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5-string Fretless REVIEW: LTD B-205sm-FL, $399

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by JacoNOT, Nov 2, 2012.

  1. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    LTD B-205sm 5-string fretted :) LTD B-205sm-FL 5-string fretless

    LTD B-204sm 4-string fretted :) LTD B-204sm-FL 4-string fretless

    After months of flip-flopping I bought the fretless 5-string LTD B-205sm-FL and am very happy with it. It's a perfect match for my fretted LTD B-205sm. Everything's the same except for frets-vs-not. I think both basses are a TREMENDOUS VALUE: Excellent construction, good woods, quality electronics and decent hardware. I bought mine for $350 each, and though I'm new to bass (since Spring 2012) I'm sure experienced bassists would be impressed by the quality and playability of these 'budget' basses.

    Knobs were set too low and would have scratched the body, but I saw it early and remounted them higher. No harm done. Also, the fretless neck appears to be made somewhere other than where the fretted neck was made. The fretted neck looks to be of higher quality and the stain/color is warmer/nicer. The fretless neck is kinda pale, and its rosewood laminated neck layers are more narrow than on the fretted neck (5-piece neck construction, 3 maple + 2 rosewood strips). I note that my fretless bass was manufactured about 8 months later than the fretted, so I hope this doesn't indicate falling quality or 'cheapified' production standards. Whatever the explanation, the fretless neck seems really good, is really thin (front to back) and plays really well. Just like the Fretted Twin. The fretted neck (purchased in April 2012) has been very stable, so I assume the new fretless neck will be, as well.

    These basses are a bit heavy but they hang properly with no noticable neck dive. I put a NeoTech Mega Bass Strap on each and all is well. That strap is wide, well padded and kinda 'bouncy'. They no longer feel heavy.

    My LTD basses arrived with great, playable action: The fretless neck relief was set dead-flat, and saddles were set very low. It played GREAT with tons of 'mwah' BUT far too much buzz. So I had to introduce minor neck relief (.013" at fret 8 with capo fret 1 and string fretted at neck/body joint). Also had to raise all saddles. Now string height at fret 12 is 7/64" on average. Very playable, but not really low. [EDIT: Since posting this, TB members have informed me that string height / neck adjustments should be made based on what you hear when playing through your amp (or however you play for real). I had been tweaking the action based on what I hear unplugged. Moral of the story: Buzz and fret slap and klank heard unplugged may not be apparent when amp'd, so I might be able to lower my action from where it is now.]

    The added string height might just be due to my unusual choice of strings. I yanked the SIT roundwound strings immediately and replaced with D'Addarrio Black Nylon Tapewounds. They feel and play GREAT, completely smooth so I can slide around effortlessly, and they feel very 'light' under both hands. Not at all floppy, they feel 'punchy and light' if that makes sense. Just the right tension for me. AND THE B-STRING SOUND IS FANTASTIC (you'll have to file the sides of your B-string nut slot slightly to get that fat .135" B mounted).

    The natural tone of the B-205sm basses seems to be mid-tone biased (play unplugged to hear the natural tone). With these black tapewounds, the tone is slightly 'woody' but they produce everything from ULTRA LOW to upper middle tones, with more than enough mwah for me. Adjust the EQ, the pick-up pan and your right-hand playing position/technique to get just about any sound you can think of, including a convincing double bass. I chose the tapewounds primarily to protect the ROSEWOOD fingerboard (it's not as hard as ebony, so think about flats, GHS Pressurewounds or Tapewounds - consider yourself warned :eyebrow:).

    These LTD B-series basses (4 and 5 strings, fretted and fretless) are 'flying under the radar'. Nobody posts reviews online so you'll play hell trying to research them - maybe because LTD gets pigeon-holed as 'Metal Only'. Not true in this case. These basses represent excellent quality, versatility and value. I say buy online or locally from a dealer who offers 30-day FREE returns. Set it up right and you won't be returning it.

