30 Questions with Paul Chandler
An Interview with Philip Snyder
Being the sole luthier to the guy who came up with the concept for the 12-string bass and made them famous is no small task, but it's one that Paul Chandler has met time and time again. Since his collaboration with Tom Petersson began in 1995, an effort that resulted in the creation of the Chandler "Royale", Paul and his wife / business partner Adrian have continued to work closely with Tom on developing the Royale. Today the Chandler Royale line represents the upper echelon of 12-string basses.
Recently Paul took time off from his busy schedule to talk with me about his company, their instruments, and his ongoing partnership with long-time friend Tom Petersson. Thanks to Paul and Adrian for supplying the photos that accompany this interview.
Paul Chandler Rocks Out!
How did your partnership with Tom Petersson come into being? Who
instigated the building of the first Chandler 12-string bass?
We first met the members of Cheap Trick back in the early 1980's at the early vintage guitar shows. We were still selling Paul C's guitar pins, and were making police badges & awards on the side. Rick was into collecting police memorabilia at the time and contacted us in that regard. Rick is pictured wearing a jacket with some of our pins on the cover of Cheap Trick's "Standing on the Edge" album. (Remember albums?) A few years later at a NAMM show Rick & Robin stopped by our booth to say hello. Robin tried one of our hollow "Telepathic" guitars and really liked it. We built him one which was unfortunately stolen when their truck was broken into later.
My wife Adrian was always a Cheap Trick fanatic and
would always chat up Tom Petersson at their shows or at guitar shows... they
became good friends. By 1995 we had attended many Cheap Trick shows and
knew the band members pretty well. At this time, Tom was playing this weird
Japanese 12-string bass with a dragon inlay on the body and these funky
guitar humbuckers crammed in the top. It had been heavily modified and
weighed a ton. I had always thought Hamer instruments were cool and asked
Tom why he wasn't playing his Hamer. He told me he didn't have any Hamers
anymore (but as you probably know, TP is always joking around so who
knows). Anyway, I told him I thought he should be playing an American
guitar... American guitars have always defined guitar sound and are the best.
Tom stopped by our factory after one of
the band's San Francisco shows with that Japanese bass for minor set-up
work. He spoke with Adrian while I tweaked. Tom had asked Adrian several
times about creating a new 12-string bass, but I was busy with other
projects at the time. With me trapped at the workbench, Tom and Adrian
double-teamed me into agreeing to try designing and building a 12-string. Usually I would never make an instrument that I wouldn't personally use, so
I really didn't have a design concept. I took that opportunity to measure
all the critical aspects, examine the angles and parts, and ask TP questions
about the guitar. The idea was born at that time.
Tom stopped by our factory after one of the band's San Francisco shows with that Japanese bass for minor set-up work. He spoke with Adrian while I tweaked. Tom had asked Adrian several times about creating a new 12-string bass, but I was busy with other projects at the time. With me trapped at the workbench, Tom and Adrian double-teamed me into agreeing to try designing and building a 12-string. Usually I would never make an instrument that I wouldn't personally use, so I really didn't have a design concept. I took that opportunity to measure all the critical aspects, examine the angles and parts, and ask TP questions about the guitar. The idea was born at that time.
some of the details Tom specified that he wanted? Did he have much to do with
the overall design or were those choices mostly yours?
On a subsequent visit to our workshop, TP was waiting for me to get off the phone, intervene between quarreling employees, and put out the usual array of little fires that would arise during my fun, carefree days. I sat him in our conference room and gave him this book about the history of German electric guitars to look at while waiting for me. Within 15 minutes Tom was deep in the world of Klira, Hopf, Hofner... the craft of Erlangen-Bubenreuth, the heart of Frankonian Lutherie. You have to realize that some of these German Guitars from the mid-1950's & 1960's are really strange... Mostly big arch top jazz things with wild plastic bindings & overlays. TP can hardly get through a week without buying at least one guitar, and he prefers the unusual.
By the time I got to the conference room, TP had picked his dream guitar design out of this book, with a scalloped top, lightning-bolt "F" holes, and 10 lbs. of celluloid integrated into the body and neck. You know, something completely un-manufacturable. I explained to Tom that perhaps that particular German builder had gone out of business because their designs weren't exactly practical or realistic. Anyway, it was a fun meeting and we agreed on a basic body shape and basic features.
When you were developing the
concept for the Royale did you examine and play any other 12s, and if so what
were they? Did Tom supply them?
Tom left me the Japanese Dragon 12-string for a few weeks. I asked him to jam around on the bass a little bit and closely watched his technique. First, a pick was always used. On single note runs, it was all downstrokes. But he would also grab intervals & chords up the neck and strum it like a giant guitar. That was when it occurred to me that we weren't really building a bass at all... we certainly weren't building a regular guitar... this instrument would have to be its own thing, combining elements from basses and elements from guitars to create something new in its own class. I tried to truly open my mind and start from scratch.
I wanted a more guitar-like feel to the neck; not too wide, not too thick. You have to understand that these instruments are under a tremendous amount of string pressure, and to emphasize the twang you need to create additional string tension by having a pitched headstock, high neck/body joint, and high-tension bridge assembly. The neck is cambered to give a slinky action which requires substantial neck stiffness and adjustability. This action function, along with the overall sound has driven the design and development of the Royale.
How many Chandler 12s does Tom have
now? Are they different in more ways than just the finishes?
The first 12-string we made for Tom was mahogany body, Tortoise binding and head overlay, Maple neck with a flat graphite slab parallel to the fingerboard. Verdict: neck pickup not loud enough, graphite slab was exposed at edge of neck... slightly reflective and hard to see position dots, heavy body, sharp corner at neck/body joint. This is the orange guitar that he still plays sometimes. Delivered in 1995 or early 1996.
The second 12-string we made we switched to a lighter swamp ash body with a contoured neck heel like my old Macaferri guitars. Also, we switched to two graphite bars inlayed in the neck under the fingerboard. This guitar is black with white pearl binding and the new "stairstep" pickguard shape. Delivered late 1997 or 1998. It was during this time that we relocated from the SF Bay Area to our property in Northern California. Ahh... country life!
The third 12-string took the new specs of the second guitar and added 2 strips of Wenge wood to the neck for additional rigidity. Also, Adrian and I developed a new humbucking pickup for the middle and bridge position that we wanted Tom to try.
Working with Rolly Salley of Chris Isaak's band, I became aware of the problems that traveling musicians have with residual noise from single-coil pickups, especially in television studios. I felt Tom's needs would be better served by the humbucking pickup. Besides, we wired the pickups for series (normal humbucking), split (single coil), or parallel (low output bright humbucking), so he could get back to his original sound with the flick of a switch.
Tom loved the big, full sound of the new pickups, but didn't like the high fidelity sound of the parallel sound, so I rewired his bass to replace the parallel setting with a "pickup off" setting. We had some old pearl plastic celluloid and covered the top of the guitar with it. This is the blue pearl guitar and it became Tom's current spec... Delivered March 2000.
The fourth 12-string is just like the above one but with a teal green pearl top. It was delivered July 2001. I believe this is his favorite. He, the band members, and the sound techs all tell us that this one is magic.
In December of 2001 we built a Candy Apple Red 12-string for Tom, but he wasn't too crazy about the color so he let us sell it to another customer.
So now he has the 4 guitars, but he & Adrian are cooking up some new guitars for us to build; same specs, different cosmetics.
Paul Chandler Part 2