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By Orange County Business Journal

Monday, February 26, 2007

Miles Mosley needed a new upright bass for a big gig,playing with retro soul act Gnarls Barkley at the
Grammys. He wanted the best of both worlds: a new bass with the feel of an old one.
"So we took a new bass and beat the crap out of it," said Jason Burns, founder of Santa Ana's King
Now that's customizing.
King Doublebass makes upright basses, the cool kind with custom-painted flames that a Stray Cat
might play. Indeed, it counts Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats as a fan. Other King players include Tim
Skold of Marilyn Manson and Mike Kroeger of Nickelback.
Upright basses are a jazz staple. Rock musicians tend to use them as showpieces, according to Brad
Johnson, Burns' partner in King Doublebass.
"It attracts a lot of attention," he said.
Especially when a bass has a snazzy paint job or glows in the dark. Players can twirl it, hop up on the
side and "slap" it,an exaggerated way of plucking the strings. For rockabilly bands and others, the
upright bass becomes a performance prop.

Johnson: "We've got big goals"

The basses, also known as double basses, have a deep pitch and an acoustic sound. Playing one isn't
easy. There are no frets to mark hand positions. Switching to an upright from an electric bass takes
time. It's sort of like playing backward and players have to spread their hands wider, Johnson said.
Started about six years ago, King Doublebass is small with six workers. But business is booming
according to the partners. They don't disclose sales, but say sales are doubling on a yearly basis.
"It's very niche, but also growing," Johnson said.
Basses can sell for $10,000 for a "signature" bass. Prices typically are $1,500 to $4,000.
King Doublebass sells directly to musicians and through distributors that supply music stores. In
Orange County, the basses sell at Lemur Music in San Juan Capistrano.
They're also sold at Pete's Bass Shop in Portland, Ore., Music Villa in Bozeman, Mont., Steve's Music
in Montreal and online via the Web site of Oregon's Musician's Friend Inc. Brinks Musik of Sweden
distributes King basses in Europe.
The basses take about two weeks to make by hand. The wood comes from Santa Ana-based Austin
Hardwoods. Burns gets help from his neighbor on the electronics,pickups and wiring to amplify the
The company's Slap King line of basses is made in China. They sell for about $2,000.
The China basses arrive unpainted,"in-the-white," Johnson said,in 40-foot containers holding 110
basses. From there, the imported basses are strung and played to make sure they sound right. Then
they're painted and finished.
When the company first started making basses in China, inspection was an unpleasant task, Johnson
said. The basses arrived with imperfections. The problems were resolved after Burns and Johnson went
to China and showed them how to build the instruments, he said.
King Doublebass is looking to make more than basses. Cellos and violins are a logical next step. The
partners said they hope to tap the student orchestral instruments business,kids who play in the school
King Doublebass also is making prototype guitars, which Burns calls "a huge market."
The move into other instruments stands to put King Doublebass in some big competition, much of it
local. Buena Park-based musical instruments maker Yamaha Corporation of America dominates. The
company, part of Japan's Yamaha Corp., makes guitars, stringed instruments (but not upright basses),
brass, woodwinds and drums.
Local custom guitar makers include Fullerton-based G & L; Musical Instruments (founded by Leo
Fender) and Rickenbacker International Corp. in Santa Ana.
Burns said he's designed and built a guitar prototype, a traditional hollow-body with a one-piece neck.
"I was thinking about it for a few years," he said. "I can't just sit still. I keep coming up with new
King Doublebass is good at basses, said Toni Buffa, owner of Lemur Music.
"I can't keep them in stock," said Buffa, who owns the store with her husband Jerry. "They've got a
dynamic product. They have a known brand and a huge market share, she said. I wish we had more
product to sell."
Burns used to come into Lemur Music to buy parts for the basses he was making, Buffa said.
"He's a very creative guy. He always comes up with new ideas," she said.
King Doublebass only advertises in Bass Player magazine. It gets a lot of business through word of
mouth. It also sets up a booth at NAMM, the annual music industry trade show in Anaheim. The
company spends about $5,000 for the four days. This year it wrote about $60,000 worth of business
during the show, Johnson said.
Burns and Johnson said they gravitated toward the bass as kids and taught themselves how to play.
They watched videos of Elvis, Stray Cats and others.
"I picked it straight up," Burns said.
Burns grew up in Louisiana.
"There was music everywhere,everywhere except for my school," he said.
He's reluctant to admit it, but he said his first bass was one he lifted from his school.
"I just saw that thing sitting there," he said.
Burns said he stashed it in the woods and covered it with a tarp. For about four years, he snuck out to
the woods to play. His parents weren't eager for him to be a musician.
"I remember my parents saying: 'You don't want to go down that road,'" he said.
Johnson, who grew up in Lake Arrowhead, said he had a lot of chores to do before his parents bought
him one.
Burns started customizing and repairing basses while on tour.
"I was having to glue them together," he said.
He's played with Hank Williams III, C.C. Adcock and The Road Kings. He still does occasional shows
or goes out for a week now and then.
He started making basses in Riverside, where he also had a custom hot rod business called Sledsville.
He sold his part of the car shop and moved to Costa Mesa, where he made basses in his garage.
"We just couldn't do the 909 thing," he said.
Nearly three years ago, Burns and Johnson moved the business to Santa Ana. If the other instruments
take off, they plan to expand and hire more workers.
"We've got big goals," Johnson said. "We want to grow this thing as big as we possibly can."