Dingwall Basses

Currently I am playing Dingwall basses, built in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada by Sheldon Dingwall and his talented crew. These instruments feature the Novax fanned fret system and varying string lengths to deliver a consistent tone across the entire fretboard.

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Dingwall Voodoo Prima ('96)

Voodoo Prima

This Dingwall Voodoo Prima was built in 1996 and I feel very lucky to have come across it.

This instrument features beautifully quilted and bookmatched maple facings over an American black walnut core. I love the "cello cut" on the upper edge. The Bartolini pickups are both P-type.

The electronics cavity houses a Bartolini preamp and the battery. Note the screws used to mount the massive aircraft-grade aluminum bridge block.

The craftsmanship is amazing! The attention to detail on this instrument rivals the best that I have seen or played. It features a 9-piece bolt-on rock maple neck with graphite reinforcements and features a pau ferro fingerboard. There are no "dead spots" to be found anywhere on this neck!

Yes, those are Sperzel locking tuners too! Sheldon spared no expense to outfit this instrument with the best parts available.

Each instrument is hand-signed by Sheldon Dingwall.

The obligatory art shot... note the Dingwall/Kahler bridge saddles and the Neutrik locking jack (the red tab). The attention to small details such as this are what set Dingwall instruments apart.

This bass leaves me with the mental image of Sheldon hitting a block of wood with a mallet for many, many hours to get it to sound just right. Sand it a bit, then hit it again. And again. The end truly justifies the means, yielding an instrument with perfect pitch, endless sustain and complete tonal consistency across all five strings. Yes, that is high praise indeed!

Mr. Dingwall's amazing talent as a designer, bassist and luthier is magnificently crystallized in the Voodoo Prima. This is an organic instrument that you can truly connect with on every level.

Dingwall Afterburner I

This Dingwall Afterburner bass is currently one of my main gigging basses. Until very recently the Afterburner I model was the budget bass in the Dingwall lineup.

Dingwall instruments are proudly crafted in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, right here in Canada. One gets the impression that the same amount of care went into the building of this bass as the high-end Dingwall models. Extremely impressive. The fit, finish and quality of materials is similarly excellent, especially considering the cost of this bass.

I'm going to have to weigh this instrument properly, but my impression is that it's at least two-and-a-half pounds lighter than anything else I own (including the 4-stringers). Beautiful balance. Did I mention the light weight???

But what impressed me the most are the "electronics". Unlike my Wal basses (and so on), there's not much to adjust here and yet this passive instrument is extremely versatile. Yes there is volume, a passive tone control (treble roll-off) and a slap contour (bluEQube), but the real magic is in the pickup selector. Position one, the bridge pickup only, is to my ear slightly MM-like and reminds me of a Sterling, or perhaps the bridge pickup of a Fender Jazz. Position 2 is both pickups in parallel and it is very much a Jazz-bass tone. Postion 3 is both pickups in series; very active sounding (think expensive boutique bass). Position 4 is the neck pickup solo which has a wonderful P-bass punch. What more would one need?

Clearly a great deal of thought and effort has gone into creating an instrument that maintains a precise consistency of tone, balance and sustain across the whole fretboard. Astonishing! The varied string lengths, which for the most part are unique to fan-fretted basses, is the major contributing factor. The 37" B-string? It's the best I have ever heard or played and sustains nearly forever.

In summary I would rate this instrument very very highly, which is especially amazing for an instrument in this price range. I would not hesitate to recommend a Dingwall wholeheartedly.

Dingwall Afterburner II

This Dingwall Afterburner II with bubinga facings shares a top spot among my favourite instruments. Dingwall takes the Afterburner model to the next level with exotic woods and an active Aguilar preamp. This particular bass also features Sheldon Dingwall's signature "bearclaw" scroll and tone chambers.

As with the Afterburner I model, the quality, fit and finish are top notch and truly a credit to the excellent work of Sheldon Dingwall and his crew. This bass features a walnut body core which is beautifully matched to a premium bubinga top, 5 piece bubinga neck and a wenge fingerboard. Because of the tone chambers this bass is still lightweight at roughly 8 pounds.

