A couple of years ago I interviewed Sheldon Dingwall for Bass Guitar Magazine, and had the opportunity to ask him if he was planning to ever start making left-handed models. To my surprise and delight, he said he was, and would start producing at least one model as soon as the company could afford to add the necessary manufacturing tools to its collection. My GAS instantly hit the ceiling – I would sooner or later be able to see for myself how my hands would react to a 5-string fingerboard with fanned frets, as opposed to only having to rely on opinions expressed by right-handed players. Since then, I’ve kept a close eye on the company’s website and social media announcements: the Combustion range will soon be available as a left-handed option. In January this year, at the NAMM show in Anaheim, I was finally able to play the first ever lefty 5-string Dingwall, the beautiful Nolly Getgood Combustion model in pearl white with black pickguard, of which more later.
First of all, some info about my preferences as a bass player: I am petite and have tiny hands, so I favour basses with small bodies and 34″ scale. I am, however, not too keen on shorter scale. I play mostly 5-strings, and use predominantly fingerstyle and almost exclusively low-tension flatwounds. I find it frustrating when, on certain songs, such setup only produces an indistinct rumble, as opposed to a proper pitch, while I play or fret the low B string. In terms of sound, I like modern rather than traditional.
The Dingwall booth at NAMM 2018 was one of the busiest in Hall D: in addition to the throng of righty fans, I can’t have been the only lefty who descended on the booth just to focus on one bass! In fact, the first time I visited, someone else was already playing it, so I had a drool over – er, I mean a look at – the righty models and then decided to call back later. The second time I was luckier: the area was still very crowded but the bass was available, and so was a seat next to an amp.
So I pick up the NG – it feels heavy, but hey, I’m a Warwick player for Heaven’s sake, I have no business complaining about weight. I sit down and plug in, while someone else is loudly slapping another amplified Dingwall three feet from me. No point starting a volume war, so I keep my amp quieter: at this stage I don’t even know whether I’m able to play properly on a fanned fingerboard, so I decide to avoid broadcasting any forthcoming fret buzz and bum notes, if possible.
From the first pluck, the low B (roundwound) sounds magnificent: its 37″ scale banishes indistinct rumbles to the dustbin of bass-playing. Fretting that string correctly feels surprisingly comfortable, even with my little short fingers; the trouble starts on the four higher strings. I like to play bass mostly on the first five frets, especially on a fiver, so I place my hand in my usual position near the nut and… can’t find my way around! I’m deliberately only playing a couple of scales and seventh chords. I usually don’t look at my hand while I’m playing, but in this case I realise I have to. I slow down and, with a bit of patience, finally produce the correct notes. Bit of a struggle. Also, I realise that the longer scale – on all strings except the G – is making my fretting hand work harder than on my usual 34″ necks. The bass feels bigger – in fact, is bigger – than my 5-string Corvettes, and its neck is, inevitably, longer to accommodate the longer B and E strings. Maybe I’m simply too little for this bass.
I slowly realise that there’s something my plucking hand is also feeling slightly uncomfortable with. The two pickups, in the neck/middle configuration, are positioned very close to each other and slanted like the frets, so placing my thumb on the top of the neck pickup feels like I’m still plucking too close to the bridge. Presumably just a matter of getting used to it, or indeed ordering the three-pickup configuration instead, but a little disconcerting the first time. And I didn’t think my fingers would be able to notice the single millimetre difference in string spacing between my basses (17mm) and the NG (18mm), but they do. Once again, a trivial issue and, I’m sure, easy to overcome with practice.
I’d love to sit at the booth for another half hour, run through all the sound options offered by the NG’s much-lauded Darkglass Tone Capsule preamp, and play all over the fingerboard as opposed to just the first five frets, but the noise around me is giving me a headache, and a couple of guys are standing nearby, patiently waiting for their turn on the bass, so I decide to hand it back. My GAS, as well as my curiosity, are definitely not over, though. I’d certainly like another, closer look, perhaps if Dingwall comes back to exhibit at the London Bass Guitar Show. Stay tuned.