Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick
By Christopher Buttner
Interview courtesy of Christopher Buttner / Public Relations & Marketing Services for the Professional Music, Film, Video and Audio Industries. © 1997. All rights reserved, used with permission.
There are several ways that a bass player can influence others. Some do it by playing the bass in a totally new manner. Others do it by creating a style that is shocking and over-the-top. But not many bassists have influenced so many players in the way that Tom Petersson has by creating a sound. Oh yeah, he also was the man behind the first 12-string bass. Maybe you've heard of it?
For many years Tom has supplied the low-end thunder for the Rock band Cheap Trick. He is responsible for helping write and record some of the most memorable songs this world has ever heard. Cheap Trick's tunes are unique and catchy because Tom didn't just use any old bass tone. It probably would have been easier to do so, but he knew it would not work. Instead, Tom worked very hard to design a tone that would help to carry Cheap Trick to the very top of the industry. Just more proof that hard work and creativity begets success and recognition. Recently our own Chris Buttner flew down to Los Angeles to talk with Tom about his pioneering tone, his musical philosophies and his current adventures with Cheap Trick.
Christopher Buttner: How did you come to start playing Chandler basses?
Well, I liked the way their basses looked. I talked with Paul and Adrian Chandler and I liked their approach to making basses and guitars. They put out a good, quality product. Chandler really puts their all into each bass they make, unlike some big corporations that just run the basses off of an assembly line. Most guitar manufacturers get their basses from Japan and they are mostly crap. Chandler was also able to make me some pretty exotic basses. They really put some thought into them. My Chandler 12-string bass is pretty wild.
Wasn't Hamer considered a custom shop company?
Yeah. When they first started. They made my first instruments for me and I stayed with the company. Now Paul Hamer is gone, and I don't know if his assistant Jol is still there or not, but I am happy with my new Chandler instruments.
So do you have an endorsement with Chandler?
No. I pay for all of my instruments. As a matter of fact, I have never had an endorsement. Even with Hamer. I've never liked endorsements. I am trying to work out a deal with the new Fender amps. Not an endorsement thing. I like to use guitar amps for my bass and their new DeVilles are really nice. They have a really nice, smooth distortion. I am using the amps any way, but I would like to work out some sort of relationship with them.
I am amazed that you purchase all the gear you need. Do companies ever loan you gear?
Rarely. The only gear that was loaned to me was some Trace Elliot amps for the studio. Their bass gear is great for low end. They really make good stuff. I have never endorsed their gear, but they did loan it to me for the studio.
Was the 12-string bass your idea?
Yes. I came up with the idea of making a 12-string bass and I went to Hamer because they were the only guys that I knew. At first they didn't want to do it for me. They didn't think it was a good idea. As a compromise they made me a 10-string bass. It was set up with two E strings, two A strings, three D strings and three G strings. When I asked why they didn't just make it with twelve strings they said that the bass would never work and that I could just take off one G and one D string and have a normal 8-string bass.
After I had the bass for some time the guys from Hamer heard me play and they conceded that I was right all along and that the bass sounded great. The next challenge was to get them to make the bass with a long scale. You see, the first bass they made me was a medium scale because they were afraid of the string tension. Finally I came up with the idea for that bigger body, single cutaway Hamer that is still in production today. That bass is a long scale and it sounded great, but Hamer still said that they would make it only for me. They didn't want to sell them to the public because they were afraid that the necks would not last. They were right because the necks don't really last, but they should. The first 12-string bass they made me was great and I really haven't had one since that has worked as well.
What ever happened to all those old 12-strings that you had?
I got rid of all those basses. I didn't like the short scale because they didn't have any low end. They just weren't made that well.
Tell me about your new Chandler bass. If I understand it correctly, it has three outputs and three pickups. How much of this bass is by your design?
It was a combined effort. The design was basically modeled after a single cutaway. We wanted that old Gretsch or Hofner vintage look. Paul Chandler asked me what kind of sound I wanted and I told him that I loved the Gretsch pickups. I wanted whatever Malcolm Young from AC/DC used! That was what I wanted so he hand-wired the pickups for me. He knew exactly the sound I was going for.
Are you talking about a Gretsch guitar pickup?
Yeah. I don't look at it as strictly a bass. I get guitar sounds out of my bass. Out of the three pick ups on the bass one is a P-Bass style and the other two are guitar pickups. I am not at all worried about having no low end.
The three outputs must make it impossible to go wireless.