    There's nothing in this for me. I found these excellent values by researching my brains out here on TalkBass.com and related links. As a result, I have a matching PAIR of GOOD fretted and fretless 5-string basses for less than many spend on a single bass. I'm very thankful, and this review is yet another attempt by me to return the favor. :bassist:
  2. That is a GREAT review! I am playing a B-204bm - the burl maple top model as opposed to your spaulted maples. Everything you said is spot on with my experience as well. These instruments have to be the most overlooked options on the market. I LOVE mine!
  3. mark beem

    mark beem I'm alive and well. Where am I? Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    New Hope, Alabama
    Great review! I have a 204SMFL that I'm really enjoying!
  4. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    richntiff and mark beem ==

    Guys who own these instruments get what I'm saying (preachin' to the choir :D). Hopefully, anyone who doesn't want to spend a lot for a good bass will take my comments seriously and give these options a try.

    If I were bucks-up I might actually buy a pair of high-dollar basses, but frankly, I think these two basses might just do it for me, for good. I can see making modifcations later on as my increasing skills and experience warrant it, but when I see folks suggesting that someone new to bass go out and drop a grand or two on some 'status' bass, man I just cringe. :eek:

    For between $300 and $400 you can buy a brand new, quality bass that will easily accommodate the skills developed by most players in the first several years of playing/learning. In fact, I don't see why an experienced, working bassist couldn't go to these two as his/her standard instruments. Just choose the right strings and have them set up / tweaked professionally.

    Yeah, it's just my two cents and I'm a noob, but ah ain't stoopid...
  5. stevenvi


    Nov 12, 2012
    Thanks for writing this review. I've been playing my "starter bass," an Epiphone Eb-0, for the past 8.5 years and have been looking at ESP's offerings for an upgrade. I played a B-205SM-FL in a music store last weekend and instantly fell in love with it. If I do buy this one -- I intend to go ahead and pick it up next weekend unless I talk myself out of it -- I'm hoping that it'll be the last bass I ever buy.

    To better understand your review, I have some additional questions:

    How often do you play it? How often do you play in front of other people? You mentioned that it's good for more than metal, but what style of music do you play with it? Being tone deaf myself, I believe that I can get any sound I like out of a bass and a good EQ.

    I've never played an instrument that requires a battery. I play every weekend at church and really don't want to be caught with dead pickups in the middle of a set. Since you've had your fretted 205 longer, in the time you've had it, how many times has the battery needed to be replaced? Does the quality slowly degrade, or is it working one second and out the next?

    The weight is a concern to me. When I picked up the 205 my first reaction was, "wow, this is heavy!" One excuse I had for buying a new bass was to get something lighter than what I already have, and this goes in the opposite direction. The lack of a neck dive (my Eb-0 goes straight to the ground if I let go of it) is comforting. I'll probably look for a padded strap to go with it if/when I buy it to make sure that it's not a burden.

    You mentioned that you got each of these basses for $350. Where did you get them from? I'd love to save $50 if I could. :)
  6. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    I struggled with the decision for about 4 months. In the end, just a big waste of time/energy. Should have just bought it and been done. You're lucky to be able to play one locally. I had to buy online (having never touched a fretless bass before), but did so without concern due to a) the obvious quality of the fretted B-205sm I'd been learning on since April, and b) the fact that most online dealers offer a 30-day free return policy.

    Free Advice (worth what you paid :D): If you're sure you want a fretless 5, and if paying for it isn't a stretch, BUY YOURS LOCALLY TODAY AND ENJOY (ask for a professional setup to keep you from buying it online). Where else are you going to find a NEW, quality 5-string fretless for under $400? Fingerboard wear is a reality with fretless basses, so buying used (especially online) is a crapshoot, and the only other new fretless I know of in this price range is the Fender Squire Jazz 4-string with Ebanol fingerboard, and that sells for about $300 everywhere online. For a few bucks more, I wanted the versatility of the 5th string and the 3-band EQ. When you consider all the positive characteristics of the B-205, I think the minor additional cost is well worth it.

    I have two basses. On average I probably play each for two hours, four times a week. So figure eight hours a week for each.
    I'm just practicing and writing. No intention to perform in public at present.

