Fretless Build Project - Body and Hardware Part...

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Geri O, May 9, 2017.

  1. Geri O

    Geri O Endorsing Artist, Mike Lull Guitars and Basses Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 6, 2013
    Florence, MS
    I've realized that my MIM Jazz Five that I had de-fretted is not at all a good fretless bass. I just can't get a nice warm fretless tone from this bass (as in the rear-pickup sound of possibly the best no-longer-with-us bassist ever, in some peoples' opinion). I've tried various pup and preamp combinations and I believe that the body and the neck aren't contributing to the tone at all.

    So I've decided that perhaps I could make a fretless bass as my first build project. I'm asking if there's a particular neck/body wood combination that would help make a nice warm, not overly bright tone. I kinda believe that the pup/preamp combination contributes the most to the tone, but the wood used with the neck and body has to have some effect, no?

    And any construction tips when assembling the neck and body parts?

    Thanx for any ideas...(including to give up and have a nice neck-through fretless built)
  2. sissy kathy

    sissy kathy Back to Bass-ics Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2014
    Arbutus, MD
    I agree that between the pups, strings, (preamp) and your technique is where 99% of the warmth/brightness is determined. There are others here that vehemently disagree. IMO as long as you have a nice rigid instrument that is properly assembled, you'll be able to get the sound you want. I think in most cases wood selection is pretty much ascetics/affordability issue. I would want a nice hard finger board to reduce wear as much as possible and I wouldn't use soft wood for any of it.
  3. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    I'm a strong believer in (and frequent spokesman for) the Wood Does Matter side. If you build a bass in particular ways, the wooden frame can significantly affect the sound on the strings, adding warmth and coloration to the final sound that goes to the amp. That's what builders like myself do. On the other hand, if you choose to build the frame really stiff, then it will contribute almost nothing, and the final sound will be just the strings and pickup. The majority of production basses are built that way.

    to build basses in which the frame contributes to the sound is a complicated subject, and it isn't as simple as just choosing particular woods. A species of wood doesn't just make a bass sound a particular way. It's more complicated than that.

    But, with that said, a large part of the character of the sound of a fretless bass is in the controlled buzzing, commonly called the Mwah. Getting the Mwah to sound right is tricky. The fingerboard surface has to be very carefully trued up; no lumps or warbles. Then the action is lowered right to the point where the buzz begins when you pluck moderately hard, but not when you pluck lightly. Then, you develop your plucking hand technique to work with that buzz, causing and stopping it as you please on each note. That's the Mwah, the signature fretless sound. It doesn't come from pickups or preamps. It's mechanical.

    Have you worked with that on your existing bass? Can you get a good controlled Mwah on it, evenly, up and down the fingerboard? That's the starting point in getting a good fretless sound.
    Geri O likes this.
  4. Geri O

    Geri O Endorsing Artist, Mike Lull Guitars and Basses Gold Supporting Member

    Sep 6, 2013
    Florence, MS
    Thanx, Bruce, for the encouragement, perhaps I should have another look at this bass. It gets a half-baked mwah tone and it's not consistent from one end of the neck to the others. I picked this bass up a few nights ago and just got very discouraged with it. Thin tone, no character, other than the thin bare bark from the rear Jazz pup that so many others have done so much with and so much better. It has Nord noiseless pups and a Nord preamp, so that should be sufficient.

    It doesn't help that while there's a few really good guitar guys, none of them are bassists, much less fretless bassists (I'm not much of one, but I'd love to work at it more...), so I'll have to get better-informed on making adjustments to this bass. (having said that, the best guy in town just did a wonderful refret of a Stingray Five. I'm not sure of his methods, but I know he leveled the new frets and had me come in and play it to make a few adjustments before he released it to me. It's like a new bass...)

    Bruce, thanx for the info and the prod to look at mine again.
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