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Fender Jazz Bass with bad tone

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Randy Howard, Apr 2, 2015.

  1. Randy Howard

    Randy Howard

    Apr 2, 2015
    Hi all,

    Bought a new Mexican Fender fretless Jazz bass a couple years ago but it sounded so bad that I stored it away. But it looks great and seems to be well built. I recently dragged it out of storage and now am wondering what to do? It is simply a thudder, no tone, no mwaa, no harmonics. Really dead.

    Setup appears to be good. I am putting some Rotosound strings on it now but honestly I am not all that hopeful it will help.

    What is wrong with this thing? How in the world did Jaco get any tone out of this hunk of wood?

    AlexanderB likes this.
  2. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    Change the strings and report back.
  3. pacojas

    pacojas "FYYA BUN"

    Oct 11, 2009
    use a pick :wacky:
  4. avri62


    Jan 28, 2012
    Sounds to me like it needs a good set up and some filing on the nut. My Squire VM fretless had the same problem. I also replaced the stock strings with EB flats and it now sounds great.
    gebass6 and crentest like this.
  5. tjh


    Mar 22, 2006
    yup .. should be quite lively with the ceramic pickups ... strings and pup adjustment for starters ..

    You said new a couple years ago? ... made sure all electronics are working ??
  6. joel406


    Dec 27, 2013
    MIM pickups are meh...

    Probably put some super 55's in it and new pots. Adjust the neck. Check the nut. Better strings. Shield it all to hell.

    And the cow should start mooing.
    DavC likes this.
  7. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    New pickups are nice and nut mods can help, but how about changing the strings before drastic measures are taken?
    Short-scale and Skasteadyb like this.
  8. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    You mention the setup appearing to be good, meaning it probably isn't. I am with Gorn that you need some new strings and a setup, then determine what the next step will be.

    Additionally, are you using rounds or flats? A fretless with flats is always going to sound dead compared to a fretted with rounds. (Save the flames, I do not mean that in a negative way, just one is going to have more thud and one will have more zing)
    gebass6 likes this.
  9. Dave W

    Dave W

    Mar 1, 2007
    White Plains
    Agreed. New strings and a setup to start with.
    steelbed45 and jamro217 like this.
  10. Randy Howard

    Randy Howard

    Apr 2, 2015
    Don't want zing. I have Thomastik flats on a Rogue that I set the neck on, took the frets off of, and set up and there is absolutely nothing thuddy about it at all. It absolutely kills the sound of the much more expensive Fender. Which puzzles me.
  11. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    What is the setup on the Fender like? Nut height, action, relief?

    When you say no harmonics, do you mean pluck them and they do not ring or they do not come through the electronics?
    No mwah means the setup is too high or the board is not level.
    No tone and no thunder (thudder?) would make me think weak output, what is the pickup height like? Are the knobs all reacting properly, any notable electronics issues?
  12. Jeff K

    Jeff K Supporting Member

    Jul 9, 2005
    Memphis, TN
    Don't give up on it yet. I picked up a '90s MIJ fretless Fender awhile back. Didn't sound too great with the stock pickups. I slapped on a set of D'Addario Black Tapewounds and changed to Nordstrand NJ-4's. Wow, what a difference. Sounds great now.
  13. ^This. Before you start stripping everything out the strings and a good set-up need to be done.

    In my fretless travels of the past 18 years I discovered that if you want mwah, you need to do these things (and here we go):

    1. Roundwounds. They just have more of the classic mwah sound than you can get on flats (although I have played some flats that did have good mwah, rounds are just better as a general rule). I tend to use nickel rounds. Slightly warmer in sound than steel, but a little more fretboard friendly.

    2. Lighter gauge: My guitar tech told me when I wasn't happy with the medium gauge strings I was using at the time that lighter gauge strings produced more mwah. I begrudgingly agreed to try them (.40-.100). He was correct.

    3. Lower action: For my own purposes, I prefer a lower action. It seems to help with fretless playing. Again, this is a personal thing, but it works for me.

    When you bought your MIM Jazz fretless, I believe that they were equipped with Fender flats at the time, which are made for a more percussive and warmer tone than
    rounds, thus explaining your dilemma. So, try a new set of strings before modding first. If you do decide to modify, then go through some reviews or ask folks here more knowledgible than I here about new pups/electronics. Whatever you do, don't give up on fretlessing just yet. Fretlesses are quite rewarding to play and really open up new possibilities in playing. I hope you get it all sorted out soon.
    AlexanderB and gebass6 like this.
  14. Randy Howard

    Randy Howard

    Apr 2, 2015
  15. Randy Howard

    Randy Howard

    Apr 2, 2015
    Just got the Rotosound strings on and it did improve the tone and harmonics. I can now "ping" certain notes and get an octave response so this is an improvement. Just discovered that while the neck and nut seem to be set ok, the bridge is waaay high. Working on that now.
    Jughead6 likes this.
  16. hsech

    hsech Work hard. My Social Security needs a raise.

    Jun 27, 2012
    Central Iowa
    Operator error. Try a new set of flats or tape wraps. Adjust your amp EQ.
    StinkFoot likes this.
  17. Lava

    Lava Supporting Member

    Jul 14, 2014
    El Paso, TX
    Pro set-up... You have to start from there.
  18. Randy Howard

    Randy Howard

    Apr 2, 2015
    Well, I dropped the string height at the 12th fret about .090" for all strings, which is huge. Now it is starting to sing. More overtones coming through and finally some mwaa. 100% improvement. I think some additional tweaking will help. The neck seems to have too much arc in it and should be more flat. The nut is sticky and it makes tuning difficult so there is that. But overall it is starting sound much better. I think Fender set this up as a "cross-over" instrument so that fretted bass players would have an opportunity to switch without pain. In actuality the setup was pretty bad.

    The nut has been filed right down to the fret board with zero string clearance. Is this what you want for a fretless Jazz? Maybe so. Better low than too high I guess.
  19. Good result. Stick with it - eventually the effort will be worth it. I love my MIM Fretless, but sometimes she makes me work hard before she gives any love back.
    Jason fryer likes this.
  20. Randy Howard

    Randy Howard

    Apr 2, 2015
    Oh no, not giving up on fretless at all. I play upright and am just messing around with the electric bass. I have several electric fretless and am hoping to find one to stick with. The others I will sell. Maybe I can scrape up enough to buy a Rob Allen. But never have heard or played one yet. Opinions on the Rob Allen fretless bass's?

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