Tom Petersson
Architect of the 12-String Bass

Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick

An Interview with Mark Rowe and Philip Snyder

To fans of the 12-string bass, Tom Petersson needs no introduction. He first conceived of this new type of bass guitar in 1977 and within a year it had become a reality. Shortly thereafter Cheap Trick recorded 'At Budokan', an album which firmly established the band and set the standard for the sound of the 12-string.

Over the past 25 years Tom has been at the forefront of the development of the 12-string bass, working with several different companies to create new styles and improvements on the original models. He has without question owned and played more 12's than anyone else in the world. Tom continues to promote the use and popularity of this instrument, which in our view is the ultimate bass guitar. This site is a tribute to the pioneering and continuing efforts of Tom Petersson, truly the Architect of the 12-string bass.

Tom's name is now permanently linked to the 12-string bass. And finally a bass is linked to Tom's name with the introduction of the Tom Petersson Signature series 12-string basses from Waterstone Musical Instruments. A signature line is long overdue, and from all indications these new basses have become an instant success.

It is our great pleasure to present to you the man who is responsible for all of our madness...Tom Petersson!


You have had an eye for classic and vintage basses for a long time. How did your interest develop? What do you look for in a vintage bass?
Working with guitarist Rick Nielsen since 1968 definitely helped develop my love of vintage instruments. Weíve always had a bit of a snob thing going on with vintage from the beginning. You know, anything made after 1969 is complete excrement. Itís not totally true but it makes for lots of laughs for us at otherís expense. What I look for in a vintage bass is low end, sustain and low price.

How did you discover Waterstone Musical Instruments?
I met Bob Singer through Mike Klein who works at our record label Big 3.

A Tom Petersson Signature 12-string bass guitar has been long overdue! It's great to see that it has finally become a reality with Waterstone Musical Instruments. What vintage bass characteristics have been incorporated into the Waterstone 12?
I love the look of vintage hollow body guitars made by Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Hofner, Gibson, Hoyer, etc. So weíve incorporated some characteristics of each into the basses.

Will you be using a Waterstone on stage?
I have been using the Waterstone 12-string basses since December 2004 when I first received them. I see no point of having a signature instrument that I donít use.

Tom on stage in Jacksonville, Florida with the Waterstone Cherry and Black 12-String Basses
These photos courtesy of Alice Antoine. Used by special permission of Tom Petersson.

You are a big proponent of passive electronics, they have been incorporated into these new basses. Is this mostly due to tone quality, practical considerations like dead batteries, or in keeping with the vintage nature of the instrument?
Using passive electronics has everything to do with tone. I hate the sound of active electronics.

What is your current rig set-up? For years you used all three outputs on your 12ís to drive three amps. Lately youíve been using only one output. Why the change?
I use Reeves guitar amps for my current rig. For the past couple of years I have been using only one output instead of three. That way I can switch to any bass and still use the same rig. Also, I only have to use one wireless transmitter instead of three. (Think of the savings.)

Does Cheap Trick typically use the same FOH sound engineer at all your concerts? Is there anything done to enhance your bass tone out front?
We travel with our own sound man. He doesnít use anything but volume to enhance the sound.

It is often difficult to get a great 12-string bass tone when recording. How do you do it? Are there any tips you would care to share about getting a great recorded or live tone?
The key to getting any great bass sound is to never record bass direct. Always use an amplifier.

You have played a wide variety of basses over the years. Do you have any favorites?
I own several basses and use almost all of them for recording. Besides my 12-strings, my favorite basses are my 1963-64 Gibson Thunderbirds, 1950ís and 60ís Fender Precision basses, 50ís and 60ís Hofner basses, a 1961 Rickenbacker 4000 bass, and a 1968 Fender Telecaster bass.

Are there any bands or bassists that have inspired or influenced you lately?
Lately Iíve been listening to Robert Wyatt, Sebastien Tellier, Rainer, Lambchop, Sigur Ros, Frank Black, The Magnetic Fields, The Fiery Furnaces, Chilly Gonzales, Morphine, Joseph Arthur, The Flaming Lips, The Dandy Warhols, Lucinda Williams and lots of others I canít think of off the top of my head.

I started out playing guitar so my biggest influences were George Harrison, Jeff Beck, and Pete Townshend. My favorite bassists still are Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, and Ron Wood. But I am really interested in songs more than anything.

You have stated that you didnít consider yourself to be an influence as a  bassist, but itís undoubtedly true that your pioneering efforts in developing and promoting the 12-string bass have inspired many of us. Does it make you proud to know that you have had a strong influence on us?
It does make me happy that people like the 12 string bass. Who knew? Now I am stuck with it.

Finally, if there is one specific thing you could be remembered for, what would it be?
I would love to be remembered for the best bass tone in the world. I am still searching for it.

Tom, the idea you had created what is, in our opinion, the ultimate bass guitar. No matter what musical style we admire and play, we are all Tom Petersson and Cheap Trick fans. We pay tribute to you every time we play our 12ís. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us!
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published February 1, 2005