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Sculpture

Mauro Mastrapasqua ’25: Building a Bass Guitar

Project Date:
Project Date: Summer 2023

Thanks to the Benenson Family, I was able to finally start cutting, gluing, soldering, and assembling the bass of my dreams. I am calling it the “Polar Bass.” The “Polar Bass” was one of the most challenging and rewarding learning experiences of my life.

About the Project

Preliminary sketches for my electric bass were made back in 2019-–I had set out to build it during COVID. I quickly realized how expensive it would be, so I pushed it off indefinitely. Thanks to the Benenson Family, I was able to finally start cutting, gluing, soldering, and assembling the bass of my dreams. I am calling it the “Polar Bass,” since on its side, the body and headstock look like two polar bears smiling at one another.

The bass has a cedar body with an African mahogany neck and an ebony fingerboard. I especially enjoyed sanding and cutting the cedar, which uncovered this beautiful pink wave that flows down the rim of the body. I owe most of my hard skills to three resources: Building Electric Guitars (Martin Koch, 2001), Electric Guitar & Bass Design (Leonardo Lospennato, 2010), and Crimson Custom Guitars’ instructional videos. After many hours at the chalkboard, I bought from three online suppliers and eight local stores and am proud to have bought nothing from Amazon. I learned so much from talking to local luthiers around town, and I even got to meet with the CEO of Gibson.

My bass hero is Jaco Pastorius, whose rich and buttery tone I sought to capture. No piece of hardware alone can replicate any musician’s sound, and especially not Jaco’s. My vision was to develop a well defined sound equipped with restricted electronics, such that the bass would have only a few characteristic tones. In the style of Jaco, my bass is fretless with a sole bridge pickup: a vintage Fender Jazz pickup I bought used in Nashville. It has a volume knob and a somewhat unorthodox tone switch—it offers three discrete levels of brightness via three different capacitors (instead of a continuous knob attached to only one).

Inserting an onboard effect was my innovative leap of faith. Jaco commonly used a chorus-like delay pedal, and I have embedded a chorus effect that emulates that of the Juno-60, the classic ‘80s Roland synthesizer. This pedal has two preset buttons for a less intense or a more intense option, which was ideal for limiting controls. The effect duplicates an input and offsets the copy by milliseconds, which makes a modulated but fuller sound, like a chorus of basses. Internally wiring effects has always fascinated me. It’s accessible, portable, and creates a sound pairing that is integral to the instrument.

I logged well over 100 hours on the project, but unfortunately it’s around 90% complete. I knew neither how long it would take nor how many new skills I would have to learn. I figured I knew lutherie from my books, but I had no context until I got to work and made some cuts. This project never would have come to fruition if it were not for the Benenson Family, and I am eternally grateful. The “Polar Bass” was one of the most challenging and rewarding learning experiences of my life, and I will forever be grateful for their generosity.