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Budget fretless P-bass project/pickup & string suggestions...

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by MarkA, Nov 7, 2010.

  1. MarkA

    MarkA In the doghouse. Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    I've been on the internet way too long, so I'll make this short for now and add to it later:

    I've been jonesing to try fretless for a long time. Been looking at some of the nice basses for sale in the classifieds here.

    Also looked locally (only found one fretless -- a cheap Dean 6 string -- not what I'm looking for or to my taste). While scouring the shops yesterday, I came across a $95, used Squier Affinity with bad paint and thought, "What the hell." Now it's mine. An hour or so ago, I bought a used Mighty Mite fretless neck on ebay ($80 incl. shipping and undetermined tuning gears). Should get it in a few days.

    I've set the bass up as well as I can (neck, intonation, action), which is to say it plays OK -- neither better nor worse. The pickup is crap -- just what the doctor ordered to remove any nuance from your playing -- I assume the electronics are, too, but don't know a lot about those. Single P pickup with a volume and a tone control (which just makes things muddy, so I leave it wide open).

    So... I figure I'll want some kind of flatwound strings to avoid tearing up the fingerboard. I do like the "mwah" sound, so nothing too dead -- something that'll get nice harmonics w/o sounding harsh. Sadowsky and D'Addario Chromes are recommended in some threads I've read. Something about "Webstrings" as well.

    Would one buy flats in similar gauges to rounds? I.e., if I use 40-100 for rounds, would I do the same for flats?

    Any recommendations for strings and/or a nice (but inexpensive) pickup are much appreciated. I don't want to spend a lot, as this is my "fretless tryout/take-apart experiment" bass. A nice, expressive, flexible fingerstyle sound is the goal. I love to slap -- don't know how that'll translate to fretless, but if it works, bonus. If not, as long as I've got the fingerstyle sound, okay.

    Apologies for the meandering tone of this post. Typing tired!
  2. Gintaras


    Dec 11, 2004
    Kent Island, Md.
    DR Sunbeams are very popular for fretless. They are roundwounds. There are a lot of posts in the string section on using these with fretless. I use them on my Warwick fretless.
    Also keep an eye out for a used old G&L Pbass pickup. I picked one up for $50 in the classified.
  3. JohnnyB53


    Nov 1, 2009
    For a good P-bass pickup for the money, check out the DiMarzio, Duncan Basslines Quarter Pounder, and the Fender '62 Original Replacement. They range from $59.95 to $69.95 and any of the three will bring that bass alive.

    If you're looking for mwah, you won't get it from flatwounds. There are lots of good flatwounds, and they'll bring you closer to an upright sound, but they'll be further away from a Jaco-style mwah. Keys to the mwah are roundwounds and just about zero relief on the neck. A Jazz bass works better too, but that doesn't mean you can't get it from a P-bass. Also, you can get a good slap from fretless, maybe better, because the string slaps a long strip of the wood instead of a few metal frets.

    There are ways to get a roundwound mwah with a string that'll be easier on the board. You can get coated roundwound strings available from Elixir, DR, Ernie Ball, D'Addario, Aurora, and Black Diamond. I like to use GHS Pressure Wounds or Ken Smith Compressors. They are round wounds, but the winding has been compressed and flattened a bit to make them quieter. The other cool thing about both of these string sets is that the wrap is made of Alloy 52, which is 52% iron and 48% nickel. It's a highly magnetic, strong, but smooth output with a nice tonal structure.

    After trying many, many strings on my new G&L ASAT fretless for the past year, I have definitively decided on Ken Smith alloy 52 Compressors.
  4. it wasn't too long ago that you could buy a fretless P Bass for less than your investment from Rondo
    Unfortunately that is not the case currently

    Flats are going to give you a more uprightlike tone
    you can still get mwah but it wont be as pronounced as a bass with a bridge pickup
    A good example of mwah with a fretless P is the song "Obsolete" by Mutemath
    theres a few vids on You Tune if you search

    I used both flats and rounds on a fretless P and I liked rounds more
    it will marks on your board but over time even flats will as well
    I always choose tone over wear on a board because whats the use of a bass that looks
    good if it doesnt sound good? Well unless you like the more upright like sound that is
    Besides if you are willing to slap on a fretless changing string to prevent wear makes the point kind of moot unless you plan to add 5 to 10 coats of epoxy.

