The Pedulla Buzz Bass

Fast and Fretless
The Pedulla Buzz Bass
Photos courtesy of Mike Gutierrez. Instrument courtesy of Larry Galbo.
Photos courtesy of Mike Gutierrez. Instrument courtesy of Larry Galbo.

Introduced in 1980, the M.V. Pedulla Buzz Bass is one of the most-enduring examples of an upscale model offered fretless. Designed by luthier Michael Pedulla in Brockton, Massachusetts, it was created with the input of two notable locals.

And as with many innovations, it all started with a not-insignificant faux pas. Seeking to emulate the sound and approach of Jaco Pastorius, Mark Egan, who in the mid ’70s was making a name for himself in the original Pat Metheny Group, had removed the frets from the rosewood fingerboard on his ’64 Fender Jazz, then…

“I’d brushed epoxy on it,” he chuckled. “But I botched the job, and it came out uneven – and unplayable.”

But all was not lost; a friend and fellow bassist named Tim Landers knew of someone nearby who he thought might be able to help. So, Egan and his junked Jazz paid a visit to Pedulla’s shop, where the luthier sanded Egan’s DIY effort and applied a fresh coat of epoxy.

“The bass came to life,” Egan said. “I was incredibly happy, and I took it on tour with Pat.”

Egan and Landers soon after paid another visit to Pedulla’s shop, this time asking whether the builder could do a fretless model. Pedulla agreed to build a prototype that refined the body shape of his already-unique basses, and asked Egan and Landers to lend their input.

“I suggested a neck profile similar to a Jazz Bass neck, but even thinner from front to back and with less radius on the fingerboard,” Egan said. “I also wanted great sustain and a growl, more like a bass sitar.

“I also suggested Michael extend the cutaway deep enough that it could be played easily up to the 24th fret, and that he extend the upper horn for a better fit on the player’s body.”

The neck-through design is described in Pedulla’s early-’80s literature as a “capillary” style made with two or three pieces of maple. The neck is 1.55″ wide at the nut, and its scale is 34″. The lined ebony fretboard, marked with white inlay for 24 frets, was the obvious focal point in the design.

The back reveals the laminate neck-through build and uniquely integrated control-cavity cover.

“Michael developed this coating,” Egan recounted. “It was a very hard finish – long lasting – and at the same time created great sustain. His fretless fingerboard finishes are the finest and a very important feature for the Buzz Bass, giving it the growl much like a great upright bass sound.”

The text in a 1982 catalog also called attention to the fretboard and its Diamondkote finish, proclaiming, “The fingerboard has inlaid fret markers and is coated with our new superhard [sic] clear finish that holds up even under the punishment of roundwound strings. The combination of superhard finish, roundwound strings, and versatile electronics produces that ‘singing’ fretless sound so much in demand by fretless players today.”

The Buzz Bass was available with Bartolini active pickups or DiMarzio passive units. Variants included the JL (two Jazz-type Dimarzio pickups), JB (two Bartolini Jazz-type active pickups), PJL (DiMarzio pickups in a “P/J” array) or PJB (active Bartolinis in a P/J array, as seen on this 1987 example).

As for pickup brand choices, Egan detailed, “The Bartolinis were attractive to me, more so than the DiMarzios for a few reasons – I preferred their warmth and punchiness, and they produced less hum from interference. I’d replaced the pickups in my ’58 Precision Bass with Bartolini pickups while on the road with the Pat Metheny Group. For fretless, I prefer a P/J combination for punchy mids and a warm bottom-end, usually favoring the bridge pickup.”

Another unique feature is a compartment on the back for control access.

“That lid was Michael’s design, and another example of his fine woodwork detail,” said Egan. “It makes changing batteries a very simple process.”

The Buzz Bass’ tuners, bridge/tailpiece, and locking strap buttons were all made by Schaller, and the controls on this example with the PJB pickup array include separate Volume knobs, master Tone, a preamp/active Gain knob, and three-position pickup toggle. The mini-toggle engages the active electronics and has an LED indicator.

Pedulla later made the Buzz in five-string and fretted versions, and the affiliation with Egan, who remains an endorser, led to a signature model and the company’s first doubleneck (VG, September ’07).

Landers describes his own Buzz Bass as “…a close session partner for over 30 years. It’s on hundreds of recordings from Al Stewart to Tori Amos to Vince Neil.” He has since attained several other Pedulla models.

These days, Michael Pedulla has returned to crafting basses himself and enjoying the personal focus it allows him to give every instrument.

This article originally appeared in VG May 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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