    I'm all over the place - not a purist for any particular style/genre. Just creating bass parts to fit my needs, and I am VERY ecclectic. Some "bass experts" might tell me my tone is not appropriate for some particular application, but it sounds good to me as I work out parts to suit my compositions. The only limitation I'm aware of so far is ME. :D

    REALITY CHECK: If you really are tone deaf, I can't imagine how you'll be able to play fretless bass. The fret lines will help keep you near the correct pitch, but you really have to be able to hear the pitch of every note you play... I hate to dampen anyone's enthusiasm, but I think you should have a guitarist buddy come with you to the store and jam a little. Have him play his part and listen to your playing on the fretless. If he says your pitch is off, maybe you should scrap the idea of playing fretless...:(

    Yeah, I was worried about that, too. ESP/LTD Customer Support told me the battery lasts hundreds of hours. I can't recall whether they said approx 200 hours, or 400 hours...I'm almost certain it was 400 hours. Either way, that's a LOT of playing time, and the battery is only engaged when your cord is inserted in the jack. SO UNPLUG AT THE BASS WHEN NOT PLAYING. Assuming 400 hours of battery life, and assuming you play 20 hours a week, you're good for 20 weeks / 5 months. Keep a spare long-life 9-volt and a small phillips screwdriver in your gig case and f'gedabowdit. :D

    And I'm pretty sure the battery dies all at once. You plug in your bass one day and...nothing. :eyebrow:

    Yeah, I think the B-205s are pretty heavy but are well balanced. I notice a very slight tendency to neck dive when playing seated, but none at all when playing standing-with-a-strap. See my mention of the NEOTECH MEGA BASS STRAP above. $30 online. Musician's Friend has/had it on sale for $24. Amazon sells it too. It's black non-descript. 4" wide at the shoulder and very well padded. Equally important is that it stretches slightly. It's kinda 'bouncy' and it makes my basses feel a LOT less heavy. Good, solid leather strap pin slits, too. It's kinda long though. I'm 6'2" and of lean build, and I find it to be just a tad too long at its shortest adjustment. Had to modify it for shorter length (very simple process). I hope to post a HowTo soon.

    Get on the email list for zZounds.com, MusiciansFriend.com, SamAsh.com. MusiciansFriend does not sell the fretless (just the fretted), but the other two do sell the FL version. These sellers frequently send out emails with 10% to 15% discount promotions on purchases over $299 (and sometimes over $199), and they typically PRICE MATCH or offer to BEAT a competitor's price. I really like dealing with zZounds.com, and they were willing to beat the SamAsh discounted price. DONE DEAL :hyper:
  7. stevenvi


    Nov 12, 2012
    I'm never sure about anything. :) I think I want a 5 string, and while it was my first time playing a fretless, I really enjoyed it. I don't think that the store is equipped for doing a setup, unfortunately. Though when I played it the action was nice and low -- probably part of why I liked it so much. I can handle the intonation part on my own.

    Hmm, you do make a good point. Indeed, before having played a fretless bass, I was assuming that this would be a problem. But when I was actually playing the 205, I was unable to discern any inaccuracy. Even if I do have issues in this regard, I can practice to learn to get it right. I have plenty of people who are happy to tell me when I'm out of tune. :D (And if I give up I have a 30 day window to return it I guess, but I really don't anticipate that.)
  8. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    The world is upside-down at present, so no surprise there. :meh: ;)

    Just my two cents, but that's kind of like a color-blind person learning to see different shades of violet. Hmmmm. I hope you're right, but I'm pretty sure you're not... Can you tune your bass by matching each string to the adjacent lower string fretted at 5? If not, fretless might be an endless struggle.

    If it were me (and it is isn't) I would avoid the hassle. I'd go to the store with either a jam partner or some kind of reference material - maybe a song or two on an MP3 player that could be plugged into an amp. I would play along with that source material and have a TRUSTED FRIEND listen and tell me how accurate my pitch is along the way. I would not rely on the salesperson to give me honest feedback (he's motivated to sell you that bass ;)).

