Most creative professionals will admit that their work is more than a job or career. It is their life. Talented as both a musician and a designer, Rob Elrick has welcomed the life-long challenge of balancing two artistic passions. The culmination of his bass guitar skills combined with knowledge of materials has led to Elrick’s successful calling as a luthier (craftsman of stringed instruments). His bass guitars have been featured in Guitar World, Bass Magazine, Bass Player Magazine, Bass Frontiers Magazine and Modern Musicians Monthly.
“My company came about almost accidentally,” laughed Elrick. “I was gigging full-time in the early ‘90s and became unsatisfied with the bass guitar I was using. Limited in my choices, I shopped around but couldn’t find a 6-string that had the wide spacing I wanted.
“Although I didn’t work much with wood at the time, I had a rounded materials background in clay, glass and steel. Those years at CCS working with my hands and learning how to think differently in terms of three-dimensional design gave me the confidence to try and figure out a solution to my problem. I unveiled my first prototype in 1993.”
A music degree from Berklee College of Music and a professional background playing the instrument also distinguish Elrick’s work from competitors.
“It is surprisingly common that many luthiers lack experience playing bass, although some do play guitar,” said Elrick. “Rather than focus on the aesthetics of the instrument, my design criteria centers around practicality, versatility and ergonomics—all of the qualities I look for as a player.”
From his one-man studio in Chicago, Elrick works with a sales manager to manufacture bass guitars for retailers across the country. Mostly word-of-mouth promotion has brought his brand to the attention of the industry and ignited international buzz about his products. Due to demand for his bass guitars, he often works on up to eight instruments at a time to supply a 4-6 month back order.
“Since I don’t usually interact with clients directly, I’m not always up on which musicians are playing my basses,” said Elrick. “I did recently hear that Mariah Carey’s bass player contacted my sales manager because he was impressed with one I custom-made for Fred Hammond (Grammy award winning gospel singer/bass guitarist).
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to launch my product internationally. In the past, I worked with a Korean company to manufacture a line, and this year I am working with an instrument manufacturer in the Czech Republic. This time I’ll actually be the one overseeing the project, which is appealing to me.”
Elrick credits CCS for teaching him about the business of being an artist, a lesson he feels many other colleges and universities fail to teach.
“After I left CCS, I transferred to Berklee to pursue music,” said Elrick. “I watched as so many of my classmates as well as those from other schools graduated only to find themselves asking, ‘Now what?’ I never had to do that.
“At CCS I had the opportunity to learn about the business-side of the art world by taking classes like Nancy Thayer’s ‘The Business of Being an Artist’ and a course by Leonard Charla, a lawyer at General Motors, that focused on topics like copyright and how to protect yourself legally. A lot of what I learned applies to my business now.”
What began as a way to earn some money on the side has exploded into a rewarding business for Elrick. He enjoys the freedom that working for himself has allowed but over the years has had to cut back on playing gigs to increase his productivity as a luthier. Although he has been on hiatus for awhile, Elrick recently returned to the Chicago music scene filling in for other bass players as well as playing his original music.
“Throughout my undergraduate experience, I had to divide my time between music and art; I continue to struggle with that now,” admitted Elrick. “Separately they demand all of your energy; it’s difficult to do both. I did manage to strike a nice balance for a few years, then I lost it. But I like to think I’m getting closer to it again now.”
- Elrick Bass Guitars, Ltd.