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The Dingwall Combustion C2 mod realized!

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Bocete, May 15, 2011.

  1. Bocete

    Bocete My E string is 36 1/4" long

    Sep 30, 2006

    I'm the proud owner of the C2 modded Combustion. Here's how it looks like, and why and how have I done it.


    Some history

    So what is a C2? Dingwall used to offer two varieties of the Z model: Z1 and Z2. They had many of the same features, with two important differences: changed pickup locations, and the Z2 had only 22 frets (they all have 24 now afaik)

    Here's a Z1 and a Z2 so you can clearly spot the difference.

    So a C2 is to a Combustion what a Z2 is compared to a Z1. Two pickups of the same kind positioned near the bridge and close to each other. To accomplish that you'd just need to route the body, reposition the neck pickup and cover it with a custom pickguard. Hopefully it wouldn't sound too bad.

    Also, for those unaware: the Combustion uses the so-called FD-3a pickups, which are Alnico and vintage sounding. All the other Dingwall basses with soapbar pickups use FD-3 pickups, which are made of Neodymium, sound very aggressive and have an amazing dynamic range. So, it's only natural that the C2 should use the FD-3 pickups in FD-3a shells.

    IMAG0022. IMAG0050.

    The idea of the mod is not that recent. I got the idea of the mod before the regular Combustions came out - hacking a bass that didn't even exist. The first mockups can be seen on these three pics.

    Why did I get the idea? Basically, I love the sound of Musicman basses, while I like everything about Dingwalls. The Dingwall-meets-EBMM was my ideal bass. The Z2 basses were just out of my price range. Later I've even created a virtual mockup of such a mix which you can see in this album (not directly related to the C2 mod, but is trying to accomplish the same thing).


    I've had a fretless AB-II for a year or two now, and as great as that bass is, sometimes that harsh fretted sound is what I need. A fretless played fingerstyle is not the best idea for a punk band. Note that my AB-II is a miraculous bass, I've recorded a punk album with it and it grinds quite well, it's certainly one of the most versatile things around.

    The idea is to invest in a fretted bass that will do everything the fretless doesn't: that's power, aggressiveness, roaring, grinding and all the other nasty sounding adjectives without any particular meaning. My fretless can do everything else superbly and will continue doing it, I have no trouble with it; but if I could create a bass that can cover only that narrow space of sounds, and cover it well, I would be complete.

    So why the mod? Losing versatility for the sake of more focus at what I need. Also, an experiment is always fun, and I'd end up with something unique and personal. And, if I liked the C with stock pickups before the mod, I could only replace them with Neo FD-3s to add some aggressiveness and be done with it.


    The first thing I did was contacting Sheldon. If anyone knew of possible pitfalls, things I haven't thought through or anything else, he's the guy to ask. After his advice, I created this mockup to see the relative position of the C2 pickups with a Stingray's:


    As you can see, the positions are surprisingly close. If the actual pickups were on the inside halves of the pickup shells it would be almost perfect. However, that was not doable.

    As for the pickguard, some creative thinking had to be done. Using a regular Combustion pickguard is obviously not possible as the route of the old neck pickup would still be visible. In the end, I decided to buy some pickguard material from Stewmac and create a pickguard myself using a hand jigsaw and sandpaper. How would I create the bevel or drill for screw holes, I had no idea, but it's the best idea I had. Then Sheldon offered to create me a one-off pickguard without the neck pickup route that I'd only have to modify to add the new pickup hole.

    I couldn't believe what I was reading :eek: I mean, wow. Who knows how would it turn out with my unskilled hands. It was, like, BAM! Sheldon came and saved the day. I was grinning like an idiot for hours after, at once the project became quite feasible, the plan finally came together! Once again, great thanks Sheldon, and I can't stress how grateful I am.

    So I ordered two series wired FD-3 pickups in Combustion shells and two black/white/black pickguards with no neck pickup route. Why two? Just in case I make a mistake with one of them. Why black/white/black? B/W/B looks very sexy on EBMM basses, and it has been offered by Stewmac so I mentioned the color to Sheldon when laying out my plan; he offered to create pickguards in the same pattern.

    The bass arrived here about a week before the parts.

    I've played it a lot before the parts came. The Combustion is great but I didn't really like the neck pickup. To be frank, I couldn't have; my AB-II has a series/parallel switch for the neck pickup, and in series mode it just kills. The parallel wired FD-3a had no chance of impressing me. I decided to go on with the mod, so even if I don't like the new neck pickup it wouldn't be worse then the old config.

    Then the package came! Holy mother of all packaging, just taking all the stuff out took half an hour.

