Bowlus Bass Blog

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Location: Fremont, Ohio, United States

I am an attorney by day, but that's really just my "backup gig" in case this whole "musician thing" doesn't work out. ;^) I was been blessed with the opportunity to write freelance reviews for Guitar World's Bass Guitar Magazine, and I contributed regularly from the Spring of 2006 up until Bass Guitar Magazine's demise. This was, in itself, a dream come true, and an opportunity for which I am truly grateful. But this was a stepping stone to bigger and better things, and I am now the Editor-in-Chief of Bass Gear Magazine ( Our first issue came out in August of 2008, and we are now the leading bass review magazine, worldwide. Of course, on the topic of my true blessings, I have a wife and two kids, all of whom I greatly adore, so my time for music/bass/songwriting/performing, and yes, even the occasional practicing, is not infinite. Nevertheless, I really enjoy my time spent playing bass, writing and recording songs, and just getting to "play" with all that great gear! This blog is a result of these external interests...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Another Skjold in the works!

Okay, I admit it. I am totally hooked on Pete Skjold's basses! Some of you might have seen my thread regarding my Skjold Custom 5. Well, I just got off the phone with Pete and laid the groundwork for my Skjold Exotic Custom 4! It will be a 4-string (obviously!) with a Hipshot D-tuner for drop-D tunes. It will use the Skjold preamp and pickups, with an optional, hotter, bridge pickup.

For woods, I spent a lot of time talking to Pete about possibilities, and then my good buddy Juneau hoped over to Pete's shop to take some photos (thanks, Juneau!). Here is Pete with three of the "finalists":

Up against the wall behind him is a sweet chunk of maple burl. He is holding some uniquely flamed anigre, and this awesome piece of flamed mahogany, also called "fiddleback mahogany." This photo is really the one that did it for me, as it made the mahogany just jump out relative to the other two. Pete had just picked up that piece of wood the day Juneau took the photos, and both Pete and his supplier seemed very excited about it. I can see why!

Here are two more shots of the fiddleback mahogany:

But to really appreciate this piece of wood, check out this little video that Juneau took. Or, as he says, "And now, this is the Fiddleback Mahogany taking its little turn on the catwalk!":

Mahogany on the catwalk

You can see how I am so smitten with this wood! It will grace both the front and back of my bass, as well as the headstock. The body wood will be spanish cedar (after much debate!), and Pete will incorporate two thick (3/16") veneers of flamed maple, and at least two darker veneers between the maple and the cedar (on both sides).

The neck will be a 7-piece, and we have yet to pick out the exact woods. We did spend a lot of time talking about fingerboard woods, though. After thoroughly discussing all of the tonal qualities of various options, as well as the esthetic impact, we decided upon ebony. We will also use ebony for the pickup cover, knobs, and for the neck pocket overlay. The fingerboard dots will be flame maple, and I plan on incorporating a Norse symbol (also in flame maple, and in honor of Pete's Viking heritage!) on the neck pocket overlay.

[Updated 7/16/05]

Okay, the top, back, and laminates have all been glued, and the rough cut of the body is done. Here are some shots of the initial stages of my new Exotic Custom 4 (courtesy of Juneau, as always!). You can also see the ebony fingerboard, which Pete put in the picture for a little persepective.

In these two shots, you can see a bit more of what the spanish cedar body wood adds to the equation/

And here is a shot of the back.

The coloration of the mahogany is a bit more ruddy than it looked from the other photos, but I think it provides even more contrast to the ebony. I am really excited by the look of the cedar, too. I wasn't sure what to expect, there. And the flame maple veneers really add a lot, I think.

Here is a shot of the 7-piece neck blank:

Thanks again, Juneau!

[Content added on 7/20/05]

Well, I have a few new developments. As you may recall, Pete and I had talked about doing some Norse symbol inlay options, and we were initially thinking about having him doing it using flame maple.

After a while, though I decided that I wanted him to do not only the Hammer of Thor symbol on the neck pocket overlay, but to also do the "Gungnir" symbol in place of the dot position markers. Gungnir was Odin's spear, and the symbol looks like this:

So, we are now talking about doing these in gold pearl (which I did not know existed, but as described, it sounds like an awesome match for this bass). Needless to say, I am even more psyched!

[time passes...]

Well, here we have the finished inlay!

[more time passes!]

New photos from Juneau!

This photo highlights both the fact that we have switched from the single C4 pickup configuration to dual pickups. It also shows the custom Skjold bridge (I think this is one of the first basses to sport this bridge!).

Here are more progress shots:

More update shots [10/10/05]:

The neck is now fitted to the body.

This shot shows the gold pearl side dot markers (to match the gold pearl inlay):


Some more update shots, after the finish has been sprayed:

More updates! It's getting close!

Thanks again, Juneau!

