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October 12 – 14, 2018, Hallowell, Maine welcomes you to celebrate the craft of lutherie at the 2nd Annual Maine Luthiers Exhibition and Music Showcase at central Maine’s “New Orleans on the Kennebec”, with a gallery exhibition of Maine made instruments, craft demonstrations, and great live performances at auditoriums, restaurants, and pubs in the most charming, and rocking, downtown north of Portland.
Friday night’s reception at City Hall includes a meet and greet with Ned Steinberger, our keynote speaker and an internationally recognized innovator in musical instrument design and construction. He is an incredible example of innovative intellectual property producer who lives and works in Maine, and is part of an international manufacturing network.
The 2nd Annual Maine Luthiers Exhibition and Music Showcase is brought to you by the City of Hallowell, in partnership with The Harlow Gallery and Maine Craft Weekend, and funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Friday Night Welcoming at Hallowell City Hall
Keynote Speaker: Ned Steinberger, internationally recognized stringed instrument design innovator, City Hall Auditorium, 6:30 PM, with VIP reception at 5:30. General seating starts at 6 PM.
Those who have been following his career know that Bakithi Kumalo joined Paul Simon’s band in 1985 and has performed with him ever since. His playing on Simon’s album Graceland became one of the iconic bass performances of all time. In February, Simon announced Homeward Bound – The Farewell Tour, the final phase of his fifty-year performance career. Kumalo will accompany him on this tour, as he has for the last thirty years. He plays an array of NS instruments, including the CR5 RADIUS bass guitar and the NXT4 electric upright bass.
Last October we had the pleasure of capturing highlights of time spent between Bakithi and Ned Steinberger at Ned’s studio and workshop in Maine. In the course of their conversation, Ned shared his thoughts on instrument design and the relationship between designer and musician. Bakithi played and shared his own thoughts on Ned’s instruments, including some of his experimental creations.
This is a must-watch video for any fan of Bakithi or Ned, and fascinating for anyone who thinks deeply about music.
From his Maine workshop, instrument designer Ned Steinberger is reinventing the tools of music’s superstars
WRITTEN BY JIM REILLY • PHOTOGRAPHED BY ERIC ROTH
Ned Steinberger’s workshop in Nobleboro, Maine, stands beside the family home he shares with wife, Denise, and their two teenage sons. Originally a barn, the structure dates to the mid-1800s. After years of neglect, it was torn down in the early 1980s but rebuilt on the same foundation to the original specifications. In 1997, when the Steinbergers moved in, Ned, a musical instrument designer, modernized. He added a second floor that serves as a listening room and sound laboratory. On the main floor, which received only a few necessary modifications, violin necks, electric-guitar pickups, and projects both in progress and set aside fight for space with clamps, jigs, and soldering irons. “My work spaces have always been practical in nature,” he says. “They’re certainly not neat.”
From the outside, the shop blends into the rural Maine landscape. On the inside, it looks like countless other woodshops — but looks can be deceiving. This is a laboratory where, with the analytical mind of a scientist and the creative heart of an artist, Steinberger pushes the boundaries of musical instrument design.
More simply, Steinberger makes tools, some of the best of their kind. His tools have found their way into the hands of some of the world’s best-known musicians, who in turn have created every kind of music imaginable and some that defies belief.
When discussing Steinberger’s instruments, renowned bassist Tony Levin, who has shared the stage with artists ranging from Peter Gabriel to King Crimson to John Lennon, says, “If you’re a bass player and you go into a studio and you play just one note, one big, low note, and the engineer goes ‘Wow — I love this,’ and the artist goes ‘Wow — I love this,’ and the producer says, ‘I’m so glad I got you, Tony,’ it’s the sound of the instrument, not me.” That’s the Steinberger sound.
Much like his workshop, which is built on its centuries-old foundation, Steinberger took the fundamental aspects of acoustic bowed instruments and evolved their design so that they are every bit as powerful onstage as electric guitars and basses. His stable of instruments has grown to include a violin, viola, cello, double bass, the unique “Omni Bass” (which combines the features of an upright bass with the size and feel of a bass guitar), and the headless Radius electric bass guitar. Awards and industry recognition have been constant since the first electric upright in 1990. The Radius bass guitar recently won “Best in Show” at this year’s National Association of Music Merchants winter trade show.
As a teenager in his father’s basement woodshop in their Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, home, Steinberger eschewed plans in favor of creativity. If he wanted to make a chair, he’d take one apart, study it from all angles, and use that as the jumping-off point for his own model. He learned by doing and questioning, always asking why and how things worked. He came across that mind-set honestly. His father, physicist Jack Steinberger, is a Nobel Prize recipient. His mother, Joan Beauregard, was a celebrated artist. As with any true inventor, it’s impossible to separate the science of his work from its art. Both drive his passion for exploring questions of sound, form, and function
Next, he made electric guitars and basses under his own name. Some of rock’s best musicians, including Sting, Eddie Van Halen, The Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman, Mike Rutherford, The Who’s John Entwistle, Rush’s Geddy Lee, and David Bowie, played Steinberger guitars. In 1987, Ned sold the rights to those instruments, along with the brand name Steinberger, to the Gibson guitar company.
That sale allowed Ned to create a new company, NS Design, and to go back to his first love: designing innovative instruments. NS Design’s work grace the stages of an equally impressive and growing list of musicians. Some, like virtuosos Charles Yang, the DaPonte String Quartet, and David Darling, value the instruments’ ability to sound like their traditional acoustic counterparts. A Paul Simon bassist, Bakithi Kumalo, values their unique voice. “I want people to be able to recognize that it’s me playing right away,” he says. Others, like Laurie Anderson, Margot Lane, chart-topping pop band Clean Bandit’s Grace Chatto, Les Claypool, and Living Colour’s Doug Wimbish, love the way the instruments can take on effects like distortion and reverb and sound every bit as massive as Jimi Hendrix’s electric guitar.
