The International Institute Of Bassists
Bass Courses Video Lessons Bass Lessons Subscribe Interviews News Links Advertise About Contact Archive Home




Product Spotlight - October 2007

Skjold Design Guitars


Skjold Design Guitars
Since 1996, luthier Pete Skjold has been on a mission to design the most tonally flexible, consistent, and playable basses in production. From his 2,000 square foot facility in Lewisville, Texas, Skjold has continued to refine his manufacturing process by combining the knowledge he has acquired as a professional bassist for the past twenty years with the traditional and exotic woods he utilizes to fabricate his customized bodies, necks, and fingerboards. With the addition of the Lion's Pride model in 2007, Skjold now produces a complete lineup of lightweight 4, 5, 6, and 7-string fretted and fretless bass guitars featuring the highest quality components available.

In this interview, Pete Skjold discusses the events that led him to founding his own company and the custom options that are offered on Skjold basses along with his thoughts regarding wood tops, pickups, electronics, polyester finishes, multi-laminate necks, zero frets, fanned frets, bridges, and strings.




How did you get started building bass guitars?

Skjold Design Guitars I started playing bass in 1987, and by 1989, I was playing Michael Tobias basses exclusively. I had a 4-string and a 5-string fretless, and I wanted to check out the 6-string. Tobias sold his company to Gibson in 1990, and I was left looking for other basses to fill the gap. I eventually asked Chris Pearne, a local luthier in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, if he could build a bass to my specifications and design. He agreed, and from there, I went to work designing the bass. This bass became the Skjold Standard '92 model which featured Lane Poor pickups as early as 1993. I finally took possession of the bass in 1994 when I moved to Las Vegas. At that time, I started thinking of marketing the bass through other manufacturers and getting them made for resale. I tried working with some luthiers to achieve this and soon realized I would have to do it myself. In 1996, armed with a router and sandpaper, I started building basses in my friend's garage. I spent the next couple of years studying and coming up with my own processes. By 1999, I was committed to making Skjold Design Guitars a reality.

Were there features on the instruments that you owned or played as a bassist before founding your own company which you felt you could enhance?

When I sat down to develop the design for the Standard '92, I was able to be selfish in regards to what I wanted. It was more a point of borrowing all the aspects I could from the best makers of the time. I really thought the 35" scale made total sense. I was also a fan of compact bodies and balance was a huge issue, too. By the time I was making the components, little things started to come to the forefront like moving the nut closer to the body, pickup placement, specifications for the thickness of the fingerboard, and laminations. I also started using the zero fret which I found to be a great feature even though its concept was somewhat misunderstood.

What distinguishes Skjold basses the most from the instruments designed by other bass builders?

Looks might be an obvious one, but I think it goes much deeper into all the aspects I tried to bring to the table as a player. This is the biggest thing people notice the first time they play a Skjold. They immediately know that the person who built the bass also plays it.

Can you highlight the fundamental differences between the Skjold Stage Series, Pro Series, Pro Series Deluxe, Custom Series, and Exotic Custom Series basses?

Skjold Design Guitars The differences are very intuitive. The Stage Series starts out as bare bones but is a great sounding, great playing bass in the vein of the classic passive basses we all love. The Pro adds a little more to the dish with active 2-band EQ and a clear finish over premium 2-piece bodies of mahogany, swamp ash, and Spanish cedar. A passive option is available on any bass. I am actually revamping the Stage and Pro Series at the moment.

The Pro Series Deluxe is the newest model. I am really excited about this one because it combines the most popular features such as exotic tops with more standardized options including a new 3-band preamp by John East. This preamp allows the player to move the frequency point internally for each band. This feature is very useful for voicing a bass properly with the preamp and allows the player to get what they want tonally. If a player wants to boost the treble at 2.5 kHz instead of 4 kHz, he can dial it in. If they want the mid to boost at 250 Hz instead of 400 Hz, they can do that as well. This model also features exotic tops and premium 3-piece necks. The standard preamp contains volume, blend, treble, mid, and bass controls.

The Custom Series gets the customer totally involved with all the choices. This model features a 5-piece neck and a choice top with matching headstock and heel plate. It also contains the Deluxe Skjold/East preamp. The controls are volume, blend, treble with ultra bright function, bass boost only, and a mid-sweep control that is custom voiced for me. The mid-sweep is very useful when trying to get the scooped slap sound or punchy low-mid burp you can't get with a regular boost/cut control. The bass control gets progressively lower as you turn it up and is very musical. This preamp is an option on any model, and I also offer a custom 5-position Z-Mode Audere with two bands of midrange.

The Exotic Custom Series goes even further into the one-of-a-kind treatment. It features an exhibition-grade top and back with matching control cover, and multi-laminated necks are often incorporated. It is a great model for those who want the full experience in a custom option bass.

Are there common features shared between Skjold basses?

Yes. There are many common features on all Skjold basses. First, all of my necks are at least 3-piece laminated with graphite reinforcement and a 2-way truss rod. All Skjold basses come equipped with Hipshot hardware including my custom A-style bridge along with my custom pickups and strings. The standard scale length is 35", but 34" is becoming an option. I currently use polyester for all my finishes and hope to add a satin option soon. One thing I don't want to forget to mention is the fingerboard radius. I use a compound radius that starts with 12" at the nut and finishes with 18" at the 24th fret.

What are some of the options customers have available in customizing their own Skjold bass?

The customer has their choice of fingerboards, tops, preamps, body woods, and colors. They can choose from several options like fingerboard inlay blocks of exotic wood, wood knobs, wood pickups, and fretless fingerboards. I try to stay open to as many options as I can, but I do not do customer-designed projects. This allows me to zero in on what I know works for a given situation. Customers can also choose from several body styles including the Standard '92, Offset '92, Whaleback, and the newest body shape, the Lion's Pride, which is inspired by more traditional shapes including the headstock.

With so many different body, neck, and fingerboard woods to choose from, how should someone decide which wood combinations to utilize in the construction of their bass?

I prefer to speak with every customer regarding their needs and wants. Often customers come to me with a tone in their head and a look in their eye. Many times the two aren't the same. It is my job to guide the customer to the end goal. The sound is usually where we need to start and then we can look at aesthetic aspects. Customers generally find that they have plenty of options in both regards. There is no hard sell on my part. I try to remain as objective as possible. Like I said, it is my job to guide the customer to their satisfaction in a handmade bass guitar.

Which components of an electric bass do you feel are the most substantial in shaping its tonal character?

Skjold Design Guitars In short, all of them are. In my experience with building basses, I have found that all of the components play a big part in tonal character at the end of the day. For instance, I use a pretty thick fingerboard which impacts the sound quite a bit. I need to know when I use an ebony board how it will affect the Spanish cedar body or the top and back laminations. I usually experiment with different combinations before I suggest anything to a customer. My necks are very stiff which provides a full fundamental more like composite necks than plain wood necks, and this characteristic adds to the mix. Remember, this is a design that I have been honing for close to thirteen years, and I am constantly refining the process. After all this time, I am starting to hear those characteristics which keep turning up in the Skjold bass including the focused B-sting, the clarity, the definition, and the flexibility in the tone department. All of these variables add up to the total experience of a Skjold. I say this knowing that there are also many other great luthiers out there who have found their ingredients and are turning out great basses, too. I can really only speak for myself as to what works for me, though. I am blessed that the things I want in a bass have turned out to be what many other players want as well.

Do you believe wood tops significantly impact the overall tone of a bass or are they chosen primarily for their appearance?

