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FRETLESS Neck Relief: What's typical? A little forward bow, or NONE at all?

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by JacoNOT, Oct 28, 2012.

  1. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    My 1st fretless 5-sting arrived with roundwound strings mounted. There was almost no buzzing and TONS of "mwwwaaaahhhh".

    I restrung with D'Addario Black Nylon Tapewounds, and now there's LOTS of buzzing, particularly at the first five positions/fret lines. The heavier strings (B and E) are worst and A, D and G are pretty much buzz-free. I need to get rid of the buzzzzzzz.

    I put a serious aluminum straightedge against the fingerboard twice. Once with no strings mounted, and again with the new tapewound strings tuned to pitch:

    a) No strings mounted: The neck makes a very even backward bow from the nut to the neck/body joint. Just eyeballing it, there appears to be an 1/8" gap at both ends of the straight edge.

    b) Black nylon tapewounds mounted: The neck appears to be dead flat/straight with no daylight visible between the straight edge and the wood face.

    Do FRETLESS electric basses typically get set up with a FLAT fingerboard,
    or do they need a bit of neck relief / forward bow, similar to a fretted bass?

    I own the identical twin to this fretless (the fretted 5 version) and it likes about .013" neck relief with basic roundwounds mounted. I think the new nylon tapewounds on the fretless might need a bit more "room to move". Maybe they vibrate in a larger arc than the roundwounds...maybe...

    The fretless is absolutely EFFORTLESS to play, so I want to do as little as possible to sort out the action. I figure it's going to require either a bit of neck relief or raising some saddles...
  2. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    if it was just right before the change to lower-tension strings, then you should only need to "change back" what changed, i.e., the neck relief.

    loosen the rod a pinch and see what happens. a tiny bit of "daylight" is indicated for fretless necks just like it is for fretted. the better the fretwork (or "boardwork") and the lighter your touch, the smaller you can make that gap.
  3. XylemBassGuitar

    XylemBassGuitar Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 14, 2008
    Durango, CO
    Owner and Operator, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars
    Fretless basses usually like a little relief, just like fretted basses. Generally, low action requires more relief in the neck too.

    It sounds like the original roundwounds put a little more tension on the neck than the tapewounds, which aren't pulling enough relief into the neck. It also sounds like you know what you're doing (judging from the fact that you know your fretted bass has .013" of relief), so I would recommend that you simply loosen your truss rod enough to add that amount of relief to the fretless too. Then if you still have buzz at the lower positions add a little more relief and see what happens.

    Usually it's not a good idea to raise the saddles to get rid of buzz at the lower end of the neck. You'll have to raise them a ton to get the height you'll need all the way at the other end, and the strings will be significantly higher over the upper frets. Try playing with the relief first.
    bass nitro likes this.
  4. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Thanks, Walter and XBG.

    Per your suggestions, I loosened the truss rod 1/4 turn for a solid reduction in buzzing below fret 7 (it's a 24 'fret' neck).
    That's Progress! :D

    The E string still buzzes at 'Fret 1' only. B and A are good unless I pluck really hard. D and G stings make a lot of ZZZZZZZZ from the mid frets upward. So I'll try tightening the truss rod very slightly tonite and see how it affects those buzzing D and G strings, unless you guys recommend against that...

    I currenltly have this:
    E string - buzz at Fret 1
    D string - buzz from mid neck to highest fret
    G string - buzz from mid neck to highest fret
    If that's the best result I can get from truss rod adjustment, is my next move to raise saddles for D and G, and a very slight raise of the E saddle?
  5. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    buzz from the middle up is from saddles that are too low, so yeah, try that.

    hopefully this neck doesn't have the dreaded "S-curve" where you get backbow from 5 or 6 to the nut (causing buzz on the lower positions) but upbow from 12 to the end causing buzz on the middle and high notes unless the saddles are jacked up hgher).
  6. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Sounds like a nightmare. I doubt that's the case: It's a brand new bass, 5-piece laminated neck construction (3 maple layers with 2 rosewood layers), and when the strings were off I put a good straightedge on the fret board - the backbow appeared very even and consistant as described in the original post.

    Thanks for follow-up, Walter. The high strings aren't exactly buzzing; they're more making that ZAZZZZ sound that fretless basses make, but I think this much is too much. I need to dial it back some, so per your comments I'll raise those high-string saddles 1/4 turn at a time checking the results as I go.

