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The Making of “Gabriela Rose”, Jimmy Haslip’s Six String Wyn Guitar

Jimmy HaslipIt’s a luthier’s dream to make an instrument for an artist with the stature and playing chops of Jimmy Haslip. I of course handled this assignment with complete calm and professionalism. It was basically five parts intense euphoria and eleven parts terror ride. ( a player like Jimmy I figured would have no interest at all in an average bass. It would have to be nothing short of a better bass than I was capable of building!!)

It would be great to tell a story of how Jimmy Haslip sought me out – “Randy Fullmer at Wyn Guitars, famous luthier to the stars.” The pleading he must have gone through to get me to focus on his musical needs. All of the “I’ll pay you anything if you’ll just design something for me” moments. I’m pretty sure you’ve already guessed that the story goes nothing like that. However, I must say it was one of those life changing collaborations that only comes along once in a while.

The story
In late 2008, I had finished a prototype for a Quilt Maple and Wenge five string bass that I was pretty excited about. I started emailing pictures to friends and players I thought would be interested. This including Therese Ulvan, an up and coming female singer I had met while taking an educational course. A year or two prior, she had done an album with Jimmy Haslip. She got right back to me and said that she bet Jimmy would like to see it. She kindly introduced the two of us through email and I sent him pictures. Six weeks went by and no word from Jimmy. That lovely negative voice we all seem to have in our heads was concluding that my bass was nothing and he was just not interested.

But the sky soon parted!! Jimmy called out of the blue and said he was doing some recording in my area and would be driving right by my shop on the way. How about he stops by and tries out that prototype bass? “You bet!!” I said.

Jimmy Haslip's custom Wyn guitar, "Gabriela Rose" in progressSo there he was, we said hello, he turned my prototype upside down and just sat there and wailed on it. Yes, he’s one of those rare left handed players who learned on a right handed guitar and never looked back. Apparently, many times he was informed by fellow musicians that he had made quite a mistake learning to play the bass upside down like that. I guess they kinda got it wrong!!

Anyway, he loved the prototype and ended up asking me if I wanted to make him a bass? “Yes sir Mr. Haslip sir” I stammered, saluting wildly!!! Our collaboration had begun. Besides being by far and away the best bass player I’d ever seen, he turned out to be a world class nice guy and a great pleasure to work with. (Jimmy also plays and endorses MTD, Roscoe, and Yamaha basses. I figure if I fit into that lofty crowd in any sort of way, I’m doing just fine!!)

I drew up a full sized set of plans after asking him a long list of questions. I took several measurements from his favorite basses. He had me make minor shape adjustments to the body I had drawn which instantly made it better. I spent hours dragging out more than a dozen different species of hardwoods from Africa, South and Central America and the U.S. and laid them out with a transparent template. He gave serious attention to every set up I made for him.

Jimmy Haslip's custom Wyn guitar, "Gabriela Rose" in progressHe finally selected Cocobolo, a Central America Rosewood, for the body top and back. It was some pretty wild stuff with light amber sap wood mixed with very intense red heart wood. He noticed a completely amazing shape of a rose that naturally occurred on one of the boards. (Artist/ designer/ luthier Randy had completely missed it)

He said his daughter’s name was Gabriela Rose and he’d like to have that rose placed front and center with her name engraved around it. Really? At first the idea of engraving her name into the front of the guitar seemed like a pretty scary bad idea. My mind raced as to how I was going to either talk him out of it, or if I couldn’t, how in the heck I would accomplish such a thing. To buy time, I told him I’d give it some thought and we’d come up with something. “Fine!” he said.

I built a tapered core neck with African Wenge, Padouk stripes, and Eastern Rock Maple as the outer edge. It came together incredibly well. I was so focused on this project, I was completely working over my head. I laminated the body wings using Cocobolo with the rose shape on top, then a Wenge layer, Sapele core, another Wenge layer and Cocobolo back

I photographed a mock up with the neck and body wings and sent it to Jimmy. He was touring all over the planet, but kept in touch every step of the way. I would update the progress and give him choices for the next phase. He would swing by when he could and we’d marvel at how it was coming together, just like he imagined it would. He selected a beautiful piece of figured orange red Cocobolo for the fret board.

Fretboard ofJimmy Haslip's custom Wyn guitar, "Gabriela Rose"Finally, in choosing the approach for the etching of “Gabriela Rose”, we settled on a font and I called in a talented laser artist named Haryn De Leon (haryn.deleon at to take it on. (She also handles the laser cutting of the Wyn inlay on my headstocks)

Obviously a lot had gone into the guitar up to this point. I was sweating bullets at the thought of burning Gabriela’s name into the top. We did a number of test runs on various scrap materials, had a cup of tea, stalled a little bit with idle chit chat. Finally we convinced ourselves that we’d done all the checking it made sense to do. Haryn’s laser cutter engraved the name with total precision in one pass and perfectly. I started breathing again. What a relief that was!!! Etching his daughter’s name into the guitar had completely personalized the bass for Jimmy, a very nice thing.

I wired in Bartolini pickups and pre-amp, installed Hipshot tuners and bridge. A clear hard shell finish with a slight amber tint was the next step. It was time to have Jimmy play the bass and request any last minute refinements before the finish went on. One of the goals from the start was to have a punchy sound. To me, the guitar sounded great, but I was anxious to hear him play it and see what he thought. Jimmy and his wife came over on a Saturday with their daughter Gabriela to see the guitar. He had saved it as a surprise for them. They were thrilled and I was thrilled!! I did a final very slight slimming on the neck, but otherwise it was a go.

The amazing thing of course is that the minute Jimmy picked up the guitar and started playing, it sounded like Jimmy Haslip. In his hands, it had all the punch in the world. Amazing!!! I seem to constantly have to learn the lesson that no matter what you think a guitar sounds like, it will be different in everyone’s hands that pick it up. I could go on and on about that day, but suffice to say, it was truly satisfying to hear one of my guitars played so well.

I have since seen Jimmy play a couple of times at the Baked Potato in Studio City and the Catalina Club in Hollywood. No experience can match it for a luthier!! And as a bonus, with the thoughts that Jimmy contributed, I could probably point to 15 or 20 new and very subtle things that I learned in the making of his bass. All Good!!!!!

Jimmy Haslip's custom Wyn guitar, "Gabriela Rose"

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