Friday, July 28, 2006

How Do I Know What's In Stock?

Well, you look at the Basses page, of course. But…it seems as if there might be some ambiguity floating around out there in the “bass world”, with due cause, as to how often the Blueberry Hill Bass site is updated. So, I thought that I would clear things up.

Any bass that you see photos of on the “in stock” page at the Blueberry Hill site is physically “in stock” and is available for purchase. Similarly, if you do not see a bass listed, then we do not have it. With only one or two rare exceptions, we only carry products from the builders that we represent (Benavente, Dingwall, F Bass, Mike Lull, Nordstrand, and Roscoe), and do not carry anything else. So…if you’re looking for a Warwick Thumb, a Monster cable, or an Eden combo, we probably aren’t going to be able to help out. In addition to basses that are in stock, we also list basses that are on order on the Basses page, but indicate that these instruments are in the process of being build by adding “coming soon” near the top of the spec list. These basses are also available for purchase, and we list them because occasionally someone will want to buy an instrument before it is completed, ensuring that they don’t lose out to someone else once the bass is completed.

Likewise, if a bass is listed in the Sold Basses Gallery, it has been sold and is no longer available. This page serves as an inspirational source for custom projects. It enables players to see what has been done in the past and what might be possible for future projects. It also gives us a chance to display custom order basses commissioned by customers that otherwise would not be featured on the Basses page.

Most importantly, the key thing to understand is that the Blueberry Hill website is regularly updated and maintained. New photos are posted as soon as a bass arrives (usually within hours), and photo and specs are moved to the Sold Basses Gallery as soon as an instrument is sold. This is the most equitable way to do things, so that everyone has the same fair shot at any given bass until it is actually sold. I realize that the vast majority of music store sites are poorly designed and are not updated in a timely manner. In fact, some may be months, if not years, out of date. This is irresponsible, is indicative of poor customer service, and is obviously not in line with being focused on the customer and his/her needs. I develop all of the content and make all of the updates for the Blueberry Hill Bass site myself and want to ensure that my customers have the most accurate, up-to-date information as possible. This goes hand-in-hand with an overall commitment to customer service and satisfaction that has made Blueberry Hill so successful and so valued by bass players and bass enthusiasts around the world.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Fralins vs. Nordstrands

The eternal question....what are the differences between Fralin and Nordstrand pickups! I have probably been asked this question a hundred times (if not more), and since I have already given a hundred answers (if not more), I thought that this blog would be the perfect place to post a general overview of some of the similarities and differences between these two boutique pickup manufacturers. I have posted similar comments and opinions on various on-line forums, PMs, and e-mails over the course of the last few years, but hope that this will serve as a resource for those who may be thinking about upgrading the pickups in their bass or basses and would like a little clarification on the issue.

First and foremost, both pickup brands are excellent. Even though I am a Nordstrand dealer and am not a Fralin dealer, I would not even try to make the argument that Nordstrands are far superior to Fralins and that one should ONLY buy Nordstrand pickups. Not only would that be completely irresponsible on my part, but it also would not be true. I think that BOTH pickup lines are excellent. Up until relatively recently, when Carey Nordstrand decided to make his pickups available to the public, Fralins were widely regarded as one of the premier aftermarket pickup options available. I routinely spec out Mike Lull basses with Fralin pickups and readily recomend them to customers of mine who order custom Lull basses through Blueberry Hill where I think that Fralins would be appropriate for the type of tone they are looking for. The bottom line is that, while there are differences between the two brands that many players feel are significant, both pickup lines are excellent, and I like both pickups lines a great deal. But...let's talk about some of those differences.

Speaking in very general terms here, both pickup brands are essentially shooting for the same goal, but each takes a slightly different approach. Both Fralins and Nordstrands (whether we're talking about single coils, hum-canceling jazz pickups, MM-style pickups, split-P pickups, etc.) are attempting to recreate the sound of vintage bass pickups from the 1960's and 1970's. Both use alnico V magnets and traditional pickup winding materials and techniques. While Fralins are handwound, Nordstrands are "simulated hand wound". In the case of Nordstrand pickups, the master pickup for each model was handwound by Carey and then the process by which that pickup was made was coded into a winding machine that reprocess the handwound pattern. Many vintage purists and pickup enthusiasts believe that a handwound pickup sounds more sonically pleasing due to the way that the scattered windings impact the upper frequencies reproduces by the pickup. But...when you handwind a pickup, every one will be just a little bit different. By creating a "master", Carey has chosen the precise characteristics of a single pickup that he feels captures the ultimate tone for that one model. By using a simulated handwound process to make that pickup, he can now reproduce that handwound pickup over and over again, retaining the sweet tonal properties of the handwound master, but ensuring that there will be no deviation from pickup set to pickup set. Being able to make more sets faster and with precision accuracy over time yields a more consistent result. In other words, everyone knows exactly what they're getting right out of the box!

So, now that we know how pickups from the different brands are do they SOUND? In my experience, Fralin P and J pickups tend to have a very "raw" tone to them. I have used this descriptive term a lot, and am seeing other Fralin owners use the same term in posts on on-line bass forums to describe the tone that they perceive from Fralin pickups as well. I tend to like this "rawness" in certain situations, but the effect tends to also create a bottom end that is a little loose and open. Again...this can be a good thing, depending on what you are looking for. The entire line makes for a great approximation of what vintage pickups sounded like 40 or 50 years ago, but they definitely have their own flavor.