    This thing is so easy to play (requires only a light touch). I don't want to mess that up :eek:
  7. XylemBassGuitar

    XylemBassGuitar Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 14, 2008
    Durango, CO
    Owner and Operator, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars
    Not necessarily in every case, especially if those positions weren't buzzing when he originally got the bass (before the new strings went on). Getting buzz from the middle up can also be a sign that the bass has too much relief. 1/4 of a turn can add a lot of relief, depending on the neck.

    Jaco, before raising the saddles, try tightening the rod about 1/8 of a turn, or even 1/6 of a turn (small bits at a time, then look for buzz again). You should also be recording the relief of the neck between turns so you know where you've been. When tightening the rod, put one hand on the back if the neck at the middle and pull gently backwards on the headstock while tightening (you may need three hands). Doing this can help the truss rod pull the relief out of the neck (there are a lot of necks out there whose rods work far better if you do this).

    It is definitely possible that the set of strings you put on the bass simply need higher action (saddles raised) like Walter points out, but it would be better to rule out the relief as the culprit first so you can keep your low action.
  8. henry2513

    henry2513 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2011
    Los Angeles, Ca
    http://www.garywillis.com/pages/bass/bassmanual/setupmanual.html check this out
  9. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Thanks XBG. I did exactly that last night (1/6 turn tighten, flying by the seat of my pants :D) but I find I'm sort of chasing the mid-neck buzz around with no clear indication of what's happening. The saddle heights don't really appear to follow the neck radius, and the ZAZZZing D and G strings look particularly low, and they make that sound along the full length of the string. So I'll try adjusting saddle heights tonite.

    I never heard of that before! :eek: YIKES. I've done quite a bit of truss rod tweaking on my electric and acoustic guitars, and my two basses. Haven't heard anything SNAP yet, so I guess I haven't done any damage (but my acoustic guitar did hit a point where I simply can't turn the rod further...hmmmm :rolleyes:)

    Relief seems right now, set at .013" (coincidentally, that's the same as the fretted version of this bass...:D). So next step is to raise some saddles. Fingers crossed.
  10. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Thanks, Henry. That's a neat tutorial with good reminders. Also it makes the point XBG makes above, about flexing the neck slightly to 'help' the truss rod decrease the neck relief / forward bow. I never knew to do that...

    I bookmarked the site for future reference. Thanks.
  11. Jay2U

    Jay2U Not as bad as he lóòks

    Dec 7, 2010
    22 ft below sea level
    There's another instructional video available. Here the cause for buzz at different fretting positions is explained, along with the remedy.

    Setup by Lakland

    Good luck!
  12. XylemBassGuitar

    XylemBassGuitar Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 14, 2008
    Durango, CO
    Owner and Operator, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars
    Darn, I was hoping we could keep the low action and eliminate the buzz :) ...and you're right, since the D and G make that buzz along the entire string it shouldn't be a truss rod issue.

    How high is the action on each string by the way?
  13. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Jay2U ==
    Man, you're right on the money. I found those two Carl Pedigo/Lakland YouTube vids back in May when I was learning to set up my then-new fretted bass (LTD B-205sm). It arrived with a fantastic, ultra-playable low action...BUT it buzzed like crazy! Ah, the persistent limitations of Cause-and-Effect. :D

    Here's the other YouTube series I found useful. It's a 4-part video series by John Carruthers/Elixir Strings.

    Carruthers and Pedigo say pretty much the same things, but offer slightly different perspectives that are worth noting.

    Thanks for the link, Jay.
  14. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    Thanks for your continued assistance, XBG. :bassist:

    At present, neck relief is .013" measured with a feeler gauge at Fret 8 (24 fret neck), capo on fret 1 and fretting the string at the neck/body joint. I'm not 100% sure, but I think I observe increased buzzing above Fret 7 when I increase neck relief beyond .013".

    Approximate string heights measured at Fret 12:
    B string: 8/64" (.125")
    E string: 7/64" (.109")
    A string: 6/64" (.094")
    D string: 6/64" (.094")
    G string: 7/64" (.109")

    These seem a bit HIGH to me, especially the G string. It produces a LOT of that fretless ZAAaZZzzZzzzz all along the neck. Had to raise the G saddle more than I wanted, and it still has too much of that ZZZzzz timbre. Maybe that's just what FRETLESS sounds like, and I need to get used to it...?

    Are my reported string heights considered to be High, Mid or Low action?
  15. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    XBG ==

    I just read this Premier Guitar Magazine article about you and the instruments you make.

