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Global Bass takes another look at World Class ĎBoutiqueí Basses with Germanyís Jens Ritter of

In our ongoing quest to bring you stories about some of the worlds most unique, unusual and startlingly beautiful basses, no story would be complete without including Ritter Basses.

 

Ritters Astonishing 36 piece Yin Yang Bass

There is the school of thought that embraces the P and the J Bass as the ultimate form of beauty when it comes to our instrument. Millions would agree. Nonetheless, there is a faction of bass player that thirsts for something out of the ordinary, something that points more to the individual as an individual as opposed to one of many where is comes to the look of an instrument.

Jens (pronounced ĎYensí) Ritter is driven by the need to create basses that speak to the individual. Though this may mean he might never be a millionaire, producing a few hundred thousand instruments a year, his creations meet a need within him to give a select few something that they can hold as their own. He even has a rather inventive way of fusing the bassist to the bass, but we will get into that later on in the story.

Any story like this quite literally has to start at the beginning, at the part that shows why he decided to take this path in the first place.

(Editorís note: Jenís of course, is German, so there are some idiosyncratic differences in the way he expresses himself in English. We have tried to keep his comments in their purest form, as he says them, but languages and meanings differ, so some ideas may not convey. Any confusion, therefore, is our responsibility)

"I started in `89 to repair stuff. After one or two years, I made some modifications but by early `91 I started to build my first instruments."

Where you self-taught?

"No, I took two apprenticeships from a Master Mechanic so that I had all my mechanical knowledge and stuff like that. Also, my grandfather was a very well known woodworker. He taught me from the age of 4 or 5 to work with wood. So as a child I built a lot of stuff. Cupboards and tables and stuff like that."

Are you a bassist yourself?

"Yeah, sure, I started bass playing at the age of 13. It was in 1989 and now I am 29. I wasnít satisfied with the instrument I had then but I didnít have a lot of money, I was very poor. So I had to modify my instruments by myself. As my musicianship developed, I played a lot of fusion and jazz and stuff like that. About one and a half years ago my band broke up. The drummer went to the USA, my saxophone player went to Mexico, the singer went to Africa."

Boy, when your bands break, THEY BREAK UP! No halfway measures for these guys.

"A lot of luthiers in Germany think that I am a little bit strange because I was building these guitars at such a young age. All the other luthiers are older."

Ritter Classic with Piano Black High Gloss Lacquer

Youíre the Ďpupí of the bunch then?

"Yes. The first two instruments I built were a four string fretted with a maple body and I made a four string fretless with a Paduck body. With these two instruments, I drove to the writer for a German guitar and bass magazine. I told him ĎHere are my two first bass guitars, I want you to check them out.'

He told me ĎSorry, I donít believe these are your first instruments.í"

Jens said he felt that perhaps there was a feeling that he was progressing too fast.

"We are all good friends, bass builders in Germany. They told me that they thought I was crazy for what I was doing. The design and the technique and details. For example I have a bass with an oval neck with 12 screws."

Wow, that is a LOT of screws!

"I tried taking off half of the screws but I found it is the best when there is the most number of screws in this area."

To conduct the vibrations?

"Yeah, thatís right."

Ritter 5-String Fretless in Natural Finish

Even more so than having a neck through body? Did you work with neck-throughs as well?

"I built them, but I donít build them now. The thing is, you take the oscillation energy (between the nut and the bridge) and you divide it in the middle. Thatís the job of the bolt-on construction. It divides that oscillation energy so you end up with faster attack and you have longer sustain."

So you are saying in summary that the strength of the bolt-on versus the neck through is that the bolts divide that oscillation energy in half, affecting the sound the string produces.

"We built these three instruments, the bolt on, the neck through and the glued, with exactly the same woods. With no electronics and no hardware, just the minimum of stuff."

"The first one we did was glued and it ended up in the garbage can! The thing is if you are a player that likes the old muffled sound, the bolt-on construction will not really do the job. So for that old muffled sound you need a lot of bad quality (he breaks into laughter here and has trouble composing himself for a few moments) But this is not a bad thing, if you like this sound. The most common kind of bass being sold here are for solo bassists. You need a transparent, dynamic and clear sound. I build these basses.  If somebody wants that traditionally muffled cool sound then buy the Fender."

The Ritter Bass body shape steps away from the traditional as well.

"As a young kid everywhere I went you would just see Fender. Maybe sometimes Ibanez. Not a lot of companies brought out their own unique ideas. My shape developed over a period of three or four years. I was to shy at first to make something different. But after that I said I donít care about that. I wanted to be myself." 

Immaculate Gold Metal finish done over a Ritter Galpera Plastic Body

"I now have two models designs, the Classic shape and The Seal Shape. Oh, and also there is the Helmutt Hattler shape. Helmutt was a famous German bassplayer with a band here. He was famous for his tremolo or vibrato. I developed a vibrato system using a high tech ball bearing system. This means we donít have any friction in the tremolo system. It also stays perfectly in tune."

