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Fretless intonation ?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by White_Knuckles, Oct 20, 2004.


  1. White_Knuckles

    White_Knuckles

    Oct 6, 2004
    I'm trying to setup my son's Ibanez SG400 factory fretless and am finding it a bit tricky. We bought it used and the prior owner had someone adjust it. The bridge saddles were pulled nearly all the way to the rear with an odd pattern. I put it on a good digital tuner and found all strings slightly 2-4 cents sharp at the 12th fret but the harmonic pinged at 12 was dead on. I measured the string length from nut to saddle on his other Ibanez fretted bass. I also see a common pattern with the D&G string saddles slightly toward the neck compaired to the E&A. This bridge pattern is similar on his Fender P-bass as well. Using the fretted same scale Ibanez as a guide I moved all saddles up to the same string length duplicated the pattern and rechecked the intonation. Moving all saddles up 1/4+ inch there was no change in tuning. Still sharp and the harmonic dead on. I tried adjusting the saddles back again with no change. His teacher told him you don't need to worry about the bridge with a fretless, you compensate by ear. I wonder about that comment.
     
  2. ONYX

    ONYX

    Apr 14, 2000
    Michigan
    First, find a new teacher. A statement like that tells me that he/she doesn't what he/she's talking about. Using that logic, any fretless bass with the strings tuned in a random fashion, would be able to be played in tune by "compensating with your ears". Balderdash. In theory that might possible, but it doesn't happen in reality. Slight intonation problems might be compensated for on-the-fly, but the instrument should have decent intonation to be played properly.

    Now, the bass. If the bridge saddles are pulled all the way back, and it still runs sharp, the problem may lie elsewhere. Is the neck warped or twisted? Also, keep in mind that it's best to do intonation with fresh strings. Old, played out strings will give all kinds of strange readings if you're using a strobe tuner.

    Other than that, intonation on a fretless is done the same way as on a fretted.
     
  3. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    Interesting. What about fretlesses with bridges that don't allow for intonation adjustments? Would that automatically be considered "decent"? I've always wondered about that.

    I guess I'm missing the part where the teacher is saying (or their logic is approximating that) the strings can be tuned in a random fashion.
     
  4. ONYX

    ONYX

    Apr 14, 2000
    Michigan
    But the whole point is that this particular bass has a bridge that allows for intonation adjustments. My arguement is that the teacher shouldn't have been so quick to dismiss an intonation problem by making it sound like it's no big deal. There's obviously a problem with the instrument somewhere, and it should be corrected IMO. I just feel that a bass teacher ( or any music teacher) should teach their students other aspects of being a bassist, e.g. maintainance, care & cleaning etc., in addition to technique and theory.

    If his bass did indeed have a bridge that doesn't allow for intonation, I don't think there would've been a reason for the original post. Besides, I never trusted those basses anyway, they creep me out... ;)
     
  5. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    If I were the teacher the main thing in this situation that I'd be concerned about is how moving the saddles is making no difference. How is that possible?

    I agree that if he hasn't he should put a fresh set of strings on. I don't think there's "obviously" a problem with the instrument at this point, I don't even know where he's fretting the 12th position.

    :meh:

    I can get a strong harmonic over more than 1/2" of the string around the 12th fret on an Elrick I just checked. Where would I "fret" to compare? That same length fretted would cover about three notes.

    I tend to agree with the teacher, getting the intonation as close on a fretless as a fretted is not at all mandatory. "You" the player have infinite control (within the length of the fingerboard) of where to play a note. The beauty (and pain for most people) of the instrument is that YOU get to figure out where the notes are on a particular instrument. Some new (to fretless) players tend to obsess on playing where a line or position marker is instead of simply using it as a guide to get you in the neighborhood of the right note. IMO IME of course:D.

    "I guess I'm missing the part where the teacher is saying (or their logic is approximating that) the strings can be tuned in a random fashion".

    I'm still missing this part. That's not at all what the teacher seems to be saying.


