John Gaudesi

John Gaudesi in the Yamaha custom shop with the body for Doug Pinnick’s 12-string bass.

the Yamaha Custom Shop: Doug's 12-String Bass is Born

We at are honored to present this interview with Yamaha Senior Designer John Gaudesi. A big thank you goes to Doug Pinnick for contacting John and introducing him to our site, and to John for being so enthusiastic about providing us with everything we needed to document this properly!

What events led up to the building of Yamaha's first 12-string bass?

It's kind of an interesting story how this bass came about. Prior to my position here at Yamaha I was the custom shop manager and head builder for the ESP guitar company here in the U.S. As well as custom orders for customers my main duties included the custom design and construction of instruments for ESP’s main endorsees at the time (Metallica, Slayer, George Lynch, etc.).

It was rumored that Doug Pinnick was straying from his relationship with Yamaha and was going to send an instrument in to be duplicated. I was looking forward to this possibility but it did not happen before I moved over to Yamaha. A few months after I started here at Yamaha Guitar Development (YGD) I was at dinner with some of the members of King’s X along with their manager Jay before one of their shows here in Hollywood. As the night went on Jay and I started talking about gear and I told him of the strange coincidence regarding Doug’s use of the lefty converted ESP bass. I told Jay and Doug that I was the one that would have made his bass and jokingly asked what I could do to rekindle the Yamaha relationship. Jay immediately replied, "We asked them for a 12 and haven’t gotten one. Do you think you can build one quickly?" I arrived backstage at the Greek Theater 10 days later with the bass.

Have you ever built a 12 before?

Yamaha Custom Shop 12-string bass.

I have built a few 12 string basses in the past but none of them seemed to have the growl that this one has.

Tell me about the body and neck construction and why you chose the woods you did.

The body is constructed of a two piece medium weight Alder body blank 1.75" thick. Total moisture content was 7%. The neck is constructed of a 3-piece quarter-sawn neck blank capped with an Ebony fingerboard and Phenolic headstock overlay. The woods chosen were primarily based on my prior experience with these combinations as well as taking Doug’s playing style and sound into consideration.

Doug's other Yamaha basses have the "Attitude" body style. Did you consider that body for the 12 before you chose the AES style?

The shape of the 12-string is representative of our AES line. This is the direction we are going as far as body perimeters at this time and I also felt that this perimeter would allow a little more mass without distorting the overall body shape.

How far into it were you when you told Doug about it? Did he have many ideas about what he wanted or did he just let you build it as you saw fit?

I only spoke to Doug briefly before presenting the bass to him and this was mostly about string gauge and tuning. I really wanted to keep a low profile until the instrument was finished. He had had some previous promises broken regarding projects and I just wanted to come to him with it completed and let the instrument do the talking.

How long did it take to finish the instrument?

I worked on this instrument primarily on my own time off company hours to avoid any conflict with an already busy work schedule. From conception this instrument took about 8 days on this schedule.

The color you used for the finish isn't quite black... what would you call it?

The color for this bass is called Deep Wedgwood Blue. It is a Ford custom color. It was top coated with BASF satin clear coat urethane.

How did you decide on a design for the bridge and tailpiece? Did you machine those yourself? What are they made of?

The bridge is an over the counter version of the old Schaller type used on some of the first Hamers, but I fabricated the tailpiece from aircraft grade aluminum to accommodate the extra mass and left-handed string spread needed.

John Gaudesi with veteran bassist Lee Sklar.

Did you play any 12s before you began building Doug's? If so, which ones?

A few years back I spent some time with Cheap Trick spec’ing out some gear and I got to take some details from Tom's 12s. I have played about every 12 out there and still remain fascinated by every one. They are truly unique instruments.

Being a 12-string bass it has a tremendous amount of tension on the neck. What can you tell us about the neck construction?

The neck construction is 3 piece quarter sawn hard maple reinforced with graphite along with a double action stainless steel truss rod.

The bass has a very deep recessed bolt-on neck with six screws. Why did you decide on making it a bolt-on rather than a set neck? Was this decision like a little piece of insurance just in case the neck had problems?

I really like the way a bolt-on sounds compared to a neck through on an instrument of this type. I have found that by the neck being separate from the body wood it allows the body to speak as a whole rather than to act just as a counter balance to a solid neck core. I adjusted for the sustain by using a deep neck pocket with the six screw to maintain a very seamless coupling.

What did you think of the 12 when it was finished? How do you feel about 12s now that you have built one? Any temptation to build one for yourself?

I was very pleased with the outcome of this instrument. It has a great growl.

Excellent! Thanks John for such a thorough walk-through of the design and construction of Doug's Yamaha 12-string bass! You did a beautiful job! We'll look forward to seeing what the next 12 you build will be like!

Hey Philip, I hope this helps out and I am very honored that you have taken the time to include me on this.

Take care, John

Editor’s note: The build photos for the Yamaha 12 will be added to the Tech section at a later date.