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Fretless: de-fretting a bland sounding fretted Jazz, or "start with an empty page"?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by AlexanderB, Apr 9, 2015.

  1. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
    I have a nice looking E-series Squier Jazz bass (-87, I think, with rosewood fretboard) which sounds very bland and "lost in the mix" compared to my 2010 Fender American Standard Jazz Bass with maple fretboard. The difference is quite audible, especially when amplified, but there is a lack of attack and tonal complexity even unplugged. The vintage Squier still has a resonant, smooth quality, but lacks the boldness and transients of the Fender. And funnily, the difference is even more pronounced when I play in the band, as the Squier will simply not provide the foundation and definition we all want.
    (Before "the other side" rushes in and start talking about blind test so and so; I run Fender rounds on both basses, they are set up in i similar fashion, are both played mainly through the very flat and uncolored LMII etc etc. The basses sound quite different even before the sound reaches the pickups! It is also worth noting that I have checked sustain, dead spots etc across the necks, and they both "ring out" or keep the levels very close to each other, it is just the QUALITY of the sound that differs.)

    Sooooo..... That said, what do you say about de-fretting the bland sounding Squier? Is there a risk that I end up with an instrument that gets buried as soon as the guitar player strikes the first chord? What sorts of experiences have you had when defretting a bass? I am worried that it will further reduce the impact and authority of an already slightly "shy" bass.

    I have a boutique fretless five stringer that can hold its tonal ground in any band, but I do not play it well enough to gig with it - too many potential errors waiting to happen. I really want a fretless four stringer ready to take its place, but if defretting will be too much of a gamble, I better order a fretless Warmoth neck and start from there. I have played a couple of them, and they were quite good and basically dead spot free, too.
  2. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    Are you familiar with the expression "polishing a turd"?

    There's no way in hell that a bland sounding fretted bass won't turn into a bland sounding fretless bass when you defret it. Expecting anything else would be hyper-optimistic bordering on delusional.
  3. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
    Thanks Bob, for the reply! Yup, the concept is certainly familiar to me, although this Squier is by no means a "turd". ;) It is better than many Fenders that I have played, but I am still thinking the same thing you say. In my experience, removing frets = loss of one "tone element", thus making it harder, not easier to build a nice sounding fretless.
    Bob_Ross likes this.
  4. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
  5. jim777

    jim777 Tarantula Lobbyist

    Aug 7, 2006
    South Jersey
    I wouldn't defret it. I would get a Warmoth or other aftermarket neck for it or drop an Audere into it.
  6. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
  7. MD


    Nov 7, 2000
    Marin Co. CA.
    Why not just sell the fretless 5 and the jazz and get yourself a nice, fretless 4 banger?
    Or, start spending time in the shed with the fretless 5.
  8. gpx1200


    Apr 24, 2013
    spencer mass
    warmoth makes killer necks, you wont be disappointed if you go that way.
    as for the bland sounding jazz try checking out the neck joint, a badly done shim with poor contact in the neck pocket is often the culprit in a bland dead sounding bass
  9. Neveragain55


    Mar 19, 2014
    I love these types of post's because I get to tell my story and hopefully help somebody else from "not" making the same mistakes I made.

    I own and old Dean, Edge One fretless that I did some major surgery too and quite honest I wish I had either let the pro's do it, or just have thrown it away when tragedy struck.

    (yes I know it's a different bass other than what your talking about but I think it will help)

    The headstock piece of the neck where the tuners reside somehow broke off, and I took the bass to GC to see what they could do. They explained to me that it was very common and that they could easily glue it back on along with installing dowel pins, and it would be stronger than stock once they were done.

    When they told me how much it would cost, I balked because the bass costs just a little more than what they wanted to fix it.

    I won't give you all the details of all the things I did next - but suffice it to say that I wound up spending a fortune (mostly out of pride) and the bass was never the same, now it sounds dead, muted and flat. (I bought a replacement neck for the bass but I could only find one with frets so I had to de-fret it)

    I'm now looking at the Cort B4 fretless bass as a replacement but we'll see....

    The lesson I learned:

    Either let professionals convert fretted necks to fretless or just buy a bass that came from the factory that was born a fretless. Fretless basses (as I have learned) are extremely temperamental, fidgety creatures that are easily upseted by the slightest variations and they're incredibly difficult to get right once you set out to de-fret a fretted neck and make one yourself.

