Bass Musician Magazine’s Year of the Luthier – Sheldon Dingwall…
How did you get your start in music?
I came from a musical household. I started baritone ukulele at 4, piano lessons at 5, drum lessons at 9, guitar lessons at 12 and bass lessons at about 16. I taught drums and guitar from 16 to 20.
Are you still an active player?
No time right now but when my kids get older, I may look for a local gig.
How did you get started as a Luthier?
My uncle Alfred Wilson built acoustic guitars as a hobby. I coaxed him into teaching me. I started by designing and building a locking tremolo bridge then moved on to necks and bodies.
When did you build your first bass?
I’d built custom bass necks and bodies for local musicians in the late 80s and early 90s. The first complete bass I built was the prototype for the original Voodoo Bass that evolved into our current Z-series. That was completed at 7:30 AM on January 13th 1993.
How did you learn the art of woodworking/Luthier?
My uncle taught me the basics of woodworking, metalworking and finishing. I don’t know why but several of the local woodworking elite took me under their wing and guided me in the early days. I did a ton of reading and was thoroughly obsessed with the subject.
Woodworking is something that comes pretty naturally to me so I caught on fast. I started a repair business to create a job and to learn from the mistakes of other manufacturers. The repair business took off and I learned a lot about building and built up a customer base.
Who would you consider a Mentor?
My uncle for sure, Glenn McDougall from Fury Guitar has been my most important mentor. He’s shared a ton of his knowledge and even had a hand in helping me rebuild after the fire that wiped out my shop. Tom Anderson’s been a good friend and mentor too.
How do you select the woods you choose to build with?
I have a guy on staff to takes care of all that now. His name is Joey Lorer. He’s a brilliant guy and a real wood nerd. We have trusted suppliers that we’ve worked with for over 20 years. They know what we want and we always get the top quality.
How about pickups?
We’ve been making our own pickups since 2000. We used to supply other builders but we pretty much handed that business over to Nordstrand. I’m the type that needs to focus on one thing at a time. Running a bass business and a pickup business stretched our resources too thin.
What pickups did you use in the past?
We worked with Bartolini from 1993 to 2000. They’ve always made great pickups and electronics. It was not an easy decision to go out on our own but it was something I felt we needed to do to grow.
What electronics do you use right now?
We use custom modified pre-amps from Glockenklang and also work closely with Darkglass with their Tone Capsule.
Who were some of the first well-known musicians who started playing your basses?
Lee Sklar was the first big name endorser. He’s as well known as you can get in the bass world. Other A-list players in the early days were Mike Brignardello, Michael Rhodes and Jason Newstead.
How do you develop a signature or custom bass for an artist?
We only have two signature models. The Lee Sklar model and the Adam Nolly Getgood NG2. With Lee, we sent him the latest version of the bass he was playing at the time. We asked him for his input and added the features he wanted like mandolin frets, easier access to the control cavity and a specially wired switch.
Adam owned 3 of our basses and wanted to create something new by combining a hot rodded version of our Combustion bass and a custom pre-amp from Darkglass. Adam, Doug from Darkglass and I sat around the breakfast and supper table and pounded out ideas until the concept of the Tone Capsule evolved. Adam liked the race car inspired finishes we were doing and wanted to take his sig model in a more European exotic direction with a carbon fibre pick guard.
What are a few things that you are proud about your instruments and that you would consider unique in your instruments?
I like companies and designers that innovate so I’m most proud of the innovations and in-house designed parts. We didn’t invent Fanned-frets, that was Ralph Novak. But we were the first company other than Ralph to base our entire company on them. We were pioneers in using Neodymium magnets in pickups, we innovated the magnetic battery compartment and innovated the dual-density body construction. We designed our bridges, pickups and control knobs.
Which one of the basses that you build is your favorite one?
They are all like children. They are all favourites for different reasons.
Can you give us a word of advice to young Luthiers who are just starting out?
Be patient, any career in the arts will take a long time to make a living at and a longer time to master. Be fearless.
What advice would you give a young musician trying to find his perfect bass?
Play as many as you can. Ask a seasoned repair tech to check them over. Make sure you’re buying something that’s solid and reliable.
What is biggest success for you and for your company?
Almost every day we get an email or are tagged in a Facebook post from a happy customer that is thrilled with their new bass. That’s our biggest success. Being able to affect people with our work. That’s what every artist strives for.
Are you preparing something new, some new model or new design?
We recently released a prototype of a Thunderbird. We took a different approach and it seems to have struck a nerve. The response has been incredible. We’ll be brining out a 6-string version of the NG2 next year. The rest of our developments are too far out in the future to discuss at this point.
Or maybe some new gear amps, etc.
We’re working on new pickups and new models. Other than the D-bird and NG2 6-string though, I can’t release any details.
What are your future plans?
Continue growing the company. Continue bringing out innovative designs and refining the existing ones.