The Combustion BEAD is a powerful, versatile tool that can take you deep into the future and beyond
So many of today’s bass lines are written on keyboards that most of us take notes below E for granted. Even if you use an octaver and/or a Hipshot Bass XTender to tune down a whole-step, a standard 4-string still might not go low enough for some modern music gigs. One solution: a BEAD bass.
Whether it’s a tonal choice, a physical preference, a budget move, or just a visual thing, tuning your 4-string down from EADG to BEAD — the lowest strings of a 5 — can dramatically change your options. (This is old news to metal bassists, who have been tuning down since the dawn of time.) Once you’ve adjusted your setup and changed the nut slots to accommodate higher-gauge strings, you will notice that the B on a standard 34″-scale bass is floppier and not as authoritative as the B on longer-scale instruments; that fat string needs room to stretch out and vibrate. Few builders are as qualified to step boldly into the BEAD arena as Dingwall, whose 36.25″-scale Estrings have been rumbling beneath heavy music for decades. When I heard that the company was offering BEAD setups for new 4-strings until the end of the year — and sending out Kyser capos with down-tuned basses — I asked Dingwall to send one over for review.
The Combustion sits in the middle of Dingwall’s import line, pricier than the D-Roc and less expensive than the NG. With its bold curves, angled bridge, slanted FD-3N pickups, matte-black pickguard, smoked-chrome Hipshot/Dingwall hardware, five-piece maple neck, maple fingerboard, and two-tone blackburst finish on a quilted-maple top, our tester was gorgeous in a futuristic “if-Tesla-made-a-bass” way. It was solid, too: That three-piece swamp-ash body was heavier than it looked. When I plugged it in, the EMG Quad-Tone pickup selector made it easy to choose among the bridge pickup, bridge and middle pickups in series, bridge and neck pickups combined in parallel, or just the neck pickup. (Each pickup can be wired internally in series or parallel.) The EMG BT07 3-band preamp allows bass, mid, and treble adjustments.
I was afraid that I’d be distracted by the fanned frets, but a few minutes of playing intervals, octaves, and chord shapes put me at ease. The scale length for each string on this BEAD Combustion — a 36.25″ B, 35.5″ E, 34.75″ A, and 34″ D — certainly contributed to its rich, sustained harmonics, and the B might be the best I’ve ever played: tight, beefy, and sustained. (How cool would it be to have a BEAD bass built from the bottom strings of a standard Dingwall 5, which has a 37”-scale B and 36.25″-scale E?) It can feel strange to not have the usual octaves of the A-string notes, but that deep cutaway makes it easy to explore new territory all the way up to the 24th fret.
That Modern Vibe
I was raised on vintage Fenders and Fender-inspired instruments, and I usually think of myself as favoring warmth, width, and low mids over trebly clank or airy clarity. At first, I found the Combustion’s EMG preamp a bit on the bright side, and the string-to-string evenness seemed to imply a lack of “personality.” The more I played the Combustion, though, I began to understand that I didn’t have to choose between muscle and focus — the Dingwall had plenty of both.
The Quad-Tone pickup selector gave me quick access to several distinct flavors. In passive mode, the soloed neck and bridge pickups were old-school and vintage, the bridge /middle pickup combo was fat and focused, and the bridge/neck sound was loud and growly. Changing right-hand position gave me lots of variations on those themes, but switching on the preamp brought each pickup to life and showed me several new colors.
I was surprised to hear how full the Combustion sounded through my Epifani Piccolo 600 amp and Bergantino IP 1×12. When I plugged into a Focusrite Scarlett audio interface for a handful of last-minute musical theater demos in Logic Pro X, the Dingwall was punchy and authoritative. The producer called it “meaty” and loved that the bass made its presence felt without being “piercing,” and we both agreed that it would have taken a fair amount of compression to get the same results from my other instruments.
As I listened to Duran Duran legend John Taylor, Cher bassist Ashley Reeve, and studio bass god Lee Sklar talk about their Dingwalls, it struck me that the Combustion’s voice is perfect for players who recreate bass lines originally recorded on keys or synth — which at this point is most of us. Inspired by Andrew Gouché, I tuned the Combustion down a whole-step and was shocked by how monstrous and articulate the Combustion sounded from the open A all the way up to the high C.
Strings & Capos
Depending on the gauges you use, the D string on your BEAD can be a bit tough for slapping, and chords can be muddy. Fingerstyle, thumb-mute, and playing with a pick felt natural on the Combustion, but I experimented by switching out the Combustion’s Dingwall nickels (.055, .080, .100, .130) for a custom set of slightly lighter Dunlop nickels (.050, .075, .095, .120). Though the Dunlops were noticeably easier for chords and string bends, they weren’t dramatically different, and I missed the meatiness of the Dingwalls, especially when I tuned down to ADGC. I could imagine using even bigger strings — and sure enough, Dingwall’s helpful chart of Kalium string gauges recommends a .063 C, .082 G, .112 D, and .150 A. Those are outlandish gauges for players who use standard tuning, but more common for down-tuned basses.
Another idea popular among BEAD players is the use of a capo. I’ve always thought of capos as something for guitarists who want to quickly change tunings, but putting a capo on a BEAD bass is an easy way to get a thicker, short-scale sound and change the tuning of your open strings. (A capo at the 5th fret of a BEAD bass, for example, brings the “open” strings to EADG.) A capo on your bass neck is practical, if not particularly sexy; it’s noteworthy that Dingwall is including Kyser Quick-Change capos with their BEAD basses. Here’s a demo:
BEAD For R&B
I fell into BEAD tuning by accident. In the early 2000s, I was living in New York City and playing in a modern R&B group with a musical director who was a beast on keyboard bass. My B was no match for the low end of his keyboard, and after searching for an instrument that could give me what I needed, I found an incredible deal on a Wal Mk. I 4-string. I strung it BEAD and never looked back. With the sharp rise in Wal prices, I’ve become hesitant to take it to gigs, so the Combustion BEAD is right on time.
As a bass geek with wide-ranging musical tastes, I’m fascinated by instruments that are associated with certain genres and tones. Dingwalls have developed a great reputation among musicians who play heavy music, and despite the testimony of the acclaimed rock and pop bassists mentioned above (and demos like this), it feels odd to suggest that players in other genres might dig these instruments, too. But anyone who values pure bass muscle, clarity, flexibility, and string-to-string consistency — producers, dub/reggae fiends, synth-bass addicts, and Broadway musicians come to mind — would do well to check out a Dingwall. Though our tester lacked the dead spots, inconsistencies, and other “organic” flavors that make me reach for vintage instruments, the Combustion BEAD proved to be a powerful, versatile tool that could take me deep into the future, and beyond.
Made in China/Canada
Scale length 4-string, 36.25″–34″ (940–864mm)
Body Swamp ash with quilted-maple top
Neck Five-piece maple, bolt-on
Fingerboard Maple, 9.45″ radius (240mm)
Frets 24 acoustic-size frets, Novax Fanned-Fret System
Pickups 3 x Dingwall FD3-N
Preamp EMG BT07 3-band (bass, mid, treble)
Controls Master volume, Quad-Tone pickup selector, active 3-band EMG EQ, active/passive toggle switch
String spacing at bridge 0.748″ (19 mm)
Finish Two-tone blackburst
Pickguard Matte black
Weight 10 lbs
Case Dingwall padded gig bag included