    If your friend gives you the 'thumbs down', walk away and focus on fretted bass (The fretted B-205sm is just as nice, and MusiciansFriend is always offering 10 to 15% OFF on purchases in that price range). ALSO, my fretless already shows some snake trails (string wear) on the fingerboard, despite my light touch and NYLON tapewound strings. If you play this bass for a couple of weeks with those standard roundwound strings, you WILL mar the fingerboard...and a return might become...er...'complicated'.
  9. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Here's my reply (most of it). Maybe others will benefit from the info:

    General statement about my B-205sm and matching B-205smFL fretless: I feel bad for guys who shell out thousands of dollars for a bass. I'm still "JacoNOT" in terms of skills/knowledge/finesse, but these two basses play as well (for me) as just about anything I've pulled off the wall at local shops. In fact, I like mine better than most of the more expensive basses I've tried.

    As for PLAYING COMFORT, I think we all get used to our own gear (which is why I bought identical fretted & fretless). That said, mine feel extremely comfortable to me. And like you, I bought both online with no chance to pre-play. Not a problem, bought from a source that offers a no-hassle return policy.

    You ask about the THICKNESS of the neck near the nut. I understand you to mean the measurement from the back of the neck to the rosewood face of the fretboard:

    I measured the neck's THICKNESS with a dial caliper so I could answer your question: Right next to the Fret #1 fret wire, I measured approximately .810". That's just slightly thicker than 3/4". Yikes. Frankly, I don't understand how LTD can make a stabile neck so THIN!

    It's been a pretty tough winter where I live. The house gets dry and instrument necks respond. So far, these two B-205s are stabile (glued up lengthwise from 5 wood strips). I think they could both use a 1/4 turn (slight buzz/rattle lately) but I'm just practicing these days, so haven't gotten around to it.

    I fell in love with a used fretted G&L 2500 (sunburst orange with maple neck/fretboard:eek:!!!) at a local shop. The price was high for me, so I went ahead and ordered my fretted B-205sm, figuring I could return the B-205 if it turned out to be junk. I returned to play the G&L after a week of working with the new B-205sm. Man, that G&L neck felt like a 2x4! :D I think these B-205 necks have spoiled me, and the fretless is just like the fretted (slightly different headstock).

    One thing I'm not totally sure about is...er...the SOUND (yeah, that's kinda important :rollno::p). My ear is more attuned to bass now than when I started about 9 months ago, but I'm still not sure what I'm really hearing from my bass - or anybody else's bass (been "guitar oriented" most of my life). And don't ask what I'm using for an amp. I think TalkBass might BAN me if I admitted that! :bassist::hyper::bassist:

    The TONE of these B-205sm basses seems kinda LOW-MID range. I say that from playing unplugged a lot. Walk around and pluck the strings of unplugged basses hanging on local shop walls. Some are amazingly deep/dark, and others sound thin. It seems like the woods and construction methods play a BIG part in the sound. Whatever the reasons, my B-205s seem to emphasize low-mid tone, not 'uber dark'. The onboard active 3-band EQ and neck/bridge pickup pan knob do shape the sound a lot, though.

    And don't forget about STRING CHOICE. I currently have D'Addario Black tapewounds on my fretted B-205sm, and I LOVE THEM. They feel so good that I probably don't pay nearly enough attention to how they sound, which also seems to be "good". Kinda woody and warm, but I can make 'em dark by rolling off the Hi eq, dialing back the Mid eq and panning mostly to the neck pickup.

    What else do you want to know?
  10. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Another thought/observation on PLAYING COMFORT

    One thing I don't like about these B-205sm basses is that there's a distinct corner or edge where the face meets the side of the body. It seems to be a design decision made to accommodate the veneered top/face.

    There is no scarf (no eased or rounded portion) where your right wrist contacts the body. I play using "floating thumb" technique, and that edge where the body's face and side meet presses on the inside of my wrist in an uncomfortable way.

    So far, I find that rotating the instrument around to my right helps a lot (so the head stock is more out in front instead of straight out to my left) and for me, this is more ergonomic and more comfortable. I've been thinking (and thinking and thinking) about whether to sacrifice the looks of the face veneer by SANDING :eek: the upper face of the rear bout extensively in order to create a scarf similar that on Fender P and J basses.

