Workshop tour

This is a short story written by user @kumimajava at the forum - slightly edited and reproduced here with his permission.

I’m still very new to bass, but after trying a (cheapish) 5-string bass, it became clear to me that I feel more at home on a fiver. And soon, of course, the temptation to find a “nicer” 5-string. Living in Tokyo gave me the luxury of dozens of nicely stocked music stores, and I suppose I’d been through a dozen of shops, and tried many more dozens of basses. I saw the Dulake model, by Freedom Custom Guitars Research (FCGR), but since it was slightly odd looking, and rather expensive, I walked past it quite a few times. I asked the shop assistant about the bass, and he said “It’s a small Japanese brand. Not very famous – but many pro’s use it. Very stable and durable.” Well, I’m not a pro, and I thought I’d rather not gamble on something I’d not heard of before.

But I remained intrigued, and after a quick internet search, I came up with this thread on the Forum. After reading through comments there, I thoguht I would actually give the FCGR basses a try next time I’m in the shop.

Turns out I loved it – somehow, to my hands, the neck profile felt immediately comfortable. I tried both the Dulake and the Rhino model, and while very different in sound, both share the same excellent quality in construction and finish. My initial predisposition was towards the Dulake because at the time, it was on discount (and thus cheaper than the Rhino), and also had 24 frets, which I thought would be nice.

The shop guy told me that in fact FCGR is based in Tokyo – turns out, about three miles down the street where I live. So before deciding on buying the instrument, I figured I’d drop by and have a look at where they’re made – maybe their main workshop would have other models to try, which weren’t in the shop?



FCGR’s website lists general opening times, and says that for maintenance/repair consultations, one should make an appointment. Well, I wasn’t planning on maintenance/repairs, so figured it would be ok to drop by the “showroom” unannounced. When I rang the doorbell, a rather surprised gentleman (Ken-san, I later found out!) opened the door, and asked me why I was there. “Did you make an appointment.” Umm – no. “Have you called us in advance?” Yeah, no – but would it be ok to have a look at some of your other instruments?


He told me to sit down, and wait a moment. To my surprise, a minute or so later, the founder of FCGR – Makoto Fukano – appeared, and said he’d be most happy to chat with me, explain about his instruments etc. What was supposed to be a quick visit, ended up lasting about two hours. What follows here are a few snipplets from that conversation, and some photos I took of FCGR’s “workshop” when I later collected my bass from a tune-up (also, some others are linked from other online sources – hope that’s ok).


Fukano-san started working on guitars around 35 years ago, and founded FCGR back in 1998. “First it was just me – then next month, another guy, then next month, one more. And so on.” Initially the workshop did high-end modifications and repairs of vintage instruments, as well as building Fender or Gibson style instruments. Later, they branched out into making more original designs.

A curious aspect of FCGR guitars is that they come with a 100-year (yes, one hundred) year warranty on the neck, and lifetime adjustment service for the first owner. Fukano-san said his aim is to create instruments that last as long as some of the legendary acoustic instruments – double basses, violins, cellos, etc. “It is also to motivate my employees,” he says “I tell them – you must work perfectly now, otherwise later someone else will need to fix your mistakes.” It seems that the team that he has built is agreeing to this philosophy.

Regarding the free-lifetime adjustment service – I expect this won’t be of much help to anyone living outside Japan, but for domestic players it is nice. I did tell Fukano-san that I am probably the worst ever player to purchase one of his instruments, to which he replied: “Well, we treat beginner and professional just the same. So if you want to change to new strings with different tension, change setup – let me know, we will do it for you. You don’t have to guess.”

One of the things that make FCGR special among Japanese instrument makers is that the workshop is located in downtown Tokyo, where the weather is very variable, and thoroughly unpleasant for instruments. In the past week, we’ve had temperature fluctuations of about 15 centigrade, and moisture levels varying between 20%, and a few evenings of downpour.


Fukano-san suggested: “Many of Japanese guitar builders have factories away from the city centre, where the real estate is cheaper, and weather usually more stable. But most of our customers live in dense cities. I want to build instruments in a tough environment, like the places where my customers will play them.”


So a part of the idea is to season the wood in a setting that is as very hostile, and if the wood is stable here – it should be fine most places. Indeed, after having some issues with a fickle neck on my first bass, I would ask the music shop staff what they would recommend for “the most stable neck”. The answer was very often: FCGR if you want a wooden neck, otherwise synthetic/carbon.

I didn’t fully understand the exact procedure by which the wood is seasoned, but it involves multiple cycles of drying, then bringing up to moisture, cutting the wood to shape, and repeating the process until the wood stops moving. From what I understood, when an order is placed, the body and neck woods are selected/matched, and the work on the individual instrument begins.


Depending on the individual pieces of wood, the seasoning may take from two to four months, and the overall wait for a custom order is around half a year. In the words of Fukano-san: “I look at the piece of wood, and if it is straight after the last cycle, we start working on the neck. If it is bent, I say: ‘you need some more rest.’ So we re-cut it, and put it back for another cycle.” To keep with the Fender- inspired tradition, FCGR use a single-action truss-rod. Fukano-san also told me that this allows them to remove less wood from the neck than a dual-action rod would. (Again, I’m too newb myself to verify.)



