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Fretless Basses...passive or active?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by ebozzz, Nov 6, 2001.

  1. ebozzz

    ebozzz Supporting Member

    May 17, 2001
    I just picked up a MIJ Fender Jazz bass off eBay. It's my first fretless and it's got passive electronics. To you fretless players out there. What kind of electronics do you prefer, passive or active? Please tell me why you like your preference.

    Also, from communicating with the seller, it's a stock bass with a rosewood board. I'm into jazz, R&B, funk, classic rock and blues. Would anyone recommend upgrading this bass? If so, can you provide some suggestions that I should consider? You know like bridges, strings, preamps, pickups, etc. Thanks for the help.
  2. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    i'd say that any jazz bass can be made 1000x better with the inclusion of the j-retro preamp, that you can get from steve "dude" barr. this is an active preamp with a very excellent tone, and it's a very easy replacement for a jazz bass - even comes with its own metal plate premounted with the knobs to replace the control plate on the bass.

    email steve, here's a page with his contact info


    he also participates over here once in a while, do a search on his name.

    otherwise, play with it a bit and see what you like and what you don't like about it. i hate to say it, but passive jazz fretless worked for jaco pretty well, so there's no saying that you HAVE to change ;)

    still, though, i've played a few jazz basses with the j-retro in them, and they all sounded very very good - i think they both were MIM jazz's as well.
  3. I'd definitely go with an active setup on a fretless, mainly because a lot of the fretless tone with which we are familiar happens in the midrange. So I'd want a mid control, hopefully with a Q control or a selector switch. J-Retro is probably a good way to go...drop in replacement for stock Fender Jazz.
  4. ebozzz

    ebozzz Supporting Member

    May 17, 2001
    Right on John and Funky! This one is a Japanese made model. I plan to play around on it as best as I can. :) I don't know if I definitely want to upgrade. I'm just trying to look ahead and explore what my options are. If anyone else has an opinion, I would love to hear it. Thanks.
  5. CJY


    Apr 30, 2001
    You guys can try the Sansamp Accoustic DI.It makes the passive bass sound huge and has a mid frequency knob to zone in on the mwah.
  6. snyderz


    Aug 20, 2000
    AZ mountains
    Hi ebozzz,
    I agree with JT to just play the bass for a while and get a feel for the tones you can get out of it. You may want to just leave it like it is. I have 5 fretless basses, 2 passive (J & P), 2 active (Stingray 4 and 5) and a G&L L2000 which is both. I don't plan to upgrade the Fenders, just because I like the passives for certain needs, and I have the others when I want them. I actually play the L2000 in passive mode at times. If you decide to upgrade, the j-retro is indeed awesome.
  7. ebozzz

    ebozzz Supporting Member

    May 17, 2001
    Each one of you has made some very good suggestions. This is not a rush job. I do plan to play the bass for a while before making a decision. If I do decide to go through with it the J-Retro will definitely get looked at.

    Just to let you know, I recently purchased an MTD Beast that is passive. I had the opportunity to purchase an active preamp for it at the same time and I chose not to. I may still do it at some point but I am really loving the sound that the Beast gives me right now.

    The best way I can explain it is that it just has a beautiful tone to me. It's also very simple with it's volume, volume, tone configuration. I don't have to look for a tone that I like and try to dial it in. At this point in my development keeping things simple is a big help!

    My other two basses have active electronics and I find myself playing them with the controls at a flat setting most of the time. I experiment occasionally but the two active basses sound very good to me flat. I'm sure that as I become more skilled I'll begin to work more on trying to create different types of tones and I'm sure that the active elctronics will be an asset to me.

    Maybe the other part of my thread, regarding strings, bridges and pickups, should be in one of the other forums and I apologize if it's a little inappropriate. From some of the research that I've been able to do it seems that roundwound strings are more damaging to the fretboard. The majority of the threads that I've read kind of imply that the roundwounds produce the sound that most are happy with. I realize that personal preference plays a big part of that decision.

    If you are a fretless player do you prefer rounds, flats or another type of string? Does anyone have any experience with bridge or pickup upgrades that have enhanced the sound of a jazz style fretless bass?

    Again, I'm not sure if I want to upgrade but I'm the kind of guy that tries to put some forethought into the decisions that I make. I'd just like to hear what has worked or hasn't worked for others that have completed similar upgrades. I really appreciate all of your assistance.

