How to setup a fretless bass?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by AudioDwebe, Dec 3, 2012.


  1. AudioDwebe

    AudioDwebe Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2011
    Location:
    Pacific Northwest
    I just learned how to properly set up a fretted bass via youtube and Mr. Carruthers. It seems pretty straight forward and easy enough. But I could not find any info on how to properly set up a fretless bass.

    Would all the target numbers (measured from the frets to bottom of strings on a fretted) be the same on a fretless? In other words, would I take the measurement from the fretboard where a fret normally would be and utilize the same set of numbers?

    Thanks.

    Mamoru
  2. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2008
    Don't measure anything - that goes for fretted also. You set up a fretless more or less the same way you do a fretted.

    The way I do it:
    - set the action at the heel where you like it
    - file the nut slots to get the height you want (I like the strings very close to the fingerboard but not buzzing against it)
    - now check the action at all points on the fingerboard.

    If it's too high in the middle, you need to take out relief (flatten the neck, tighten rod).

    If it's too low and "buzzy" in the middle you need to add relief (loosen rod).

    repeat entire procedure as needed.

    Again, it's important not to measure anything, that'll just drive you crazy and nothing more. Instead, you want to adjust the action and relief so it's where you want it everywhere up and down the fingerboard.

    Finally, don't bother with intonating. Only if it's way WAY off will you ever notice it when playing. Leave the saddles where they are and don't worry about them.

    LS
  3. Matthew_84

    Matthew_84

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2010
    Location:
    Toronto, ON, Canada
    I personally don't see the harm in measuring. I do it, it doesn't drive me crazy and my action is perfect. I never have to fiddle with anything because I set it to what I know I like and it's perfect everytime.

    Also, I'd strongly urge the OP and anyone else for that matter to intonate their fretless bass. Consistency is very important with a fretless. If every string has the same intonation, your muscle memory develop will develop better and quicker. Also, when you shift strings you are more likely to be on pitch if you're going parallel.

    I ensure that my nut slots are cut fairly low. I still have to make adjustments on it, but it should be much lower than a frtted, because it doesn't have to clear the frets. Anywhere between thickness of one or two business cards is great.

    I first set my relief on the neck. Pinch the first position and the last, and am happy with anything between .010 - .015 relief under the 9th position, but some people like it flat. I then check my action at the 17th fret, with a bit more under the E string than the G. Some think the action can be lower on a fretless, but I like it about the same as a fretted. I'm not a huge fan of "mwah", and if I need it, I can get it with a more downward attack, but you may like "mwah", in which case lower the saddles. I then check my pickup height, and then finally adjust intonation. I use the side of a credit card right in between the two 12th position markers to get as accurate intonation across all strings that I can.

    This may help you:

    http://www.fender.com/en-CA/support/articles/bass-guitar-setup-guide/
  4. bradjonesbass

    bradjonesbass

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    Mar 6, 2005
    Location:
    Fort Wayne, Indiana
    I set my fretless up with a lot lower action than my fretted bass. My strings are almost lying on the board it's so low. I play fretless with an extremely light touch and it really sings being that low. Word of warning though, if you get it super low, you cannot dig in at all with your right hand, so all your dynamic control comes from your left hand (assuming you're right handed, of course)
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  6. spade2you

    spade2you

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    Jan 11, 2007
    Location:
    somewhere in middle America
    I haven't measured anything in years. The guitar or bass is going to do what it does and this could change. I just let my ears and hands be my guide.

    Back in the day, I used to play the Peavey Cirrus almost exclusively. I had several and some behaved differently when I tried to apply the same exact setups on different Cirrus basses.
  7. AudioDwebe

    AudioDwebe Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2011
    Location:
    Pacific Northwest
    Thanks, guys.

    Hey mods, it looks like I placed this in the wrong forum. Can you please move it over for me?

    Thanks,

    Mamoru
  8. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Don't just TalkBass - PlayBass! Supporting Member

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    NE Ohio
    Better to adjust the relief before filing the nut slots, as it will affect the string height there, too.
  9. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

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    Mar 8, 2000
    Location:
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Disclosures:
    Brubaker Guitars

    Same here. I don't measure anything except scale length when someone asks.
    ;)

    I set my necks up straight and my strings as low as I can just shy of buzzing when I play with a moderate touch, fretted or fretless. I'm pretty good at seeing the relief in my necks by looking from the nut to the bridge so no straight edge required either. My fretlesses (and fretteds) are set up very low but I can still hit them relatively hard. It's how you attack the string that can make the difference between a lower action working or not. I tend to strike more parallel to the body as the norm.
  10. RandyMolson

    RandyMolson

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2009
    Low.
  11. MNAirHead

    MNAirHead

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    Nov 22, 2008
    Location:
    Minnesota - Twin Cities
    Intonated, straight , low
  12. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

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    Jul 23, 2008
    The reason I discourage measuring:
    - A suitable, for you, action can vary on different basses. It's ok for getting you in the ballpark, but you really have to do the final adjustments by feel.
    - your desired setup will change. After a while you may want to raise the action for tone reasons. Your necks are likely to move around a bit with a change in temp, etc. You need to have a good feel for what you like in those cases.
    - a bass is NOT a precision device, especially an FL - sorry, but it isn't. As Michael Tobias says, a thousandth of an inch here and there isn't going to make a difference. So that extra 1/32" plus or minus that you try to get with the feeler gauge is time better spent learning the correct feeling and practicing instead. The TLAR (That Looks About Right) method is sufficient and really helps keep the blood pressure down where it's supposed to be for an enjoyable musical experience.

