Almost a year ago Valeria Kogan, part of the editorial team at Quantum Publishing in London, contacted me with a request for photographs of Orchid. She was a pleasure to correspond with and was putting together a hardcover book: 500 Guitars: A Definitive A-Z Guide.
Gavin Wilson is the author. He is publisher of GUITARZ — a website/blog where he has been passionately documenting interesting and eclectic instruments since 2002. I have not yet spoken to Gavin, but will do so. I would like to thank both Gavin and Valeria for honoring me by including Orchid in the guide. He writes, in part:
"Luthier Rick Toone of Milford, New Jersey, was commissioned to build a bass for Halie, a young female bass student. She had been finding it a struggle to fret notes in the lower register on a 34" scale bass, so a 32" scale was decided upon. To compensate for less string tension, Toone decided a stiffer neck was called for and ended up designing a trapezoidal neck profile, which provides great fretting leverage. The bass is sculpted in curly maple and swamp ash and is balanced for standing or seated performance, and also has good right arm support." (pp 342-343)
In the photo above, I show Gavin's book along with one of the original concept sketches for Orchid, this one dated 3/2/07 [for Halie]. I'd been thinking and sketching prior, but that was the date when she and I met up in person and we were able to finalize the shape and dimensions.
Hard to believe it's been more than three years already, but I think some of the reasons why this design is enduring and successful include:
Control Location — This is the first instrument where all controls are exclusively located on the upper front bout, where they are easily accessible to both hands, and removed from the arc of the strumming or plucking hand.
Neck-into-body Joint — I've been building instruments with this joint since 1993. The joint is exceptionally stable, and because I tend to terminate it in a pickup cavity, it presents a clean aesthetic line. Most importantly, that joint is a foundation allowing 3-D sculptural freedom to help make my instruments so comfortable. Interestingly, someone noticed this enough to publish the neck joint on Wikipedia.
Ergonomic Body Shape — When I relocated all controls to the upper front bout, that freed me to eliminate the lower rear bout of the design. This feature has become one of my signature design aspects. It saves weight, and allows perfect seated balance, as the lower front bout hooks the right thigh in conventional position, or the left thigh in upright position (between thighs). In standing position, the eliminated lower rear bout does not interfere with the right thigh when walking, as you will so often see musicians struggle with on stage. All of these features combine to create a shape that remains balanced and oriented ergonomically to your body in both seated and standing positions.
Trapezoid Neck Profile — As Gavin mentioned, this invention was specifically created for Halie to reduce her hand fatigue in both classical grip and pinch grip fretting hand playing positions by supplying increased leverage. I knew it was a new design, an unproven design, but fortunately she was willing to make that experimental leap together. Since then, the Trapezoid Neck Profile has grown increasingly more popular with both bassists and guitarists, spreading continent to continent. It is definitely the shape I prefer for my personal instruments. Patent Applied For.
Headless Orchid — You haven't seen this yet, but it is secretly growing out in the shop. It will feature the Toone & Townsend headless hardware including intonation adjustable nut as well as a bass version of the tuner that functions as both tuner and bridge. The conventional bridge is eliminated, instead replaced by a consolidated design that: intonates, functions as a bridge, tunes, and simply anchors the string.
PS: Scott in Hawaii, thanks for telling me about the book.