  8. boogiebass


    Aug 16, 2000
    Depends on the bass. I have both and like them equally for what they do. On my Jaco Jazz Fretless (production model), the passive tone is great. On my Custom 5 Alembic fretless, the active tone is fantastic.

    Before you go shelling out for a JRetro, however, be aware that not everyone loves 'em. I had one in a '98 AmStndJazz for a while and, although at first I was bowled over, I found that it did not "wear well" over time. I ended up jerking it out and selling it. On the other hand, while a lot of folks bag on the Fender active setup, I find my '97 AmDlxJazz fretless sounds great and gives me a variety of usable tones. To each, his own.
  9. ebozzz

    ebozzz Supporting Member

    May 17, 2001
    I own a 2001 MIA Deluxe Jazz and I am also very happy with how it sounds. Now my opinion probably doesn't carry a lot of weight right now because I still have a lot of growing up to do, musically that is. :) I'm pleased with it though and I guess that's all that matters. It does sound good enough to me that I don't have any plans nor have I ever considered upgrading it.

    boogiebass, could you perhaps elaborate on what you meant, regarding the J-Retro, by "I found that it did not 'wear well' over time"?
  10. ebozzz

    ebozzz Supporting Member

    May 17, 2001

    I think that my MTD Beast is a perfect example of what you stated. I think it sounds better than a lot of active basses that I've had the chance to put my hands on. Some of them being more expensive than "Da Beast." Other than maybe putting a better hipshot bridge on it and better control knobs, there are no revolutionary plans for it.
  11. boogiebass


    Aug 16, 2000
    Sure, bro. At first, the JRetro is so loud and punchy, you think "Wow, killer difference." However, after playing it for a few months, I found the tonal signature to be less "natural," for lack of a better word. The preamp really changes the basic character of a Jazz, IMO. It's not a bad sound, just not a Jazz sound. I also think the preamp affects the overtones in an undesirable way. Fingered or false harmonics sound completely different, for instance. Ultimately, I decided the JRetro gives you a big boost in volume but a loss of tone, essentially. As always (and it goes without saying, perhaps), YMMV.
  12. Hey ebozz, I don't know if you saw my post in the Pickup section, but I've had my MIM fretless for about 2 years now, and I just got the J-Retro preamp and also some Bartolini pickups. I'm going to throw them in this weekend and hope for the best. However, I've gone for quite a while playing the bass with stock electronics. I played it last night in a band setting and I have to say that I still really like being able to dig in and get a growl and a somewhat undefined sound that only passive pickups can give. But I thought I'd opt for a change because at least once or twice a year I have to drop some dough on bass equipment and this happened to be my latest project.

    Personally though, I do prefer active electronics just because of the added flexibility. That being said, it has to be the "right" active sound. Some active tones I've heard are all compressed, scooped, tinny, and basically sound like @$$. But, to each his own, and hopefully you'll find what you're looking for. It's also kind of funny, because I'm into the exact same kind of music you said you were into and this bass has done great things for me in those areas.
  13. ebozzz

    ebozzz Supporting Member

    May 17, 2001
    First, thanks Boogie! Interesting way of thinking about electronics. Definitely something that I will consider in the future. I was hot for a Peavey B-Quad fretless at one time but I ultimately decided that "electronically" it was a bit much for my tastes. I didn't quite know how to explain it but you just summed it up. The electronics on it were completly different than the J-Retro but I'll still have to keep what you've said in mind. Very good point.

    reedith, let us know how your upgrade goes if you have the time to do so, alright? I'm just asking, but if your bass has done what you needed it to do up to this point why mess with it? Just a question now! :) I mean other than your preference for active electronics is there somthing else that you are looking for? BTW, did I mention that I like Reggae also? :cool:
  14. Well, for one thing, I don't like the hum I get from the single coils and would like to quiet it down a bit. I'm also looking for a warmer sound and I know the Barts should do the job for that, especially on a fretless. Plus the added tonal flexibility of the pre-amp is especially intriguing to me. It'll be my first active fretless!

    You like reggae too?!? Yah Man!!! Vetty Tasty!!

    (Pardon my stereotypical attitude)
    (Hey, I'm closing in on 100 posts. About time!)
  15. ebozzz

    ebozzz Supporting Member

    May 17, 2001
    I hear you on the hum! That's has always been a turn off to me. Dont' forget to post your results if you can.

