French bass, contrabass and sub-bass guitarist tells FBPO about his original designs of some of the most unusual instruments you could ever imagine!
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
November 28, 2011
Yves Carbonne is a French artist, musician, bass, contrabass and sub-bass guitarist. He is also a composer and arranger, whose primary focus is on musical composition and instrumental research. Yves has worked with great luthiers Christian Noguera and Jerzy Drozd to develop his unique vision of the bass guitar. From those collaborations came the “sub-bass,” a new type of bass guitar capable of playing a full octave lower than a standard bass.
Yves plays a variety of bass guitars. He is known all over the world as the first ten- and twelve-string fretless (and lefty!) sub-bass guitarist. He still loves to play the 4-string bass guitar and enjoys collecting vintage left-handed Fender Jazz basses. His latest album, A Life, was released in 2009 on Jad AcoustixRecords.
FBPO: How would you describe your musical upbringing?
YC: My parents are not musicians, but real music lovers. I had the chance to listen to all kinds of music since my childhood. I started to play piano at 7, bass guitar at 13 and upright bass at 15.
FBPO: What attracted you to the bass?
YC: My older brother is a fine guitarist. When he started to play guitar when he was 15 and I was 10, I had the desire to play bass with him. I was attracted to the low frequencies. A good bass line is a melody that can be as strong as the main melody of the song.
FBPO: How did you get involved in instrument design?
YC: When I became a professional musician at 17, I started to seek my own sound. Most musicians try to reproduce the sound of the ones they enjoy the most, but not so many try to create their own sound. After owning some of the best bass guitars available when I was 25, I started to think about what could be my ideal instrument, with something more personal in the sound.
FBPO: What exactly is the sub-bass?
YC: What I call a sub-bass is basically a bass guitar tuned one octave below standard tuning. I started to experiment with this tuning in early 2000. I was convinced that the constant progress with audio technologies would make the sub frequencies totally useful.
FBPO: Tell me about your collaborations with Christian Noguera and Jerzy Drozd.
YC: I started to work with Christian Noguera in 1994. He was taking care of my instruments and we had a lot of discussions about what makes the sound of an instrument. In 1997, I came to him with a drawing of what became the first YC bass – a 5-string, jazz bass-oriented instrument, but with a personal sound and design. Soon Christian will make me a new YC 8-string fretted. The collaboration we have is great and the basses we created together are appreciated by a lot of bassists.
I contacted Jerzy Drozd in 2005. I was in love with his Legend model and was wondering if he could make a version with more than 7 strings. He immediately answered me and we started to work together on a fretless 10-string version. Jerzy is a very talented designer and has always believed in me enough to realize my 10- and 12-string fretless instruments. I’m waiting for a fretted version of my Legend X, a 10-string sub-bass guitar. It will be something very special.
FBPO: What are some of the other unusual instruments you’ve designed?
YC: I have put a lot of my ideas in all my models, but the more unusual instruments are probably the Noguera YC 4-string SUB and the Jerzy Drozd Legend XII 2.0 Yves Carbonne Signature. The Noguera YC 4-string SUB has the 3-octave range of the 4-string bass guitar, but one octave lower. A very big sound! The Jerzy Drozd Legend XII 2.0 Yves Carbonne Signature is a synthesis of all the great fretless basses I’ve played with the range of the biggest piano: eight octaves. An incredible instrument, with endless possibilities!
FBPO: Where does one get the proper strings for such unusual basses?
YC: Most of my sub strings are made by LaBella, but I’m not sure if they are available to the public at this moment. I love those strings. Circle K Strings and Octave 4 Plus also make great sub-bass guitar strings.
FBPO: Are you doing much playing/performing these days, or mostly designing exotic basses?
YC: I’m more and more involved in designing instruments today. I have some exciting projects with the great American luthier, Hannah Mayne. For me she’s the most gifted luthier for upright basses today. She has been able to create her own aesthetic regarding sound and design, while remaining true to tradition. We share very similar concepts about sound. We are already working on a very original acoustic bass guitar design and, at the same time, she’s making me an upright.
I will record a new album soon of only solo pieces, with no overdubs. My goal is to use my entire instrument collection, from the 4-string acoustic upright to the 12-string semi-acoustic sub-bass guitar. I want to continue to perform as a solo artist, do solo shows and master classes, as well as being a bassist/sub-bassist for other projects.
FBPO: What else lies ahead for you and your career?
YC: My priority is to compose and record music. I’m more concerned with doing that than playing the maximum gigs possible, even though I love to play in public. Unfortunately, recorded music has lost a lot of value today because too many people illegally download music of their favorite artists. It doesn’t really matter to me, though. I just want to make my little contribution to this world and put some positive energy into my music.
Also, continuing to work on some instrument designs is very inspiring for me. A pedagogical video and a book with the transcriptions of my music are also some of my future projects.
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player/designer?
YC: I don’t know, but I love challenges. And I love to create things. Whatever I do, I want to give the best of myself.