Killer fretless tone

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Josh Curry, Apr 21, 2005.

  1. Josh Curry

    Josh Curry

    May 29, 2003
    Frisco, TX
    I know there's plenty of fretless players here. Please share your experience and secrets to dialing in that perfect fretless tone. I want to get that holy 'mwah' sound.

    Example: your EQ settings, string action, how you attack, vibrato, etc...

    Thanks :)
  2. Jpat


    Mar 13, 2005
    Leonardville Kansas
    I always like to keep my action as low as possible. It is a combination of all I think. Action, attack, effects,EQ. It's just a matter of experimentation. A nice cool Chorus works nice. Also try boosting more of the mids on the EQ. But like I said its all a matter of experimenting. :bassist:
  3. Low-action and round-wound strings are critical for good MWAH. Flat wounds will give more of an "upright" sound which is also cool, however.

    I also find that lighter gauge strings give a better trombone-like tone that heavier gauge on fretless
  4. burk48237

    burk48237 Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2004
    Oak Park, MI
    Use nickle roundwounds, stainless will chew your fingerboard to bits. I always run compression with frettless, seems to keep the bad notes from singing. Ditto on the low action, adds to the growl. Emphisize your low mids. I prefer coated fingerboards (Pedulla) I think there a little more versitile IMO. I'll occasional use Delay or Chorus , in fact in general I use effects much more with Frettless. Enjoy!!
  5. Your EQ settings: Same settings as with my fretted bass, the "frowning" boosted mids curve.

    String action: On the low side.

    How you attack: With the meat of the fingertips, to produce a nice organic-sounding note.

    Vibrato: Use upright-style vibrato (parallel to the strings). You achieve that by "rolling" your fingertip on the string, using your wrist as a pivot. For extreme effects, move your whole hand, with your elbow acting as the pivot.

    Never use guitar-style vibrato (perpendicular to the strings) on a fretless, unless you want to ruin your fingerboard prematurely.

    I prefer roundwound strings.
  6. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Low action, rounds, I play close to the neck (or right over the fingerboard) for the most mwah. I also get more mwah when I use a thicker area of my plucking fingers; using the meat of my fingertip rather than the tip and letting each pluck happen with a slow fluidity gives me the best results.

    EQ depends on the bass-I use to have to boost the treble on my Hill fretless some because it was so deep-sounding. The neck pickup tends to give a little more of the mellow tone for mwah than the bridge, which is more clear and punchy (unless you're going for that really bright mwah that Manring uses a lot), so I tend to keep my pickups either centered or use a little more neck pickup when I'm going for a more mwahful sound.
  7. pointbass

    pointbass Semi-Retired Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2004
    Acworth, GA
    Endorsing Artist: FBB Bass Works
    My whole goal with a fretless is to get a true old school, as close as possible to upright, sound as I can. For me, Labella flats are the perfect string (preferred over the little bit brighter TI flats) to get that sweet singing tone. String height at medium low, but not so low that you get too much slap on the fingerboard.

    Since I really only use the fretless for jazz gigs (usually backing up vocalists), I don't need big volume ... the flats are great for that. Big, fat B tone with a cool clean C as well. The pups are pretty much set even between the neck and bridge, and I find that playing nearer to the neck pup gives that beautiful tone I've been searching for. Well, that plus the incredibly warm, clean tone of the FBB with the Barts.

    This setup also records beautifully ... I've really been thrilled with this fretless 6 :hyper:
  8. Papersen

    Papersen Supporting Member

    Mar 22, 2002
    I`m on the same situation, so these tips are really helpful.
    I`m surprised to see that most of you agree on the same things (action, strings, plucking method)

    Thanks guys
  9. Redhotbassist


    Oct 19, 2002
    Wow, cheers for them! :)
  10. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    If you want a Jaco type tone, the bridge pickup and roundwound strings are a necessity. I prefer stainless steels for brightness, but nickels are a little kinder to the fingerboard. Very low action gives you the best tone.

    And 700 hz is your friend. That is the domain of mwaah. Boost a little here, and the result is tonal nirvana.
  11. Lonnybass


    Jul 19, 2000
    Minneapolis by way of Chicago
    Endorsing Artist: Pedulla Basses
    Jeff's right. Depending on the bass, a boost somewhere in the realm of 700 hz - 950 hz will do the trick nicely. Parametric EQs are good for dialling in the precise frequency you want to bring out for this. Don't forget to roll back treble and bass a bit too, to make those mids sing more.

    Also, you make get more mileage if you turn up a bit louder and play with a lighter touch - I find that it makes the strings sing more and bring out the nuances of your playing. Fretless can be a great nuance instrument!

  12. Why is the fretless tone known as 'mwah'? It isn't like a mwah, it's a more of a 'burp' to me.(at least my fretless jazz was).
  13. 'Mwah' is that kind of buzzing tone you hear when the string rattles slightly against the board.
  14. I've always called that 'buzzy fretless burpy fart' or something along those lines. I liked it, anyhow.
  15. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Yeah-it sounds like you're playing "mwah mwah mwah mwah mwaaaaaahh...". If you're hearing "burp," you're playing in a different fashion that's not as likely to get mwah (like bridge pickup solo'd, short sharp attacks, etc.)
  16. Josh Curry

    Josh Curry

    May 29, 2003
    Frisco, TX
    Wow, I didn't expect this many responses. I guess I should clarify, since there seems to be 2 schools of thought.

    1. Getting an upright sound
    2. Getting MWAH!

    I am going for the MWAH. Think Michael Manring, one of my original inspirations. I'm not doing anything that melodic or complicated, but I want to be able to get that tone. I would also like to be able to get a Jaco tone as well. Is it possible to get both by just changing EQ settings and maybe attack style?

    Here's some specifics on the bass.

    - Spector Euro-6 LX Fretless
    - DR Sunbeams (nickel rounds)
    - EMG 45-DC pups w/ Spector Tone Pump pre
    - Rosewood fingerboard (not coated)

    Let me re-iterate that I am not interested in making it sound like a URB. I'm getting a NS EU6 for that.
  17. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    Wow some great tips here, great job fretless guys!!! You're describing stuff that I do and don't even think about.

    I love having a fretless with two humbucking pickups. I'm not a big "mwah" guy, I like the electric fretless 'plunk' that Sting used to get with the Police. As such, I use flatwound strings and tend to favor the neck pickup.

    However, even on my bass with flats, if I favor the bridge pickup and move my plucking hand towards the neck, even over the neck, I can get a nice midrangy fretless singing tone. Not quite the roundwound "mwah", but a nice singing tone. It sounds extraordinary with chords, and my intonation with chords is actually not that terrible.

    BTW, If I were you I would change the pickup blend to favor the bridge pickup before I started making EQ setting changes. My bass has a passive EQ and I find that the change of pickups makes a very dramatic difference towards the midrangy mwah and it's more "natural" sounding than just boosting EQ would be. Low action is nice, I like relatively middlin' action on my basses, but lower action on the 6 string fretless helps a lot with chords.

    It may be worth a look in the "technique" and "setup" forums for more information, this subject spans basses, technique, and setup.

    BTW, Nice bass!!!!! :)
  18. Well, 'mwah' is much easier and shorter to say. :p
  19. mark beem

    mark beem Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 20, 2001
    New Hope, Alabama
    Shouldn't this be in the "Technique" forum??

  20. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    No, because he's asking for advice on setup and pickup selection/EQ as well as technique. The subject spans basses, technique, and setup, as well as even pickups if you will.