Originally a furniture designer and custom cabinetmaker, Steinberger made his very first instrument, a bass guitar, for luthier Stuart Spector in 1976. It is still Spector’s most popular model.
NS Design’s 51 models, ranging in price from $849 for an entry-level violin to $7,200 for a top-of-the-line upright bass, are made in the Czech Republic and Asia. This leaves Steinberger free to keep asking questions and pushing boundaries in his Nobleboro shop. As Steinberger says, “It’s a continuing quest!”
The NS WAV Omni Bass combines the feel and tonal character of an electric upright bass with the ease and familiarity of the 34” scale, bridging the divide between an EUB and a bass guitar. This innovative and exhilarating instrument is one of the clearest examples of the raw conceptual energy which Ned Steinberger brings to his work. The WAV offers the combination of design, performance and affordability exceeding any other instrument in its class and true to the NS tradition, the WAV captures the essence of an acoustic, yet opens up an exciting range of new possibilities. It’s a pleasure to play!
WAV4 – 4 STRING (EADG) WAV5 – 5 STRING (BEADG)
Tuned in fourths, the fingering positions and spacing are identical to the bass guitar, and therefore immediately familiar to any bass player. The Omni Bass can also be tuned in fifths, CGDA (low to high) for 4 string, CGDAE for 5 string.
Maple Neck and Body
For rich tone, strength and visual grace.
Asymmetrical relief for easy playability, even in the highest positions. The fingerboard radius at the nut is 9-1/4 inches for more familiar feel for the bass guitarist. For ease of bowing, the radius at the bridge end of the fingerboard is tighter, 2 inches.
NS Polar™ Pickup System
The great natural sound of our Polar directional piezo passive pickup system responds selectively to either vertical vibration (for the sustained plucked sound, like an electric bass guitar), or lateral vibration (for dynamic bowing, and a percussive plucked sound). Battery-free operation. Volume and Tone controls; Pizzicato / Arco select switch.
Adjustable Bridge and Two-Way Truss Rod
Tweak the neck curvature and string heights to suit your music and playing style.
Boomerang™ Strap System
This standard support system has a pivoting friction hub that holds the instrument firmly in place close to the body. Attached with a guitar style strap to its two support arms, the system allows the instrument to be moved into virtually any position in relation to the hands and body as it is played. Weight is .45 kg (1 lbs.).
James “Hutch” Hutchinson is respected far and wide for his musical versatility and long experience playing with top-tier acts. After taking some classes at the Berklee College of Music while gigging in bands around Boston, the 17 year old decided to head out west to the San Francisco Bay Area. He jumped at opportunities to play on sessions with Link Wray’s band and with GratefulDead drummer MickeyHart which lead to an opportunity to join the QuicksilverMessengerService spin-off Copperhead, all this before he turned 20 years old.
When their album failed to find an audience the band broke up and Hutch left for Guatemala for what he expected to be just a three week visit. Three weeks turned into a year which allowed Hutch to immerse himself in Latin American culture and rhythms. Returning to the US with his Latin Jazz Fusion band The Point, Hutch got an offer to play in The NevilleBrothersBand. While playing with the Neville Brothers he was introduced to Bonnie Raitt and in 1983 moved to Los Angeles to join her band after her original bassist dropped out right before she was scheduled to go on tour.
In the intervening 30 plus years, Hutch has made significant contributions to Bonnie’s sound and has co-written some of her tunes along the way. In an interview with Bass Player Magazine Hutch recalls, “Bonnie calls me her ‘musical ranger’ because I bring in all of these different influences. It’s not just that I’ve listened well and learned to play different styles, it’s that I’ve spent time living and working with the players in those communities. There are musicians in various parts of the world—blues players, country guys, even African musicians—who think of me as their style of musician. They may not even be aware of other styles I play.”
Fellow NS artist Tony Levin sums up Hutch’s musical versatility and impact on Bonnie’s records for Bass Player Magazine: “Hutch Hutchinson has never played a wrong note for Bonnie Raitt. He’s perfect for her songs.”
Hutchinson uses a variety of basses to bring the best tone and feel to his music. For songs requiring versatility in upright sound, Hutch loves NS Design’s CR Omni Bass. Ned Steinberger created the Omni Bass to connect the sound and feel of the electric bass guitar with its familiar 34″ scale and TransRadius™ fingerboard with the tonal purity, voice and bowed or plucked response of the classic upright bass. The Omni bridges both worlds. It’s a portable and adaptable innovation that has opened up new worlds of sonic versatility and physical freedom for so many musicians like Hutch.
Hutch’s favorite go-to upright on the current Dig In Deep tour is NS Design’s high performance CR4M Upright Bass. It’s as versatile as the CR Omni, including an active EQ and mixer, EMG™ magnetic pickups and Steinberger’s patented Polar™ Piezo Pickup System, and provides all the depth of sound that a full scale double bass commands. Hutch uses the CR4M with vintage Ampeg B-12, B-15’s; and when in the studio, the B-18 combos or the classic Ampeg SVT808’s and 8X8 matching cabinets.
NS Design founder and creator Ned Steinberger with Hutch Hutchinson
Here’s Bonnie Raitt and Co. covering a Bob Dylan classic “MillionMiles” from her 2012 album Slipstream.
With headlining tour dates in May and June around the US, Bonnie, Hutch and Co. will also be joining fellow Massachusetts-native JamesTaylor in select US dates in August, with a very special performance on August 11th at historic Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. Check out all tour dates and related info at: http://www.bonnieraitt.com/tour
Learn more about James “Hutch” Hutchinson, NS Design Artists and NS Basses at thinkNS.com