I have a barber. One guy I go to when I need or want a haircut. Corbett knows what kind of cut I like, he knows what my job is, and he knows me. So the haircut experience is about what I want to look like, and the various aspects of my life. (He’s also a bit of a bartender for me: I can talk about various problems I’m facing with him. He’s often the sounding board for various ideas I’m thinking about.)

My bass also has a “barber.” I’ve been taking my basses to the same luthier in Calgary now for at least 7 years. The beauty of having a single luthier for my basses is that he knows what kind of sound I want, what kind of music I play, and the various aspects of the performances and recordings I’m involved with. So the work I get done is about the sound I want from my instruments, not just about making my bass playable

All too often, players seemed to take their instruments to one repair person or another, never spending the time with a single luthier, never letting the luthier know the type of playing they are doing and the sound they want. I’ve sat with my “barber” and asked him to adjust little things: the bridge here or there, the nut on a string or two, the slope of the string between the bridge and tailpiece.  This rapport has allowed for experimentation, moving the sound post a bit or swapping tailpieces to identify the sound difference. All of these affect the playability (tension, string height) and the sound of my basses, allowing me to “tune” my basses for different types of music and different types of sounds.

For the record, I’ve tried numerous barbers before I found the one I like (Corbett at Corbett’s Rock and Roll Barber Shop; in my opinion, the best barber in Calgary). I also tried several luthiers in Calgary before I fell into the great relationship I have with Ross Hill at Aeolian Strings. In my opinion he’s the best at stringed instrument repairs and set-ups. (As an aside, I take all my electric guitars and basses to Jim Mozell.). I found a real “partner” in Ross, someone who is willing to work with me to get my bass the way I want it. I’ve tried several others luthiers and they’ve all been fine, but I didn’t really get the feedback and advice from them that I do from Ross. The exception to my “they’ve’ all been fine” comment is one: V.A. Hill Fine Strings. Poor workmanship, over-priced, and the owner can be really condescending. It’s the only shop I advise people NOT to take their instruments to. Among the stringed instrument players and luthiers I know, there is a veritable encyclopedia of V.A. Hill stories, ranging from the hilarious to the grotesque.  (Yes, there is a relationship be Ross Hill and V.A. Hill. Long story and the service and expertise are on opposite ends of the spectrum.).

My advice, take the time to set up a relationship with your luthier. Take the time to let them know the sound you want, the music you play, the way you play. If you're in Calgary, my recommendation: Ross Hill (stringed instruments) and Jim Mozzell (guitars and basses, acoustic and electric guitars).

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