Trying to make a list of The Top Ten Boutique Bass Guitars is not all that easy. Everyone has a different favourite and there are over 900 bass brands to choose from . And even though there are so many brands, there are lots that just cannot be called boutique.
To get a good sampling of “who thought which was best”, I setup a polling page through TalkBASS. I got a great number of responses, but there were lots of votes for great basses that I really wouldn’t consider boutique. Sorry guys, but Fender Custom Shop is not boutique. They are special order, big production basses.
There was also a number of brands that we all think of as boutique, which have really crossed the line to main stream production. Two that made the list, Spector and Sadowsky, have a long history of being thought of as boutique, but have really grown to being quite large companies. I considered that offshore production should disqualify the brand, but still kept these two brands on the list, just because they really started out as being great boutique basses. And in the case of Spector, they really were at the forefront of what is now a Renaissance of fine bass luthiery.
The Top Ten Boutique Bass Guitars List…
#10 – Atlansia Victoria
Atlansia is a personal favourite of mine. The only reason this brand is so low on the list is because the brand is not well known in the western world. President and designer Nobuaki Hayashi (aka H.Noble) is a creative genius. From art school to chief designer at Aria Pro II in the 70’s, to compulsive inventor Mr. Hayashi, produces some of the most innovative basses around. The Victoria is, in my opinion, the most elegant of his designs. Click for lots more information on Atlansia. MSRP $4500 est.
#9 – Spector NS
Stuart Spector’s career started out because he wanted to have a quality instrument, but couldn’t afford one. He set out to build the bass he couldn’t afford. His first workbench was bolted to his bedroom. Later on he met and befriended another young builder, Ned Steinburger. Steinberger reworked one of Spector’s builds. That bass became the Spector NS and the rest, as they say, is history. The NS series basses are among the best known and loved of the boutiques. Click for more info on Spector.
#8 – Ken Smith
I have to admit, at the time of writing, that I do not know a lot about Ken Smith and really wasn’t sure what all the hoopla was about. So I turned to my trusty book American Basses: An Illustrated History and Player’s Guide to the Bass Guitar and read up. One of the interesting tidbits is that Mr. Smith was one of the early builders to build basses with a “B” string. This dating back to 1981. Click for more info on Ken Smith Basses.
#7 – Fodera
Probably the most famous Fodera bass is the Yin Yang bass played by Victor Wooten. Vinnie Fodera started out by taking a guitar building class with Thomas Humphrey. Then he landed a job with Stuart Spector, working with Ned Steinberger and Ken Smith, all of whom are mentioned in this Top Ten Boutique Basses list. There must be something in the water at the Spector factory. Click for more info on Fodera Basses.
#6 – Sadowsky
Roger Sadowsky does something very well that Fender seems to struggle with; He makes amazing Jazz Basses. For some time I didn’t realize that a lot of professional bassists weren’t playing Fenders. They were playing Sadowskys. Tal Wilkenfeld is one current endorser that shows just how good these basses sound. My own personal experience is comparing the Metro bass line to the American Jazz Deluxe’s at local stores. You might pay an extra grand, but you get that million dollar sound. Click for more info on Sadowsky Basses.
#5 – F Bass
The AC-6 from George Furlanetto is pure elegance. The only thing I don’t like about F Bass is trying to search for it in Google. But I guess Furlanetto Bass might be too hard for some to remember. However, for some quite memorable playing of this bass you must check out F Bass endorser Alain Caron. (Video) Click for more info on F Bass.
#4 – Jerzy Drozd
Of all the basses on this list the Jerzy Drozd Barcelona is probably the most exotic. The styling of many of his basses are more like artistic wood sculptures made from many layers of many types of wood. Lots of stylized inlays and sound holes make these to-die-for instruments. For lots more info on Jerzy Drozd click here.
#3 – Carl Thompson
A while back I came across a video series on Carl Thompson. If you’d like to get a sense of the man and his craft, this is really an excellent series to watch. Carl Thompson’s basses have been around for quite a while, but they really came to fame when Primus bassist Les Claypool started playing a number of CT models. Claypool bought his first CT by accident, finding a used one in a music store. Later Claypool asked CT to build him more instruments. CT basses with their distinctive hooked top horn have become a favorite amongst bassists seeking high quality boutiques. Click for more info on Carl Thompson Basses
#2 – Jens Ritter Roya
Jens Ritter is firstly a luthier, but he is also a builder that has an unequaled sense of style. He builds some of the finest basses, but these basses are also some of the most elegant instruments around. Jens Ritter Instruments is located in the small wine town of Deidesheim, Germany. Ritter has been building basses since the mid 1990’s. The Roya is my favorite model, but there are lots of other awesome choices. One of the most distinguishing features of Ritter basses and guitars are their finishes. They produce finishes that stand by themselves as works of art. Click for more information. MSRP: unpublished
#1 – Alembic Series II
If you needed to give another name to boutiques you might call them “Alembics”. Alembic is arguably the original boutique bass guitar. Alembic started out in a time when virtually all basses were either the big name (classic) brands or were cheap offshore knockoffs. The company started out, not in luthiery but as a research group focused on improving concert and recorded sound. Although the company builds guitars, the company is best known for its basses and has received a lot of high profile exposure from players such as Stanley Clarke and John Paul Jones. The Alembic Series II gets my vote for The Number One Top Boutique Bass Guitar Click for lots more information and links on Alembic. MSRP $23,000-$25,0000 est.
I noticed while I was building this list that six of the top ten boutique basses were American built. I wondered if that was because Americans built the best basses or just possibly the most popular (or best marketed) boutiques. In the end, it’s my belief that a great number of the best boutique bass guitars do come from the US, but the results on this list may be skewed due to the fact that the poll I took was taken on a predominantly American bass guitar forum.
BTW, if you’re a fan of American build basses please check out, American Basses: An Illustrated History and Player’s Guide to the Bass Guitar (This is one of my faves)
The Best Boutique in So Many Ways
Ranking the basses on this list was problematic because some basses were better in some ways than others. Sadowsky for example really couldn’t rank in the original styling category could it?
Here are my “other best” on the list based on some individual attributes:
- For Pure Technical Innovation — Atlansia - When it comes to pushing the limits of technology and trying to “go where no bass has gone before”. H. Noble has it down.
- For Building The Better Fender — Sadowsky – When it comes to taking the most popular bass ever built and making it one of the best basses ever built, the award has to go to Roger Sadowsky.
- For Building The Bugatti of Basses — Alembic – (Notice I didn’t say Cadillac or Rolls Royce.) Alembic is just the best.
- For The Most Beautiful Woodwork — Jerzy Drozd – When wood and steel strings become art.
- For The Most Beautiful Finishes — Jens Ritter – Almost every day it seems Jens Ritter posts another new bass with a finish that is new and original and just plain awesome.
… and of course I could go on all day.
If you’ve read this far, you are probably looking for more. So…
Don’t Stop With Ten
Bass-Aholic currently lists close to 1000 brands of bass guitars. Of those, over 100 are categorized as “boutiques”, but the list truly could be closer to 800. The candidate list of about 100 brands was used as the basis for this list. Check out the Boutique Bass Guitars Category on Bass-Aholic. And, your GAS will continue to grow.
“Boutique Bass Guitar” – Defined
What is a boutique bass guitar? Read the official 101 Basses Boutique Bass Guitar Definition.