Recently I decided that I missed playing music. I was never terribly good at it, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I hadn’t played the bass since maybe 1990 or so, but a few of my coworkers wanted to put on a show for a company party in December, and I was coaxed out of retirement (actually I leapt at the opportunity). I used a borrowed bass. Had a great time.
My good friend Chris happens to be honing his skills as a luthier, building basses. He’s an extended range player himself (which I define as basses with six strings or more), so a lot of his basses are seven or eight string beasts, with tree trunks for necks. For me, however he’s building a four-string “jazz style” bass. I’ve always loved Fender Jazz basses. They’re a joy to play with their tiny necks and fast action. He’s reproducing the experience with a large alder body and a tiny maple neck, adding some niceties like the highly adjustable bridge you see there, a flame maple fingerboard, and a striking body design that blends the best of Fender and Rickenbacker design without being a copy of either.
Chris humored me by allowing me to help stain the body, and aside from that I’ve been taking some pictures of the process, and also experimenting with product-type photography (he’s giving me a good deal on the bass, Sarah and I are helping him with his promotional materials). It’s similar to me to still-life work, which I’ve always enjoyed, with the additional challenge that I’m aiming to convey something specific about the object I’m photographing.
Here, I’m trying to feature the figuring in the alder body. I get the impression that a stain finish is somewhat unusual for alder, since it usually doesn’t have a lot of grain. This body has some lovely grain however, and the stain and wax really brings it out. I also wanted to feature the body shape, but found that my most successful shots were ones where I didn’t try to get the whole body in the frame. Even though the body is in an unfinished state, I think this shot succeeds because it’s conveying something about the instrument. With modern instruments becoming technological marvels, it’s nice to see the simple controls and electronics, such as you might see on a 50 year old instrument.
There’s more shots in my Flickr stream (link to the right), including a very stylized eight-string body that Chris is building out of a solid piece of mahogany. For these I used a studio strobe cable-synced with my Nikon D70s. The light was off to the left and high overhead, with a silver reflector to the right and a bit lower. I wanted soft highlights and a little bit of fill for the shadows. I had the light turned down almost as low as it would go so I could use a wide-open aperture and control depth of field. In Aperture I bumped up the black point to get the black cloth background to drop out and made fine adjustments to exposure. I don’t have a flash meter, and the Nikon can’t do ttl flash metering for a studio strobe, so at the shoot I’m left taking test shots until I’m reasonably happy with the results in the lcd and “fixing it in post”. Shooting in RAW gives me the exposure headroom to be able to do that without having to throw a lot of information away.