Diligent readers of Bluegrass Today will recognize the name Troy Johnson, one half of Nebraska’s Banjo Loco, who we profiled here some years back. Along with Matt Manning, the two perform on electrified banjo family instruments, with Johnson holding down the bass. He told us in 2012 that he had a custom banjo bass made using an Applause bass guitar neck and a Ludwig snare drum. Talk about banjo fusion!
But over the years, Troy has found this experimental hybrid a bit lacking in low end response which he, as a full time professional bassist, was having a hard time enduring. Johnson was unable to get the tone he wanted from the acoustic bass guitars he found on the market. They sounded fine plugged in, but could never hold their own with other acoustic instruments. He also tried a guitarrón, the Mexican six-string bass held like a guitar, which had a good acoustic sound, but is unwieldy to play because of its extra large body.
So he began looking for a way to get a clear acoustic resonance that would also amplify well, and struck upon a golden idea.
We’ll let him explain what happened…
“I had watched my luthier buddy build a harp guitar when we were making a resonator for my banjo bass. I would go from the upright, to the guitarrón/mariachi bass and the harp guitar, plucking and listening. I then drew up a trapezoidal flatback body with guitarrón/Ernie Ball Earthwood dimensions, and an extended harp arm that connects to the headstock, almost creating a small grand piano (and believe me it sustains like one).”
And thus the Big Johnson Acoustic Bass was born! It can be played like a guitar using a strap, or with an endpin like an upright bass.
Troy’s quarantine year was given over almost completely to developing the plans for this new bass, and finding someone who could build them. They debuted at the Dallas International Guitar Festival two weeks ago, where he says people were delighted with the models he had brought with him. From there he headed to Nashville to get an opinion from George Gruhn.
The Big Johnson is available for sale now in both standard and custom configurations. It is made with 2-ply birch for the top, back, and sides, and a 34” scale maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard. They can be ordered either fretted or fretless, and come with a K&K Twinspot pickup and a gig bag.
Johnson says that it perfectly suits his needs, and he feels certain it will appeal to other acoustic players as well.
“It has more volume, sustain, durability, and playability than any acoustic bass in the known universe! The only acoustic bass (other than upright and guitarrón) that can truly be played unplugged and accompany any other instrument. With the K&K Twinspot pickups they sound amazing plugged in too.”
There are 10 of this first run of Big Johnson Acoustic Basses available for sale. Pricing wasn’t settled when we spoke with Troy last week, but he can be contacted through his Facebook page for more details.