    It says your standard action at Fret 12 is 0.06" for basses. Yikes :eek:

    I don't think I'll get anywhere near that, but I'm hoping I can tweak my way down, closer than what I have now...:D
  16. Jay2U

    Jay2U Not as bad as he lóòks

    Dec 7, 2010
    22 ft below sea level
    I set up my fretted, BEAD tuned bass to 0.12" for the B-string, lowering gradually to 0.09" for the D-string. All measured at fret 12. The neck relief, measured at fret 8, is about 0.015". All measurements were taken with the bass in playing position. I like to keep it that way, as it's the best compromise for my playing style. Now I'm going to watch the video of John Carruthers/Elixir Strings...
  17. enjoi1018

    enjoi1018 Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2011
    Auburn, AL
    I'll add to this by saying that I just got my first fretless for my birthday. Parents found me a used Warwick Corvette 4. I love playing the thing and figuring out the fretless side of the low end.

    When I got it, you could've driven a truck under the strings. like half an inch of relief near the 20th fret marker. I played with it for the fam right when I got it, and it sounded great, played horribly.

    Went home, lowered the bridge, flattened the neck via truss rod, and set up intonation as best as I could. Now when I play, especially the high notes on the higher strings, it sounds almost like a synth from string vibration either hitting the fretboard RIGHT beside my fret finger or coming from the bridge.

    It sounds ok through an amp, but when I'm playing unplugged at night listening to that raw fretless goodness, it just doesn't sound right.

    Am I to deal with this as a drawback to not having frets or am/have I doing/done something wrong? Strings are flats, btw. Unsure of what brand and model.

    Thanks guys!
  18. Jay2U

    Jay2U Not as bad as he lóòks

    Dec 7, 2010
    22 ft below sea level
    Several possibilities:
    - The strings are too thin for your playing style.
    - You set action too low.
    - The neck is too straight.
    - The neck has a ski-jump-shape.
    - The neck leans a bit too far backward and needs a shim.
    - Or you just need some time to get used to that new fretless experience.

    I think I'd play the instrument for a while before making too many adjustments at once. If I'm sure about issues due to setup, I'll first try to find the cause and then grab my tools... :hyper:
    bass nitro likes this.
  19. JacoNOT


    Mar 7, 2012
    OP here.

    Y'know, I've been listening to various examples of fretless playing online, and I think maybe I'm actually fighting to get rid of the MWAH... Wutta dope. :rollno: Everybody wants MORE Mwah, and here I'm doing my best to hammer it out of existance...

    Maybe I'm only now figuring out what the Mwah really is.

    From what I see online, it seems like D and G (the thinnest) strings produce the most Zazzz, and that's what I've got going on. It's not exactly 'buzz' like 'fret buzz'; it's more of a 'sizzle' that's combined with the fundamental tone of the note played. Do you guys agree with that?

    In my case, there's so much 'sizzle' on the G string that it seems to be choking out the resonance of the string. So I've been trying to reduce the Zazzz to let more of the fundamental note sound.

    My neck relief settled overnight to .012" and the saddle adjustments / string heights reported above seem to be the best I can do for now. Winter's moving in, so it'll be cold, dry air for the next five months. I'll probably do some more tweaking over the next couple of weeks.

    My Fretted Twin took several weeks of twiddling back and forth between truss rod and saddle height adjustments. Eventually it all worked out. Once my brain accepts the Mwah timbre, I expect this Fretless Twin will work out, too...
  20. XylemBassGuitar

    XylemBassGuitar Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 14, 2008
    Durango, CO
    Owner and Operator, Xylem Handmade Basses and Guitars
    I would say that's around medium, maybe medium-high action. It's definitely a little too high for my own preferences, but it's not outside the realm of normal playability; there are lots of guys who like their action around that height.

    Jaco, it's good that you've listened to some fretless bass sound clips online. It is definitely possible that what you're hearing isn't fret buzz, but just a lot of mwah.

    There are a few sound samples of fretless basses on my website, too. You could use them as examples for your ear, all those basses were set up perfectly when I recorded the samples.

    If you decide that what you've been hearing is normal mwah, you might try lowering the strings a little again.

    Thanks for checking out the article! It can be tough to get action like that on an of-the-shelf production instrument. The fingerboards/frets on those instruments are usually not as flat/level as they could be. My instruments can get that low because I can take the extra time to make sure everything is as near perfect on them as possible before they go out the door. In a manufacturing environment you have to be more concerned with production.