Classic Hofner, P & J Bass Tones Meet in a Splendorous Mid-Scale
The PG Rivolta Combinata Bass VII review.
Recorded direct into Focusrite Saffire 6 interface into MacBook Pro using Logic.
Clip 1: Bridge pickup soloed with tone knob at 50 percent.
Clip 2: Neck pickup soloed with tone knob at 25 percent.
Clip 3: Both pickups engaged with tone knob at 60 percent.
Comfortable neck. Versatile single-coil tones. Awesome looks that won’t break the bank.
Neck-heavy design. Some 60-cycle hum.
Rivolta Combinata Bass VII
While some bass and guitar builders make slight tweaks to classic designs, others tend to go full-on Frankenstein by adapting forms of yesteryear into something arguably original. Dennis Fano leans toward the latter by crafting unique instruments rooted in vintage vibe. While Fano and company build boutique customs through Novo guitars, they also offer an affordable line of instruments with the Rivolta moniker.
By the Numbers
The Rivolta line’s initial foray into bass production transforms the company’s popular Combinata body style into a medium-scale monster. The Roman numerals at the end of each Rivolta model correlate to the instrument’s features. In the case of the Combinata Bass VII, the “V” refers to binding and the “II” delineates the bass as a two-pickup instrument. (The “Rivolta language” is explained in further detail on their website.)
It’s unusual to find a relatively budget-friendly bass with the Combinata’s impressive features. A German carved top—with the choice of mahogany or maple—caps the instrument’s chambered mahogany body. Our test bass was constructed with the latter for its top, and the autunno-burst finish enhances the maple’s grain by delivering a honey-esque warmth to the Combinata’s curves. Binding for the front and back of the bass is a classy touch that frames the instrument’s shape.
The Combinata’s maple neck is set into the body. Its bound ebony fretboard provides a nice backdrop that makes the pearloid inlays sparkle. Jazz-style bass lovers will dig the 1.5" nut width, which is paired with a 12" fretboard radius and medium-C neck profile. The Combinata’s scale length measures out to 32", which will suit players of all shapes and sizes.
Rivolta opted for a passive system to transmit the vibrations, with controls for volume, pickup blend, and tone atop the instrument’s funky gold pickguard. For pickups, the Combinata is outfitted with a pair of beefy Rivolta custom-wound single-coils that pack a hefty punch.
Bass in the Time of COVID-19
I like to put review gear through the paces in two environments: at my home studio and in a live setting. Though I was unable to rock the Combinata onstage, extra time at home provided ample opportunity to really dig into the tonal details of Rivolta’s latest.
First impressions of our test bass were positive. Its edgy old-school looks hint at familiar forms of the past, but are blurred enough to give the bass an identity of its own. It did not take long to settle into the Combinata’s neck and fretboard, which allow a comfortable fretting-hand position and effortless shifting. A bit of unplugged plucking revealed an abundance of resonance from the body—producing focused fundamentals with a hint of top end—and acoustic projection was consistent across the entire fretboard.
As I delved deeper into the inspection, I found that the Combinata’s balance presented some challenges for my style of playing. It didn’t rest well on my thigh, at first, due to neck dive, but I was able to make accommodations while sitting. Strapped on, the Combinata rested steady in a horizontal orientation, which didn’t quite allow my preferred playing angle, but this may be perfect for pick-style bassists or transitioning guitarists.
To explore the Combinata’s tones, I plugged into a Bergantino Forté HP head paired with a Bergantino HG410 cabinet. A few twists of the instrument’s controls revealed an impressively versatile tonal palette. The neck pickup contained shades of Hofner- and P-style basses. Tempering the highs with the tone knob provided the ideal timbre for thumpy, thumb-muted bass lines. Conversely, cranking the tone infused the sound with a bright woody snap.
Soloing the bridge pickup brought out barky, burpy bass sounds with a little more roundness. And the “Jaco tone” was certainly present, with stabbing fundamentals and harmonics that popped off of the fretboard.
Engaging both pickups gave me a punchy, bright attack akin to J-style instruments. Slapping and popping the Rivolta’s strings provided a surprisingly contemporary tone, loaded with punch and transients ideal for a gospel band or funk god. (Bonus points go to the Combinata for maintaining its volume level across all three pickup configurations.) The 60-cycle hum was unavoidable when engaging a single pickup, but it didn’t take away from the Combinata’s sonic benefits. In the right hands, this bass could cover nearly every style of music.
I also used the Combinata to remotely track bass lines for a country artist, and recording with the bass was pleasant. With an even-blend mix of both pickups, the tone sat well in the mix—focused and full. And notes in the upper register came through cleanly, ideal for the lyrical fills or softer dynamic playing I engaged in.
Rivolta’s Combinata VII has the makings of a serious workhorse. It has great styling, a fast neck, and a practical tonal spectrum. Players on the cheap might feel a little uneasy about a $1,099 price tag, but the Combinata is most definitely a value-rich instrument that will suit multiple genres. If this instrument foreshadows what Rivolta and Novo have in store for bassists, we have much to look forward to from these small but mighty workshops.