my goal to create a unique, but very functional twist to the semi-acoustic family of basses.  It had to be a neck-though to achieve the resonance and sustain we strive for, but I wanted this soundhole to integrate fluidly with the fingerboard.   

In order to achieve this concept, I had to develop the idea of routing halfway into the neck's core to allow the sound to pass into the chamber of both wings. Because of its location, this does not hurt the structural rigidity of the instrument. To further add to the uniqueness of this instrument, I extended the fingerboard to 33 frets, a major 6th beyond the second octave. It gets a little scary up there, but it's a really fun option to have when the right moment comes along.

In general, it is my philosophy to create instruments of the highest quality craftsmanship, woods, electronics and hardware; all at reasonable prices. This doesn't necessarily mean they are inexpensive, but I believe they are a great value for their prices.

And as a player myself, I totally understand people's budgets and am willing to work with a customer's needs regarding deposits and timeframes.

In addition to the emphasis on quality, I have incorporated my own knowledge as a player to design instruments that are ergonomic, well-balanced and intuitive as to the layout of the electronics controls. More specifically, large cutaways for easy access to the upper register, strap button horns that extend to the 12th fret to ensure balance regardless of string configuration, minimized headstock shape to further ensure proper balance, and pickup placement under specific harmonics for optimum tone are all part of our functional considerations.

Our most unusual request was to develop a mechanical device that, when engaged, allowed the customer to get a fretted bass slap tone on his fretless. He also wanted the fretlines to be filled with a phosphorescent substance so they would glow in the dark. 

RK:  You have made basses for players all over the world and now have 6 designs and 4 available levels of construction, but how did it all start--what led you to start Surine Basses?

SS:  Great question. Why does the world need yet another custom bass builder? Since I was a teenager I had been playing my '74 P-Bass with Jazz pickups in it and a fretless neck with epoxy over the ebony.  It was time to retire that bass, so I set out to replace it with a more contemporary sounding bass. Without mentioning brands, because I have an incredible amount of respect for many of the custom and production basses out there, I couldn't find a bass that sounded great, felt great, balanced well, and looked cool.  

So with the . . . perhaps nave . . . notion that, with 20+ years experience as a bassist and 10 years as a professional designer, I felt I could develop a line of products that had first-hand playing experience combined with sensitivity towards aesthetics and ergonomics. I wanted to create a system of choices and levels of construction to encompass a spectrum of price points as opposed to "reinventing the wheel" each time a new order came along.  

RK:  Has your own playing style affected the bass designs that you offer?   

SS:  Totally--I love the fingerstyle tone when playing over the bridge pickup and it was paramount that Surine Basses are able to get that sound.  Having played many styles of music from Country, to Blues, to Motown, to Rock, to Reggae, to Soca, I wanted to strive for an instrument that was versatile enough to be at home in any of these styles. Although I'm not much of a slapper, I was very aware that the pickups had to be placed away from the end of the fingerboard to allow for easy slapping and popping. Also, our necks are very shallow in profile to give that "plays like butter" feel.  

RK:  Are there problems in other basses that you addressed in your designs?  What about the bridge that you designed and its availability?

SS:  In my opinion, there are. Again, without mentioning names of other brands, some bass builders place their pickups a little too close to the end of the fingerboard. Some have strap button horns that are too short and result in poor balance. Some have great tone, but are limited in their versatility. Some have cutaways that don't allow easy access to the full range of the fingerboard. But for the most part, most builders are doing a great job, its just that each is different from the other and its all about the customer's personal tastes. 

Made from solid brass, my custom bridge design was an urgent response to a need when our bridge supplier, at that time, suddenly went out of business. In classic "Scott Surine" form, I decided to design my own, rather than rely on the limitations of other manufactured bridges. I designed it to be modular, and very adjustable regarding string spacing, intonation, and string height. The resulting design freed me from the fear of saying "we can't do that" to the requests for 8, 9, 10, and up, string configurations.  

