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Having a custom fretless built, input please.

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by René_Julien, Sep 23, 2008.

  1. René_Julien


    Jun 26, 2008
    Hi all,

    I went to a local luthier to ask about building me a custom bass guitar.
    The luthier took his time with me, explained a lot of things to me.
    He thought about the general idea I had in mind and gave me a (not exact) quote. (Wich was a fair price.)

    But there are several issues I still need to think about.

    First let me explain what I'm after.
    A fretless 4-string. I play mostly metal, so that's the first odd thing. I play clean with no overdrive or distortion, so I need a good solid tone from the bass. Heavy yet clean. I prefer a sharp and cold tone from a bass.
    Although I play fretless, I'm not into all the "mwah", there is more to fretless than only "mwah". :)

    1st issue: wood of the body
    My first idea was an all maple body and neck (ebony fingerboard). But what do I know, I thought that the heaviest most dense wood would give me a great "heavy" tone.
    The luthier adviced me that ash is more suitable for the body and that maple would be good for the neck.
    There must be some reason to this, since there are a lot ash-body basses and completely maple is seldom heard of.
    Or am I wrong?
    Could an all maple bass be good, or am I walking into a mindfield with this?

    Plus also: most say ash has better grain and would look more beautiful since I'm leaving it natural.

    2nd issue: bolt-on vs. neck-through
    The luthier adviced me to go with bolt-on instead of neck-through. Especially for fretless, due to maintainance and adjustment.
    And I shouldn't be worried about sustain with a bolt-on.
    I searched this site on this issue, an a lot of TBers seem to agree with what my luthier said.
    Neck-through seems a little bit more an aesthetic issue.

    3rd issue: 34" vs. 35"
    I always played 34" and always was comfortable with it. Would 35" give me a more solid tone due to higher string tension. Well, I guess I can research on that here on TB, I assume this has been discussed a lot.

    4th issue: pickups
    Well, I'm a simple man who likes simple things. :rolleyes::)
    My first thought was just a simple P-style pickup near the neck. Since I have good experiences with this simple "configuration". Or J-style pickups like a traditional jazzbass of JJ/J config like some Warwicks.
    I used to have a MIM Fender fretless jazz but I could never dial in the desired sound I want from the the two J's.
    I played enough basses with humbuckers or active soapbars to know that I personally don't like thos pick ups.
    (Perhaps this question deserves a thread in the pickup and electronics forum.)

    5th issue: the actual shape of the body and head
    Yeah this is a biggie. :meh:
    The luthier can build any shape I want, yet I have no inspiration. And I have no drawing skills at all. (Well, I can draw nice stick-bodies.)
    The luthier doesn't have a signature shape. Mostly he has done copies of traditionall basses (precision, jazz,...).
    (Okay, at this point I must say that the luthier mostly builds acoustic guitars. :) But he can do anything and I tried two of his basses.)

    So shape: I know what I like when I see it, but I can't draw something. :meh:
    I want something subtle, but beautiful off course. Something between traditional like a jazz bass and something a bit "metal".

    Inspiration welcome. :)
  2. ehque


    Jan 8, 2006
    If it were me, and this was my only bass -

    Do take note that i'm a 6-string fretted player, but i DO have a double bass -

    1st issue. Maple tends to be heavy. I think ash looks great, but if you're willing to pay for a nice maple top, that's great as well. I don't think either will affect the tone much, if at all.

    2nd issue. I think it's aesthetic as well.

    3rd issue. Go for 35". That's my personal recommendation if you like tight strings, and brighter tone. I think going for longer scale makes an average bass a good one. tonewise and feelwise, its better.

    4th issue. May i suggest a soap-soap config? HH, like the stingrays. if you get splittable and parallel-series switchable soaps, you will be able to get close to the J/J or P sounds.

    5th issue. P! P! Well not the headstock, but the P body is really functional and nice looking. I'd go with a 2+2 headstock to reduce neck mass.
  3. Maple might sound good, although a heavy bass can really wear on ya. Ash still sounds great and can be pretty light if you go with some nice swamp ash.

    Scale length? I guess if you plan on drop tuning, 35" scale is alright. I happen to enjoy a 35" scale 4 string, even in standard tuning.

    I definitely enjoy Bartolini PJ pickups with the new pre. Even though I have a lot of basses, I still like mine to cover a lot of tonal ground.

    Neckthrough vs. bolt? Eh, I dunno. Depends on the luthier. I have some neckthrough basses with plenty of punch and bolt-on basses with no shortage of sustain and warmth.
  4. Buskman


    Apr 13, 2007
    Jersey Shore, USA
    The only "advice" I'd give is to possibly go with a PJ combination for the pickups - more tonal possibilites.

    And as far as body style(s) that you like, you're in the right place! :D Plenty of GAS inducing instruments right here on TB... just do some searching, find something that really moves you, and provide the luthier with a photo.

    Sounds like a cool project - keep us posted on your progress. Good luck! :)

  5. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Big Dogs Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    I'd throw Alder into the mix for body wood. Looks good, great tone. I'd also throw mahogany in - great wood for a fretless bass.

    I'd throw P-J into the mix for pickups, based on what you've said.

    I prefer set neck or neck through to bolt-on, and when I have a bass built I'll go for that. However, I have a great sounding bolt-on bass as well, so either one can work.

    As far as shape - get some photos of shapes you like, give them to the luthier, and have *him* do the sketch for you to approve or alter.
  6. Kobaia


    Oct 29, 2005
    Denton TX
    Endorsing Artist: Aguilar Amp Gruv Gear and Mono Cases
    there are more issues that i think make a better fretless. chambers in the body, and piezos
  7. Darkstrike

    Darkstrike Return Of The King!

    Sep 14, 2007
    You know how I feel,

    Neck Through,

  8. dakpluto


    Oct 14, 2006
    Orlando, FL
    35" scale for sure if you want more "bite"

    As for the body shape, I agree with above, P-bass style all the way. Although adding a couple curves and contours to the classic P wouldn't hurt either.

    As for pickups, from what you've described, I'd say a P-MM combination.
  9. Rumblefisher


    Aug 22, 2007
    Astoria, NY
    From the available choices:

    I am also ready to build a custom (fretted):
    Dual Coils

    Having a custom done is exciting :)
  10. 1: I have a Warwick FNA w/an ash body, maple top & wenge neck. It sounds awesome. VERY growly, snappy & tight. I usually dial the treble down a bit(or a lot).
    2: I have played BOs & neck-throughs & IME, BO=more highs & high mids/less low-mids & bass. Not always a huge difference, but again- my experience(I have a fretted NT 6 & a BO fretless 6, both Stambaughs, & have played & owned several others).
    3: I like 34" because I broke two fingers on my left hand and have a slightly reduced spread, making it harder to hit those 5-6 fret stretches in the first position. 35" can sound & feel better, though(apart from my issues).
    4: My Warwick has a single Musicman-type Seymour Duncan humbucker, & again, is very aggressive, as well as fairly versatile(it also has an SD 3-band pre). I like it a lot, & form your description, I think you'd like the tone.
    5: Make it comfortable. Nothing too out there, as the reason general shapes haven't changed a lot is that they work. Try different basses out just for feel, balance- how they hang, access to all the frets that you will likely use.
    I hope this helps.
  11. René_Julien


    Jun 26, 2008
    Wow, thanks for all the fast response you guys (and girls).

    Great insights from all of your experiences.

    (aaah, my faith in TB is big now :))

    I was afraid I came off a bit clueless.
    I know things from my own experiences.
    But designing a bass is off course not my talent.

    It's my first custom and off course I want to go through all the options that I don't regret anything.

    Thanks again, I have a lot of your comments to read through and think about.

    And yeah, it's kind of exciting having a custom built.

    It's got to be a mean fretless 4-stringer for the "cleaner" (read: wannabe progressive) metal. :)

    35" deserves serious thought.

    Pick ups also.
  12. Darkstrike

    Darkstrike Return Of The King!

    Sep 14, 2007
    Ah, I thought it was a V for some reason!
  13. Hoover

    Hoover Banned

    Nov 2, 2007
    New York City
    One thing I'd add regarding body shape (besides the already-mentioned issue of comfort & balance, which are really key), is to make sure it's something that'll fit into a conventional case. You don't want to have to buy a custom made case for your custom made bass.
  14. René_Julien


    Jun 26, 2008
    I'm still hearing a lot of ash.

    I don't care if the bass will be heavy. I actually desire something that can be used as a "boat ancher". (hey an idea for a shape :):rolleyes: )
    The heavier the body, the better the sound that I like from my experiences. So what wood would be ideal for that and still deliver a great tone?

    Is maple overkill?
    Ash a more wiser choice?

    To the alder suggestion: I played many basses with alder bodies, not my cup of tea. Perhaps because of the above reasons that alder doesn't meet my expectations.
    But I'm no expert, can someone describe the difference between ash, maple and alder?

    Mahogany: I don't have experience with this wood.
    But when I research about it I always come across the "warm" to describe that wood.
    Well, that's not what I want, a warm sound.
    Keep in mind that I'm not the common fretless player. I like to use fretless in the heavier kinds of music.

    But this is not a discussion about for what we may or may not use a fretless for.

    Thanks for your insights on the bodywood. (All of the quoted above.)

    Maple top... I don't know, I want my body to be just one solid massive wood.

    Still maple or ash. Does anyone know any examples about full maple basses?
  15. Darkstrike

    Darkstrike Return Of The King!

    Sep 14, 2007
    Well, full maple bodys are usually very bright, look at Rickenbackers, or the Squier Vintage Modified 70's Jazz. Might be just what your looking for.

    If you check Warmoth, they have a wood tone chart.
  16. René_Julien


    Jun 26, 2008
    The Squier VM is alder, I thought, right?

    And Rickenbackers, I don't know anything about them. What wood are they made of? Do you mean they are full maple?

    "Bright", that's what I'm looking for instead of "warm".

    Thanks, I'l check Warmoth out.
  17. BioDriver

    BioDriver A Cinderella story

    Aug 29, 2008
    Austin, TX
    Full maple is going to make for one heavy bass. I'd go with the Ash, personally.

    Bolt on has already been addressed. Doo eet.

    If you've always played a 34" scale then stick with a 34" scale. Be comfortable playing this thing.

    If you get split-coil J pickups you won't have hum, so you could get a PJ with the J being a split.

    For the body, you could try a J bass hook with Music Man horns, perhaps? For the headstock you could try a narrower looking Lakland headstock.
  18. Darkstrike

    Darkstrike Return Of The King!

    Sep 14, 2007
    Squier VM's, the fretless is Agathis, but the fretted is maple bodied, which is brighter than a regular jazz.

    Rickenbackers, are neck through, maple, maple body, and very bright.

    Sounding like maple is a real option to you, I'm workin' on somethin again from scratch, by the way, I'll trace a jazz pic for outline, to get the curves better.
  19. René_Julien


    Jun 26, 2008
    Since two months ago I also play double bass (on the side).
    So I'm not afraid of a switch from 34 to 35. :D
    Besides, I have very big hands and strong flexible fingers. (I practice a lot of switching from double bass to electric fretless to electric fretted to classical guitar to electric guitar. Not that I am good at any. :))

    Ash seems to be the overall best choice, but maple isn't out of the question. Thank you for your opinion.

    Pickup, I must really reconsider that. :meh:
  20. René_Julien


    Jun 26, 2008
    So maple can work. :)
    After 9 years on bass I'm still a noob on some things.

    I never had the chance to play a Rick. :meh:
    I'm going to find some Rickenbacker owners and ask what the deal is with their all maple instruments.

    Thanks for the info on the squiers.

    And thanks again for the drawing Darkstrike. :) You're to good.

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