    It's the same principle... mechanical intonation vs. player intonation.


    Why that (non-adjustable bridge) would creep anyone else out (I know it actually does) is a mystery to me. I have fixed and adjustable bridge fretlesses and I do the same things on either... I pick them up and play them. Sometimes it's less complicated than people want to make it;)
     
  6. mss

    mss

    Sep 11, 2004
    Gary Willis has said that setting intonation on a fretless is at least as critical as on a fretted. I agree; if you don't set intonation properly, technique will suffer -- finger positioning will not be consistant across the fingerboard.
     
  7. ONYX

    ONYX

    Apr 14, 2000
    Michigan
    Too-shay , Mr Johnson!

    But WK's issue still has not been resolved. Perhaps we should focus on ( as you pointed out ) why moving the saddles has no effect on intonation. It's puzzling when something like that happens--it almost defies the laws of physics. But I have encountered similar situations. I recently did a set up on a Yamaha bass that was doing the same thing. I checked the neck--perfect. Despite the fact that I had just installed new strings, I decided to start from the begining with another new set. The problem disappeared with the second set of strings.

    Bad strings, fluke of nature, space/time anomaly or whatever, sometimes there is no apparent explanation.

    Of course, there's always the possibility that the tuner he's using may be at fault.......
     
  8. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings

    [​IMG]
    Ta-DOW, Mr. ONYX!!;)

    This is a good example of how critical it is. There are plenty more:D


    True... in fact that and strings were the first things I thought of. I've yet to see where there's truly no explanation.
     
  9. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings

    He also said lines are a must;)

    For him, yes... that's what he prefers. For others, no. I go either way.


    And this: "On a fretless you should adjust the intonation according to how you want to play in relationship to the lines".

    This gets back to my question about where the note is being fretted by the original poster.

    I think Gary is a great guy and a great player (one of my personal favorites)... but how could it truly be as critical as on a fretted? One does not have anywhere near the flexibility on a fretted as a fretless to manually correct a wrong pitch.

    For example, if my intonation is sharp at the 12th position marker on a fretless, I can still play that note in tune. To do the same on a fretted I'd have to bend the string... at the 11th fret.

    Touchy that, Mr. ONYX:D

    Just kidding.
     
  10. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Basically, I agree with Brad in principle, but I also think a fretless should always get as good a setup as the situation allows. If the saddles are adjustable, adjust them to get as good intonation as you can; if they're not, find a way to deal with it. IME dealing with an improperly intonated fretless is indeed possible, as Brad notes, but it's a bit more work, and I wouldn't see the point of making things harder than they need to be, unless you have other reasons to do so.

    It's true that things like Rob Allens and upright basses don't have adjustable saddles, but in view, that's not *in itself* an advantage or even a neutral thing--it's more a disadvantage that you live with for other reasons or advantages (e.g., tradition, sound of a one piece wood bridge, whatever). As a somewhat tangential example, I play nylon-string guitar too, which of course has a single one piece bone or ivory (or perhaps synthetic) saddle. Nobody can ever get those things to play exactly in tune. Believe me, if there were a widely available way to adjust for each string individually and still keep the classic sound and look, players would be all over it. But we largely put up with things the way they are for our other reasons.

    But again, if you have the capacity to refine your intonation mechanically, which is what adjustable saddles are supposed to give you, I can't see any sensible reason for not using that capacity. This is not the same thing as saying you need adjustable saddles to play in tune.
     
  11. I'd heard of bad strings- I've had dead strings, but never anything "bad" until a month or so ago. Twenty + years of playing bass AND guitar- and being pretty anal about changing strings most of that time- and I'd never encountered a bad string. Blew my mind.
     
