Potsdam, New York's Clarkson University has turned out some
terrific hockey players-and one terrific bassmaker. "I went to Clarkson to study engineering," says Michael Pedulla, "but after the first year I switched to the Crane School of Music and got my
music degree instead."
Michael Pedulla in his shop in the late 1970's
Although Pedulla didn't finish his engineering studies, the lessons he learned about design and production stayed with him.
He soon found another way to apply them. "I'd always made things, and my dad had done some woodworking, just puttering around. That was an influence.
I had started to play guitar when I was a college freshman, and the two interests came together in making instruments. It was also like engineering-figuring it out and putting it all together. I
had made a banjo neck while I was in school, and later I tried to make a guitar."
After graduating from Crane, Pedulla moved to Massachusetts, where in 1975 he set up shop as a luthier.
"I started making acoustic guitars and then some electrics, and I also did repair work. Then I got the great
idea to sell the instruments to stores. At that time it was Martin for acoustics and Fender and Gibson for
electrics-that was it. Guitar players wouldn't touch anything that didn't have one of those names-they were very closed-minded. Then I made a bass, and I learned bass players were a different breed. I went up to
Wurlitzer Music in Boston, the store took a couple of basses, and they sold them right away. So I thought, Well, it's a matter of logic to make what you can sell."
Michael's recollection of his first bass is a bit fuzzy, but he says his initial concept wasn't that far from
the instruments he's building today. "It was basically the same kind of materials-it was maple, and we started right out with a neck-through. It was a slab neck at first; later we decided to cut it up and use a
two-piece quartersawn neck and then a three-piece. Things evolved."
The first Pedulla bass featured DiMarzio pickups, Grover tuners, and a Badass bridge-largely because
those were the only parts Michael could find. "And it had a brass nut, of course," he laughs. "That was the day of brass nuts."
Pedulla's skills got a big boost from doing repair work for Mark Egan and Tim Landers. "They were very
coherent-they could come back and tell me something specific. It wasn't just, 'Oh, man, it doesn't do it for
me.' They could tell me to move the bridge back, get the horn out, do this, do that." Landers requested
Bartolini Hi-A pickups, which led to a meeting with Bill and Pat Bartolini at the '79 NAMM show. Pedulla basses have featured Bartolinis ever since, including many proprietary models.
"Mark and Tim really helped me get the fretless Buzz Bass going. In those days everybody was getting
frets yanked and having lines put in. So I thought, Why not make a fretless bass? I made a neck-through fretless, and I gave one to Mark and one to Tim to check out. And away it went. That was in 1977 or '78."
Thanks to the Jaco sound (the landmark Jaco Pastorius had been released in '76) Pedulla found a ready
market for high-quality fretless basses that were fun to play and delivered warm, singing sustain-the mwah factor. At a time when Fender and other major manufacturers were building only a handful of fretlesses,
Pedulla was soon devoting about half of his production to Buzz Basses.
Since then, Pedulla has introduced several more models, and his production totals are no longer
dominated by fretlesses-although they remain an important part of the line. Today, Michael says, his goal is
to perfect the basses he's already making, including his original models (the fretted MVP and fretless Buzz) as well as such later designs as the Thunderbass, Thunderbolt, and Rapture.
To that end, Pedulla recently downsized his operation to increase his personal involvement. "When I
started out I decided I didn't want to make one at a time-that's where the engineering came in. The niche I
was looking for was handmade, but production handmade, so it's in-between the big guys and the really little guys. But we started doing more and more production, and pretty soon I had too many people working for
me. So I decided to cut that down, and now I'm more involved in making what we have. I've come full circle
to being very involved in production, design, and marketing. I'm a lot happier that way. I'm fine as long as I know the basses we put out the door are top notch."
Copyright June 2000, Bass Player magazine.
All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.