|Korg USA management with a selection of Spector basses: (l-r) Diana Cecchini, CFO, v.p. finance; Joe Castronovo, pres; Andy Rossi, sr. v.p. sales and marketing; Bill McGloine, v.p. operations.|
Korg Acquires Spector Bass
The combination of Korg’s sales and marketing prowess with Spector’s design and craftsmanship launches a new chapter for the company that helped define the contemporary bass guitar.
SPECTOR, THE COMPANY that has been synonymous with finely crafted basses for the past four decades, has been acquired by Korg USA. At first glance, the marriage of a hi-tech synth pioneer and a specialized bass manufacturer seems like a mismatch. On closer analysis, though, there is an underlying logic to the tie-up. Korg can lay claim to being the oldest continuously operating synthesizer manufacturer—the first Korg synth was unveiled in 1968—but the company has also demonstrated a proven skill in distributing boutique brands. In Japan, Korg has successfully introduced PRS and D’Angelico guitars, Allen & Heath mixers, CAD microphones, Aguilar amplifiers, and numerous other specialized products to the market. In the U.S., Korg has demonstrated similar skill representing distinctive products like Blackstar amps, Tanglewood and Cole Clark guitars, Right On Straps, and Crush Drums. For Joe Castronovo, Korg USA president, the Spector acquisition builds on Korg’s distribution prowess, but adds an extra dimension. “We’re not just the distributor,” he says. “We’re responsible for everything: sourcing, production, global sales.”
The Spector acquisition was preceded by what could be called a lengthy trial period. Three years ago, Korg USA began distributing Spector’s imported bass lines, and by providing strengthened sales and marketing support, they more than doubled revenues in a short time frame. This dramatic improvement indicated an untapped opportunity and prompted Castronovo to ask Stuart Spector for “right of first refusal” if and when he decided to sell his company. About a year-and-a-half ago, when Spector finally made the decision to retire, a deal with Korg was quickly consummated. Spector comments, “I’m delighted that after 42 years of building the Spector brand that I’m able to pass the baton to a great organization like Korg. I’m particularly pleased with their commitment to our U.S. manufacturing operations. They’ve already made significant investments in people and equipment that will benefit the entire Spector line.”
"Play one and you immediately
know it’s a Spector.
That’s what made it successful,
and we’re not going to change that."
With a unique combination of tonal power, excellent ergonomics, and exquisite craftsmanship, Spector basses have been the first choice of many top players including Gary Tallent of the E-Street Band, Doug Wimbish of Living Colour, Sting, the late Jaco Pastorius, and Chris Kael of Five Finger Death Punch. Thus, Korg management is understandably cautious about making any dramatic changes in the product recipe. “We view our role as taking care of an iconic legacy brand,” says Castronovo. Spector’s distinctive, gracefully curved NS body shape will remain the anchor of the product line, the proprietary active pick-ups will remain unchanged, as will the unique hardware. As John Stippell, Korg’s product manager of guitar brands, explains, “The combination of Spector’s neck-thru design, active electronics, and bridge design creates a different sound…more alive, with more growl. Play one and you immediately know it’s a Spector. That’s what made it successful, and we’re not going to change that.”
Like most contemporary guitar manufacturers, Spector has developed a global manufacturing strategy to address all price points in the bass market. At its home base workshop in Woodstock, New York, basses are handcrafted to exceptional tolerances for the most discerning players. Each instrument is actually built to exploit the unique properties of specific pieces of highly quilted maple; pau ferro; reclaimed, water-cured redwood, or other species. Denser wood is better suited for a heavy metal guitar, softer woods provide the tonality better suited to jazz players. This attention to detail doesn’t come cheap, however. U.S.-made Spector basses start at around $4,000 retail.
|Spector offers its basses in three product families to address all major price points: U.S. instruments, hand-built at its Woodstock, New York factory; the Euro Series, built in the Czech Republic; and the Legend Series, sourced in factories in Asia. All are defined by the elegant NS body shape and innovative electronics. Above, a selection of Euro models.|
Leaving Well Enough Alone
With its Euro Series, Spector offers a more affordable, production version of the U.S.-made instruments. Built in the Czech Republic, using tonewoods selected by the Spector team, the instruments feature Spector’s signature neck-thru design, custom-wound Bartolini and EMG pickups, and proprietary active circuitry. The retail price of approximately $2,500 “Puts the Spector bass experience within the reach of a wider audience,” says Stippell. “These are professional instruments, though, ones you can confidently take on stage.” The Spector Legend Series, produced at several Asian factories, is offered at entry level, sub-$1,000 price points. The basses feature the NS body shape, with a bolt-on neck, providing a compelling value for the aspiring player.
While the product lineup remains unchanged, the way Spector products are being presented to the marketplace is undergoing a major upgrade. For the Legend and Euro Series, inventory levels have been substantially increased at Korg warehouses, offering retail partners faster and more reliable order fulfillment. “In the past, sales were missed simply because they didn’t have the inventory,” says Castronovo.
At the Woodstock factory, Korg has also been investing in new equipment and improved internal systems for better management of inventory and workflow. However, the workshop remains under the direction of a team of veteran Spector employees. Jim Quick, production manager, and Jimmy Eppard, manager of the final assembly, continue to oversee the bass building process. Andy Rossi, Korg senior vice president, calls the Woodstock facility “the heart of the Spector brand” and says that it benefits from an ideal location. “Woodstock is like a ‘Silicon Valley’ of woodworking craftsmanship,” he says. “There is a deep pool of talent to draw on.” Plans call for additional retail support materials to make it easier for buyers to configure a customized U.S.-made bass. U.S.-made production models will also be added to the product line.