  12. ONYX

    ONYX

    Apr 14, 2000
    Michigan
    Fortunately, it doesn't happen very often these days. I had one bizzare incident with a set of GHS strings a couple years ago. I don't use GHS, but at the time I had no alternative ( good strings, just not my first choice). My gut told me to buy two sets. I put the first set on just before a gig, plugged in and......nothing.....or at least very little. All I got was a very, very weak sound--almost as if the pickups were 12 inches away! I checked the wiring and everything else I could think of and it all checked out. So my next thought was "bad strings". I changed the G string to see if that had any effect and sure enough, that was the problem. Later, when I got home, I put the suspect set of strings on a different bass and the same thing happened.

    Still don't know what was going on, but I've been lucky so far. I change my strings regularly ( the roundwounds, anyway ) and that's the only time it's ever happened to me.
     
  13. ONYX

    ONYX

    Apr 14, 2000
    Michigan
    Strange but true. The only thing I can think of that may have happened is that the first package didn't contain GHS Boomers; as if someone had "swapped" them and returned them to the store. The only reason I say this is because I had a few sets of some off-brand strings that I got at a serious discount ( free ) that sounded similar--no bottom end, no character, nothing. Absolute garbage. They ended up in the trash.

    It's a crackpot theory, but like I said, in almost 25 years I've only gotten bad strings a handful of times.
     
  14. White_Knuckles

    White_Knuckles

    Oct 6, 2004
    Yikes, uh it was indeed a physics question. How when moving the bridge saddles not make for a change? It blew my mind. The teacher also a well respected tech was stating if you get it close it's fine as you compensate by ear. The bass neck condition is perfect for relief and straightness. I tried two digital tuners and the favorite a chromatic flavor with a "low" setting that always works great with other basses. New EB flatwound strings went on first.

    I moved several saddles back half the travel of the run to see if I could increase the string length to correct for 2-4 cent sharp thing. The result was always the same - no change. Using the E was the best to make sure I depressed the string on the 12th which has a double dot marker. I fingered it slightly behind the bridge side dot where the true 12th fret woud be. I found by rolling my finger slightly toward the headstock got it in tune. Hey it's an Ibanez not a spendy custom the thing sounds and plays well. We got it used in mint condition with a molded case for $150. My son (15) thinks he's Les Claypool and loves making strange gliss sounds on it - it's cool. I'm just tweaked from the experiance. Thanks for the input. :D
     
  15. tornadobass

    tornadobass Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Iowa City, Iowa
    Endorsing Artist: Black Diamond & SuperSensitive strings
    A good rule of thumb for most bridge setups is to measure from the edge of the nut to the break point on the bridge saddle for the G string and set that distance at 34". Then set the D saddle back the thickness of the D string, the A string the thickness of the A string, and the E string back the thickness of the E string.

    Depending on how the fingerboard is marked, you'll end up either on or slightly behind the lines (or dots if unlined). In many cases, you'll find that your fingers will play the higher pitched strings closer to the nut, even with the offset.

    And the harmonic, just by physics should always be in tune if the string is in tune.
     
  16. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    I agree, Richard.

    Then again I don't see non-adjustable bridges as being advantageous or a disadvantage.. that's the beauty of being tone deaf;)

    Seriously, I own and play six different fretlesses. I guess I'm more of a "shut up 'n play" player than most. I play whatever's in my hands. I haven't spent one second dwelling on the fact that my semihollow Elrick or the Stambaugh I owned had non-adjustable saddles. It really was no hardship at all to play... I knew the notes were in there, heck... I went past them enough times. I guess I put the biggest onus as far as fretless intonation on myself;)

    I also think that because I love playing fretless I don't look at anything about it as being "hard". It's all fun. Heck, the difference between being on pitch and off in the upper fret positions is less than a roll of the fingertip.

    Just thought I'd explain my somewhat skewed POV:D
     
  17. That's 5 wink smilies thus far for the Brad meister!!!
     
  18. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    Just trying to keep things light.

    ;)
     
  19. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Yeah, that's really what it always comes down to in the end...saddles or no saddles, lines or no lines.

    My own down-and-dirty rule for intonation on fretless is, if you hit an out-of-tune note, play it again, but *louder and with more vibrato*.;) :bassist: j/k