    Good Luck in whatever you decide to do...................
  10. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
    Thank you guys.
    The fiver is on its way out. By now the Squier is, too. Warmoth fretless neck is next on the shopping list. I think I will keep the Squier long enough so that I can "test ride" the Warmoth neck on it before moving on and getting a suitable body for it.
    bholder likes this.
  11. jamro217

    jamro217 Supporting Member

    First thing to check are the neck bolts. Tighten them down. How many times this simple solution to sustain and tone problems gets overlooked is mind boggling. Is the bridge tightly fastened to the body (see neck bolts above). Before major surgery, always check these. A few minutes with a screwdriver can save you hundreds of dollars. Did you replace the pickups yet? Wimpy pickups, or pickups that aren't the proper distance from the strings will cause poor tone. Now, if the bass still sounds lost and vague, consider trading it in for something else, because the problem may be one of grainy wood and dead spots, or of sympathetic vibration syndrome (SVS) wherein every note you pluck gets an equal response from the bass (sort of like an argumentative spouse), resulting in misery. Ripping out the frets may give you some satisfaction from a revenge standpoint, but won't improve the performance of this instrument. Hope this helps, and have a great day.
    bholder likes this.
  12. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    central NY state
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Strings, pickups, preamp, bridge, would be my list of improvements in order prior to defretting. Nothing wrong with defretting, but if you don't like the sound, fix that first, defretting is an independent question of fixing the tone.
  13. jamro217

    jamro217 Supporting Member

    Exactly. If the tone was too shrill and precise, it may be softened by defretting, but on a bass that is undefined and vague this will only serve to enhance the problem. Hell, why not throw a mudbucker in the neck position and be done with it?
  14. Torn Bassist

    Torn Bassist

    Feb 8, 2013
    Squier was my first fretless bass, the lined model made in Indonesia with the ebonal neck...I went to the music store and played it finding that the quality of this bass was great, you can go a check one out for yourself prior to modifications made to your bass and see if it works for you (the bass costs less than $250). If your set on keeping your Squier then you probably need to check on different pickup/electronic options to see if you can correct the tone.
  15. AlexanderB


    Feb 25, 2007
    Thanks for the diverse replies. I have tried a number of the VM fretless Jazzes; a low cost instruments that screams cost cutting. Nothing like the japanese Squiers from the 80s.
    Regarding strings, pickups etc; I said I use Fender rounds on both my Jazzes and already unamplified they sound remarkably different.
    Nothing wrong with the neck joint och bridge - I have that area covered. Again, I have already said the sustain is fine and very close in both basses.
    The tonal difference is mainly in the transients and a bit in the (lack of) complexity of the sustaining tone. I will order and test a Warmoth fretless neck on it. If it is turns out well, I might keep the Warmoth neck on it. If not, I sell the Squier and get a new body to go with the Warmoth neck.

    Edit: IME, a good Jazz bass has a throbbing, organic quality to the lows and a fair amount of woody P-bass "gank" through the neck pickup, when soloed. The Squier has nothing of that. The lows are clean but without authority or throatiness, the mids are polite and flat. It is audible at low SPL but the big difference comes when the band kicks in. It is good for one thing, though, and that is chording and playing melodies high up the neck - neither is something I intend to do on a fretless, especially on stage...
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2015
  16. dukeandrews


    Jan 24, 2014
    I've defretted two low end basses. In both cases I swapped electronics while I was at it and it made a world of a difference. It was a fun project to boot. Just do it. It's not like its a collectible axe or something.
  17. dukeandrews


    Jan 24, 2014
    Also, I think you can polish a turd. It just depends how good you are at polishing.
  18. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    They call frets "speed bumps" not "tone bumps." The frets are not impeding good tone, do not think removing them will help. You are just going to end up with a bland sounding fretless. Swap in some new pickups first, make it less bland, then debate de-fretting it.
  19. JMarsh

    JMarsh Supporting Member

    May 22, 2007
    For the record, I hit one out of the park by taking a new Squier VM PJ and replacing the neck with a new Warmoth fretless Jazz. I swapped out the P pickup with a Fender '62, so I'm into the whole thing for a little under $1000 if you include the Mike Lull setup.

    Sounds and plays amazing. No real use for it in my current band, but I play it at open jams all the time. The shape of the standard Warmoth jazz neck is unreal.
    AlexanderB likes this.

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