NBD! SX 5-string fretless J. My first fretless. Have some questions.

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by ninjaaron, Jan 28, 2015.

  1. ninjaaron


    Sep 26, 2014
    aka: SX Ursa 2 MN 5 CAR FL, whatever that means.


    Also, not really NBD. Came on Friday, but I had a problem with a saddle. was going to return and replace it. Kurt had the bright idea of just sending a new saddle, so now I'm keeping it.

    Fretless questions:

    I am not a flats guy. I want to use rounds. Will that damage the fingerboard? If so, which flats (or ground?) should I be looking at? I feel like I could be getting a more defined sound with different strings. These almost sound like and upright -- not that I have anything against upright, but it's not what I'm looking for.

    Also. the low B has a really... "thud" kind of sound. It has enough output on the attack, but no definition or sustain like the other strings. I'm wondering what the solution to this is, if it is not related to the strings themselves (which I think it is). It's 34" scale, but my other 5 is also 34", and the B on that one sounds great.

    Finally (as mentioned in the mini review below), the action at the nut is too high, and it is difficult to finger the first semi-tone. I'm sure it compromises the intonation as well. I'm under the impression it should be just a hair above the fingerboard on a fretless (from my experience with cello and violin). I'm thinking about popping the nut out and filing it down from the bottom, but not sure if this is a bad idea. The local guitar store also does nut work, and at a good price, so should I just take it to them and have them do it the normal way? The don't sell fretless basses, and I don't know if they know any more about cutting nuts for those than I do, but they do have the right tools for it.

    First impressions review:

    I don't love J tone to begin with (went that way for the extra string). That scooped thing of both on full is not my thing, and if you go just bridge, I feel like it lacks a lot of low end. If you go all neck (my preference), it's alright, but not quite as aggressive as I like. This goes for all the Js I've tried, not only this one (though my experience in that realm is limited). I can EQ it to get a usable sound, but not my first choice. I'd say the pickups are pretty standard fare for ceramic J pickups. Nothing real bad to report. They are singles and they hum, but that's the game.

    So I added series switch (aka: S1 switch). Blew my freaking face off. Love it now. It's got the power of the a P, if not more, but it's a little less on the top end clarity and a little more in the upper mids. There are two ways to describe it: a) sounds like a humbucker that has qualities both of bridge and neck placement (which is exactly what it is), or, it sounds like a super fat J that will make a place in the mix similar to a P. And hum canceling. Nice perk there. Pretty sure this will be my go-to setting.

    Also, I think the nut is the same they put on a fretted bass; i.e. action is way too high at the nut for a fretless. With a fiver, you can always just play further up the neck, but definitely going to pull that sucker out and file it down one of these days.

    This bass is sparkley. Too sparkley. Much sparklier than you can see in the pictures on the website or the pictures I've taken. It's almost a sparkle finish, maybe. I would prefer something flatter, but for 150 bones, I'm not going to be picky about colors. It's almost girlie, but fortunately, I'm extremely virile.

    overall, I dig it. Great way to test the fretless waters at a bargain price, and sounds great in series to boot! I will gig with it for sure.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2015
    God's Favorite Bass likes this.
  2. bassbenj


    Aug 11, 2009
    Nice new bass day. Hint # 1. DO NOT judge this bass until you put new strings on it. Trust me. The deal with fretless is that rounds will chew the neck especially yours. You can do that if you really dig the rounds sound, but you have to be aware that means a periodic planing of the fingerboard. My standard string is GHS gound wounds. (they call them Brite flats) This is as bright as you can go without chewing fingerboard. DiAddario makes them too. Also good are GHS flats. Sometimes those can be great too, especially for an old school sound. Not your grandfathers flats! They do have some upper end to them. I"ve also tried GHS pressure wounds. They chew less than rounds but still chew some. I hate the tone of them though even though they are brighter than grounds.

    Things to think about doing.

