The first time I laid eyes on a Citron bass was in the hallowed pages of the glossy gear-porno Bass Player Magazine, probably in the late ‘90s. The two instruments I owned at the time, a stripped and modified ’68 Tele Bass and a circa ’85 Romanian flat back upright, were both gifts—so of course it would be years before I’d come to truly appreciate how great they are. I’d drool over the shiny photos of unattainable pre-CBS Fenders or exotic wood boutique art pieces or ultra-modern synthetic too-many-string oddities and dream. Harvey Citron’s basses stood out for riding the perfect aesthetic line between classic and modern, art and functionality. And damn, they took a lovely picture.
Flash forward 20 years and I’m meeting Harvey at Levon Helm’s barn/studio in Woodstock. He seemed charmed and a little taken aback by how excited I was. Of course we instantly lapsed into bass talk, which we would pick up again and again without missing a beat each time we’d run into each other. It was during one of these chats that I told him of a dream I’d had while I was on the road with Levon’s daughter Amy…in the dream I was playing a bass that looked like a Höfner Beatle bass, but instead of a violin body it was an ‘F’ style mandolin body. I could see that bass as clear as day, and I woke up WANTING it.
Harvey furrowed his brow as I described the dream, asking a few questions about what details I could remember. Then after a moment his eyes brightened and he said, “I might like to try to make an instrument like that!”
And man oh man, did he ever make it. I’d seen the master repairmen at David Gage’s shop in Tribeca doing impossibly delicate work on 300-year-old upright basses, but I’d never seen a master luthier turn blocks of wood into an actual honest-to-goodness one-of-a-kind masterpiece. At times I could tell he was more excited even than I was. His capacity for mind-numbing details never ceased to amaze me, and he eventually proved to me that I actually DO care about 1/16” here or there. But from the fog of all those details, the bass of my dream emerged. Even better than I’d dreamed it.
The pictures don’t do it justice. But they are lovely pictures, and to some extent that’s where it all began.
Check it out as “bass of the week” in No Treble.