    I'm a big fan of the Sly and Robbie led Black Uhuru. I personally think they were ahead of their time on the reggae scene. Thanks.
  16. KeithPas

    KeithPas Supporting Member

    May 16, 2000
    I don't have any experience with the J-Retro but I know that it is expensive. Of course that does'nt matter if you get the tone you want but you will probably pay almost as much for that preamp than you did for the bass. Maybe look into dropping in some good passive JAzz bass replacement pick ups and see what you think. Aero, Lindy Fralin, Bartolini and Seymour Duncan make great Jazz bass pick ups. This will be a little expensive but you will get a better "jazz bass" tone than with the stock pick ups. If you feel that you need more tonal variety you could get a preamp afterwards.
  17. Oh, don't worry about me posting the results. I'll be on here while I'm doing the project letting everybody know how I've either screwed it up or I'll be asking for help. Probably both ;)

    As far as Reggae's concerned, just give me a little Marley and I'm a happy man! Truth be told I haven't done much uncovering of many reggae artists.

    Oh, I noticed. You're closer to 100 posts than I am. Congrats!!
  18. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    If it were me I wouldn't touch that bass.
    That sounds like me. :)

    A few ago I started to realize that I really dislike active EQs. I got rid of my active Peavey Dyna-Bass 5 (great bass, just not my style), put aside my active Franken-P. I used to keep the EQs on my active basses flat. I got me a Fender MIA Jazz V passive and a couplee 4 string passive basses. I couldn't be happier. I don't like using a lot of EQ, I want the sound to come from my fingers, the wood, and the natural magnetic signature of the pickups / strings combination in my bass with as little coloration as possible. I go for a low-fi sound, and I can vary my sound sufficiently with my pickup selection, tone knob, and playing technique. I personally believe that these are better ways to vary my sound than cranking knobs on an EQ. Also, I don't like compressors, I think that they can too easily cover for sloppy technique (though some techniques like slapping rely on the compressor heavily and for good reason - I just don't often use those techniques.) . I prefer to use my fingers to vary the output of the instrument.

    Even my amp is very simple, a '67 Bassman with Treble and Bass only! My practice amp is simple too and I always set it flat.

    My fretless is a Dean Edge with EMG HZ pickups and the classic VOL VOL TONE Jazz passive electronics configuration. I love it. It sounds so sweet! I like the sound of roundwound strings on it, I haven't tried flats yet. The roundwounds I use are Fender Super Bass strings which I absolutely LOVE and use on practically all my basses.

    Once again, to reiterate, if that was my bass I would get it set up and not change anything on it at all.

    These are my personal feelings about bass only, others like active EQs and that is completely perfect for them. I'm just sharing my very limited experience.
  19. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Unless you find the sound lacking as it is, leave it passive.

    A lot of classic fretless tones are passive basses: Jaco, Mark Egan with Pat Metheny Group, etc. used passive Fenders.

    Active is a bit overhyped. I can say that because I have both active and passive basses and it really makes no difference to me. If the bass sounds good, it sounds good.
  20. Velkov


    Jan 17, 2001
    Lansdowne, Ontario
    I have an MIM Fretless Jazz with Dimarzio Ultra Jazz pickups. When I first got those pickups I thought they sounded amazing compared to the stock pickups. Now, a few months later, I feel like I would like to "activate" it. I love the recorded sound but when playing with others sometimes I feel like I wouldn't mind a bit of a mid boost. And I've been getting that from my amp's EQ but I still feel like a good preamp will do a better job.

    The other day I was looking at the EMG web site and discovered that they have this VMC circuit that is a parametric mid boost. you have a prety wide range of frequencies to pick from and you can boost/cut them +/-10dB or something like that. It comes with a concentric pot, a batery clip, and knobs.

    So, now I'm thinking of hard-wiring my passive tone knob to 33 Ohms or whatever it is that I always set it to and dropping this EMG-VMC thing into that hole on my control plate. I feel like this semi-parametric one-band mid-frequencies EQ will be perfect for my taste right now since I don't feel like I need more control over my highs and lows and I never touch my tone knob anyway.

    Does anybody know anything about this EMG-VMC? I think it is basically the mid knob of the most common EMG 3-band EQ.

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