    As for intonation, how exactly does one "intonate" a fretless? Beyond only a very gross indication, how do you know you've gotten it spot on?

    LS
  13. BruceRichardson

    BruceRichardson

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2008
    You intonate a fretless the same as anything else. Use a credit card or something similar to press down at the octave for checking against the harmonic.

    I can tell when I need to intonate my Pentabuzz...it really does make a difference.
  14. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

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    Jul 23, 2008
    But you don't play an FL with a CC - you use your fat fingers ;). How do you know you're spot on at the octave? Especially with an unlined?

    And even if it's off slightly, what do you do as a player?

    I'll bet you a million dollars that you can't tell and you still intonate in your playing fine regardless. Playing an FL isn't about your fingers happening to just land in the right place - it's about adjusting your intonation while listening.... And your hands will not be able to discern that couple hundredths of an inch. It's off by more than that by a long shot at other places on the fingerboard.

    So, like I said, only if it's WAY off, which is rarely the case with the default positions of the saddles on most basses, will you really be able to tell...


    LS
  15. Matthijs

    Matthijs

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    Amsterdam
    It's not about finding the exact spot where the fret would be, it is about the intonation being even over all strings. You should be able to notice when the octave spot differs from string to string. You want to be able to blindly rely on getting intervals from string to string right all over the neck.
  16. Matthijs

    Matthijs

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    It's not about finding the exact spot where the fret would be, it is about the intonation being even over all strings. You should be able to notice when the octave spot differs from string to string. You want to be able to blindly rely on getting intervals from string to string right all over the neck.

    Playing frettless is (just like DB) not at all about adjusting your intonation by ear, it is just as much about hitting the right note when you want to.
  17. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

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    But I challenge anyone to be affected when those intervals are off by 1/32" or even 1/16" at the octave position. Most, like myself, play their entire careers with no idea beyond a very general placement where the true octave is over the fingerboard.

    It's off by significantly more than that at other points on the neck, but we don't seem to have trouble with it in those cases.

    The only way to really tell to that degree of precision is to put frets on the neck. And, well, that kind of defeats the purpose I would say....

    As you say, it's a blind operation. You use your ears and then adjust to suit - a FL bass is not a precision device like I said. Attempting to intonate a FL bass is a lot of fiddling time with no really measurable benefit. And that's better put to use practicing and enjoying your playing...

    LS
  18. Matthijs

    Matthijs

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    On a fretless you should also be able to hit the right note at once. A fretless is just as much a precision instrument as any other bass. Playing fretless is no excuse for playing out of tune.

    Sure nobody will notice if the octave is at the spot where the twelfth would be. That's not what the intonation is for. You intonate a fretless to make sure you play in tune when you jump from a C on the D string to the high G on the G string. And you will notice small deviation when you are playing halfway the neck. I'm not sure how big your 1/16 inch exactly is, but a milimeter is enough to be seriously out of tune.
  19. Matthijs

    Matthijs

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    Jul 3, 2006
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    Amsterdam
    On a fretless you should also be able to hit the right note at once. A fretless is just as much a precision instrument as any other bass. Playing fretless is no excuse for playing out of tune.

    Sure nobody will notice if the octave is at the spot where the twelfth would be. That's not what the intonation is for. You intonate a fretless to make sure you play in tune when you jump from a C on the D string to the high G on the G string. For that you need the octave spot to be in exactly the same spot for every string. And you will notice small deviations when you are playing halfway the neck. I'm not sure how big your 1/16 inch exactly is, but a milimeter is enough to be seriously out of tune.
  20. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2008
    Well you don't have to take my word for it - try it yourself. Pull one of your saddles back 1/8" say. Then move another forward 1/8". Retune and go play.

    I promise you, you will still be able to play that bass. If you notice any difference at all, 4 or 8 bars into the tune you're going to sound just fine like you do right now. You'll listen and adjust just like you always did.

    This is part of why we play the FL after all is because of the control it grants us over our intonation. That includes the limitations of our instruments as well.

    LS
  21. pnchad

    pnchad

    Joined:
    Nov 3, 2005
    relief = not so much

    there really is a difference in setting up a FL

    I've been playing almost exclusively FL for 40+ yrs and this works for me

    if you're serious about good FL technique, you want the intonation as close as possible for acuracy across all the strings

    but, unlike a fretted instrument, a FL doesn't need much relief at all - I usually start with a completely flat board and get action as I like at nut and end of board - then add just a touch of relief until nothing bottoms out

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