Okay, I have been having fun with this bass over the weekend, but I was only able to play it loud today at lunch. Whoa, Momma! I could tell from playing it through my Baby Blue II that this thing just plays, and it is so very comfortable for both hands. Oh, and did I mention fast? This thing makes even a schmuck like myself think he can play fast!

Tonally, it definitely sounds like a Skjold, but compared to my Custom 5, it has a more aggressive high end (which it should, considering the ebony board on the 4 and the bubinga fingerboard on the 5), and a different midrange voice. The Custom 5, with its mahogany body, is a bit more 'organic' and slightly warm (but very clear) through the mids. The Exotic Custom 4 speaks more like my '73 Jazz, with a bit of aggressiveness and a 'forward' kind of attack. In fact, the 4 sounds very reminiscent of my '73 Jazz in many ways. The overall vibe is quite similar, though the Jazz is even more high end snappy (having a maple fingerboard) and the Skjold is definitely more balanced through the mids. Come to mention it, the feel of the neck on this bass reminds me more of my '73 Jazz than anything else.

Here are some shots of the three Skjold's (Stage 4, Custom 5, Exotic Custom 4) hanging out. Please note that Pete wasn't done with my ebony knobs yet, so he shipped it with black metal knobs.

Here are some more shots. I love what Pete does with fingerboards! Check out the birdseye on the Stage.

And the inlays on the Exotic Custom 4 were just what I had in mind!

A few more comments after playing this bass some more...

On the electronics front, there are two "new" design features at work on this bass. First, Pete now offers an optional "hotter" bridge pickup, which I believe was designed to offer better balance between the two pickups (am I right, Pete?). I am not sure how much of what I am hearing as the difference between my Exotic Custom 4 and my Custom 5 is related to this pickup (versus the different woods and strings), but the overall tone is definitely more aggressive and there is a "snap" to the attack (even on the lower notes) that you don't quite hear from my 5. My presumption is that the different "attacks" on my 4 and 5 is perhaps more due to this hotter bridge pickup than it is due to the woods involved.

At any rate, they both sound great, but different, to my ears. What is even more amazing is the range of tones offered by the pickup selector switch. I am normally a fan of the vol/vol pot configuration, and I was skeptical at first about not having the control that I am used to, but the ability to drive the pickups in series or parallel is well worth it. You get two very distinct tones this way. I hope I have my "series/parallel" settings right (again, help me out if I'm wrong, Pete!) but in parallel mode, it's a bit more refined and in series, it's a bit more aggressive (and very slightly louder). Oftentimes, when I play through different amp/cab combos, switching from series to parallel (or vice versa) can take an "okay" tone and make it really gel. Also, series setting in passive mode just kicks with an all-tube rig!

The other new feature (relative to my Custom 5, at least) is the newly voiced Skjold preamp (made to Pete's specs by John East). The frequency range on the parametric midrange now encompasses a wider range, and goes all the way down to 100 Hz. This one tone control is hugely powerful. You have boost/cut, and control over the frequency. But whatever Q setting John/Pete use, it tends to not screw up your sound (which is sometimes easier to do than you might think when you start messing with parametric EQ's). This parametric midrange is worth the price of admission, alone, for this preamp! But no, it doesn't stop there! You may be familiar with John East's preamps in general, but I want to mention the bass control on this preamp. It is a boost only, but uniquely (to the best of my knowledge), as you turn it up, not only does the boost increase, but it also starts to boost progressively deeper notes (again, Pete, keep me straight if I am wrong, here). What I have found is that quite simpley, this bass boost just works better. You can fill in the lows to the extent needed without getting boomy/muddy in one particular range. I'm not sure exactly what is going on here from a physics perspective, but all I can say is that in practice, this bass knob seems to do a better job of dialing in "good" low end and avoiding any "problems" you may sometimes encounter when boosting lows.

Wow, I know that I am rambling on, but one more comment, if I may. While it may not necessarily look like a Jazz, Pete has told me several times that he has spent some time thinking about what makes those vintage J's sound/play so good, and I think he's drawn on more than a bit of their mojo, here. If you close your eyes, this neck feels a lot like a vintage Jazz (in fact, Pete based his shape on measurements from a vintage Jazz), it hangs like a J-bass (again, on purpose), and in parallel/passive mode, this thing really captures a lot of the mojo that I hear from my '73 Jazz. The mids are very similar, and the low-mids to lows are again reminiscent, but more balanced on the Skjold. Highs are very much in the same ballpark, though the maple board on my Jazz is certainly brighter. But this does not mean that the Skjold is a one-trick pony. Far from it. I think that Pete's basses are probably some of the most tonally flexible instruments I have played. But if you want to be able to dial in a great J-Bass tone (among other tones), you can certainly do it on this bass (and on my Custom 5, too, but the Exotic Custom 4 gets a tad closer).

That's it for now. Thanks for letting me rant, y'all. I'm just awefully excited about this drop-dead-gorgeous, awesome playing instrument!

Here are some more shots from Juneau:

Hopeless Skjold addict, Tom.


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