This model builds on the Afterburner I model by adding an active electronics package which includes an Aguilar OBP-1 preamp (Note that the latest versions have a Glockenklang preamp). There is an active/passive switch with hybrid treble (active boost and passive cut) and the bluEQube switch. Controls provided are: volume, pickup selection (bridge pickup only, both pickups in series, both pickups in parallel, and neck pickup), BluEQube and treble. The tonal characteristics are extremely flexible and provide amazing versatility. Yet despite this seeming complexity, it's very easy to dial in a wide range of usable tones from extremely aggresive and growly to downright sweet and jazzy with clear notes that just sing.

The Afterburner II scores top marks due to its versatility, light weight and tonal range and consistency.

Peavey Cirrus


Here's a US-made bass that is a pleasure to gig with and truly sounds great. When I leave my Wal basses at home, this is one of a few instruments (like the Dingwall) that I can take to a gig and still manage to come away satisfied. I did not suspect that I would enjoy playing this bass so much. It has a nice woody and warm tone, with a tighter B string than I have found on many production instruments. It's also a real workhorse providing a versatilility that ranges from punchy PBass tones right through to modern boutique Jazz bass sounds. This particular instrument includes:

Wenge facings
Walnut body
Walnut neck with maple stringers
Neck-through design
3-band 18volt preamp
Brushed gold hardware
35" scale

For the money, if you can find one of these used in the local consignment shop as I did, a Cirrus is nearly impossible to beat.

Four stars (out of five).

'62 Fender Precision

Trusty ol' Pbass

I spent more than twenty-five years playing this bass exclusively, and it still inspires me to write, practice and play music.

This bass has many stories to tell. In 1967 I had scraped enough money together from a flyer delivery route to purchase my first "real" bass. I approached a friendly local player who had two Precisions, and for the princely sum of my hard-earned $100 plus an Electrovoice 664 microphone I took home the most worn of his two basses. Of course the first thing I did was to remove the well-mojo'ed finish in favour of a coat of marine varnish. Hindsight being what it is, the only excuse I can make is that it is now easy to tell that this is an alder-bodied instrument.

After a few years of solid gigging I remember we were loading into a local downstairs club (The Green Door at the Chaudiere). We had loaded the amps, the Hammond & Leslies and the drums in already and were tending to the last bits. I grabbed my bass. As I just started down the long flight of marble stairs the latches on the case failed and I watched my Precision tumble and clatter down to the very bottom. My heart sank. It was astonishing to find that excepting a tiny mark on the back of the neck, the bass was not only intact but still in tune. Try that with a modern boutique bass! On second thought...

This example is a totally mind-blowing instrument which proves beyond a shadow of doubt (for you skeptics out there) that vintage Fenders can truly rock like no other. It's also probably worth mentioning that I have kept all of the original parts; "ash tray" covers, bridge, tuners, pickguard piece and worn knobs which all rest in the original light brown case - with semi-functional latches.

'78 Fender Jazz Bass

Trusty Jazz Bass

This bass came from the local consignment shop not too long ago. I was looking for a Jazz in decent shape and there's something about this instrument that really appealed to me. It certainly wasn't the neck which is fairly large by Jazz standard, but with a little adjustment it seems to have everything one would expect. One could guess that this bass spent a lot of Canadian winter nights in the truck only to be loaded directly into a toasty-warm room. The body is extremely checked as a result, but that gives it a truly serious mojo.

I viewed Jazz bass players as "the other camp", at least back in the '60s, and while I had tried a few of these out, I could not find the one that I really wanted. While the extra versatility was appealing, to me they lacked the solid punchiness of a Precision. Anyhow I am now officially in both camps having one of each.

EB Musicman Bongo

The Mighty Bongo

Hauling Wal basses out to local gigs was starting to become worrisome. Some places can be just a bit rough for an irreplaceable instrument. So I began the search for something that could produce a Wal-like sound and still fit my hands and playing style. It had been suggested that the Bongo would be a suitable stand-in, so I placed an order for the instrument above.

