Tone. It’s one of those things that seems to be a unicorn. Players will search for the perfect instrument – the ONE – that has THAT “tone,” only to find out it’s not quite there. Others will pay luthiers large sums of money with precise specs to create that “tone” that is in their heads, only to be disappointed once the instrument is in their hands. And then there are the folk that shout from their soapbox, “Tone is all in the hands!” and play instruments of a certain – ahem – quality that others would scoff at.
Tone. It’s subjective, and also highly inflammatory, depending on who you talk to. Enter Pete Hilton, a bass builder in LA by way of New York (and a decade long gig building for Carl Thompson). He had an idea.
“I guess this thing started years ago when I was with Carl (Thompson). With all the talk about ‘tone woods’ going on, especially for electric instruments, we joked about making an instrument out of plywood. Well, it never happened. But from time to time, it did cross my mind.”
The idea is interesting. As Hilton mentioned, with all the emphasis of an electric instrument being put on the wood used for it, why NOT make an instrument out of plywood to prove that there was much more going on into building an instrument over just wood choice? But he didn’t stop there.
“After my move from NYC to LA, I took that idea and mixed it with my personal life history. I’ve been a skateboarder since way back, so the idea morphed into creating a bass out of skate decks. But do it in a way that the persons first impression had nothing to do with what it was made out of.”
Hilton contacted some friends (now in the skateboard industry), acquired the raw materials, and turned 11 decks into the bass now called the sk8bass. Sporting Aguilar pickups, Hipshot hardware and GHS strings, the first thing you’ll notice is that it has an amazing striped pattern to it. Once you pick it up, you’ll realize that the bass is incredibly light, and balances exceptionally well, strap or no. And when you sit down and play it, you’ll notice that every nuance of your playing is accurately depicted. You might also notice that it’s a 36″ scale, although to me, the neck doesn’t feel that big.
The sk8bass made its debut at Bass Player LIVE! this past November and was very well received. It was interesting to hear how different the bass sounded in the hands of each player that picked it up. The aforementioned nuances were upfront, and the tone easily conformed to the player. It was also very enjoyable to see peoples faces and hear their comments only after Hilton told them how the bass was made, and with what. The phrase “tone wood” or anything like that was never mentioned; the instrument was judged on its entirety, which as Hilton wanted to point out with the sk8bass, was more than just a piece of wood.
At the time of this writing, the sk8bass is going to be on display in the Hipshot Booth at NAMM in a week, and if the response from Bass Player LIVE! was any indication, it’s going to cause quite a stir. So what does that tell us? There have always been artists that have created beautiful things with unconventional resources, and the sk8bass is no different. However, Hilton’s goal was to create an instrument that would shift the focus from the specs of the instrument to the capabilities of the player.
Maybe tone really IS in the hands, after all?