    1. copper foil shielding
    2. New string trees (Stewmac roller, maybe Hipshot, I like the bar across all strings type too.)
    3. rewire electronics to taste (include series) My usual SX mod is a rotary switch that goes: Neck only, Both series, both parallel, bridge only and mute.
    4. New lubed graphtech nut. (makes tuning SMOOTH). SX nut is cheapo plastic and they tend to crack as well as stick. Usually Graphtech has a precut one that fits SX and you only need to sand the bottom and sides a bit to make it fit and adjust it.
    5. New $20 bridge I prefer MM bridges (excellent but won't work with ashtrays) Cheap SX bridges work, but sometimes you have to pry on saddles.
    (well OK, price is higher now, but they are excellent for SX.)

    Note my first fretless was a $100 SX 5er in alder with rosewood fingerboard. Cripes! I STILL love the tone of that bass!

    Yep, SX IS the way to try new stuff like fretless. And if it should not be you, you can still sell it and get the fretless lessons just about for only your time.

    Good luck!
    ninjaaron likes this.
  3. Ken J

    Ken J Hartford Hot Several Brass Band

    Aug 19, 2011
    Middlefield, CT
    Nice bass
    I see your getting some help here.
    I also followed some of your posts in the past so don’t take it the wrong way if I say you’re some what new at this.
    Rondo sells one of the best budget basses out there but you get what you pay for. Just about every body replaces the strings and performs or has someone perform a proper set up first thing.
    I would add that you should have the tech replace the nut. You are right on the height with a fretless. You can go as low as you can go off the nut. But be careful this is related to the relief further down the neck and could cause fret board buzz. I prefer as close to “0” as I can go. Set your self up with strings first. The tech will need to know the gauge of the strings.
    As for strings, I see you don’t like flats. I’m a flat fan but did not like them on my fretted basses so I tried “ground wounds” and they worked great on my fretted Dyna and still left me with that smooth feeling and maintained that bright sound. They are also very forgiving on a fretless board. Start a discussion under the forum strings and you will get some good advice. There are string distributors that are members here on TB.
    As far as that muddy “B” string that’s something I and other TBers found out with some of Kurt’s basses. New strings will help but it’s also the pickups. I replace the stock pickups with a set of reclaimed American made Fender pickups for $40 (here on TB) and boom there it was a clean and sustained boom. The distance from the pick up to the string also affects the performance.
    Replacing the electronics is easy as long as you know what you’re doing with the soldering iron. Pay attention to the distance from the pickups and the strings if you replace them.
    If you have any other questions just holler out.
    Good luck.
    ninjaaron likes this.
  4. dabbler


    Aug 17, 2007
    Bowie, MD
    Congrats! From your color comments, I guess you are not a big CAR fan... I am.

    Bassbenj gave you pretty much everything you need to know. But I'll give my $0.02 anyway:

    1. Yes, filing the bottom of the nut will help.
    2. I too do a series/parallel mod on my Js, but I also love J tone. You don't have to go all neck or all bridge (though it appears that this is what Bassbenj does, I didn't know that before reading his post here). I like the VVt setup and my favorite tone is neck full on, bridge slightly rolled off, tone set to taste.
    3. I like upright tone and flats, so I have no string reccos, that would likely be what you want, nor do I do rounds on my fretlesses, but, as Bassbenj said, on ANY SX a string change should be your first mod.
    ninjaaron likes this.
  5. MN maple neck
    CAR Candy Apple Red.
    5 (this is easy, come on!)
    FL Fret-Less
  6. ninjaaron


    Sep 26, 2014
    Alright. Phase 1 in progress. Bass is rewired, as mention in the original post. I filed down the nut to a hair's breadth above the fingerboard. I also smoothed out the slots with some fine-grit sand-paper. The were rough before but they're pretty good now, and I'm gonna lube it up with some pencil graphite. We'll see how that works for the time being.

    Got some GHS Brite Flats in the mail. About to reset the action, intonation and pickup height. Neck relief seems alright. Might add a touch more after I lower the saddles.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2015
  7. ninjaaron


    Sep 26, 2014
    Finished with the setup, and the post-setup 45min bedroom noodling session.