    Deep inside, the two pickguards (protective wrap on)

    And the pickups!

    All laid out on the floor, it looked like this:

    That's all the inspiration I needed :hyper: Let's go.


    I've taken the guitar to a friend of my fathers that had all the needed tools and expertise to do this. He has created a few guitars as a hobby so he knew exactly what he was dealing with. Well, more then myself :)

    First, removed the strings and unsoldered the pickups.

    The idea was to measure and route the pickguard first, as routing the body wouldn't be a problem since any irregularities would be covered by the pickguard. First we put some tape over the pickguard: we could draw on it, and it would be removed with the protective wrap in the end.

    Here's a pic with the custom pickguard on, and one after the new pickup route has been drawn. The G and B strings are there to help align the pickup properly.


    After some drilling to see how the material fares, the routing started.


    We routed the body on a simple table router. I forgot to take any pics on that, sorry. I wish I had, as you'd be able to see just how much body wood had to be removed. Basically, only that narrow strap of wood that is normally between the pickups was in the way. Such a small amount cannot affect the resonance of the bass in any significant way!

    As for the neck pickup wiring channel, a new channel didn't need to be drilled. After the routing there was a single route that spans all three pickups, and neck pickup wiring could be sent through the old neck pickup channel with no issues whatsoever.

    Also, at that point I've realized that the mod is reversible: remove the pickguard, move the pickup to the old location (no re-wiring required!) and just screw a regular pickguard to cover the route. Nice, isn't it?

    Here's a pic after the routing is done. We spraypainted the route black so it wouldn't be visible.

    Here's how it looked in the end, with pickups in the new location.

    Once it was cleaned, the pickguard put on, and the protective wrap removed, it shined:


    Better then in my most optimistic dreams.

    Is it aggressive? Oh yes. It's just in that sound area I anticipated, and GOD that low B became so alive. Thunderous, groundshaking, and yet precise and rich. What you normally slap on the E string sounds so awesome on the low B: just powerful, not muffled or over-bassy at all, just powerful.

    Does it sound like a Stingray? Well, no, but I did have a few moments when I was doodling while reading something and got struck by a sound you'd expect on a Stingray.. So the potential is there. But remember, in order for something to be better, it also has to be different :wink:, and besides, nothing is more alike to a Stingray then a Stingray. Any change, fanned frets included, changes the formula for better or for worse.

    The stock preamp is not very suitable for the mod, it's gentle, almost transparent compared to the animal the bass has become. My AB-II has a very aggressive Aggie preamp so maybe I'm not realistic in comparing the two, as the AB-II is my first active bass. Either way, changing the pre on the C2 might be a logical next step. Preferably to a John East 2 band EBMM pre, or an Aggie. It's a long term plan, and so is changing the hardware to all black :bassist:

    I've had a big gig yesterday, and the C2 was in the spotlight. My band, who have liked to Combustion as-is, were blown away by the change. If I get some action pics or a clip I'll sure post them.

    Sooo that's it. I am really happy I've done it, and I hope I've sparked some interest in this mod.. Maybe one day we'll see a stock model like this. Even if not, it's an inexpensive and reversible mod, so why not go for it?

  2. Jeff Roller

    Jeff Roller Jeff Roller Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 24, 2007
    Maryville, TN
    Very professional looking mod and great step by step guide! Sheldon may want to stock a few of the "C2" pickguards or at the least some blanks if this takes off!
  3. Bozendoka


    Mar 13, 2011
    You're a mad genius, sir! Dare we dream...of a C3 mod?:eek:
  4. TapyTap


    Apr 26, 2005
    Very cool idea...would love to hear some clips!

    ...and very cool of Sheldon! :cool:
  5. tubby.twins

    tubby.twins Amateur Pickup Reviewer Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2009
    Nice work! I remember the first time I took a router to a perfectly good bass body to change the pickup placement. The sense of anticipation was neatly balanced out by the fear of screwing it up. But it all turned out okay. :)
  6. Bocete

    Bocete My E string is 36 1/4" long

    Sep 30, 2006
    Exactly how I felt :smug:

    As for the C3 mod.. The Combustion uses too wide shells. ABZs too. The others don't, so it's possible :eek: but I'd never do that.

    Here's a mockup.. Makes me cringe. Don't drill into my AB-II!

    DSC00385. DSC00385%203%20pups.
  7. Bocete

    Bocete My E string is 36 1/4" long

    Sep 30, 2006
    Here's some sound samples!

    Both pickups maxed
    Neck pickup only
    Bridge pickup only

    All these have been recorded through by Boss GT10B, all flat, through USB into the computer. The preamp of the bass is flat, except for the second portion of the parallel mode sample where there's a ~40% boost on both bass and treble to get closer to that MM thing.