Not at all! I do go wireless by using three transmitter packs going to three different amps. One bass amp and two guitar amps. The sound man just blends the three sounds together to give me my overall tone. It works out great!
How do you record in the studio with this bass?
I do the same thing. I use three amps and blend the sounds. I don't go direct at all. Not even when I use a 4-string bass.
Is this Chandler bass available to the public?
Yes. These are available to everyone but I can't remember the list price right now.
What is Cheap Trick up to nowadays?
We are on the road with Stone Temple Pilots.
What are you using for backup instruments while you are waiting for more Chandler basses?
My backup bass is a bass that I had built in Tokyo from Kids Guitars. They are a weird company because they do all of these knock-offs of other instruments. They made me a really good bass but they didn't honor the deal we had for more instruments. I may get them someday.
Do you think about how influential you are as a bassist?
No, not really. Honestly, I don't hear my influence in other players. I don't know if I would ever be an influence to other players because I think I blend into the song. All of our tunes are song-oriented as opposed to being individual-oriented. So you don't really hear me taking a bass solo or pulling off all these riffs.
Did you record the first two Cheap Trick albums with a 1963 Thunderbird going into Ampeg amps?
Not on the second album. The producer on that release hated the bass sound from the first record. He didn't have a clue. We were also saddled with the worst engineer in history. He didn't know shit. The producer thought my bass sound was too rough and he wanted the traditional sound with a Precision bass. I hated that sound. It is OK on some things but not on everything. I hate the production on that second album.
Since it didn't sell well we were given more control on the next album and that one is much better. It sounded better and was much heavier. I was in heaven when we started working with George Martin in 1980 on the 'All Shook Up' album. His engineer is Geoff Emerick who did everything. He engineered the Beatles' 'Sgt. Peppers' album. He was great! That was when we realized how bad the other engineers actually were. We would go to Geoff with a bizarre idea and he would say that it was no problem. It seemed so easy for him. George also liked my bass sound which helped to make that album sound so heavy.
Was that incredibly bright lead bass sound always the sound that you wanted?
Yeah. That is why I designed the 12-string bass in the first place. I wanted my bass to sound like a 12-string guitar combined with a bass. So it is sort of like a piano played through a Marshall. You know who was a big influence on me? Ron Woods. He only played bass for a short time, but it was great. His playing with the Jeff Beck group had that unique "loopy" style. His tone was outstanding. You never hear people mention him but he was a big influence on me. The way he traded licks with Jeff Beck was cool. He was sort of like John Entwistle, only rougher and not as technically proficient. But I love Ron's playing! He had great taste and tone.
How long did it take you to adapt to the 12-string bass?
We were on tour with KISS at the time and adapting to the new bass was easy. It just seemed natural to me and suited my style.
Did you play 8-string bass before that?
No. I never played 8-string. I never liked them. The only people that made them were Hagstrom and they were just lousy instruments. Terrible.
How much of a guitar player are you?
Well, I started out playing guitar and I switched over after about five years. I play guitar on every record. Robin and I play on almost all of the rhythm parts. It all depends on the song, though. The whole band loves guitars. I usually bring in all the weird ones!
In 1980 you quit the band and seven years later you rejoined them. Why did you quit?
We just had a few misunderstandings about some things. We had been on the road for a long time and we just ended up separating without discussing it. Many years later we finally talked about it and resolved every thing.
What did you do for those seven years?
I was living in Los Angeles at the time but I moved back to New York shortly there after. I got a band together there and we played at CBGB's and the China Club. It was a band called Sick Man Of Europe. It was a lot of fun. We were doing great in the city. We were actually making money! I did leave the band to get back together with Cheap Trick. And the rest, as they say, is history.
We’re not exactly sure why when Tom was asked about playing 8-string basses he replied, “No. I never played 8-string. I never liked them. The only people that made them were Hagstrom and they were just lousy instruments. Terrible.”
In actuality, Tom has played a variety of 8-string basses over the years, both in the recording studio and live. An Alembic 8-string bass was used on stage for several years in the late 1970’s into 1980, plus Tom played it on the studio version of ‘Gonna Raise Hell’. It also appeared in the video for ‘Voices’.
Petersson played a 1990 Hamer Thunderbird red 8-string bass on the Concrete Blonde tour and used it on the song ‘Walkin' in London’. He also used this 8-string bass during Cheap Trick's 1990 Busted tour.
The last time I saw Cheap Trick play in Boise, Idaho, Tom Petersson played an 8-string bass on every song. This bass was custom built by Baz Cooper.