CallowHill

Craft is dead. You killed it.

CallowHill Guitars has been in the business of applying commonsense to excellence for over a decade, making instruments that are meticulously crafted, beautifully engineered, lightweight, and incredible sounding. Our guitars are the product of a perpetual R&D project with some of the world's busiest session and touring bassists. Our bodies are carved for comfort and balance, the necks are painstakingly detailed and planed to provide the lowest possible action (for those who prefer it) and the premium electronics are complemented with state-of-the-art shielding techniques.

 

 

Here’s a quick intro to what the Lafave is, and why it exists. 

First thing, it’s not a signature model.  I name stuff to give a nod to the player or players that plant the idea.  There was an initial conversation regarding whether or not Tim’s name should be on it, but we both agreed that would be kind of pretentious and stupid.  The Lafave’s are highly specialized P basses that aren’t quite like anything else on the market, and they’re called Lafave’s because they address a very valid yet unique request from one of the industry’s finest players.

The initial request was that it be a vintage ’51 that cuts more, and maybe fiesta red or something.  That was it.  That’s all that was asked for. 

On its own, that request doesn’t really warrant any attention and it certainly doesn’t require a new model.  Buy a cheap ’51 reissue and stick a pickup in it that has a little extra midrange character.  Problem solved.

I should point out that THAT is actually how all of the top level professional’s order stuff from me.  “Uh, I want a five string and uh – I don’t know, maybe blue?  Just make it cool.”  There are no laundry lists of garbage with agonizing details about nut material and exact pickup placements and magnets.  I swear half the guys who order like that just want content to cut and paste for when they sell it at a loss on TB a few days after they get it.

The request to build this came shortly after Tim started working with Tedeschi Trucks Band fulltime.  Tim’s gear consisted of his favorite ‘63P, a few other rotating FMIC basses, and a couple amazing basses by Young Joon at Moollon.  His other bass was the first CallowHill OBS5 built, but it stuck out like a sore thumb in that particular setting. 

 

As a builder, two very important considerations when developing a model are that A) it actually serves a purpose and B) it doesn’t create a conflict.  Many of us have our own clone lines.  Mine have unique quirks which set them apart from their counterparts and are paired down to be competitively priced in their respective markets, but if this was to be developed and share a stage in TTB every night then the specs needed to be refined and detailed, and they needed to meet pre CBS standards regarding materials and construction while exhibiting the tight tolerances and attention to detail that modern construction methods allow.

In an odd stretch that relates to point B (no conflicts) I learned that the two guys who essentially taught me the craft through years of employment were routinely gutting, reworking, and setting up all of Derek and Susan’s gear.  I spent several years working for Bill Comins where my skill set was concentrated on building and repairing high end archtop guitars by hand, and had the unique pleasure of working for George Alessandro as an assembler of some of the most revered hand made class A tube amps in the world.  It’s because of my experience with Bill that I started CallowHill as a bass builder nearly 15 years ago.  If I took what I learned and started building guitars for a living that would make me a complete A!@#$%e, (no conflicts, remember?) so basses made sense being that nobody else in Philly was manufacturing top tier bass gear in house.

 

Still on the topic of no conflicts, it was important that the Lafave would actually have a unique enough slant that it wouldn’t step on Young Joon’s toes at Moollon.  Young Joon was supplying Tim with some Killer FMIC inspired basses so the Lafave had to serve a different purpose.  I don’t like A&R conflicts.  None of us do.  Bass building as a profession has a really odd quirk that other industries in the manufacturing sector don’t have.  Our competitors are actually friends, we share information constantly in an effort to help each other out.  Stepping on each other’s toes is looked down upon, so it was very important that this model fill an important niche and it didn’t overlap what Tim already had.

Alright, so anyway.  A ‘51P bass that cuts.  Fine.  But what about all the other stuff?  What about all the Knower, McCaslin, Guiliana stuff where the bass is super fat sounding and drives effects and juices an octave pedal so it can track well?  If you get a stock model and change the pickup, won’t the 7.25” fingerboard radius still choke when you bend a note? 

So I did what I always do when I’m given a direction and actually left alone so I can do my job.  I tweaked it, and every edit served a specific purpose.  I’ll go down the list here and explain the thought process behind this so you can see what goes into the front end of the concept. 

One of the little quirks of my job is that if I want to look at a vintage bass it’s really easy for me.  I call someone up with an original ’51 and say “Send it over.” And a few days later it’s here.  Usually there’s a catch, “No problem – hey while you have it check the frets, it’s a little buzzy.  Wink wink.”  I got one from Stan Jay in this case, and spent a few days with it.  Better to start with a real original instead of a reissue. 

The first thing that has to be made very clear is that there is NOTHING wrong with the ’51.  Leo pretty much nailed all of his designs, but being that the original ’51 is literally a relic, there were things that could be done to make it thoughtfully relevant over 60 years later.

On full scale instruments (34”) I always begin by pulling the nut as close to the right hand as possible.  This begins by relocating the bridge to the back end of the body, then altering the profile and cutaway of the body so that the balance points are in the correct place.  I strongly dislike heavy instruments due to fatigue issues, if the balance points are in the correct spot then a 10lb bass will feel like an 8lb bass when you strap it on.  The Lafave LOOKS like a ’51, but the body is slightly smaller, and the reach to the open position is actually about 2” shorter when you play it because it hangs and sits on your body further to the right.  There’s a school of thought that tele style instruments should never have arm cuts or rib cuts, essentially being a slab.  I don’t see anything wrong with cutting off extra weight and making a dedicated workhorse more comfortable, so a slightly shallower arm cut is executed on the top, and the rib cut on the back looks traditional at first glance, but is actually convex so it feels more universal like an aerofoil.

