Up until 1995, Dennis Fano’s knack for repairing and building instruments was something he regarded as a “casual pursuit.” But all that changed, he says, when he landed a gig doing repairs at Matt Umanov Guitars in New York City.
“That experience exposed me to a wide range of instruments,” says Fano. “I was repairing everything from banjos to basses to guitars to ukuleles. The repair work gave me the foundation I needed to become a builder.”
So Fano left Umanov's in 2001 to pursue building full-time, but his passion for tinkering with instruments had started long before.
“My first victim was a wine red, short scale Harmony bass that my mom had given me for Christmas in 1984,” he says. “From early on, I wasn’t content to leave that thing alone. I had no training or prior experience, but that didn't stop me. I just had to know what made it tick.”
And it didn’t stop there. After saving enough money from a part-time job, he bought a 1966 Jazz Bass in homage to his Led Zeppelin hero, John Paul Jones.
“The bass had all of its original parts, but it had suffered the same fate that so many guitars did in those days — especially Fenders. It had been stripped and refinished numerous times.
“At first, I was content to leave the bass as it was because it was light years better than the student model Harmony I had been playing — but that didn't last long.”
Without a specific plan of action, he began modifying the bass one component at a time over the next few years.
“I refinished it, swapped out the pickups, added a third pickup, removed the pickguard and converted it to an 8-string. I kept it like that for a while but finally came to my senses and decided to restore the bass. Luckily, I had had the good sense to hang on to the original parts.”
Fast forward almost three decades and today you’ll find Fano’s creations in the hands of everyone from Walter Becker (Steely Dan) and James Valentine (Maroon 5) to Nels Cline and Jeff Tweedy (Wilco).
“Our guitars are handmade in the US by a small group of skilled craftsmen and we use top-of-the-line materials and components,” says Fano. “I feel that every player deserves to have a unique instrument that enables them to express their individuality, so there aren’t any limits when it comes to the custom instruments that I build in my shop.”