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Breaking from tradition can be a slippery slope. But when a talented and passionate craftsman does so with an instrument, the possibilities and results can sometimes be downright incredible. Sheldon Dingwall, founder of Dingwall Guitars, falls into this camp. Whereas not entirely a household name, the basses rolling out of his workshop are known in the bass universe for envelope-pushing designs and superb construction. These attributes—combined with upscale features and versatile tone—have helped turn a number of players on to the quality basses being built in the company’s humble workshop in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
One of Dingwall’s latest designs, the Super P, is a modern bass with its roots very firmly planted in P-bass tradition. Though its fanned frets and angles of the bridge and pickups make it look like it’s moving at 100 miles per hour, it doesn’t lose the true spirit of a Precision. The Super P is certainly a stunner at the very first glance, and as it turns out, this bass can be judged by its cover.
No Brick in Dingwall
Right out of the included, custom gig bag, the Super P was a joy. Its svelte 8-pound alder body almost lifted itself out of the case. Once in the light, the fiesta-red finish—which leans towards coral in color—looked to be flawless, and the 3-ply tortoise pickguard was the perfect choice to accent this bass. The smooth and extremely comfortable C-shaped neck is constructed of five pieces of maple and topped with a pau ferro fretboard, setting the stage for the Super P’s fanned frets based on the Novax system. (We’ll jump deeper into that in a moment.) The staggered, 4-bolt neck joint felt rock-solid, and when examining further, I was amazed that there was absolutely no pocket gap where the neck meets the body. None. I have honestly never seen this before.
The Super P’s bridge was designed by Dingwall and constructed by Hipshot, who also makes the set of countersunk Ultralite tuners which include a drop D. The passive pickups are made in Dingwall’s shop using neodymium magnets and computer-controlled windings, and the Super P’s Tone-Fusion circuit and control replaces your daddy’s tone knob with its next generation of tone sculpting. It’s a standard tone control with a passive mid-cut in one knob. I have to admit I was a little giddy to give the Super P a try after conducting this initial inspection.
Trip the Light Fanned-tastic
When Sheldon Dingwall first introduced his fanned-fretted basses, he had his work cut out for him to convince players about the benefits of breaking from the tradition of parallel frets. But when Lee Sklar jumped in as an endorser, however, it seemed that Dingwalls were starting to pop up more often. Personally, I had zero fanned-fret experience, and without knowing anyone that owned a Dingwall, I had a number of obvious questions. How does it feel? Would this seem unnatural? Do I need to change my technique?’
Well, the bass simply felt great. There was some minimal adjustment needed initially, but yes, it felt natural. While you’ll miss an occasional note at first, after a minute or two you won’t even think twice about it. The neck was smooth with no dead spots, and all 22 frets were very easily accessible. Unplugged, the Super P sounded fantastic, and it seemed to sustain for about the length of the national anthem.
I ran the Super P at full bore through an Eden WT550 and matching 6x10 cabinet. With the amp set flat to best hear the tones of the bass, I started off with the bass volume all the way up and the Tone-Fusion control at dead center. (This setting switches itself out of circuit to ensure the purest signal path possible.) The bass gave me a slightly aggressive, traditional P-bass tone that lacked just a little of the warmth, instead replacing it with a hint of bite. Digging in harder in the upper registers, the Super P handled everything I threw at it, and notes above the 12th fret sang with strength and clarity. Fingerstyle players, slap monsters, or plectrum lovers would all be happy here. I actually could have stayed on this one setting for the duration of the review, but alas, there were more tones in store.
Turning the Tone-Fusion knob counterclockwise, I was greeted with a deep tone, ready for my next vintage R&B project. But this wasn’t the wet-blanket sound you sometimes hear when rolling off the tone knob. The bass maintained clarity, and whereas it was more subdued than its other settings, you can ease the knob back to center to add attack if that suits you.
Rolling the knob all the way clockwise, the mids are cut from the signal, and for us bassists, this is an automatic signal to turn our hands over and start slapping. While the slap-contoured tones from the Super P are great, I found my personal sweet spot by easing some of the mids back in. With the tonal range of this bass, I would imagine you could find your spot too.
The Super P is a beautiful 4-string bass, shining with modern appointments within the institution that is the P-bass design. Like a Saleen Mustang or AMG Mercedes, this variation on a theme lets you know that there is still respect for the past, but there is so much more to this bass. After spending just a little time with the Super P, the fanned frets began to feel as natural as a traditional fretboard. So if you’ve been hesitant at all about exploring a fan-fretted, multi-scale bass, there’s really no need to be. The tonal range of the Super P is broad and the craftsmanship is simply exceptional. Onstage or in the studio, this bass with a modern approach to a legendary design can and will tackle it all.