It depends on the application. If you use a thicker top, then it will impact the sound more. I generally use a 1/4" top with a veneer lamination. I find that laminating a piece of wood on top to be more of a tonal factor than the species of the wood. If you use redwood versus maple for instance, the redwood, which is much softer and more porous, is going to absorb more finish and therefore become as dense as the maple. This is why it is so important on acoustic instruments to use a very thin finish on the top. The more laminations you introduce to the equation, the more you will focus the Q resonance. The Q resonance is the narrowing of the frequency band which produces a peak generally in the midrange. This is often referred to as honk and generally is not desired. I prefer to use a 1-piece body with no laminations for people who want a full, resonant tone. I have to be really careful with the Exotic Custom Series because it can come out very mid heavy if I don't use a very light resonant core. Think of a 1-piece body as an empty warehouse. At first, it is very open and resonates from end to end until you start adding walls and partitions. Then, the sound comes back to you much quicker. In a bass, the addition of a top takes a little away from the overall resonance but adds a harder surface for the vibration to reflect off.

Could you tell us about the custom pickups and electronics utilized in Skjold basses?

My pickups are custom made to my specifications and use a split-coil design for humbucking. They are modeled after vintage specifications and give a very good representation through the entire frequency spectrum. They use rare earth magnets (neodymium) which produce a very clear top end and full bass response. The C-4 uses two of my regular pickups in the same housing. This focuses the midrange which is best for fretless and passive applications. When used with the selector switch, you can go from the neck pickup to both in series to both in parallel and to the bridge pickup. This gives you four distinct passive tones. John East makes all the preamps I use except for the custom Audere. The best things about the East preamps are their flexible and musical properties. I wanted the broadest and most transparent preamp I could get in order to use several different wood combinations and still offer the player ultimate control over the sound of their bass. The Pro Deluxe preamp has the frequency points for boost/cut that the player can dial in. This is a great feature in that it allows you to find the best frequencies for each band for each bass. The Pro Deluxe is the only preamp I know of that does this internally with thumb screws. It runs in active mode only with a compensated blend. The more deluxe version of the preamp allows the player to sweep the midrange and cut and boost whatever frequency a player desires in the mid range. I really like the passive feature that is controlled by a push/pull tone control which works passively or actively. Because the preamps are made in the United Kingdom, I get hit pretty hard with the exchange rate, but I believe these to be the best preamps I can use for my basses. Everything John makes is very well done and thought out. It is a pleasure to be working with him.

What types of finishes do you apply to the bodies of your basses?

Skjold Design Guitars I have utilized many different finishes on my basses over the years. I now use high-grade polyester on the bodies and top of the headstock. This combination is the best of both worlds for me. My finish provides the best protection while allowing me to build it up rather thin. I feel it is very important to have a durable finish on a bass in this price range. Although oil can look wonderful and light lacquers feel nice, they don't last long if you are playing these on a regular basis. Moisture from sweat and humidity can break them down and then you are left with a bass that is unprotected. Some people worry about how finishes change the sound, but I have heard very little difference between the different finishes I have used. If anything, the polyester changes the sound for the better on my basses. I use a special blend of sealers and finish for the necks. They penetrate the wood and can be maintained very easily. It provides a moisture barrier without a heavy finish. The feel is that of a vintage bass which has been broken in over several years of playing.

Can you describe how much a 3, 5, or 7-piece neck is going to affect the sound of a bass?

The more laminations there is in a neck, the more the midrange is impacted. I prefer the sound of the 3-piece neck overall because it doesn't impact the other components as much. For me, this is the minimum number of laminations for a stable neck, but there are other builders who use 1-piece necks and have no problems. It depends greatly on the builder's wood choices and experience. The 5-piece is very stiff and is my standard on the Custom Series. I have been building 5-piece necks the longest and like how they bring just enough added push and focus to the overall sound. When you start getting into 7-piece necks and up, you need to know how those necks will interact with the body and fingerboard. If you have a mid-heavy body, like mahogany for instance, you will want to stay away from adding too much of the darker woods like bloodwood or bubinga. I try to add the veneers or stringers proportionally to the basic maple neck. Although there may be several more laminations, the end results in tone shouldn't be that different if done right. This really addresses the aesthetic part of the process. At the end of the day, you want a neck that is sonically and mechanically sound which also turns some heads in the looks department.

Do you build single-cut designs, and if so, have you found there to be much of a tonal variation between the sound they produce and that of a double-cut body?