The massive pickups and amazing 4-band preamp do somewhat capture a Wal-like sound. I decided to take this bass a step further however and also ordered the piezo bridge pickups which deliver wonderful upright bass tones, although they tend to be a bit bright on their own.

One observation a friend (hi Ken Jung) made, that I do agree with, is that the tone you hear is more the sound of the preamp than that of the instrument itself. My personal preference for the sound of the wood, which contributes to the overall tone of a given instrument.

If you can get past the looks created by BMW Design (and which certainly don't appeal to everyone at first) the Bongo is an exceptional production instrument. Credit and kudos to Sterling Ball. This bass challenges other manufacturers to match the level of fit, finish and finesse in an affordable mass-produced instrument. I do find this all-basswood instrument to be a bit on the heavy side but it is still very manageable. Overall I was very pleased with the playability and versatility of this bass and would have no problem recommending the Bongo.

Tobias Signature

The Tobias Signature

I was certainly fortunate to secure this instrument which appears to be the last California-made Tobias bass assembled by the original crew, serial number 2044. This bass is proof of why Mike Tobias is regarded as one of, if not "the", finest bass luthiers on the planet.

This model is a "Signature" which was the top of the Tobias range. The tone is very unique with lots of midrange character, a sweet top end (without excessive brightness) and wonderfully warm and articulate lows with an especially tight-sounding "B" string.

The asymmetrical neck is Mike's signature and it makes this bass very comfortable to play. Something tells me that I'll be hanging on to this instrument for a while longer.

* Note however that this bass is controversial. It seems that there is another 2044 out there, which likely the "real" one. Duplicate numbers? I had discussed this with Mike Tobias at the time of my purchase from "Bass World" (where it was billed as the "last California Tobias"). Mike had me pull the pickups and the information underneath seems to indicate that this one is "period correct". Regardless, it is a wonderful intrument that I have no plans to sell.

Warwick Streamer (Stage II)

1990 Warwick Streamer (Stage II style)

This lovely instrument was handbuilt by Warwick in 1990. I purchased this instrument from a fellow who, as a boy, had grown up on the Wilfer estate in West Germany where his mother worked as the personal cook for Frau Wilfer. The Wilfers founded Framus and later on Warwick, and son Hans Peter runs the Warwick business.

When this young fellow (Ned) had grown and was going to college, he took up bassplaying as a passtime. Having saved enough for a decent instrument he made a trip back to the estate. Hans Peter recognized Ned right away and while he did accept the money (likely less than was needed for the purchase), Hans Peter handpicked this particular top-of-the-line model for his childhood friend. Here are the details:

Warwick Streamer Stage II
Afzelia body
Wenge neck & fretboard with afzelia stringers
Inlaid yin-yang fret markers
Neck-through model
Green LED side-markers
34" scale
hand-rubbed oil finish
MEC 9-volt 2-band preamp
MEC JJ pickups
All hardware is gold-plated
Weight roughly 9 pounds
Condition: excellent, with one small mark below the toggle switch
Handmade in West Germany, 1990
Accessories: gigbag, neck wrench, wax

This bass has a unique speaking voice, with the typical Warwick growling mids, a bright and slightly aggressive high end response and warm woody lows. While this sound is a general characteristic of the Streamer Stage II basses, it is particularly sweet on this instrument and I consider myself very lucky to own this bass.

Warwick Dolphin Pro I

The Dolphin

Here is another of my Warwick basses, a Dolphin Pro I model also handcrafted in 1990. I purchased this bass from Jon Shishido when his "BunnyBass" effort was just beginning. Jon was very fond of this bass, just as I am. Although the looks are rather unusual, it is truly a joy to play and extremely versatile in it's capabilities. The Dolphin Pro I was the top-of-the-line model Warwick offered at the time, and this is a pristine example. Here are the details:

Warwick Dolphin Pro I
Boire rosewood body
Wenge neck & fretboard
Inlaid dolphin fret markers
Neck-through model
34" scale
hand-rubbed oil finish
MEC 9-volt 2-band preamp with coil splitter
Bartolini HJ pickups installed at the factory
All hardware is brushed platinum
Weight roughly 8.5 pounds
Condition: excellent
Handmade in West Germany, 1990
Accessories: flight case, gigbag, neck wrench, wax, DR strings

When this bass wants to be, it is possibly the most aggresive-sounding instrument I own; even moreso than a Wal. With the coil-tapped bridge pickup solo'ed and treble cranked this bass CAN shatter glass. But it's not the proverbial "one-trick-pony" either. This bass is even capable of an MTD-style sweetness and blends well in virtually any scenario. Not your typical Warwick indeed and another bass that I am truly privileged to own.

Warwick Thumb Bass

The Warwick Thumb Bass

Certainly the Thumb is one of the most well-known Warwick basses. Even casual listeners can recognize that midrange growl that makes this bass so popular. Despite the smaller body, bubinga is a dense wood making the bass heavier than expected. In addition, the use of bubinga in the neck and the short top horn make these instruments prone to "neck-dive". This dreaded affliction can be hard on your left shoulder after a long night of playing, but is easily cured with a wide padded strap. Nonetheless, some folks find these too uncomfortable to play.

Warwick Thumb Bass
Bubinga body
Wenge neck & fretboard with bubinga stringers
Neck-through model
34" scale
hand-rubbed oil finish
MEC 9-volt 3-band preamp
MEC JJ pickups
All hardware is black
Weight roughly 9 pounds
Condition: excellent
Made in West Germany, 1994
Accessories: gigbag, neck wrench, wax

I spent a long time finding a Thumb bass that I really liked having owned several over the years. There seems to be a wide variation in the neck profile on Thumb basses in particular. Many folks liken the neck on these instruments to baseball bats, and while this is true of many it is not true of all. My suggestion is that if you are interested in this model you choose based on how comfortable the neck is to your hands and that you try it out by standing up to play and using your widest strap.

Warwick Infinity NT

The Infinity

The Infinity is the only hollow-bodied instrument that I own. I found this particular instrument in a local shop, badly in need of a setup and cleaning, for an extremely good price. For me, it disproves the notion that the only good Warwicks are the older ones. The quality of this instrument far exceeded my expectations and with a proper setup it is among my favourites to play. If desired it can sound exactly like a Thumb bass but without the extra weight and neck dive. The stock BassLines preamp is very well-suited to this instruments and adds versatility that would not otherwise be there. Here are the particulars:

Warwick Infinity NT
Birdseye maple top
Bubinga body
Maple neck with rosewood fretboard
Neck-through model
34" scale
hand-rubbed oil finish
BassLines 9-volt 3-band preamp with coil split, slap contour
MEC HJ pickups
All hardware is black
Weight below 8 pounds
Condition: new
Made in West Germany, 2000, limited edition
Accessories: gigbag, neck wrench, wax, DR strings

If you're after a Warwick bass, this model is highly recommended. I recently traded this bass to "Bass Viking" for the Dingwall.

Kubicki Factor & X-Factor

Kubicki Basses

Phil Kubicki makes some amazing instruments and this was proven by the three instruments above which I sold some time ago. From left to right they are: fretted X-Factor, fretted Factor and fretless X-Factor. The powder blue bass was a lightweight pre-Fender model that I wish I still had today.

X-Factor is clearly the most popular instrument made by Kubicki and is certainly the best known example of his work. It is a 32" scale bass with a capo-like lever which, when released, provides two additional frets corresponding to Eb and D. The added string length ensures that the tone of these notes is in character with the rest of the fretboard range.

The Factor bass is a straight 34" scale instrument, but offers the same wonderful pickups and versatile preamp. These basses all feature a bolt-on neck and clean fretboard with no fret markers.

Both the Factor and X-Factor use an interesting bridge & tuning system. The ball of the string fits into the headstock of the instrument and the other end of the string is wound into a large cogged wheel that is hand-tightened (as much as possible) to provide tension. Then there is a fine-tuning adjustment that brings the string to it's proper pitch. Personally I found this system a bit cumbersome when compared to modern top-loading bridges for quick string changes, but this is a minor point.