Because of its modular design, we can add to it as needed. Cost, however, is a different story. Because it is not yet in production, it has to be machined essentially as a prototype and that can definitely jack-up the price. Bottom line, it's available, but as a fall-back if nothing else is. Until I have the opportunity to partner with a manufacturer, I will probably continue to recommend it only as an option. It works just fine. . . its just the cost to produce it at this time.   

RK:  The fretless bass appears to be one of your specialties.  What steps do you take in order to build the ultimate fretless bass for your customers?

SS:  As far as a fretless is concerned, I always recommend an Ebony board, or a wood of comparable density. So if someone is ordering a Series Level that includes the Rosewood fingerboard, I strongly suggest, for an additional $100, to upgrade to the Ebony board. I recommend this only because I know from personal experience that the Rosewood board will wear through if you use roundwound strings.  To me, this is a must, in order to get the cool "mwaaah" tone.  

With my '74 P-Bass, I wore clear through the Rosewood fingerboard while touring with a Country band.  I know. . .  fretless on a Country gig? . . . It's all I had. 


With any bass we build I like to find out what styles of music the customer plays, discuss wood choices that are going to best suit his/her needs, and proceed from there. Pickups are also personal choice. Some customers know exactly what they want and prefer the J/J configuration. If they're not sure, I usually recommend the two Soapbar configuration which provides a more rounded tone and is more versatile overall. Body-styles are generally personal preference. With exception to the Regency, because it is semi-acoustic, the other body-styles are going to sound pretty similar.  
 

RK:  Neck stability is a critical issue, particularly for 5+ string basses.  How have you addressed this issue?

SS:  The balance between rigidity, feel and tone is a difficult challenge. Basses with necks constructed of materials other than wood have very different sonic properties. One is not better over the other, they're just different and again, it's personal taste. I am a firm believer in the feel and sound of wood necks. Our proprietary, uniformly tapered neck core pieces, made from Maple and laminated to another sturdy wood choice like Walnut, Purple Heart, Bubinga, or Wenge, create a very sturdy neck that withstands many temperature and humidity changes. We also use our own design, which is an independently adjustable dual-trussrod system for all string configurations above the 4-strings. This provides a high-degree of adjustability when a neck does occasionally bow out of alignment. We also offer graphite spars, imbedded on either side of the truss rods as an optional upgrade. Due to the fact that wood is a natural and porous material, we can't totally control the degree to which a neck is going to bow once it reaches its destination. Knowing where the bass is to be shipped, we adjust the tension in the neck to compensate for the degree of relative humidity for that area. I also include a wrench to adjust the truss rods for every bass we ship.    

RK:  I know you have several "name players" that play Surine basses.  It must be a great compliment to have  these players using your basses because they want to, not because they were given free basses.  Tell us about the relationships you've developed with some of these people and how it has affected Surine Basses.   

SS:  It's always an honor to have a high-visibility player endorsing your product. Especially given the number of other bass makers they have to choose from, some of which are willing to provide instruments free of charge.  Personally, I feel this diminishes one's brand because the Artist/Instrument Maker relationship is based on "who can do what for who's exposure", as opposed to an honest "I like your basses and I want to play them" relationship.  We probably have fewer Name players than other companies because of this policy, but those who do play Surine Basses, play them because they truly believe in our products. 


I've had a couple of Artists actually come to Denver and check out some basses in person. Meshell NdegeOcello came out and told me she really wanted a 4-string (she already had a 5-string from us). I had one on-hand and we discussed a price that was fair for both of us. She left with it that day and the following week I saw her on VH1 Honors, fronting a band with Herbie Hancock. She was very humble and
modest during our brief visit together. She even noticed a Level 42 CD and talked about how much she loved Mark King's playing. Then we jammed a little.

Reginald Veal, with Branford Marsalis, also came to Denver. He and his wife stayed with us for a couple of days. We also jammed for a little while. . . Both of these players are amazing in their skill level and in their interpretation of the instrument. It was truly a pleasure to have met them both in person.  

To this day, I'll get a call from somebody that said he saw Reginald on tour in Europe and was really impressed with the sound! Or I'll hear from someone who just saw Meshell slapping the hell out of her Surine. The exposure and credibility that Artist endorsers can add to your brand is a true gift and I am deeply appreciative of their support.      