    It is amazing how much more favorably disposed I am to this bass now that it has good action everywhere. The ability to play with ease really makes all the difference in the world. Even makes a difference in tone, I think, when you're not fighting with the instrument.
  8. >It is amazing how much more favorably disposed I am to this bass now that it has good action everywhere.

    This is why people (not your case, for God's sake) should think twice and maybe three times before saying "yesterday I tried the XY bass at Guitar Center but I was so disappointed..."

    Setup is, say, 70 % of playability
    larrygs, bholder and ninjaaron like this.
  9. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    especially on a fretless
    bholder and ninjaaron like this.
  10. ninjaaron


    Sep 26, 2014
    Final SX Fretless update:

    Finally got my ground wounds in the mail today (GHS Brite Flats), and this bass is now kickin' it! You can get a decent slap sound on a fretless with these things! Not that I'll be doing that too much, but the bass sounds quite bright and lively now, like I like, and I'm finding I like the normal J sounds now in addition to the series sounds. The new strings really made all the difference.

    Low B is much better now. Had to raise the pickup a little on the bass side to get it to balance with the other strings, but it's good now. Not sure if I'll get new pickups or not. I'm really satisfied with the current sound, but probably one day. Aftermarket pickups are always an improvement on instruments like this.

    I'll be happy and proud to play this bass anywhere now, girly finish and ugly headstock notwithstanding. :D
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2015
  11. Try rounds, they damage the fingerboard a bit but in my opinion sound better. Worth the small marks on the fingerboard.
  12. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    I'm not a flats guy and rigged my FL with rounds. After a year or so, wear started showing on the end of the fretboard. I looked around a bit and bought tapewounds. Black Fenders. This did the trick for me. The sound is not as good as it was on rounds, but still better than on flats.
  13. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Rounds eat fretless fingerboards. I've never tried ground or pressure wound, though I intend to on a current project. Some folks just decide to live with it. Another option is to epoxy the face of the fingerboard - worked for Jaco, after all, and was actually an important part of his sound.
  14. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Glad the Brite Flats worked out, they're one of the top choices on my list, the other being pressurewound (I forget what brand at the moment).

    I will say, though - I absolutely love the sound of DR Hi Beams or Black Beauties on my 90's Carvin LB40.
    ninjaaron likes this.
  15. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    Vestal, NY
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    Oh, yeah, and that is one SXey lookin' SX. :D
    ninjaaron likes this.
  16. Dan_reeves


    Jun 14, 2013
    Sorry to bring up an old thread, but I am thinking of purchasing this very bass...

    I do not see any suggestions for pickup swaps above - I know I need to hear them first, but if I did want to swap them out are there drop in replacements? Or will routing need to happen? It looks like from the specs online the dimensions are closer to a typical 4 string pickup width, correct? Thanks!!!
  17. bassbenj


    Aug 11, 2009
    With Jazz pickups they seem to come in different sizes and sometimes bridge and neck pickups are different sizes and sometime they are the same size. I'm pretty sure you can find pickups SX size if you aren't to picky about make and model. Certain ones may take routing. Maybe someone else can say more.

    The reason is that everybody who thinks about getting an SX bass always decides the first thing to do is change the pickups. And Yeah, I thought that too just like everybody else. But the fact is that I have change exactly ZERO SX pickups from the factory ones. OK, I did have to mod a couple with magnets underneath to get the output up, but that was it. Fact is they are single coils and yes, they do pick up some single coil hum when soloed, they seem to sound good enough that nobody ever ends up changing them! Sure, I'd love it if single coil hum were gone, and I even have a set of Fender "noiseless" pickups from my Fender Jazz V I could put in the SX, but fact is I hated those pickups when they were on the Fender bass which is why I took them off. (Fender now has SCN pickups...but they are discontinued!) Bottom line here is that you should first TRY the SX as it is. Live with it for a while and then decide. If you want to fit something else go for it, and then you'll have the exact measurements in front of you. But if you are like most of us you may just leave it as is.
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