Jerome Little, of Torzal, began building basses in 1994 after a lifetime of woodworking and serious bass study since the age of 13. After building his first bass on his own, the passion was further fueled after attending the Formentera Guitar Building Institute on the Spanish island of Formentera . He earned a bachelor’s degree in music and acoustics from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. While at Hampshire, Jerome received a grant from the Lemelson Foundation for Invention, Innovation, and Creativity, which supported the research, design, and construction of the first Torzal ergonomic electric bass. Torzal Guitars is located in Austin Texas.
How did you get started building? It was an inevitable culmination of being an avid bass player and a compulsive “maker”. I had been working with wood and making things as far back as I can remember, and once the idea came to build my own bass there was nothing that was going to stop me, even though there were many roadblocks (like not having a shop to work in or very many tools). It was not a great bass — it was good enough to play for a while, but I was definitely hooked, eager to do better!
A couple of years and a couple of basses later, after witnessing people suffering devastating playing related injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, I came up with the idea for a more ergonomic bass design — what would come to be the Torzal Natural Twist bass. I was fortunate enough to display the first Torzal prototype at the Smithsonian Institute at an event featuring many of today’s most innovative and historically significant guitar builders. Among them was Ken Parker, who I went on to work with for several years at Parker Guitars. I have worked for/with many great luthiers over the years including Luke Wilson and Lance McCollum in Northern California. For the last 12 years I have been working with Bill Collings at Collings Guitars in Austin. All the while I have been building my own shop, refining my designs and techniques, and trying to keep up with orders at Little Guitar Works.
Why do you build instruments? I like to build all kinds of things (I even built my own CNC machine), but building instruments is the ultimate blending of many different disciplines. It’s a dynamic pursuit, lots of changing variables, many of which can be scientifically quantified but in the end still relies on an intuitive connection between the craftsman and the craft. It’s mostly the process of building that I enjoy, but it’s icing on the cake to see the fruits of my labor bring joy to others, and in turn bring music to many beyond that.
How did you learn of Nordstrand and when did you start using Nordstrand Pickups? Around 2006 or 2007. I don’t really remember how. Probably Bass Player magazine or the Talk Bass forum was how. I’m sure it was Carey’s basses which first caught my attention. When I saw what he was doing with pickups I was immediately intrigued. I really appreciate what I perceive to be Carey’s style: respecting the vintage sound and being able to nail it, while at the same time pushing the boundaries and always innovating, but managing to always stay grounded and not getting so far out in space that it doesn’t make sense anymore.
Do you have a favorite Nordstrand Pickup? I don’t know if it’s fair to say I have a favorite because I haven’t been able to try everything, and sometimes it also comes down to the proper pairing of pickup to bass. What’s a favorite pickup in one bass might not be the right pickup for another bass. However, if you were to look at what I use the most, there’s an overwhelming lean toward Fat Stacks. I feel like the Fat Stacks bring everything everyone is so familiar with in a Jazz Bass sound, plus so much more. They are warm and round, capturing a broad range of content and suitable for a broad range of musical contexts. They are hum-free when you want it, but I almost never let them go without a switch for single-coil mode because here you get the opportunity for a turbo switch!
How many instruments does Torzal build per year? Around 8-10.
What do you believe are the most important factors in tone (ie, electronics, woods, touch of the player, etc..)? They are all important. Probably the player’s touch is the most important, but that’s the one factor I can’t control. It’s my job to match the wood, the pickups and electronics, and the setup of the instrument to the player, so they can coax out of it what’s in their head.
Who are some of the top players that you have built instruments for that use Nordstrand Pickups in their basses? All of the instruments Little Guitar Works builds are pre-sold and built to order. At least 90% of them use Nordstrand pickups. Every customer puts a great deal of trust in me to build them a great instrument and as far as I’m concerned every customer is a top player.
Do you play bass or guitar? I am a bass player, heart and soul.
What are your favorite materials to work with? This is a more difficult question than I would have first thought! “Favorite” depends so much on the application. In terms of bass building I guess it would go something like this: hard maple for its versatility, mahogany for its workability, swamp ash for it’s sound, ebony for polishing raw wood. Kitchen favorites are butter, sugar and flour.
Learn more about Jerome Little's work at his website: www.TorzalGuitars.com