RK:  There are many custom bass builders in today's market.  What are some of the things that keep Surine unique and separate from the other builders out there?   

SS:  We are "Player Centric", meaning that we want these basses to be played by the customers that originally place the orders.  As a player myself, I feel I can offer first-hand experience into the design, feel, sound and what a player is looking for. I don't pretend to be a luthier, but have instead, elected to leave that task to a master craftsman such as Kenneth. Together, we work as a team to produce the highest quality products with well-grounded experience at all levels.  

With each new order, I try to get as much background as possible from the customer to make the bass they order as personal to them as their own individual playing style. We don't start from square-one, but within our well-designed parameters, we offer a wide variety of options including string spacing options, wood choices, levels of construction, electronics options, etc.

RK:  This is your 10th year of making basses--congratulations.  Many companies fold before reaching this point.  What are some of the things you have discovered over the last 10 years that keep a custom bass company alive, and situations to avoid?

SS:  Don't overextend your advertising budget. From print ads to having a presence at trade shows, to offering giveaways for the sake of exposure, these expenses can erode your budget quickly if you're not careful. Be patient. Don't assume one good year means you're on your way! Most of all, do it because you love it and because you want to be able to contribute in some way to the bass industry.   

In the early 80s I had developed a bass with interchangeable fingerboards, from fretted to fretless. After a year and a half, several thousands of dollars developing a prototype and trying to get a patent, I was met with structural failure of the prototype. And I lost the patent to a company who, simultaneously in a different part of the country, was developing the same idea, but with a different means to achieve the results. However, it was not a failure. I learned a lot from the experience and that enabled me to march forward when the time was right to introduce Surine Basses. 

RK:  How has the high-end bass market changed over the last 10 years?

SS:  With the uncertainty of the economy, many builders are looking overseas to produce more economical production models. This is a great idea as it allows an established brand to sell instruments to those who might not otherwise be able to afford their brand of choice. As long as it is made very clear as to the country of manufacture for that particular model.

At this point in time we have not looked into an overseas production version, but am not ruling it out as a future endeavor. I remember one of my very first customers told me he would be very mad the day I chose to make overseas production equivalents, that it would cheapen our reputation. I think, however, it is a necessary and viable alternative for the survival and financial health of some companies.  

There is also an increase in the number of custom bass builders out there, which means more choices for the players and more competitive prices too. My fear is that this oversaturation is leading to bass designs that are different for the sake of being able to stand out in the crowd, but that are losing their quality of functionality and playability.

RK:  You've had a lot of positive response to your basses.  Tell us about the Series X line that you just started producing.  In what locations will customers be able to try your basses?

SS:  Thanks, Ross. We have had some very good responses. The Series X is our 10-Year anniversary issue for each of the body-styles. It consists of a 7-piece laminated neck, Mahogany body core, body veneers, and front and back, bookmatched exotic wood body caps, selected by the customer.  

The headstock, with a matching exotic wood cap, is now adorned with an inlayed Mother-of-Pearl logo. The Series X is our Crown Jewel and is for those that want the TOP of the top-of-the-line. After this year, the Series X will still be available. The "X" designation will then stand for excellence, as opposed to the Roman numeral ten.  

RK:  Scott, it has been a pleasure talking to you.  A crowd is forming with people waiting to talk to you so I have just one last question: In addition to your new Series X line, you also have a newly designed website--how can our get in touch with you and see some of your fine instruments? 

SS:  Check out our newly redesigned website at www.surinebasses.com. It is very easy to navigate throughout the site and incorporates "rollovers" to access more information. The rollovers eliminate the hassle of using additional windows, then closing them, and creates a much cleaner presentation overall. As well as viewing photos of basses (and some illustrations where photos are not yet available), there are Series Level Options, Cases, Reviews, Testimonials from customers, Endorser listings, Retail Price listings, an on-line Order Form, a brief history on our company, and contact information.

You can also reach us via phone at 303.388.3956, fax (same as phone number), or by mail at:

Surine Basses

P.O. Box 6440

Denver, CO

U.S.A.


 

 

 

 

 

                                  

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