Why, I asked Pete Skjold, did you decide to become a bass builder? “Well, I was working as a bass player,” he says, “and I thought I would find another almost impossible way to make a living.”
That was in 1992. Pete was living in New Hampshire and playing Tobias basses. He wanted a new 6-string, and since Michael Tobias had sold his company to Gibson, Pete decided that he would design the bass himself and find someone to make it. He connected with a luthier named Chris Pearne. “Two-and-a-half years and $3,500 later, I had my prototype,” says Pete, “which I took to Vegas when I moved there to play. That was how it started. One moment, I’m in there watching Chris build it, and then I’m thinking, I could do this.”
Pete kept that idea in his head and worked on his own designs while continuing his playing career. Several years later, he made the jump and started to build basses. “I was always an artist, and I had an eye for design. Once I started, I realized I had kind of a gift for woodworking.” At first, Pete made bodies and bought necks and other components from outside suppliers—but he quickly found that method unsatisfying and problematic: “I had people make me necks, and they failed. So that made me decide, in 1998, that I’d make these basses 100 percent myself.”
That’s what he’s been doing since then. Inspiration for the Skjold basses and the way they are made comes from what Pete calls his trinity: Leo Fender (for the handmade production of his early basses), Alembic (for electronics and innovative design), and Michael Tobias (for his knowledge and application of tone woods). The first Skjold model was the Standard ’92, an instrument that Pete designed for himself. It was, he says, “small and compact and easy to play onstage.” He modified that design to create the Offset ’92, after a customer requested an instrument with a wider fingerboard. A version of that bass is still in the Skjold catalog, as part of the Classic series, which also includes the double-cut Skjoldslayer and the single-cut Whaleback. Updated versions of those models are now available in the Quest series, which includes the Fire- Drake, Drakkar, and Griffin models. All of these basses have zero-frets and bolt-on necks, and they are available as 4-, 5-, and 6-strings in a wide variety of wood combinations. Instruments can also be ordered with semi-hollow “catacombed” bodies and with a distinctive ramp that also acts as the pickup cover. For bassists seeking a more traditional look and feel, Pete offers the “Leo-inspired” Continuum series.
A large degree of customization is available, with basses falling into three price levels: Stage (limited options), Exotic (most popular options), and Estate (“full culmination of available options”). Pete offers many combinations of pickups and preamps, including models from Aguilar, Armstrong, and John East—with more to come soon. “I’m coming out with my own preamps and pickups this year,” he says. “I’ve been working on this for a long time. They’re being made for me in America and will be a really cool thing.”
In addition to adding his own electronics line, Pete will be pushing production of lower-priced Stage models so he can get Skjold basses into the hands of more players. “That’s been the key for me, just getting people to play the instruments.” He also has his own string line and plans to offer more custom products, such as bridges, so he can expand his offerings beyond instruments. That said, Pete fully intends to keep his operation small—it’s just him and two helpers in his Ohio workshop, hand-building basses without using CNC machines. “Me, I love building,” he says. “I’m at the point now where I can put together something that’s exactly what I want as a bass player as much as a builder, and that I can put up against anybody else’s instrument. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.”
For more about Skjold basses, go to skjolddesign.com. (Be sure to check out the videos.)
Jim Roberts was the founding editor of BASS PLAYER and also served as the magazine’s publisher and group publisher. He is the author of How the Fender Bass Changed the World and American Basses: An Illustrated History & Player’s Guide (both published by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard).