Fretless Tone - How do you describe it?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Jeff Rader, Mar 29, 2001.

  1. I am considering getting a fretless built. I am struggling for the words to describe a great fretless tone. What qualities in a fretless are important to you? How would you describe those qualities?

    Thanks for your help!
  2. rllefebv


    Oct 17, 2000
    Newberg, Oregon
    Hey Jeff... Lotsa folks talk about the 'mwah' factor... I can only describe it as a delayed swelling of the note after the initial attack. Some also like the 'gliss' of sliding into pitch...

    Best I could do in a pinch...

  3. Jerry J

    Jerry J Supporting Member

    Mar 27, 2000
    P-town, OR
    Jeff, welcome to the wonderful world of fretlessness! It's kinda like walking around without underwear. You don't feel so locked into the confines of frets.

    I really think that Robert nailed it on the head. This mwah stuff really can give some great expression.
  4. ytsebri


    Sep 1, 2000
    I guess that's only if your underwear is made out of metal. :)
  5. Fretless = "That farty Jaco sound".

    (Don't look at me. That's the word according to lump.)
  6. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    So, Jeff, adding another fretless to the stable?

    Have you received the modified Zon Lightwave back yet?

    You love your Sadowsky so much, maybe you should get Roger to build you a fretless.

    Good luck on your search!
  7. Using a round wound or flat wound on a fretless will dictate a very distinct sound differences. Using a round wound would create that "mwah" effect. And obviously would produce a brighter sound than a flat wound. MAny prefer alder wood for the body, for it's mellower sound. And passive PU is also popular to fretless. You have to be carefull in chosing a 5 or 6 string fretless. Due to the nature of Low B string that is usually "hard" to be reproduce in certain bass; caused by the choice of wood that is less dense for the purpose of "warm" sound....B string might be a sacrifice in 5 or 6 string fretless.
  8. Luis Fabara

    Luis Fabara

    Aug 13, 2000
    Ecuador (South America)
    Audio Pro - Ecuador

    You can find THE fretless sound by hearing Michael Manring´s Manthing

  9. I am considering adding another fretless. I did get the Lightwave back with the upgrades on Monday. Although I have not had the opportunity to thoroughly explore all the new sounds, what I have heard sounds great. The midrange sweep add more flexibility and the mag emulator changes the sound dramatically, adding more options. I think getting the upgrade was a good decision. However, the Lightwave still has a very unique voice. While I think it always sounds great, it doesn't always sound "right" for my situations. So, I'm looking to "complete" my fretless sound with a more traditional sounding instrument.

    I do love my Sadowsky. Having Roger make a fretless for me is at the top of my list. There are a few options I would like on a fretless that Roger doesn't do. I can live without those options, but before I do, I am researching a design with Chris Stambaugh who has a very interesting fretless design using some beautiful hand rubbed oil finished woods that I want to investigate. He has a great reputation as a builder and will consider many options. We'll see...

  10. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    I've talked to Chris, too, Jeff. There was an interesting single cutaway fretless 6 on eBay a few months ago. I didn't buy it because of the color, then I found out from Chris that the pictures tint was way off. He does sound very flexible.

    There's a Walnut Sonus Lightwave 5 on the web for $1650 right now :D
  11. Angus

    Angus Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Not anymore! ;) :D
  12. dytakeda


    Jul 18, 2000
    How do you describe any tone without a common point of reference for both people in the conversation?

    Punchy? I think I know what I mean by punchy, but that doesn't mean you hear the same thing in your head when I say "punchy".

    Ballsy? Grindy? Transparent? Hi-fi?

    The kinds of things that can almost be considered a true common point of reference would be things like:

    Fender "P" tone, Jazz bass tone, Beatles' McCartney-like tone.

    We've all heard these things, each fairly unique from each other, so we can talk using them as descriptives.

    As far as fretless, only two points of reference come to mind: Jaco and the Paul Simon's Graceland album (Bathiki K... something or other, my apologies).

    Maybe this discussion should be about what are the common points of reference we all have when it comes to fretless tone. Those are my two nominees. Any others?
  13. Aside from the already mentioned mwhaaaaah :)

    Woody. That's the way I describe the sound of my fretless. Woody.

    In much the same way somone will call the flavour of a wine "oaky".

    But its kind of a subjective thing.

  14. dytakeda,

    You raise a great point. We do need common points of reference. So, how would you describe -and what physical properties do you think contributes (other than practice :)) - to Jaco's sound? Manring's? The guy from the Graceland CD?

    How would you describe their sound? Others?

  15. dytakeda


    Jul 18, 2000
    Subjectiveness is the point. You can't use subjective terms to describe tones with any degree of certainty that the listener and the describer are really understanding each other.

    Examples are more objective. Like Jamerson's flatwound, tube Ampeg, finger plucked sound. We've all (not that big of an assumption, I hope) heard him many, many times, and know what that sound is. So when I say "tone like James Jamerson's '60's Motown recordings", we have a common reference point.

    How do we do that for Fretless? Jaco and Khumalo a la Graceland were the two I came up with. "Woody" doesn't mean anything to me - I can't come up with a sound in my head. When I say Jaco or Graceland, I hear a sound and can be reasonably assured that you've heard those sounds too.

    Besides those two, any other subjective terms for fretless?
  16. Luis Fabara

    Luis Fabara

    Aug 13, 2000
    Ecuador (South America)
    Audio Pro - Ecuador
    Mine is not Woody... Mine is "Luthity" , it is a Luthite Cort Curbow
  17. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    So you bought it, huh?:)

    Post a mini review when it arrives.

  18. Since I've never heard any widespread recording of a fretless bass that sounds like mine, I can't really use an example like that.

    Even though it is subjective, I think the term "woody" does get the point across. I think it evokes just enough of the imagination to grasp the sonic quality being discussed here.

    In the end, subjectivity is all we have. If we use the Jamerson example you gave, who is to say that I wasn't listening to it on a primitive AM radio, while someone else was listening to it on a very sophisticated multi-driver sound system? That would certainly give the two of us a very different understanding of the Jamerson tone.

    Just my opinion, abuse it as you see fit.

  19. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    That was a heck of a deal, Angus, congrats.

    Bet you'd be surprised at what I "don't" buy:D
  20. Bob Gollihur

    Bob Gollihur

    Mar 22, 2000
    New Joisey Shore
    Big Cheese Emeritus: Gollihur Music
    WHICH fretless??

    the warm woody sustain of live flats with just that touch of fingerboard?

    the more blunted attack as a result of flesh and wood stopping the string rather than a metal fret?

    the Jaco roundwound growl?

    the brighter, more ragged roundwound sound of metal windings loosely vibrating against wood while a moderate vibrato is being applied?

    the punchy thunk of old flats on wood and finger?


    I think the best thing you can do is find a recording or two or three of fretless sounds you wish to emulate. A single instrument, set up in one particular way, may not be able to do them all, and/or may guide you towards the type of construction materials, pickups and layout, and other details.

    Perhaps specifying some recorded sounds here may give us a clue to describe the sound you have in mind and the tools some of us may use to achieve it. Just a suggestion...