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Stew Mckinsey playing his custom Birdseye Maple 8 string bass
Stew Mckinsey's custom Birdseye Maple 8 string bass
Stew Mckinsey with his first custom Conklin 8 string bass

Stew Mckinsey

     Even though Stew began his study of music as a small child, it was not until he first played electric bass did he find the instrument he truly loved and wanted to use as a means of expression. After several years playing those basses available to the mainstream market, he heard recordings featuring notes beyond the range of the 4 strings he knew so well. The sound captured his imagination and he knew he would search until he found a bass that would allow him to truly exploit his creativity.

     The search led him to dozens of instruments, some built by the biggest names in luthierie at the time, but none was exactly what he was looking for. No one really took Stew or his unusual ideas seriously. It was nearly 15 years before he found Bill Conklin and his incredible instruments.

     When Stew cautiously and anxiously broached the topic of his off-kilter specifications, Bill was not only open-minded; he was encouraging and excited about the project. Stew committed to the instrument without ever having played a Conklin before.

     Since that first contact, Stew has ordered no less than 4 custom instruments and even owned a GT-7. Conklin has been Mr. McKinsey’s first choice instrument since he received his first Sidewinder and he sees no reason why that will ever change.

Stew McKinsey's Conklin Experience

     By the time I found Conklin I had been looking for someone who would build me an 8 string for about 15 years. I had heard every reason in the world that luthiers didn’t want to take on the project (‘It would cost about $16, 000.’ ‘No one will make strings for it.’ ‘How are you going to amplify that?’ ‘It’s not physically possible.’ ‘You’re crazy!’), but Bill went over my specs and the basic idea and simply answered, “Sound great. Let’s try it!’           

     Needless to say, I was blown away.

     That didn’t change as I called Bill and sent emails throughout the build process. We discussed in detail what I was after tonally and aesthetically before any wood was cut or parts were ordered and when we were both satisfied, I sent in my deposit and work began. As I had questions along the way, Bill was gracious and incredibly patient.

    Now for the sake of perspective let me add that I had owned and played instruments from some of the best known companies in the bass world. I had been though dozens of 4, 5, and 6 string basses, and while I had loved a lot of them, none really gave me everything I was looking for. And to be honest, I never felt like I was important to the companies that I had dealt with previous to Conklin.

     When my bass was delivered and I played it for the first time, I knew that I had found the right builder. As cool as Bill had been along the way, I honestly did not know what to expect from the instrument itself.

     It was perfect. It was not only exactly what I’d asked for and what we’d discussed, it gave me so much more than I’d ever believed it could. My first Conklin became my primary instrument for both live and recording applications. I began to write music again for the first time in I don’t know how long.

     And that is my standard for an instrument: If it not only inspires me to play but to create music, it’s the bass I want!

     It was at my first NAMM show that I got to meet Bill and Mike. They were incredibly welcoming and put up with my almost constant presence at the booth with smiles. While we were talking about some of my projects, one of which was touring as a duet with 9 string Gregory Bruce Campbell, Mike kidded me by saying that no one would take me and my 8 seriously while I stood next to Greg – I would have to get a Conklin 10. We laughed at the time, but the idea had taken root in my consciousness. I let it grow a bit and a month or two after the NAMM show, I sent Bill a tentative email or two. As had been the case before, Bill was not only open-minded but encouraging.

     He took on the project and the resulting bass was nothing less than amazing. People always balked at its raw scale, but it was as natural to play and perfectly balanced as my original Sidewinder 8 string. When I first saw and played this bass, I knew that Conklin would always be my first choice for launching my hair-brained ideas.

     For me what is most important in a builder is not necessarily his or her technical facility. There are many great builders in the world. No, it is more the rapport that I feel. It is really important for me that the luthier really listens to me and is willing to discuss my ideas. When something is impractical or if my ideas are unworkable, I want to know that the builder will offer up alternatives. Bill took my rough ideas for 2 different basses and created a pair of masterpieces.

     It would be easy to end the story there, but I can’t. About one year after I took delivery of my 10 string, everything I owned was destroyed in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. For more than a week, I was out of contact with the world (those of us in the Superdome had no way to reach friends or family), but Bill Conklin was one of the first people to call me. It was an incredibly emotional event and an incredible gesture. Among all the other things that were said during that call, what amazed me was that Bill said – almost as an afterthought – “We’ll get a Conklin bass into your hands again, don’t worry.”

     I had no words.

     But there is still more to the tale! After Bill and Mike made me another staggeringly beautiful 8 string, I took a chance and called the shop one day. Even though I knew he didn’t want to build any more of them, I asked if the guys would be willing to take on another 10 string for me. Bill laughed but surprised me once again when he said, “Yeah, I thought you might ask that so I made an extra neck blank when I built a 10 for another customer. Let’s start talking specs.”

     I have been in music for more than 35 years and have been a professional bassist for more than 25 and I can tell you that Bill Conklin and Mike Apperson are not only master craftsmen, not only artists, but these are 2 very real people, 2 of the best I have ever known. It may be presumptuous to put in print, but I really feel like they are family and I am honored to play their instruments.

     This year I will take delivery on that 10 string I mentioned above and I have already written an album worth of material for it. With the possible exception of my voice, there will be nothing else on the disc but that gigantic Sidewinder.

     While I am still sometimes at a loss for words, I will always have these ones: Thank you, Bill. Thank you, Mike. You guys are the best!

Stew Mckinsey's CD Covers


Stew Mckinsey's Custom Yellowheart and Purpleheart 10 string bass


Stew Mckinsey standing with his custom Birdseye Maple Conklin 8 string bass


Stew Mckinsey's Lacewood custom 10 string bass