Skjold’s SS6 looks like a Klingon battle cruiser, but will the sound be otherworldly? Sam Wise finds out
Peter Skjold’s bass building journey began when, as a professional player, he was unable to find what he wanted on the market. Many of us experience this, but rather than huff, grumble, and buy another pint, Peter started commissioning and then building his own basses. Since 1996 basses have emerged from his workshop completely handmade, without the aid of CNC, and in a variety of very original designs. What they all have in common is light weight, excellent balance, and versatile tone. The line began with the rather Status-like Standard 92, and has headed in some unexpected directions before arriving at this his newest model, the Skjold Slayer 6 string.
Let’s be honest, if you were raised on Fenders, this actually looks like it comes from space – but definitely in a good way. The offset body, with its extended top horn and dramatic cutaway, is from the Parker Fly school of design, yet the lacewood top gives it an organic feel that takes the edge off a little. The headstock, also lacewood faced, has a couple of small cutouts intended to hint at Skjold’s Norse heritage, but there’s something almost Derek Smalls about the resulting look. There’s an expanse of maple for the fingerboard, unsullied by fret markers and necessarily large to accommodate six strings, with a zero fret for perfect intonation. Skjold will build you one of these with any combination of woods your heart desires. But with only 35 instruments appearing per year, the wait could be considerable – maybe enough for you to grab whatever exclusive UK dealer Bass Direct has on offer.
Light weight is a catchphrase for Skjold, so the core of the body is lightweight mahogany, which should prove resonant as well as reducing sore shoulders. The neck is a three-piece maple and ash construction, secured with no fewer than five bolts, presumably as a result of the sheer size, and that large cutaway. The enormous neck creates all sorts of interesting features too. The truss rod cover, for instance, is the biggest we’ve seen in some time, and unexpectedly seems to be veneered with a separate piece of lacewood, rather than the piece that would have been cut from the top to accommodate it. Overall, the look is very attractive. You’re probably going to feel out of place playing this in a classic rock covers band, but since when was that everything there is in music?
Skjold fits Nordstrand custom designed pickups, paired with an East preamp. Where many high-end basses are cursed with a preponderance of confusing controls, the Skjold keeps it simple, with volume, pickup pan, tone, and a toggle switch for the active preamp. One useful feature of this system is that all the controls can be adjusted internally. This means you can set the tone and pan controls so that putting them on the middle détente gets you your favoured tone, and you only need use the controls when you want to divert from your comfort zone. Partly in aid of keeping the weight down, the Slayer is equipped with the ubiquitous Hipshot tuners, and also a Hipshot bridge, branded for Skjold.
Sounds And Playability
The first impression when strapping on the Skjold is how well it all works. It may look somewhat outlandish, but everything from the lengthy top horn to the extended cutaway is there for a reason (perhaps the headstock cutaways are an honourable exception!). The bass balances superbly, suggesting that the combination of the Hipshots and the long top horn are doing their job. Despite the width of the neck, the profile is deliciously slim and manageable, so you never feel like you’re fighting the bass. There’s no getting around the fact that the neck is broad, but this is one of the most playable sixes we’ve ever come across. Even jumping across to pin a note on the low B during a figure on the higher echelons of the fretboard didn’t introduce too much discomfort. With the fingerboard devoid of markers, we found ourselves thankful for the edge markers: 26 frets across six strings require some navigation, especially for the sort of playing the Skjold encourages.
Unplugged, it has a brightish, resonant tone, rather what we expected from the combination of the light weight and the looks of the bass, with the light colour of the lacewood top suggesting a maple-like tone. Skjold describes their pickups as “very transparent”, but without another SS6 in different woods to compare with, that’s hard to verify – and with so few basses made per year, it’s a vanishingly unlikely prospect. What’s for sure is that the Skjold has a formidable range of tones available, with a tendency towards a brighter, clean, punchy sound. The high-quality woods used are evident in the blossoming, complex quality of notes as they decay: it’s a marvellous instrument just to listen to. Kick in the active preamp and the midtones get still punchier, lending a very modern tone to the Slayer.
In fact, for us, the standout aspect of this bass was that it begged to be played solo, the better to hear that tone and the soaring trebles available on a six-string with such evolved high-fret accessibility and playability. Don’t get us wrong, if you want to dig in and groove, the Skjold will do the job for you. It doesn’t lend itself to Gibson-esque, trouser-flapping thunder, but most modern tones you might want are there, and with a bit of judicious fiddling you can even get a James Jamerson P-Bass plunk if you really try. What it led us to do was attempt some Stanley Clarke-inspired chordal riffs, which opened a musical rabbit hole from which it was hard to emerge. Accusations of “playing bass like a guitarist” were heard, but in truth, the Skjold seemed to want to be played like neither, but in a somewhat different vein. Regardless, we had a wonderful time making space music – entirely appropriate given the Skjold’s interstellar appearance.
The Skjold is pricy, but worth it. It’ll do almost anything you ask of it, and get you noticed at the same time. Where it will really appeal, however, is to the adventurous virtuoso player: the denizen of the higher frets who wants an instrument with a solo voice. If you’ve played cheap six-strings and not been convinced, trying an instrument like this is an eye opener. A six-string bass really can be something altogether different from its four- and five-string brethren, almost in a category of its own. This Skjold certainly belongs in that category. If you want to keep your walking bass-lines within an area of four frets, it’s your friend, but if you want to go to the moon, it’s your rocket ship.
Price | £2,999
Colour | Figured lacewood
Body | Mahogany core, lacewood top
Neck | Maple/ash
Neck | joint 5 bolt
Fingerboard | Maple
Scale length | 34”
Weight | 3.4 kg
Frets | 26
Tuners | Hipshot Ultra-lite
Bridge | Hipshot A style top loading
Pickups | Nordstrand NSC 1 split single coil
Hardware | Black anodised
Controls | Volume, pan, tone, active East preamp
What We Think
Plus | Unique looks, fabulous build quality, great range of tones, especially for solo playing
Minus | Might be too outlandish for some, and too pricey for many
Overall | If you want to explore your creative solo side, trying one of these is a must
Build quality 9/10
Sound quality 8/10