Equipment - Tricks of the Trade:
Tom Petersson's Rig

By Thomas Wictor

Copyright 1997 Miller Freeman, Inc.
Reprinted from the July 1997 issue of Bass Player - Reprinted with permission of Bass Player

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Tom Petersson’s main 12-string bass – which was custom-built by Chandler Guitars – produces an amazingly loud, full sound, even when it’s not plugged in. It’s a heavy, wild-looking instrument that requires considerable strength and dexterity to play, since each finger on the fretting hand must depress three separate strings simultaneously.

“It’s a handful,” admits Paul Chandler. “When I designed it, I started from the standpoint that it would need pickups customized specifically for a 12-string. The three pickups are giant single-coils, similar to the DeArmonds used on the Guild and Gretsch guitars. Tom plugs into guitar amps a lot, so I tried to maximize the ‘twang’ of the octave strings while still providing enough low end.” Each pickup has a separate output jack, volume knob, and on/off switch.

“Cosmetically, the bass is a cross between a Kay and a Gretsch, and it’s accentuated with lots of plastic,” Chandler continues. “The neck is laminated maple with a graphite slab underneath a Brazilian-rosewood fingerboard. Since the two octave strings produce a lot of tension, I installed two truss rods and extended the neck into the Honduran mahogany body up to the middle pickup.”

Chandler used guitar tuners for the octave strings and Gotoh GB-7 bass tuners for the main strings. “I did this because there are so many tuners on the headstock, the neck could have gotten really heavy. Another unusual thing about the instrument is that it has a 34” scale; all of the other 12-strings I’d built had either 30” or 32” scales. When you add the extra length, there’s a whole other series of overtones and a different harmonic structure that really tightens things up.”

Since each pickup on the Chandler has a separate output jack, Petersson needs to have several amps. His live rig features a trio of amps: one for each of the lows, mids, and highs. The output from each pickup is sent to three Nady 701 wireless systems; each of these feeds a multi-switcher that dishes out signals to the amps. In the “B” loop of the switcher is a Rane splitter mixer that receives the signal from Tom’s Taylor AB-1 acoustic bass guitar.

From the switcher, the low-end tone of the neck pickup is sent to a DI box that drives a Rickenbacker Transonic head and a 2x15 cabinet. The midrange rig – a Vox AC-30 guitar head and two more Rickenbacker Transonic 2x15s – gets its signal from a MESA / Boogie V Twin tube-preamp pedal and a tremolo stomp box. For the high end, Tom plugs the output of his bridge pickup into a Dunlop Rotovibe pedal; crunch is provided by a 100-watt Hiwatt master-volume head that slams two Rickenbacker Transonic 4x12s. The vintage Transonic head and cabinets give Tom’s rig a “unique look and sound.”

Thanks to Paul Chandler, Glenn Preston, and John Cromer for gear specifics.

Editors Note: These Rickenbacker Transonics were originally used by Led Zeppelin, who left their amplifiers behind on a trip back to England. They were acquired by Tom Petersson who refurbished them, changing the power amplifier and the speakers.

They were designed in the late 1960's by ex-Fender amp designer Bob Rissi. Controls include volume, treble, bass, reverb, tremolo, fuzz, volume pedal jack, fuzz pedal jack, Rick-O-Gain output, various switches and lights. Cabinets usually featured 4x12", 1x15" plus 2x12" or 2x15" Altec Lansing speakers. A castor-mounted cradle allowed the amplifier to tilt back and forth, allowing the musician to adjust the speaker position.

Only a few hundred Transonics were built over a period of less than three years.