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Fretless Tone... HELP

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by diptixon, Mar 14, 2006.

  1. diptixon


    Oct 29, 2004
    OK, just watched that Tony Franklin clip, and it made me sick, because i just cannot get a good AMPLIFIED tone out of my fretless like he does...
    Unplugged, my bass sounds great - lots of growl, vibrato sounds beautiful, etc... but, as soon as I plug it in, all of those nuances disappear, and it sounds like sh*t. I am not the greatest fretless player in the world, but am able to make it sing pretty well until pluuged in...
    It is a Jazz style bass made of Warmoth neck (maple) and body (alder), ebony fingerboard, roundwounds, Duncan SJB-2 Vintage jazz pickups. I've tried it thru many amps and it's always the same story...
    I changed out the pickups a few years ago (from Dimarzios), and it made no difference. I am wondering if I need to try different pickups, and am even wondering if I should get piezo's installed - Percy Jones gets a great tone, and when I talked to him a few years ago at a Tunnels show he showed me that he was only using the piezos on his Ibanez EDA and had even ripped out the regular pickup... yet, Franklin, Mendoza, Willis etc. get great amplified tones using non-piezo pickups, and I just can't seem to...
    Does anyone else have this problem? Is there a secret I'm missing to a good fretless amplified tone?
  2. arizonabass


    Feb 6, 2002
    Tucson, AZ
    I'll take a shot at it. Put on flatwounds and pluck the strings over the end of the fingerboard. If you pluck over the pickups you won't get the sound I suspect you're looking for.
  3. One of the thing that makes a "good" sound on fretless is to use the bridge pickup mainly... try playing with the pickup volumes (and/or pickup balance).
  4. arizonabass


    Feb 6, 2002
    Tucson, AZ
    ....and then add the neck pickup for the desired amount of bass.
  5. Dbassmon


    Oct 2, 2004
    Rutherford, NJ
    Dip, Sounds like you have a good bass. I guess let me ask a few more questions. Do you use roundwounds, light, med or heavy? What is your amplification? are you using compression? What is the action like on your bass close or high?
    I get a great fretless tone and here's what I do.
    Light gauge strings .40 G string rounds (if you like Tony's tone, use rounds) . action is low enough to let the string really vibrate against the finger board, what's refered to as mwah. I primarily use the bridge pickup but not always. Pluck closer to the neck the more Mwah you will get. Closer to the bridge, more percussive. Amplification is the one thing you we haven't addressed. If you have a bad amp all of this doesn't matter. You need to try some other amps to rule this out as your problem. With Warmoth parts and Duncan electronics and the bass sounding great acoustically, my guess is this is your culpret.
  6. DerekG

    DerekG Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2006
    SF Bay Area
    and don't forget speakers....I recently bought a fantastic Roscoe LG3005 fretless and just could not get a good tone from my small, practice rig -- a SWR Workingman's 12 which is no slouch of a small amp. I now use my SM-400 and an Aguilar GS112 no matter what size gig and the tone is significantly improved - fuller, richer but still with a nice articulate top end. The SM-400 rather than the WM12 amp probably helps a bit, too.
  7. zazz


    Feb 27, 2004
    lower the action if possible and bring up the pickups as near as damit before they get in the way..neck pickup and pluck near the bridge....well that worked for me.
  8. verbass


    Apr 26, 2004
    dayville ct
    A little light compression a tube with a soft knee mess with the ratio until you like it will help. Also the bridge position pup is preferred remember Jaco had his bridge pup at 100% and just cracked the neck pup back to 95% that sound still kicks it hard. Plus your EQ should be scooped out at 800 hz and boosted at 200-400 hz about 5db and the bass and treble adjusted as needed on your amp. I have the Franklin P-bass and have been a huge fan of his for years sometomes he uses a light Chorus to add depth. :hyper:

    have fun with it but don't scrap your bass just yet:bassist:
  9. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    Taking nothing away from the excellent technique suggestions so far...

    I always feel like I don't hear my entire sound when I'm playing the same way others hear it. Have you recorded yourself and listened? If not, try it...you might be surprised at how much tone you are actually getting.
  10. sanray


    Nov 8, 2005
    adding chorus does really help the fretless sound, and it makes harmonics a sinch to pull out as well
  11. arizonabass


    Feb 6, 2002
    Tucson, AZ
    Add a foam mute under the strings at the bridge. The mute should just lightly touch the undersides of the strings. That'll dampen the sound enough to give the strings the decay similar to that of an upright bass. Playing technique, not electronics, is probably most important. I've been playing fretless exclusively for about 12 years, and "getting the fretless sound" ain't rocket science.
  12. permagrin


    May 1, 2003
    San Pedro, CA
    Lots of good replies thus far. I'm not terribly familiar with Tony Franklin's sound, but iirc a fuller tone, good amount of mwah, but mostly his notes have a real nice bloom, right? In addition to playing around with EQ to taste (around 500-600Hz is where a lot of stuff is happening with fretless) and what some of the others have mentioned (although I'd stay away from the foam unless you're going for a more thuddy, upright, quick decay tone), I'd look primarily to your fingers.

    Try using your fingertips on your 'fretting' fingers vs. using the more meaty part. Vary the pressure, roll your finger in different ways for different vibrato. Same thing (tip vs. meaty) with your plucking finger, with the added variable of where you pluck on the string (close to the bridge, close to/above the fretboard, over a pickup, between the pickups - esp just ahead of the bridge pickup). Alter your plucking hand angle of attack (that is, fingers either perpendicular to the strings or at an angle that more closely resembles upright) (this allows you to use different parts of your fingertips for plucking). The combinations of all these parameters will have a pronounced effect on your fretless tone.