    I tried to cover various ranges of styles and dynamics so you can get a better picture of how it behaves. People usually apologize for their lack of skill, but I truly believe I've deserved the right to apologize here :D

    Also note that the bass is still factory setup. Some strings react slightly differently then others, and even on different areas of the neck. I was advised to get it setup after it's at least somewhat "broken-in", so I'll do so when I install the new preamp. A new batch of samples will be coming after that. I wanted to make samples before changing the preamp, as this gives you an idea of what the basic C2 mod does: just FD-3s in series in Z2 config.

    You can see the bass is pretty MM-like in parallel mode (both pickups maxed) and very P-like with the neck pickup soloed. The bridge pickup, eh, not my thing (and my AB-II is certainly better suited for that job) but it's the stock Combustion pickup so nothing new there. With the John East 2 band pre-EB MM preamp on the way, I guess it will come even closer to the bassy-sparkly sound of the StingRay. I don't think it will get exactly there - if you want a 100% StingRay sound, buy a StingRay, it's that simple - but it will be close enough and will have a touch of uniqueness and definition that I'm looking forward to. A true blend between Dingwalls and MusicMan basses.
  8. "Both pickups" isn't playing. Of course that's the one I was most interested in. :D

    The other clips sound really good. No need to apologize for your playing either. I found it cleaner than a lot of the "experts" on TB. :D
  9. Bocete

    Bocete My E string is 36 1/4" long

    Sep 30, 2006
    It plays for me. It starts off really quiet though?
  10. Bocete

    Bocete My E string is 36 1/4" long

    Sep 30, 2006
    So, the John East EBMM preamp has been in for about a week.


    I really feel the C2 is complete now :) A true merge of Dingwall and a Stingray. Just imagine how that should sound, and it sounds exactly like that.

    Initially, I was a bit sad because the preamp hasn't changed the dramatically. The sound has become a bit more "compressed" maybe, and definitely more punchy, but only subtly. However, boosting the bass and treble makes all the difference. I can easily get all the typical Stingray sounds I can think of and a few more great sounds to boot. The bass doesn't only sound like a Stingray, it plays like one; it makes me smile, makes me want to accent that note so hard the string almost snaps and the bass reacts up to the challenge, with all the Stingray sparkliness.

    On my AB-II the low B is just a string like any other, like on all Dingwalls and like it should be. But for some reason I get a special pleasure of riding the low B on the C2, and yet, it still gives me the ability to throw in a low C in basslines for four stringers and not sound overwhelming or deep. The only way I can explain this is that by attack you can get the sound from ground-shaking-B-string-has-a-voice-of-it's-own to perfectly balanced.

    I am yet to make any sound samples, but I promise to do so.

    The controls are: volume, the usual NSPB selector, a bass/treble stack with a push-pull bright mode and a min/sweep control. This is the John East EBMM 3 band 3 knob preamp/config you can find on Welcome to east-uk.com, home of the J-Retro and U-Retro Bass Preamps with a 4 pos selector added.

    As for the 4 position selector: this is the newer one, with a volume trimmer for the Series control. Initially, I've given the series setting the same volume as the parallel setting, and I've realized that the settings sound remarkably similar. Parallel had more treble, but the two could easily be mistaken for the same setting with the series setting having a treble cut. I've observed the same thing on my AB-II when playing with the trimmer. However, boosting the series setting a bit from that position made it different enough from the parallel setting. It seems only a tad louder but the character of the sound is different and the series setting sits on it's own. Installing the 4 pos was the right decision, and I don't see the need for any additional blending options.

    The bass/treble stack has a circuit that's an update of the pre-EB MM preamp in components/quality but has a same sound and characteristic. You can find more info on John East's website, but basically, this is what gives the bass the MM feel. The mid/sweep stack sounds neutral by default and can be used to pinpoint the exact sound you're looking for; but the character this bass is given by the bass/treble stack. The preamp can be bought without the mid/sweep stack (the bass/treble stack is split into two single knobs) and it also loses the bright mode push-pull that, honestly, I'm yet to find a use for.

    I should also note that the John East knobs are for 5mm shafts and the 4 pos selector has a 6 mm shaft so it had to be ground down to 5 mm. No biggie.

    So, with this, the mod is complete. Black hardware, a de-tuner and all the other goodies are not a part of this mod per-se.

    Financial report: (prices in USD)
    $1200 for the bass
    ~$400 for the pickups and the custom pickguards (as I ordered two)
    ~$250 for the preamp
    = $1850 USD (+ shipping and any tech work)
    Which brings it to the ABZ price range.