Skjold Design Guitars I don't make single-cut basses, but I do make a Whaleback design that definitely has more mass in the body than my standard body shape. This is where I hear the greatest difference. Since all my necks are bolt-on, it is the added mass that gives the Whaleback the added depth and fullness. In fact, my personal bass is a Whaleback fretless 5-string. Some bassists consider the Whaleback a single-cut, but I don't follow the construction elements of single-cuts because I do not attach the upper bout to the body at the 14th fret like most luthiers do. Instead, I leave it free so the entire neck can move naturally, and the relief is the same on the bass side as it is on the treble. I see the potential for problems when you attach the bass side of the neck up so high and not the treble because the stress on the entire neck is thrown out of proportion. I am not trying to discourage others from purchasing a single-cut bass because if made properly by someone who takes all these variables into consideration, you can eliminate some of these issues.

Are there any benefits to playing a bass with a zero fret?

A zero fret is used in place of the regular nut you find on most basses. The zero fret I use does a great job of keeping the open strings sounding even compared to the fretted notes. A standard graphite nut usually sits higher and can cause pitch problems at the first frets on the neck. I've noticed that other builders are starting to see the benefits of using the zero fret as well.

Have you ever experimented with a fanned-fret fingerboard?

I have only made one bass that used a fanning of the frets. It did play like a dream, but I didn't find any gleaming advantages that would make me say I need to pursue this as a full-time option. The basic idea behind it is very cool and makes a lot of sense. Whether someone feels that it really has major advantages or not is up to the player. There are several builders out there now who offer this option. I can see it being very useful for extended range basses which have over eight strings where you really need the smaller scale for the higher strings and the longer scale for the lower strings to sound and feel right. I don't receive enough requests for fret fanning for me to do all the retooling I would have to do to make it an affordable option for my customers. If someone feels this is a must-have feature, it is available through several great builders such as Dingwall in particular.

How does the Hipshot A-Style bridge differ from a typical bridge?

Skjold Design Guitars The custom Hipshot bridge features locking top mount quick release holes which pull the strings down at a greater angle. This design also adds mass to the end of the bridge. It is contoured, and the sharp angles have been softened making it ideal for resting your palm on it. The design also finishes out the end of the body to the original look I was after when I designed it.


Since you sell your basses directly from your shop, what is the best way for a potential customer to test a Skjold bass?

I am currently trying to build up stock basses for my exclusive dealers who will have basses on hand in the future. At the moment, the best way to play a Skjold is to check out different forums on the internet and find people in your area who have a Skjold. Many of my latest customers have come to me after trying a friend's Skjold or attending an event where they were able to try one. Skjolds are different from what most people are used to playing so it is important that they try to play one in person if possible. If you have a retailer you like to do business with, ask them about bringing a Skjold into the store for a free 30-day trial. Have your retailer call me for details.

How long does it take to complete a bass once downpayment has been received?

Skjold Design Guitars Presently, I am building as many basses as I can to keep up with the demand. All the basses are made by hand without the aid of a CNC machine. I currently have 70 basses in various stages of production with about 20 still available as stock, but they are going quickly. I generally start the full production at the beginning of the year and try to be complete within a year. Depending on when people order and if they order something out of stock or something completely custom, the wait time can vary from 6 months to 14 months. I am going to be changing my scheduling around next year to minimize the wait, but I don't see things getting less busy anytime soon. I am experiencing what I suppose all successful builders go through when word gets out about their product. I look forward to the challenge though and feel very blessed to be making these basses for such wonderful clients.

Do you produce any accessories in addition to building basses?

I do have some accessories available that can be purchased directly from me. I make a custom strap that is 4" wide and made of very soft Italian leather with the Skjold logo lasered on it. I also sell my own Skjold brand strings that have been specifically produced for fretless applications. They are a hybrid design which combines stainless steel and nickel. The string starts out like a stainless steel string, but it is finished with a final wrap of nickel-plated steel. They produce a very bright and clear tone that isn't as harsh as strings made entirely of stainless steel. These strings feel great on your fingers, and they don't chew up fretless fingerboards or frets. My customers really like them, and I sell many sets to bassists who don't even play my basses.



