Why did you start Austin Bass Traders?
ABT grew out of a need to find the very best in bass instruments, amplification and equipment. My quest for the best sound and performance began around 1977, a few years after I began playing professionally. Being on the road so much I was very surprised by the level of complacency and lack of any kind of ‘cutting edge’ attitude regarding equipment and instruments.
What do you find most satisfying about running ABT?
I love to talk basses. I’ve dedicated most of my life to playing the bass. Understanding its role and how it functioned and flowed in many different genres of music. From jazz to country, to gospel and praise, to folk and R&B, to fusion to funk to ska, etc.
I absolutely love to have a customer call and tell me they’re looking for a certain sound and want it to play “like so with light action and a beautiful exotic wood top …I’m tired of wasting my time.” I get to use my experience and knowledge to help them find exactly the right instrument and gear. When they receive it they call and are so happy to have their ideal bass and sound. You know, that is the best feeling.
What is the most important element to your success?
I think it’s building relationships with my clients and suppliers based on trust, reliability, service and expertise. Many of my customers have bought two or three items. Several of them have purchased and kept three or four basses.
What is your criteria for what instruments you recommend and sell?
There are a lot of elements involved. First, I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate the lines I carry – either in live gigs, on tour, or in the recording studio. I use as many applications as possible to determine what the merits of the instrument and gear are. For what type of music would it be best suited? Does it respond effortlessly? Is it slower? More compressed? Is it bright, dark or medium in overall timbre? Is it light and acoustic or heavy and solid sounding? Does it have fast decay or long sustain?
Also, being a longtime touring and session musician myself has opened a lot of doors that simply aren’t accessible to other bass dealers. Because of my unique circumstances, I’ve been able to play and evaluate many, many basses, amplifiers and speaker systems. I’m able to draw from those experiences to further make recommendations and referrals.
Another very important part of my job is to thoroughly survey the customer to ascertain the parameters and the desired qualities they want in their instrument and gear. What’s paramount is that my clients find what’s exactly right for them. Everyone has very specific needs and preferences and they know that I’ll always refer them to what best fits their needs…even if I don’t carry it or can’t get it.
How are your relationships with suppliers? How do you decide who “makes the cut”, so to speak?
First, I determine if the line is of exceptional build quality. Is anything else out there better? Are the builders/ luthiers “good guys” who will stand behind their product to ensure customer satisfaction to the Nth degree? Are they truly interested in serving the community and advancing the state of the art? Are they responsive to feedback – no pun intended – and suggestions? Those are some of the criteria that determine what I carry and recommend, and what goes into the process of ABT operations.