“We keep these super passionate fans
engaged and belonging
to a community.”
The full range of Spector products is benefiting from a new website, expanded video content, and active social media marketing campaigns. Morgan Walker, senior manager of marketing and communications, says the program is designed to “inform, inspire, and engage.” Targeted advertising on Facebook, the Spector Facebook fan page, and Twitter are being used to trumpet new product releases and retail promotions. A steady stream of artist-related posts at the Spector Instagram page provide inspiration to potential buyers. Finally, a team ready to answer any and all online inquires, provides engagement. Walker says, “We keep these super passionate fans engaged and belonging to a community.” In all of Spector’s online communications, special care is being taken to provide compelling images of the instruments. Walker explains, “Online, you just have a split-second to get someone’s attention, or you’ve lost them.”
|With the Legend Series, produced in Asia, Spector design and playability are available at entry-level price points.|
Korg management also sees significant untapped international opportunities for the Spector line. At the recent gathering of Korg’s global distributors, Rossi gave a brief presentation on the Spector line. “I was really surprised with the response,” he recalls. “In a number of markets where we had no coverage, there was a high degree of interest. It proves that these iconic U.S. guitar brands have tremendous mystique around the world.”
The integration of Spector Basses into the larger Korg organization is still a work in process, but results to date have been encouraging. Rossi says much of the progress is due to “the great legacy Stuart has given us to work with. He really is one of the fathers of the modern bass guitar.”
This legacy rests largely on Stuart’s pragmatic approach to instrument building. On one level, he embraced tradition, using luthiers’ techniques for crafting his instruments. Yet, at the same time, he was never reluctant to push the design envelope. He was among the first to use a carbon fiber neck reinforcement system because it matched the stiffness of a steel truss rod but weighed 80% less. He also helped pioneer active pickup circuitry and created body designs that were anything but traditional. As he once explained, “I’ll try anything if it helps extend frequency range, improve reliability and playing comfort, or create a better value.”
The Spector bass story began in New York City, where Stuart grew up in a musical household. He cites Doc Watson, the blind bluegrass virtuoso, as a major inspiration, and by his teens, he was a proficient guitarist and keyboard player. His interest in instrument making was sparked by a 1972 meeting with the late Mike Kropp, an accomplished banjo player and a Columbia records A&R executive at the time. The “Dueling Banjos” theme from the newly released film Deliverance, had caused a banjo boom, and Stuart recalls looking at Kropp’s banjo and thinking, “I could make one of those.”
He started building guitars at home and became, as he describes it, “obsessed with the process.” Two years later, he began building instruments in earnest at a Brooklyn-based woodworkers’ cooperative, where, in an abandoned factory loft, he shared space and tools with six other craftsmen. Initially he tried his hand at guitars but gravitated towards basses because, as he explains, “bass players seemed more willing to try something new; guitarists were much more bound to tradition.” By 1976, he had enough confidence in his basses that he ventured across the East River to New York’s 48th Street, looking to make a sale. “My first stop was at Grayson’s Music,” he recalls. “When I showed Bernie Grayson my bass, he didn’t seem very impressed. But he gave me $500 for it, which was a lot of money back then, and said, ‘go build another one.’ That’s when I guess I got started in business.”
Ned Steinberger was building furniture at the Brooklyn co-op right next to Stuart’s work bench. Although at the time he had no experience with musical instruments, he had a thorough understanding of ergonomics, the science of tailoring designs to work with the human body, and a knack for stylish industrial design. Stuart enlisted his help with a new instrument he was working on, and the result was Spector’s NS body shape, a design distinguished by its perfect balance, graceful curves, and neck-through construction. At Steinberger’s suggestion, Stuart adopted the carbon fiber neck reinforcement. Three years later, Stuart returned the favor and helped Steinberger develop the groundbreaking Steinberger headless graphite bass.
Silicon Valley Of Woodworking
By 1985, Spector Bass had a growing roster of artists and distribution in major European and Asian markets. That year, Stuart sold the business to Kramer Guitars, which was riding high on the endorsement of Eddie Van Halen and exclusive distribution rights to the Floyd Rose tremolo system. The marriage ended badly when Kramer went bankrupt in 1990, but was not without some benefits. While helping develop entry-level Kramer guitar models, Stuart forged relationships with the Czech Republic-based artisans who continue to build the Spector Euro Series. In 1992, Stuart re-established bass production at the current workshop in Woodstock, but it took another six years to reclaim the Spector trademark.
The Spector shop in Woodstock reflects Stuart’s pragmatic approach to instrument making. When it comes to cutting bodies and necks, the job is performed by computer controlled routing machine, while the final shaping is still done by hand. An automated machine is also used to cut fret wires. However, finishing, fretwork, and the selection of wood are jobs performed by skilled luthiers. The balance between machine and craftsman has evolved constantly, dictated by as Stuart says, “Whatever produces the best results.” Korg management is taking a similarly pragmatic approach to the latest addition to its brand portfolio, preserving a product line with an enthusiastic global fan base, but enhancing it with additional sales and marketing support. A formula already proven to produce “best results.”