    From a setup point of view, flattening (or nearly flattening) the fingerboard relief will increase the interaction between the vibrating string and the board. Lowering the action will do likewise. Flats vs. rounds affects tone - I try to get some of the advantages of each by using machined flats (GHS Brite Flats). Different string tension will also affect your setup/tone. Remember, too, that how your bass is set up will affect your approach, technique-wise (e.g., how hard you dig in). So there are a great deal of inter-related variables, and some combination of these will likely emphasize more of what you're looking for in a fretless tone. Enjoy exploring.
  13. Most importantly - pluck over the neck for that mellow tone. I use some chorus and heavy compression. May not be everyones cup of tea, but i often get complemented on my fretless tone.

    I've got a bart humbucker in the bridge position with no eq on the bass (in passive mode) - just a coil tap/series parallel selector.

    Sounds awesome.

  14. rafunk


    Sep 18, 2005
    Valencia, Spain
    IMO, if you like the Tony Franklin sound don' need to play over the bridge pickup like Jacco did. He plays more betwwen both pickups (he uses also the P pickup).

    Tony play very strong over the strings, it's a very special technique. So, the sound it's in the fingers. SO, for the rest:
    - Round strings
    - Low action
    - Flat EQ (or a bit of mids)
    - A bit of compression (tube, better).

    I did al this thigs and I didn't sound like Tony sounds :crying: !!! but I'm on the way:hyper: . I like rock and I like fretless, so I like Tony very much :) .
  15. 7thbass


    Nov 21, 2003
    Houston, Tx
    I am going to go from flats back to roundwound.

    Might think about having the fingerboard epoxied or otherwise coated. When I played a pedulla I felt like my eyes were opened. Something about that glassy, hard surface seems to jump out of the bass.
  16. I easily get a woody upright style sound from my 'wick by using light labella flats, full neck pup with a hint of the bridge humbucker in series and playing near the end of the fingerboard.

    I have yet to match the tone found on my beloved Kate Bush records though, the more contemporary hi-fi fretless sound. Probably not the right bass for the job I suspect in my case.
  17. mikezimmerman

    mikezimmerman Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2001
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Lots of folks are suggesting things like going to flats or plucking over the end of the fretboard. Those seem way off-base to me--while they may give a good "upright" fretless sound, aren't really going to give the fretless sound he's looking for! If you've seen the Tony Franklin video he's referring to, it's pretty clear both the tone he wants and the playing techniques that achieve it...

    diptixon, it sounds like you're getting the sort of sound you want acousticly, and are just having problems getting the same thing amplified. Someone else pointed out that the bridge pickup is key to that sort of fretless tone, with just enough of the neck pickup blended in to add some "body". Besides that, I'd also look at your EQ, on both your amp and your bass (if it's active). Having plenty of midrange is crucial! I'm not terribly familiar with the Trace, but my recollection is that it's got an EQ like the Alembic pre, where "flat" is actually 2-10-2 on the Bass/Mid/Treble knobs. Try that setting, and see what you think...

  18. Lia_G


    Oct 27, 2005
    Not necessarily to recommend settings or options for you, but just to give an idea of what things go into a certain fretless tone, here's how I get the tone I have in this live clip of a piece I wrote called 'Midnight With Mingus' (you'll no doubt hear some glitches in there ... sorry about that!):

    Bass: Roscoe LG3005 with Bartolini pickups & Bartolini 3-band 18 volt eq
    Strings: Thomastick Jazz Flats
    Amp: Eden DC112XLT
    Recording: mic on cab, plus direct, two signals blended

    I have the amp set flat, with Eden's 'Enhance' all the way down, as it scoops the mids, which I don't want for fretless tone. I'm using just a hint of compression on the amp. With the on-bass EQ, I have the bass boosted just slightly, the treble cut just slightly, and the mids boosted just slightly. For the harmonics at the very end, I cranked the treble on the bass, which caused the hum you'll hear. I'm using the neck pickup 100%. The strings are set pretty darn low (you can hear some buzzes, and also when I get aggressive, I tend to make the strings slap off the fingerboard, a technical issue I'm trying to work on), and I'm plucking sometimes at the neck joint, and sometimes over the neck pickup.

    For my playing, I find that making sure not to scoop the mids is pretty crucial to my tone. I think a lot of fretless players would agree with that ... the mids are really where a fretless lives and breathes. Sometimes, I think players who like that heavily-mid-scooped sound common for fretted slap tone have some troubles with adapting to fretless (not saying you're in that group ... just making an observation ...).

    Good luck finding your tone!!!


    p.s. oh, and just for kicks here's a pic of me while performing the piece ... ;)
  19. diptixon


    Oct 29, 2004
    All, thanks for al the GREAT advice, I'm gonna start with the amp settings and work back from there... also will be lowering the action a bit right off...
  20. steve4765630


    Feb 27, 2006
    Low action. Roundwounds. Lot's of mids. A good sounding bass with correct pickup placement. To get the Jaco sound pluck over the bridge pickup, for the Tony sound pluck in between the pickups. To get more of an upright like tone pluck just over the fingerboard using soft brushing strokes. Works great for ballads and modal stuff. Mids, mids, mids. I'll say it again, mids. Those who cut mids are those who are never heard from the stage. Remember that and you'll be fine.

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