Often a major obstacle with tremolos on bass guitars is the tuning. This is exaggerated even more so because of the size of the string. This is standard on the Helmutt Hattler?

"Yes it is. You can also have it on any bass ordered here. You can order a four string, five, six and seven string if youíd like."

So who makes the bridges for the more exotic basses? Yourself?

"In the first few years, I used a file and filed out the bridges from a block of brass. I was stupid!!! I had no money so it was very good from the point of economics."

Constructing an instrument from the ground up, does it make it hard to let the instrument go to the client?

"Of course! I still have my first two basses, these I am not able to sell. "

About how many basses have you build since those first two?

"Oh, I donít know. About 15 a year."

If the demand remains, do you see yourself doing this for the remainder of your career?

"Oh, of course!"

Is this a full time job, or do you have other jobs to pay the bills?

"I had (other jobs), but a few years ago I decided to just go professional so I donít do anything but this."

Where do you go for the hardware, the woods?

"I will tell you something about the woods first. For good tone you need to dry the wood for 10 years. Companies like Ibanez or Yamaha are not able to dry their woods ten years. They do it in two months. In a room which they heat up. This is not the best for the wood, because it affects of the dynamic of the wood on the inside. So the people say, dried wood in two months, it could not be good. So for instruments you can just use old woods. I disagree. There is a new process, an absolutely great wood drying process and it takes JUST A FEW DAYS! They donít heat the wood, they use a vacuum. They pull the moisture out with that vacuum. So the moisture level of the wood is equal on the inside and the outside. Itís so perfect, itís much better than a wood even dried 20 years. Some bass players cannot believe that this can be true. But I love it because the wood is harmoniously dried. And you have a real good tone. If you either heat up the wood or you dry it you have different moisture levels & the grain of the wood warps on the inside."

Do you tend to use exclusively Bartolini pickups or can the customer ask for a particular type of pickup?

"I have a new pickup called a TripleBucker. I call them Ritter Masterbars. They have 3 coils and, one is a dummy or blind coil. This is so you can switch between a Humbucker sound and a hum free single coil sound. Thatís cool.  If you want the Bartoliniís you can have them for sure. You can get a price discount from the Ritter Masterbars."

Do you do your own neck inlays?

"I just do the easy stuff by myself. The complicated stuff I have a guy who does those."

Your preferred machine head isÖ 

"I use Gotoh, they have a really good ratio. They are light in weight and the quality is very good. Just the original Gotohís. But the customer can have whatever they want. I also build basses using HipShot. Sometimes I forget this is my job. I work at it like it is my hobby. I end up working 20 hours a day. I cannot work in a factory. I could not work for other people. I have to make my own product."

If a customer lives in England, the U.S or Australasia, can choices as to woods, pickups, tuning pegs and so forth, be made over the internet?

"No problem, I have a digital camera here. I always have some private areas on my website so the customer can go on the site and check all those details out. I can answer any questions they may have then."

What is the lead-time for a custom order from the order stage itself till the customer has it in their hands? I also realize that is affected by how complex the job it, how rare the woods are and so forth.

"If everything is all right, if everything from the pickup to the shape is decided, it will take 6 to 8 months."

Do you do custom fret numbers as well, 28, 36 and so on?

"Oh yeah, you can check it out on the website. I have a 28 fret 7 string on there."

So there are lots of photos on the site?

"Well, the bad thing I guess is that I have sold everything already!" (he laughs)

Maybe you might want to start photographing basses before they go out the door! Do you have anything new and usual coming down the line in the future?

"The newest thing I have is the gold and chrome bodies. On the Seal site I have developed a new body material. It is call Galpera Plastic. Over the past few years lots of manufacturers were bringing out plastic bodies Like Ibanez, with the Luthite body. Everything was preformed.

Myself and a plastic specialist developed a plastic with the same sound (resonance) of a hard maple body. It also gives a lot more dynamic sound. Again, this is NOT a body for that muffled sound!

This material can also be galvanized so you can create a massive gold or silver surface. I have found a way to way to have a real cool and strange looking body with a great sound properties.

Donít think I am someone who falls for the modern plastic sound. That is very important. I like the old traditional woods more, but for real solo playing bass playing, this is better.

I also wanted to mention that every instrument gets its own certification. All the technical details, the weight. When I sell the instrument directly to a customer and not through a dealer the customer gets an individual instrument name, a special name. It is baptized with that name. If it has a name, you have a really good connection to your instrument.

That in many ways is what it is all about, that connection you have with your instrument. Most of us believe that if you are deeply happy with your instrument, you just seem to play better. Optimum circumstances, optimum results. So if you are of the mind to stretch out beyond the tried and true in pursuit of your sound, perhaps Ritter Basses is a place you may want to begin your search."

You can reach Jens at:

0049 6322 98 13 64

His fax # is the same except the last digit is 5

His website is:

http://www.ritter-basses.com

E-mail him @ info AT ritter-basses DOT com

 

 

 

                                  

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