Talkin' Shop With Mike Kinal


Master luthier Mike Kinal talks with Chris Tarry about woods, tone, inspiration, and the art of bass building
Chris Tarry: Hi Mike and thanks for taking the time to chat with us here at Active Bass. Maybe you can fill us in on where your shop is and how you started building basses?

Mike Kinal: Thanks Chris, it's my pleasure. My shop is located at 3239 East 52nd Avenue in Vancouver, British Columbia. I started to build guitars and basses at the ripe young age of 15 in High School mainly because I was interested in music (I was a drummer back then) and because I didn't want to make the usual woodshop projects.

CT: How different are the basses you built when you first started compared to the ones you make today?

MK: Today the basses I build are constructed of a wide range of different woods and state-of-the-art electronics - this in turn makes the instrument more versatile and sensitive for a wide range of music. Whereas the basses of yesteryear that I built were not as refined - but this all comes with experience and years of listening and experimenting.

CT: The design of the MK-5 is one of the best looking and balancing basses I have ever played. How did you arrive at the current design and where did you come up with such great Kinal design concepts as the 6 bolt system and the beautiful signature wood jack plug?
A fretless MK-4

Mike uses a six bolt system in the neck joint and a wood plug around the input jack that matches the fingerboard.


MK: Thanks for the compliment. The MK5-B came about after building neck through designs for some years. You always have to be aware of what musicians need and demand, so I thought about the bolt on concept and designed the MK-B (B is for bolt on) series basses in 1994. I now offer a new model of the bolt-on series called the SK5-B. I use the 6 bolt system for the stability fo the neck to the body. The input jack plate I have been doing for years, I believe I started doing this on my solid body 6 strings in 1976.

CT: A lot of people here at Active Bass have questions about various woods used in the construction of basses. Let me throw a few types out there to you and maybe you could explain some of their uses and characteristics.

Swamp Ash

MK: Great sounding body wood, can be used by itself or in conjunction with an exotic hardwood top. Good lows and mids are its tonal characteristics.

Maple

MK: Excellent material for neck construction. Eastern or rock maple is used in neck construction because of its density and stability. Western maple (figured) is great as a top wood on guitar bodies. Figured maple bookmatched can be very stunning.

Ebony

MK: Primary use is for Fretboards adds brightness to the overall acoustic tone of the instrument.

Pau Ferro

MK: Again used for fretboards and is a warmer tone than ebony. Doesn't have quite the edge in top end brightness.

Alder

MK: Great sounding body wood (one of my favourites) a closed pore wood so it doesn't breathe like swamp ash but the articulation of lows and highs are clearer.
CT: What are some of the more uncommon/exotic woods you like to use and why?

MK: Some of the other woods I like to use are:
  • Korina - good body wood that has tonal characteristics between swamp ash and alder.

  • Basswood - another good sounding wood for bodies with tone, a lot like alder.

  • Wenge - good for necks - brighter topend over maple.
CT: You build each bass by hand. With the care and attention to detail you give how long does it take to finish a typical Kinal bass and what is the hardest part in that process?

MK: Yes, each bass is built by hand. The complete process takes about 45 hours. As far as the hardest part, all the stages of the building work with each other, but I would have to say the finishing (spraying) is one of the most difficult.
Spraying a Kinal bass

Mike Kinal works on putting one of his signature finishes on a new MK-4


CT: What is exactly involved in spraying an instrument?

MK: It's a very lengthy process, that would take about a page to describe. In short, putting on the color is kind of like a artist with a paint brush. The clear topcoats are fairly easy to apply. It's the final rubbing out and polishing that are time consuming and tricky to get perfect.

CT: Your basses are getting very well known around the world and most people don't know that it is just you, some wood, and a small shop at the back of your house. How do you keep up with demand and how do you foresee meeting that ever growing interest in your work?

MK: I know, I know. Maybe I'll raise my prices so only the elite will by them (laughs). I think the wait will be a little longer because I want to keep the quality and integrity in. I'm not out there to threaten anyone. Just build the best basses I can on a small scale.

CT: What is the current wait time for a custom made Kinal bass?

MK: The current waiting time on a bass is about 4 months, give or take a week.

CT: I have noticed you are very open to suggestions and feedback on your instruments. In the time we have worked together we have made a few small modifications to various basses you have made for me. You also make an effort to come out to almost every gig I play so you can check up on the sound of each bass in a live situation. Is spending time listening to and hanging with the musicians who play your instruments important in developing a great product?

MK: It sure is! the musician's input and ideas are what successful bass building is all about. Leo Fender didn't even play the guitar so he relied on the player's ideas for developments and improvements. Players have to be comfortable with my instruments and I try to get them in that comfort zone in all aspects - such as neck profile, body wood, weight, color and electronics.

CT: What is it about building bass guitars that keeps you building?

MK: The buzz I get when I finally put the strings on and play it. There is nothing like it!

CT: You have recently come out with a new product line of bass tuners. Tell us a little about them

MK: The idea came from a few friends and the design came about looking at what was on the market already. Also the materials that I was working with.
The Kinal Bass Tuners

Each tuner is custom made from various exotic wood's and stamped with it's own serial number.


CT: How do they differ from traditional bass tuners?

MK: These winders are handmade out of exotic hardwood not made of plastic in an injection mold. A little more T.L.C.

CT: What's in the future for Mike Kinal? As a friend, I know there are a few top secret projects in the works. What new things will you spring on the unsuspecting bass public in the near future?

MK: Some new designs and acoustic projects are in the works.

CT:Thanks for spending some time with us here at Active Bass. All the best Mike

MK: The pleasure was mine.

For more information about Kinal basses, visit the Kinal website at www.kinal.com