Pro Series Deluxe


Skjold Design Guitars
The Pro Series Deluxe model combines great features from the Pro Series and Custom Series. You get a beautiful figured top standard with this model as well as the newest 3-band Skjold/East preamp. The preamp is quite unique in the fact that its center frequency for the treble, midrange, and bass is selectable internally. It comes standard with a volume control and a blend control. The flexibility of these basses makes them a great choice for the studio pro or the freelance player.

Pro Series Deluxe Specifications
Standard Features:
Select 2-piece body
3-piece select maple neck
Morado/maple fingerboard
Exotic wood top
Custom Skjold/Hipshot hardware, Skjold A-style bridge with 19mm spacing on 4-string, 18mm spacing on 5 and 6-strings
Two Skjold custom SC1 pickups or one Skjold custom C4 pickup
3-band SPM Skjold/East preamp
Available in 4, 5, and 6-string models
Lightweight gig case included

Options For Pro Series Deluxe:
Top wood choice
Body wood choice
Select fingerboard woods
Fretted or fretless
Lined fretless
Recessed straplocks
Two SC1 pickups or one C4 pickup
Wood knobs
Wood pickup covers
Matching headplate
Matching heelplate



Custom Series


Skjold Design Guitars
The Custom Series is just that. As the customer, you are brought into the creative process. You can choose from many different woods to achieve the look and sound you desire. We will work closely to insure that you have the information you need to build your next dream custom bass. Many other custom options are available such as inlays. The customer's input is vital to the development of each instrument.

Custom Series Specifications
Standard Features:
5-piece maple/purpleheart neck
Morado/maple fingerboard
Select body wood
Custom Skjold/Hipshot hardware, Skjold A-style bridge adjustable spacing from 17mm-19mm
Passive tone control, 4-way selector switch for running each pickup alone or in series/parallel with the other, and a volume control
Skjold/East custom preamp (bass boost, treble cut/boost + ultra-bright, sweepable midrange)
Neutrik locking jack
Available in 4, 5, 6 and 7-string models
Fretted or fretless (lined or unlined)
Lightweight gig case included

Options For Custom Series:
Colors
Select body woods
Select top woods
Optional 7 to 13-piece neck
Wood knobs
Wood pickup covers
Custom choice fingerboard
Fretted or fretless
Straplocks/recessed strap locks
Lined fretless
Two SC1 pickups or one C4 pickup



Exotic Custom Series


Skjold Design Guitars
The Exotic Custom Series basses feature exhibition-grade exotic woods such as burls, AAAAA figured maples, and many other highly figured or unusual woods as they are available. Once again, the customer becomes the customizer. We enjoy working on these unique instruments and are open to all your suggestions regarding specifications. Because these models are built to order, a 50% deposit is required. We make sure the customer is exposed to all potential customization possibilities.

Exotic Custom Series Specifications
Standard Features:
5-piece maple/purpleheart neck
Morado/maple fingerboard
Select body wood
Exotic wood top/back
Matching control cavity cover
Custom Skjold/Hipshot hardware, Skjold A-style bridge adjustable spacing from 17mm-19mm
Passive tone control, 4-way selector switch for running each pickup alone or in series/parallel with the other, and a volume control
Skjold/East custom preamp (bass boost, treble cut/boost + ultra-bright, sweepable midrange)
Neutrik locking jack
Available in 4, 5, 6 and 7-string models
Fretted or fretless (lined or unlined)
Lightweight gig case included

Options For Exotic Custom Series:
Colors
Select body woods
Select top/back woods
Optional 7 to 13-piece neck
Wood knobs
Wood pickup covers
Custom choice fingerboard
Fretted or fretless
Straplocks/recessed strap locks
Lined fretless
Two SC1 pickups or one C4 pickup



Contact Information

Skjold Design Guitars
1047 E. Hwy. 121, Unit D3
Lewisville, TX 75057-4400
Phone: 972.221.7455
Web Site: SkjoldDesign.com
E-Mail: basses@skjolddesign.com


© 2007 The IIB