I've met Holger Stonjek a couple of times in Melbourne (once at the Bass Centre where he half-offered to buy back my Classic S2 - was never going to happen - and then at the Sandberg workshop with Ida Nielsen which resulted in sigs of both Holger and Ida on said Classic S2). I simply emailed Holger a few weeks before my trip and asked if I could drop in, and he was quite happy for me to do so. Not sure if it's generally possible to do a tour.
Since he didn't charge I thought I'd take a bottle of Waterwheel Malbec - he appreciated the thought .
As already hinted the Sandberg experience was quite different to the Warwick experience. While both companies who been around for a similar period of time (mid-80s) but have taken quite different paths. Let's have a look.
Sandberg is on the first floor of this building in a very small industrial pocket on the outskirts of Braunschweig:
As you walk in you're greeted by this "larger than life" poster:
as well as some older little ones - here's a young Holger shaping a neck:
The actual floor area is much smaller than the Warwick factory (although both have a similar output of basses a year - 1,400 - 1,500) which means it's a lot more cluttered. Here's the actual woodworking area:
Some body timber:
and some more:
Body material is typically either alder or European ash - here's Holger himself drawing the outlines on a slab of ash:
A very rough first cut before further preps for gluing:
This is the neck CNC router:
and the body CNC router is to the left of that.
Necks coming off that machine had a great initial shape but were pretty rough (grooves in the back) so there is absolutely a need to hand-sand:
Fret slots are now also cut by the CNC router (used to be a saw that cut all slots at once - there's a video on the Sandberg site showing the saw and the resulting smoke!!). The slots, by the way, were a lot deeper than the fret tang which surprised me - I always try to have a very small to non-existent space under the tang).
Some old-fashioned gluing of headstock veneer using Titebond, by the way (Warwick use a machine and Collano glue, not available to he public):
All fretting is done by hand (good to see the zero frets!!) and all necks are then plekked:
Don't have a lot of pics of the body progression but ultimately they end up here:
As you can see there's a range of things available, with the biggest contrast right there: beautiful quilted maple top with black contrast veneer versus what looks like a hard core-aged body. YMMV.
Was asked not to take any pictures in the "ageing facility". This is obviously a major Sandberg drawcard, and someone spends around 15 hours to complete a Stage 4-ageing process. Solvents and abrasive implements of all shapes and sizes are involved .
Final assembly takes place here:
All Stage 4 aged ("Hardcore Aged Masterpiece) instruments get the vibration treatment (we didn't talk about the "thermo treatment", I didn't know about it):
This a Tecamp "Pleasure Board". Completed basses are claimed onto this and exposed to 100 hours of a loop of bass riffs (probably played by Holger himself) including finger-style and slap. They certainly vibrate but not anywhere near as much as I thought they would.
Pete asked how the final positions for the pickups was determined. Well, here's the mule:
Pickups are mounted on those little carriers which in turn are held in place by magnets. Holger told me that Ida spent hours and hours to fine-tune the position for her signature bass until she was happy. All this was done while playing with a drummer since, and I think he's right, Holger said that by themselves the basses sound pretty good but the proof in the pudding is whether or not it works with a bass drum. Makes sense to me, and that might explain why a VM with the Stingray humbucker sounds more like a J (since the position of the humbucker is more bridge J than Stingray).
That's all I have. Holger was a little pre-occupied with a photoshoot later in the day to finalise the new catalogue, bit of a shame but hey, it was still pretty good. Very different to the videos you see online (which are always "nice" - applies to the Warwick ones as well - but don't necessarily reflect "real") so I was glad I made the trip.
And to anyone who is complaining about our traffic: on the way from Braunschweig to Duesseldorf (my departure airport) I was stuck in a traffic jam on the autobahn. I did not move - at all - for 2 hours, and the jam ended up being 14 kms long (three lanes!). There.
OK, happy to answer any questions if you have any, and if I can.