Is there really anything new in the development of the bass?

How to take an ancient discovery and make it groove

By Jon Liebman
Week of November 2, 2020

I’ve talked in this space previously about whether or not Leo Fender really got it right with his guitars and basses. For that matter, what about other acclaimed bass makers, like Mike Tobias, Roger Sadowsky, Vinny Fodera… I’m curious to know what these guys are doing that hasn’t already been figured out.

The question came about in a conversation I had with Canadian bass maker Sheldon Dingwall, whose interview we published this week on FBPO. Sheldon says some of the concepts we use in bass making today have been around for thousands of years, and that all we had to do was apply them. Really?

Dingwall, widely known for the unique, fan-fretted technology he incorporates into his instruments, has captured the interest of a wide array of bass players, including everyone from Leland Sklar and Dann Glenn to Nathan Navarro and Adam “Nolly” Getgood.

If you’ve ever tried to negotiate the multi-scale configuration of a Dingwall, you know it’s a whole different animal, unlike any other bass you’ve ever played. But just how new or innovative is it?

“Multi-scale’s been around since 3000 B.C.,” Dingwall says. “It’s been used in harps, in pianos, for thousands of years, and so the solution has been right there.”

As the conversation continued, Sheldon’s passion for bringing this ancient breakthrough to light became increasingly palpable. 

“This is not a new concept,” he continues. “It’s been hiding in plain sight. All we had to do was just apply the multi-scale concept from pianos and harps to a guitar. It’s as simple as that. It’s not a new concept; it’s just a new application.”

Not to take anything away from Fender and the other bass-making icons. On the contrary, uncovering the brilliance of ancient discoveries and transforming it into something that affects our lives so beautifully and so profoundly is nothing short of mind-blowing! Multi-scale technology is but one example. The fact is, the science is already there. Figuring out how to apply it to make our lives better is where the genius comes in. 

“It’s an adventure,” Dingwall says. “As soon as you say, ‘It’s impossible,’ it’s impossible. But as soon as you look at it as an adventure, then it is possible and it just becomes this journey of, ‘Okay, what can I learn today? How can I apply my music to that, and where’s it going to take me that I’d never been before?’”

How about you? Have a thought on the subject? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, you can watch my video interview with Sheldon here.

Photo: Sitting at Leo Fender’s desk, exactly as he left it.

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