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This article was originally published in issue #45
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Back in GI 39 Dan Veall reviewed a five-string bass from Canada's Dingwall and liked it so much he bought it! Now he has two very affordable new four string models to tempt him.
There's no escaping the growing popularity of the fan fret system that seems to be sweeping through both bass and acoustic guitars just now. Popular though it may be, Canada's Dingwall Guitars may well be the first to have rolled out the system for use across the company's whole product range.
Winding the clock back to around 2011, I reviewed a Dingwall ABZ 6 string in the Bassment and went into detail describing the fan-fret system, why it works and its advantages. The review is still available on the Guitar Interactive website for you to check out, so I won’t go in to the full details again, however, I will tell you now that the system, originally patented by Ralph Novak, was what took Sheldon Dingwall on a roller-coaster journey when he saw it in a magazine advert for Klein guitars. Sheldon met Novak at a trade show, Novak gave his blessings and Sheldon went to work on perfecting the system for his basses. 1993 NAMM saw the new Dingwall unveiled and by 1997 a US bass guitar magazine described the 37” scale B string as sounding like “The Voice Of God”. The rest, as they say is... well, wait a minute!
Zooming back to the present day, the Dingwall range is certainly premium eye candy, though the two Chinese made models we are looking at today could be considered to be more ‘budget accessible’ in comparison to the highest specification Dingwall models. But make no mistake - these instruments certainly aren’t cheap entry-level instruments, oh no!
The two models in question are the Combustion 4 and the NG-2, the signature model for bassist Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood. The Combustion 4 features a swamp ash body - but you also have the option of a solid colour finish and alder body like the NG-2.
The necks on each instrument are five piece maple laminates and once again the Combustion gets the choice of rosewood or maple for a fingerboard, whereas the NG-2 just comes with maple.
As I say, these instruments are premium all the way and feature class appointments that include bone nuts, a magnetic battery compartment lid, select hardware, Hipshot licensed tuners and CTS pots. Part of the Dingwall design is to use small frets, something that bassist Lee Sklar introduced to Sheldon. His own bass features mandolin frets, in fact! Dingwall however, aside from the Lee Sklar model, uses banjo sized frets and I have to say I really like them. The bass necks are very comfortable and I have found that even after a very short time I settled in to the feel of the instrument.
While we're talking about frets, I can also tell you that although unusual looking for those unfamiliar with the fan-fret system, I don’t think that it is any harder to play. Really! I read somewhere that someone had suggested the reason for the fan-fret system is that your fingers fan out on the neck. I’m afraid this isn’t correct. However, the fanned frets do not seem to hinder your reach, even if that B string is 36.25” long in scale.
The long scale length does also mean that these basses are very easily dropped down to a B tuning (custom order too) - making use of that extra scale length for a B that really has to be experienced!
Both instruments use Dingwall’s Canadian made premium pickups - not cheap alternatives for the more affordable range. The FD3n’s are very capable and lively sounding Neodymium magnet loaded coils. Visually you will spot that the Combustion model features pickups in a Jazz type configuration, whereas with the NG-2, the soap bars are sat together giving the instrument a more Music Man like zing and bite to the tone. The Combustion uses an EMG active three band EQ system, while the NG2 offers something slightly different. Sheldon Dingwall has a close relationship with Douglas Castro from Darkglass electronics (whose latest pedal is also arriving soon on my lap for review!) and together they, in discussion with Nolly have created the Darkglass Tone Capsule and we have a three band Darkglass EQ on board the NG-2
Topping off the NG-2, black nickel hardware versus chrome of the Combustion and a custom ‘performance car’ inspired carbon fibre look pick guard. Colour choices are also similarly chosen, including Ferrari Red, Yellow and Green in the five string models as wells as this, Ducati white model. Both basses feel great. The necks are not as skinny as the likes of Ibanez SR basses for example, but maybe have more in common with Spector instruments, if that helps you get an idea of the profile. I know that Stuart Spector strongly believes in having more mass on the neck adds to the tone and I agree. Again, whilst talking about the individual voices of the basses, it’s obvious they are different beasts but I wouldn’t say that just because Nolly is best known for Periphery and ‘tech-metal’ that his bass has a metal slant to it. Both instruments would be capable in any genre. Weighing in at under 4Kg each, these light weight basses have a lively tone.
Combustion and NG-2 models are manufactured in China under strict quality control guidelines, but are shipped back to Canada for the finishing and set up process. This means that you get a quality bass set up to exacting standards but also make some serious cost savings.
In short, these two bases are really very good indeed and you need to get to try them out. This basses offer advanced technology and superb design, manufacturing and set-up quality for not much more than you could pay for a very ordinary traditional bass and you owe it to yourself to check them out.
Our thanks to Bass Direct UK for the loan of these Dingwall Combustion basses.