    The result might look like hell, but maybe not. The body wood (swamp ash, not to be confused with $wamp a$$ :D) is nice looking and the color is not too far from the spalted maple verneer. If I pick the right stain, it might turn out okay...or even uniquely kuul.

    Your comments (warnings) welcome.
  11. cjmodulus


    Jul 15, 2010
    Very nice review man! I'm seriously considering picking one of these up as I love my current fretless but miss the low B. do you have any sound clips of it?
  12. Tunaman


    Dec 26, 2004
    I just bought a B-335 for $273 on hellomusic... i'm hoping its an adequate practice, backup bass
  13. I had two B series LTD basses, and sold them off. One had electrical problems, and the other had unfinished bare wood surface on the neck because the blank was too thin. They both were real pretty, and sounded good.

    I wish you guys could play one first before you buy ... I found the D shaped neck really uncomfortable, and chunky.
  14. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    No. Sorry. I don't have a decent amp; my focus is playing through amp simulator software (NI GuitarRig) for recording/composition, and those amp sim samples won't tell you anything useful about the true, natural tone of the instrument. Also, I'm strung with 'unusual' black nylon tapewounds. :D SO I AM NOT A GOOD EXAMPLE :D
  15. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    That's a crazy price. Going rate is about $530 online.

    I got sick of receiving those awkward HelloMusic emails every day. You have to go to the site and login just to see what's for sale, and then they never had what I wanted. So I unsubscribed.

    Also, as I understand it, purchases from HelloMusic are generally not covered by the manufacturer's warranty. Not sure why that is, but I figure life is complicated enough without that... On the other hand, a B-335 for HALF PRICE is well worth the trouble/risk.

    Good for you! :D
  16. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    When were those two B-series basses manufactured? I hope it was long ago, and I hope those bugs got worked out in the meantime.

    I had been playing a Schecter 5 with an amazingly comfortable neck profile (flattened on the back). When I got the LTD it felt less comfortable, but not uncomfortable. It's so thin from back to face. A week later, the LTD felt great. I think the Schecter neck probably IS better, but I also think my hands get used to whatever I play, and then that feels fine.
  17. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    The links in my initial post no longer work. ESP-LTD changed their website re. NAMM 2013

    Just scroll down to the B-204 and B-205 basses (middle of the page).
  18. cjmodulus


    Jul 15, 2010
    Haha, alright, figured I'd ask. Again, thanks for all the info in this thread. For the price I think I'll give once a shot when I've got the coin. If it feels good enough I can always mod it till it suits my tastes.
  19. Tunaman


    Dec 26, 2004
    I'll keep you guys in the loop on the ESP owners thread
  20. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    EXACTLY but see my post #10 regarding "The Deadly Edge" first. I'm glad to share what little I know :D and hey, I don't know if this'll be considered TalkBass heresy or full-on blasphemy, but I think its smart to buy less bass in "these modern times". Why?

    If you're gigging seriously, this may not apply, but for me its about writing & recording. What I can do with amp simulator software is AMAZING. I love the whole experience of playing an electric bass, but I can't afford high-dollar zoot capri instruments. No problem. I take my standard, inexpensive bass into the 'virtual environment', and my $350 bass can sound like something costing 10X that (IF I know what I'm doing...and I'm getting there :D)

    On top of that, you can play your bass parts using an electric GUITAR, and then use Melodyne Editor software to convert to MIDI - and then voice it with whatever virtual bass you choose. Yikes!

    I knew about all this when I bought my two basses. I could have bought no basses and just get by with keyboard-made or guitar-made bass parts. But I felt I needed the actual basses. Why? Because unique musical ideas occur through the physical process of playing/interacting with a long, heavy instrument with big, fat strings - ideas that might never occur to me while plinking piano keys or twiddling dinky guitar strings.

    Bass is so groove-oriented, and I think groove grows out of the physicality of playing an actual bass.

    WHEN I'm successful, I might buy a superb matching pair of fretted & frettless 5s - maybe fan-fret Dingwalls. :bassist: But for now, I'm keeping my eyes open, taking full advantage of "the blessings of cheap technology" to save needed cash.