We kept the 20 fret neck intact.  It’s a bass with easy to reach money notes that was built and designed for a bass player who actually plays bass for a living.  If you’re bent over the fact that it doesn’t have 21, 22, or 24 frets, feel free to think about the fact that the guy with the 20 fret bass is making a living while you’re at home trolling youtube videos.  Or don’t think about it.  Nobody cares what you think.

The only real amendments regarding the neck are that these have a slimmer, faster feel, the nut is ¼” bone instead of the traditional 1/8” so it won’t split if you put on a heavier gauge string set, and the radius is 12” on the fingerboard instead of 7.25”.  The 12” radius isn’t just for clean bending, I’ll get to that shortly.  The other key feature on these is that the nut is 1-5/8” thick as opposed to the traditional 1-3/4” on typical P basses.  This had nothing to do with honoring the original ’51 specs, this was simply a decision made because Tim’s go-to is a vintage ’63, and he wanted something a little slimmer but not as narrow as a J.  The hardware on the headstock is all Hipshot ultralite, and the drop D is standard.  Also, as with all CallowHills, the side dots are Luminlay which is actually a very useful professional feature.  Sidenote: I feel that this is a given in the high end community, but the fingerboard edges are heavily broken with a razor just before finish sanding so the necks have a comfortable, broken in feel. 

Great.  Now we have a ’51 that balances better, feels lighter, and has a custom neck.  What about the initial objective?  What can make it “cut” more?  To me that means a little more definition in the mids.  If it’s too dub sounding you can’t identify the notes, so a slight bump in the midrange can tighten things up.  I used a Nordstrand 51P4 pickup and I pulled it back towards the bridge.  Not much.  Just a little bit.  If you alter it too much then it is no longer what it’s supposed to be, which is a P bass.  Tim’s is done on an alder body (which is typically paired with a rosewood board) in an effort to bump the mids just a tiny bit more.  Does the wood actually make a difference?  That’s a messy subject.  On solid body electrics I think that it’s arguably negligible.  Having said that, a moderately dense body wood paired with a fingerboard that is known for a cleaner, faster attack (I used maple on Tim’s) can’t hurt.  At this point, the objective is reached.  The problem, is that it’s really great at doing ONE thing.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s very singular at this point and can’t quite pull off the super thick dub tones that Tim uses frequently on non TTB projects.  Or so I thought, but I overlooked the singular most important factor which I’ll get to later.  It actually can drive effects effortlessly and cleanly, produces massive dub sounds, and can deliver sharp, articulated notes as well.  If I had stopped right here everything would have been fine but I unintentionally over thought it due to a gross oversight.

Having a spokewheel truss rod adjuster at the heel and a 12” radius fingerboard is critical at this point.  By deepening the neck pocket and pitching it, I can sneak a massive Nordstrand Bigman pickup UNDER the pickguard (not a new idea – Billy Sheehan’s Yamaha signature bass is one of many examples) between the spokewheel and the tele P pickup.  Because it’s under the guard I can only raise it so high, so the deeper neck pocket and 12” radius allows the pickup to balance with the tele, and the strings sound balanced – whereas with a 7.25” radius you get limited bending, and the A and D strings would sound quieter through the Bigman.  Now it’s extremely versatile, it looks vintage (helped by an expertly applied, thin nitro finish), and it’s a pure passive instrument executed with Alessandro components (pots and NOS cap) with solid silver audiophile grade Teflon coated wiring.   The layout is similar to a J bass, you have a tele volume, followed by the Bigman volume on top of the VTC.

I’ve been listening to Tim’s bass playing for close to 20 years, so it was fun to collaborate and produce an instrument that’s actually a supremely versatile tone generator in a familiar, simple package.  What was the oversight?  It directly relates to a conversation Tone Whitfield and I have all the time, and it’s the one factor I didn’t consider through the development process because I’m typically pandering and watering down products as a producer of shiny consumer goods.

Tim actually knows how to, like, PLAY the bass.  By pulling the tele pickup back it allowed the bass to speak with a throatier, aggressive voice which other tele basses can’t quite get as a rule.  It didn’t hurt that Carey Nordstrand did his homework on the 51P4 by producing a detailed moderately high output pickup.  Whereas most tele style P’s can’t quite produce a sound as edgy or “grindy” as this one, the cool thing is that with just the tele pickup, you can roll the VTC back a hair and it softens right up into familiar territory.  Want a sharper, bright attack?  Pick closer to the bridge.  Want an incredibly rude, fat dub sound?  Pick closer to or over the fingerboard.  The cool thing about the Bigman is that if you choose to blend it in, the dynamic output complements the tele instead of overpowering it – so you’re essentially adding a couple inches of harmonic content from the strings to the signal. 

Specs:

34" scale

1-5/8" nut width

Nordstrand 51P4 with series Bigman

Hipshot ultralite 1/2" clover keys with drop D

Wilkinson bridge with raw brass saddles

 

Options: 

You can order Ash or Alder for the body.

You can get rosewood or maple for the neck.

The pickup cover will be included but not installed unless requested.

Matching headstock adds $150.

Most colors are available, all will be done with nitro.

Pickguard material is up to you.

$4250