Another innovation, for which I believe FCGR has a patent, is their dove-tail Arimizo One-Point joint. The idea is that the neck and neck pocket form a dove-tail joint that is secure with a single bolt. The notion of using dove-tails for set-neck construction is, I gather, quite standard, and the innovation is in the use of the one-point tightening/adjustment bolt.


It is hard to convey this in writing, but the idea really does work. The first time I encountered the Arimizo joint was in the music shop – not at Fukano-san’s workshop. After playing the Dulake bass, the shopkeeper said a few things to me in Japanese (which, due to my poor language skills – I didn’t at all understand), took the bass, did something to the neck-bolt, gave it a hard whack, and handed the bass back to me. Then I played it again.

It did sound mellower, but surprised me more was that the bass also felt different to play. For the lack of a better word, the instrument felt softer, and didn’t seem to vibrate quite so much. I asked the shopkeeper to re-tighten the bolt, and the “rigidity” in the bass seemed to return.

When I asked Fukano-san about this, he said: “I love the old Fender sound, especially the old p-bass. I did research on this sound, and realised that sometimes the neck was a bit loose – and I liked the mellower sound. So I wanted to find a way of making this mellower sound, but with a stable neck.”


The puck at the back of the bass, which secures one end of the bolt, is either aluminium (on Dulake alder/ash) bodies, for a brighter sound, or brass (on the Dulake/wenge/mahogany bodies) for a darker sound. I told Fukano-san that I didn’t believe that this would make a differece – to which he laughed, and un-did the neck bolt completely, replaced the aluminium disk with a brass one, and handed me the bass. We then did the process again, going from brass back to aluminum. The difference in sound was subtle, but what surprised me more than that was – the bass was still in tune. So the dovetail joint together with string tension was sufficient to prevent any slippage when the bolt was added/removed.

To be honest, when I read comments on this forum about the one-point-joint thing, originally, I was very skeptical. I expect when you guys read this, you will be just as skeptical. Well, I suppose the one thing you can do, if you visit Japan, is just give it a try :) I don’t expect to be fiddling with the bolt on my bass very often, I think it will be more of thing of finding the setting I like most, and leaving it there. But it is a nice option to have.

Before the fretwork is done, each neck is strung-up and tensioned with strings for a few days. Fukano-san said that on many (especially mass produced) instruments the first time the neck is under tension is AFTER the fretwork is already done. He suggested that this may sometimes lead to slight changes in the alignment of the fretboard/frets. Again, I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes, but nonetheless, this is a process that all FCGR instruments undergo minimise longer-run issues. The frets that FCGR use are stainless steel, and come in two flavours – either “warm” for mellower sound, or “speedy” for a harsher modern tone. Apparently there is some difference in the hardness (or some other aspect?) of the frets which influences this part of the tone.



FCGR winds their own pickups in a room at the back of the workshop. For the bass pickups, in addition to the standard jazz and precision pickups they also have some of their original designs. I think they do also make various guitar pickups, but I wouldn’t have a clue about those.


The pickups that go in some of the new Rhino and Jazz basses, I was told, are curiously called “Bell Bottom”, and the neck and bridge pickups are wound differently. The neck pickup is wound to give a single-coil sound that has the mid-range behaviour as close to a P-bass pickup as possible. I must say that I don’t have enough experience of p-basses to verify/deny this, and there wasn’t a bell-bottomed Rhino (no snickering, please) in the shop to play at the time I visited. The pickups on the Dulake bass, on the other hand, are a reverse-P configuration, within a soapbar casing.

One of the things that I also liked, from the very first time I tried an FCGR bass, was how strong the passive tone was. The pre-amp, insofar as I could tell, did not colour the sound much – to my years, switching between passive and active, with EQ set flat, I couldn’t hear much of a difference. Fukano san explained: “For us, the primary aim was to always have a very strong passive tone. Then add the pre-amp. But the passive tone is always most important.” All active basses can be switched to passive, and indeed there are also some passive-only versions around.

In addition to the usual basses, FCGR also make guitars, and effect pedals. Indeed, they also have a few more eccentric “show” guitars and basses – like the one below, which has LED’s in the fingerboard. The colour and intensity of the light varies by the volume, and pitch, of notes being played. Not necessarily something you’d want everyday, but it’s a fun show piece



Obviously, I have no financial interest in FCGR, but since there is so little info about this maker in the anglophone internet, I thought I’d share my experience. If I hadn’t found out about them on this very forum, in all likelihood, I’d never have picked up what is now my favourite bass (oddly enough, I don't have my own photo of it, but it's this one - pic via Guitar Planet)


As you can probably tell, I do like their instruments, and I appreciate Fukano-san’s philosophy. If you do visit Tokyo, I would recommend visiting the FCGR wokrshop, or trying out their instruments in one of the many music shops around town (or, if you visit NAMM, I think they should have a booth!). And if you've persevered thus far - thanks for reading, and I hope I was able to shed some light on a maker who is (at least for now!) still not widely known on this forum.



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