    Compared to the ABZ you lose some build quality (as in, not hand-made) which is significant, but you get a beast with a very different sound. The ABs can sound aggressive but in a very different way; the C2 stands on its own ground. The investment is very decent considering that it is still in the low-tier Dingwall price range and, very importantly, that you can do the mod as you go, you don't have to throw all the money away once.

    I really feel the FD-3 pickups are a must for this mod. The preamp helps a lot but if I had to save money somewhere I'd wait with the preamp and get it later. The mid stack can also be skipped to save about $80 but it's a neat tool to have around.

    Not sure if there's anything else to say... I love playing this bass, love how it looks, how it plays and how it sounds, and I have absolutely no regrets about doing this mod. I hope I've intrigued you and that maybe some day a second C2 will pop-up somewhere :D

    Great thanks to Sheldon for his advice on the build and making me the custom pickguard, and to John East for making this awesome preamp and answering my numerous questions.

  11. lo-freq

    lo-freq aka UFO

    Jan 19, 2003
    DFW, Texas
    Very intriguing!
  12. AlbertoRigoni

    AlbertoRigoni Supporting Member

    Dec 20, 2009
    Very nice clips and... it sounds very very cool!
  13. kcole4001


    Oct 7, 2009
    Nova Scotia
    Very nice job!

    While I'm not necessarily a fan of the body shape, that looks better to me than the 'guardless original. More of a traditional bass design look with a (literally) modern twist.
    Add a rosewood board and I'd really be leaning toward a GAS attack!
  14. Bocete

    Bocete My E string is 36 1/4" long

    Sep 30, 2006
    Okay, I've recorded some samples. The difference between the old ones is in the John East Pre-EB MM preamp.

    Neck pickup

    As before, they've been recorded through my Boss GT10-B via USB with all the settings flat. I've tried to level the samples to the same volume but the samples are on the silent side to avoid clipping. I didn't want to use a limiter in order to keep the tracks as pristine as possible. As before, excuse my playing.

    I'm not sure what I wanted to accomplish with them. I've played some bass lines, first with the pre flat then after trying to find the most suitable sound for that particular line. However, this hardly illustrates how much modern and "dense" the sound has become in general. I hope you get the idea.

    That StingRay sparkle is definitely there and is very hard to remove - I've attempted the White Room bass sound in the Neck pickup sample and hardly got near it. This bass just cannot sound vintage. I am perfectly okay with that as the mod was an attempt to hit a very narrow palette of modern and aggressive sounds to complement my fretless AB-II. Still, those who want a C2 as his/her only bass might want to install an active/passive switch, which is easy to do. You should expect an output drop though; the John East preamp is not designed to be "clinically" flat at the default setting.

    As for the series setting, it's a tad more "precision-y" and less sparkly then the parallel setting, but the differences are minor at best. I've played the same line in the series and parallel samples so you can hear the difference.

    And please, believe me I tried so hard to make the bridge sample. It took so many takes to get there; Come On Come Over is far beyond my reach. I just hope the sample is good enough to give you an idea of the bridge pickup soloed :)

  15. nice done mods, congrats Bo!
    i've seen your photoshop mockup about SuperRay5 design, ice cool!! hope sheldon will make it happen someday...
  16. Bocete

    Bocete My E string is 36 1/4" long

    Sep 30, 2006
    Cool, thanks. I love that bass.



    As for the SuperRay5.. The Ernie Ball guys are very protective about their designs. Sheldon is wise not to thread there. But yeah, if anything resembling that existed, I'd starve if only to have it.
  17. Bocete

    Bocete My E string is 36 1/4" long

    Sep 30, 2006
    I've recorded a playalong on my C2 modded Combusion, so listen if you're curious. Sounds pretty MusicMan-y. Pickups in parallel, preamp in a slight scoop, recorded through the GT-10B "Man of the Music" preset and with Payson's Stainless Steel strings after they've been played for a while.

    Superman Lovers - Starlight (Bass Cover) - YouTube
  18. Merovign


    Dec 25, 2015
    Sorry for the zombie thread, but is this an inspiration for the NG-2?
  19. Bocete

    Bocete My E string is 36 1/4" long

    Sep 30, 2006
    Nah, I don't think so. It's a very obvious idea, especially if you look at Dingwall Z1 and Z2 that already existed and were selling well (I don't remember if Z3 was even a thing at the time). Also, I did this to get closer to a MM sound, while NG-2 is a whole different beast.

    Sheldon Dingwall was very helpful in making this bass mod happen. But beyond that, he's never seen or played my bass. I don't presume it to be an inspiration.
    Merovign likes this.

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