    You can try nickel half wounds as a compromise
    Is the stock pickup not good? I heard even the Affinitys had decent and usable pickups out of the box. A P bass has its signature deep and thumpy sound
    That is its character and I am not sure how far you can change it with a new pickup
    aside from some slight nuances
    So strings may be the first and cheapest way to get more tone
    Then maybe a hotter pickup. You dont have to spend a fortune either a cheap GFS "hot" pickup would work just as fine
  5. I hear you I used Rotosound Swingbass rounds on my fretless
    which notoriously eats frets but the sound was awesome enough for me to put on my old fretless

    In these cases I always recommend a P/J setup as a good compromise of a nice smooth fretless thump and the Jacoesque mwah
  6. MarkA

    MarkA In the doghouse. Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    Thanks for the responses.

    It's probably not fair for me to call any part of this bass crap, considering that for $95 and an hour's worth of elbow grease I have a bass that sounds okay and plays better than 9 out 10 instruments hanging in big-box music stores nationwide. I could even see gigging it in a pinch.

    To put things in perspective, the bass I have the most experience with is my Japanese-made, 1988 Fender PowerJazzBass Special: P-Bass body, J-bass neck, P/J pickup configuration. The previous owner modded it with active EMG pickups (still has passive tone controls) and a Bad Ass II bridge. Beautiful neck; stable and very fast, with a fretted rosewood 'board.

    Even when I solo the neck pickup on my Fender (something I never used to do but am doing more lately), I feel like I've got a lot more dynamic range on tap -- both louder and softer -- than with the Squier. I also feel like it's more articulate and responsive to my technique. The Squier sounds okay, and is even fun to play, but I feel like it squashes the dynamics and blunts attacks (esp. noticeable slapping): I feel like I'm listening to a low bitrate mp3 of myself. Harmonics are harder to pull out clearly, too. I also tried playing the bass unplugged, and feel I should be getting more out of it plugged-in. That's where my perhaps-faulty assessment of the pickup comes from.

    By the time I add the price of a pickup and some decent strings to the cost of the bass and neck I'll have closer to $300 in the bass than the $95 I originally spent on a whim. But, for that price, I'll have a fretted and a fretless neck and an instrument I'm not afraid to take apart, practice soldering on, or let my brother paint.

    Plan for now is to install the neck and try some strings -- maybe one set each of flats and rounds -- before playing with pickups. We'll go from there!

    Thanks again for the thoughts and suggestions.


    Re. rounds, I got curious the other day and have a couple of sets of Circle K strings on the way for my Fender. Maybe I'll try one of them on the Squier. Tried some DR Sunbeams on another (fretted) bass and liked them pretty well on that. Could give 'em a go on the Squier as well.

    Re. flats, would you use a similar gauge to what's preferred with rounds, or is it typical to go thicker/thinner for any reason?
  7. MarkA

    MarkA In the doghouse. Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    Thought I'd give a quick update:

    Haven't gotten around to updating the pickup yet. When I do, I'd like to do the rest of the electrics as well.

    What I HAVE done:

    Put on the Mighty Mite neck. Set action and relief as well as I could. Tried some cheap Webstrings flats (thought I'd see if I liked flats okay before springing for a posh set). After 2 or 3 days fretless playing, scared myself intentionally by taking it to a local jam. That was a trip, but came off okay.

    Last week, relented and had the bass set up by a pro, who took the nut down (was way too high, making 1st- "fret" playing a pain), tweaked relief, action, and intonation (though, as he said, and I know, the last is mainly up to me). Even though this is a cheap bass, the improvement in feel is significant, and I've been practicing fretless alot more.

    I resisted at first, but I've been slapping it. I feel a Tony Levin/Les Claypool thing coming on. I've also been exploring more traditional fingerstyle tones.

    I'm starting to make friends with the P-bass thump (totally NOT my style before). I'm also finding I can greatly vary the amount of mwah by how I play. My intonation is still decent at best, ugly at worst.

    The stock pickup, it turns out, is pretty hot for a passive pup. With the EQ set right, it's warm and useable but, IME, not very clean or defined.

    The composite fingerboard can contribute a bit of a "plasticky" sound. A real wood board would probably help there, as would better strings (though the Webstrings aren't all that bad), but after a certain point, I might as well buy a better bass to start.

    All in all, biggest differences in playability and tone so far have come from 1) setup 2) practice 3) learning that this thing needs to be EQ'ed differently than my fretted P/J (the Circle K strings sound great -- and totally different on that, btw).

    Outing number 2 for the black Squier isn't far away. I can feel it.

    BTW, in the previous post where I mentioned having tried Sunbeams on another bass, I was wrong -- those were Hi-beams. Different strings.
  8. Luckie


    Jan 1, 2010
    Northfield MN
    No pics no bass man!
  9. MarkA

    MarkA In the doghouse. Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2008
    Good Lord! I've been playing air-guitar all this time without realizing it.

    I have some pics on my cell phone from when I put the neck on -- it's nothing super special to look at, but I'll see if I can figure out how to get them onto my computer and then up here.

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