These are great-sounding well-built basses and I will own an X-Factor again at some point. The 32" scale is very easy to work with, but on the X-Factor basses tone is not sacrificed in favour of the shorter scale.

Status Headless

Status Empathy II headless

Here's a great instrument that was custom-ordered and later traded towards my first Wal bass. The woven graphite neck ensured that the instrument was always in tune, even in this crazy climate. The tone was deep, clear and piano-like, probably due to the massive milled brass bridge and headstock string retainers. The instrument was well-balanced, medium weight at ~9lbs and had superb fit and finish. Here are the details:

Status Empathy II headless bass
Walnut body with quilt maple top
Graphite neck with ebony fretboard
Neck-through model
34" scale
Status 18-volt 3-band preamp
Status soapbar pickups
Machined brass bridge, tuners and string retainers
Weight roughly 9 pounds
Handmade in the UK, 1996
Accessories: gigbag

The pickups and 18v preamp were both made by Status and provided great flexibility and range. The only minor issue I found was that the preamp had a minor high frequency hiss that would increase as treble was boosted. Despite this minor misgiving it's a bass that I do miss occasionally.

Gibson-era Tobias

Tobias Classic

Mike Tobias sold his interests in Tobias basses to Gibson in the early '90s and production moved to Gnashville (as Mike himself calls it). Instruments manufactured during this era were certainly hit-or-miss propositions. As with all Gibson acquisitions the name and product quality slips away into obscurity: reference Steinberger, Trace Elliot just to name a few. What a travesty.

Here is a Tobias Classic from early on in the Gibson era (~'92 or '93). I loved this bass. It had a wonderful light weight, excellent balance and a great tone that really cut through. With this instrument Gibson seemed to get everything right. Here are the details:

Tobias Classic
Walnut body with quilt maple top
Maple neck with purpleheart stringers
Rosewood fretboard
Neck-through model
34" scale
Tobias 9-volt 3-band preamp
Tobias soapbar pickups
All black Tobias hardware
Weight below 8 pounds
Made in Gnashville, ~1992
Condition: minor wear
Accessories: hardshell case

This bass was the other part of my trade for the Wal fretless MkII. It was a decent instrument. If you can find one of these in good condition that plays right and where the fit and finish is right it would be worth owning.

Steinberger XL2

Steingberger XL2

Ahhh the virtues of the licorice stick. Doesn't it evoke memories? This is another company that Gibson acquired and ran into the ground, but original vintage Steinberger basses are commanding high prices from collectors and players alike. Specifics:

Steinberger XL2 (or XL2A) headless bass
Black composite (plastic) body and neck
Neck-through model
EMG soapbar pickups
2-band 9-volt preamp
Black hardware
34" scale
Weight ~8 pounds
Unique floating strap system
Fold out knee rest (for playing while sitting)

The secret to the success of this fine instrument is due mainly to the magic composite formula that Ned Steinberger came up with and created this instrument from. He certainly deserves real credit for this success where so many others had failed miserably.

What a great instrument. I can't believe that I sold this bass. Mine had a glow-in-the-dark crescent moon on the bridge assembly. It's immediately recognizable so if you find it please contact me. Thanks.

A Few Warwicks

Love / Hate Relationship

Need a bass with midrange growl? This sound is characteristic of Warwick basses and where they excel. In general terms the best basses were made prior to 1991. The models shown above are:

'9x white custom Dolphin 5 with red LEDs (sold),
'90 Dolphin Pro I with factory Barolini pickups (middle left),
'90 Streamer Stage II with green LEDs (bottom left) this one is a keeper,
'00 Infinity Ltd (top right - traded),
'94 Thumb bass - neckthrough (bottom right, sold).

There was a wide variation in neck profile after 1991. I've played some Warwicks that had baseball bat necks; very uncomfortable. Fortunately, if one is patient and careful, it is possible to find Warwicks that feature exceptional necks. I was very lucky to find the instruments above.