The Nordstrands, by comparison, tend to have a very full, balanced sound from top to bottom. They have great string-to-string balance, and they also tend to have a tighter, fuller bottom end. As with the Fralins above, whether or not these traits are desirable depend on what you, the individual, perceive as "good tone". I have received a lot of feedback indicating that players really like the midrange punch and sweet high-end response of the Nordstrand line, and many players also appreciate the balanced nature of the pickups as well, with the tighter low end standing out as a positive attribute that a lot of players appreciate. Whereas the Fralin pickups have a more rough, "raw" edge to them, the Nordstrands also tend to be very warm, but without losing clarity and detail. Many vintage pickup companies lose the plot by overwinding pickups too much and by trying to make them too "warm" sounding. The end result is often a mid-heavy, muddy pickup that lacks low-end punch and detail. This seems to be where the Nordstrands really excel...they deliver vintage warmth without losing detail and clarity.

I hope that this very broad overview will help you decide which set of pickups might be right for you. Of course, you might also decide that neither pickup company makes a pickup or pickup set that is right for your situation, depending on what you are looking for. I am also planning on adding another post describing, in more detail, the differences between the three Nordstrand jazz pickup models. This seems to be another source of much debate and contemplation among bass players. For more of my thoughts on these two pickup brands, and to read comments and reviews from many other bass players who have tried these and many other aftermarket pickups, do a search in the Talkbass Pickups Forum. You can search under Nordstrand, Blueberry Hill, JPJ (my user name at Talkbass), or by the model name of the pickup or pickup set you are interested in. Good luck with your research!


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Summer NAMM '06 Review

Summer NAMM is in full swing this weekend, and I checked in with Carey Nordstrand for our usual mid-NAMM "state of the convention" discussion. First, for those who are not aware, NAMM stands for the National Association of Music Merchants. The NAMM convention is a trade show that is held twice a year (typically, the smaller show is in the summer and the larger show is held during the winter), and is usually where music manufacturers debut new gear, showcase their product lines, and rub elbows with folks in the music industry (artists, dealers, distributors, etc.). I generally hit the summer show, as the winter show in California is an all-out free-for-all circus. But, this year I was unable to attend. Admittance at NAMM conventions was historically limited to industry members only, but this has changed in recent years. More and more people are showing up from the "general public" as the admittance policy continues to evolve. So if you get a chance, I would recommend that you check it out. Whether you go to a summer or winter session, it is an interesting experience and is a great chance to pilfer tons of great gear.'s just plain fun!

But...enough about some silly convention and back to the original point of this post! I was really encouraged to hear the excitement and optimism in Carey's voice. Risking your welfare and the welfare of your family on the success or failure of a small business is stressful, and taking on a couple of hard-working and extremely valuable employees (as Carey has done in recent months) due to the success and growth of said business, while a necessary step in the growth process, just seems to increase the stakes and level of responsibility! One of Carey's main purposes in attending the show this year was to officially debut the new line of Nordy basses that are currently available at Blueberry Hill. We have been working on the Nordy project for almost two years now, and it is great to see things finally coming to fruition. We wanted to offer a Nordstrand bass that didn't take so long to build and that was also more affordable to more players. Based on the rave reviews Carey has been getting at the show, we seem to be succeeding. Ed Friedland, Senior Editor of Bass Guitar magazine, stopped by and had some extremely positive things to say about the Nordy line. The reaction from everyone who has actually picked one up and played it has been very encouraging, and I would guess that these basses will be putting a lot of smiles on a lot of faces in the months and years to come. My friend Dan just recently took possession of one of the first Nordy NJ5s ever made. You can read his review here.

Now...if Carey would only finish MY Nordy! Patience, self....patience!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Welcome to Blueberry Hill Blog!

Welcome to the first installment and introductory post of the newly created Blueberry Hill Blog! I thought that this would be a fun way to add a more "interactive" element to the site, and it might also prove to be useful and informational as well. As an overview, I am planning on using this blog as a way of sharing information that doesn't fit anywhere else at the Blueberry Hill Bass site.

For instance, I thought that it might be fun to occasionally post "in-progress" photos and discuss specs of basses that are custom orders for customers. I have at least one custom order pending with every one of my builders a present, with four projects pending with Carey Nordstrand and five with Keith Roscoe. In other words, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes that usually doen't make the site until photos of the finished instruments are placed in the Sold Basses Gallery. I plan on posting "in progress" photos of these basses (and other projects) as they become available.

The blog will also give me a place to talk about other matters of interest (special collaborations with builders, new product lines, industry news, etc.) that just weren't appropriate for the News and Basses pages on the main site. I receive a LOT of questions via e-mail, phone calls, and PMs at Talkbass and the Bass Player Magazine forums. While a lot of these questions are unique to the individual, many of them are repetitive in nature. I have probably answered the "Nordstrand vs. Fralin" question well over 100 times over the years, and this blog will be a great place to post a FAQ-type reply to those questions which seem to be on the minds of many players. While I don't expect such a post to be the end of the discussion, it certainly should help frame the issue a little.

Overall, this should be a fun little experiment. I do not consider myself a "blogger", nor do I read them, but it looks like I have officially joined the ranks....for better or for worse! Check back often, and let me know what you think.