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Need to improve my fretless P-bas

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Skull3, Dec 7, 2004.

  1. Skull3


    Nov 3, 2002
    I recently removed the frets off on an old Fender P-bass. It sounded okay but not great.

    In trying to improve the sound I changed to DiMarco pickups. It sounded better but not great.

    I'm thinking about changing out the volume/tone control. Maybe putting an active preamp like the Aguilar OBP-3.

    Does anyone know how to configure this type of on-board preamp to get a good fretless tone. Or, are there any other suggestions I should try?
  2. bmc


    Nov 15, 2003
    I have a 75 fretless p-bass. I tried all kinds of strings and preamps in search of magic tone. The trick came when I mated the neck to a jazz body.
  3. What about the strings? Have you looked at changing the strings? SOOO much of your sound comes from the strings.

    If you're looking for a nice organic jazzy sound then go for TI Jazz flats. If you want a more MWAH then go for some DRHigh beams or something.

    I have a P-bass copy (fretted) with EMG active pups strung with GHS Boomer flats and it sounds very vintage. No growl...just a very nice "boom-ba-doom-ba-la-di-da"

    You'll never get much growl from a P (that's what they made jazzes for), but you CAN get great P from a P :p
  4. When you removed the frets, did you also fill and relevel the (now) fingerboard? Doing this procedure correctly has a large effect on tone. Besides, fretless tone comes from fretless basses - not preamps. Think of the best fretless tone ever - maybe Jaco's? He didn't use a preamp. He did have a stellar technician that did his setups and he also had a set of hands that were truly the work of God. Believe me, you will achieve more of your goal of a good fretless tone if you chase it through technique and good setup.

    For the "mwah" type of sound, you must have a perfectly flat fingerboard. It helps if it's hard like ebony or coated like Jaco's but it isn't necessary. The next thing is a very low action. The classic fretless sound is actually the strings burping against the fingerboard - not desirable on frets but it's the holy grail in fretless.
  5. JAL


    Dec 15, 2004
    Cleveland, Ohio
    For a fretless you want a flat action (I have a warwick fretless, tryin to adjust it right)? It wont hurt the neck?
  6. Here's my dilemma. I always hear about super-low action resulting in more "mwah" but I've found out otherwise. If my action is super-low, it's too low and the fingerboard stops the string dead. But when I raise it a little more I get the nice mwah buzz. I mean, upright bass has the ultimate "mwah" but the action is relatively high. Is it because I use flatwounds?
  7. JAL


    Dec 15, 2004
    Cleveland, Ohio
    Sorry; i meant flat neck relief. I heard somewhere (one of my fellow bassists...word of mouth)_ that having a flat fingerboard is bad for the bass. Well, kiss that myth goodbye. :)
  8. Well, can you tell me precisely where that "mwah" sound comes from then? Because if you don't have the strings coming in contact with the fretboard enough to cause the additional vibration, you just aren't going to get the tone. You're statement totally ignores the possibility that my idea of a "very low action" is probably something higher than an action that "stops the string dead". I wouldn't suggest that and you would be foolish to follow that suggestion. :rolleyes:
  9. Joe Smithberger

    Joe Smithberger Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    Canton, Ohio, USA
    The fretless sound is also in your hands. To maximize it with your setup, try plucking the string at the bottom end of the fingerboard. If your playing the D string, for example, set your fingertip lightly on the fingerboard between the G and D. Now pluck through the string till your finger rests on the fingerboard between the D and A. If you don't get that buzzing mwah sound, your setup will need adjusting. Generally, you will want a flatter neck (tighten truss rod) than you had when fretted, but don't overtighten. If the neck is pretty flat, you will raise or lower the saddles untill you get the right sound.

    Pino Palladino (sp?) plays a passive fretless P.
  10. Ergh? I thought he was famous for his (active) fretless sunburst Musicman Stingray. However, these days he plays more fretted bass and the (fretted) P-bass is part of his arsenal.
  11. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA

    Actually, the jazz DB guys who get that gritty growl, "mwah" or whatever you want to call it, play the strings really low. Usually in the 5-6 mm range at the edge of the fingerboard on the G string side and around 8 mm for the E. You can't make an orchestra bass zing like that for all of Solomon's gold.

    A setup like this on a DB is pretty amazing to play pizz, but you can't really bow a bass set up like that. In the DB world, a string height that low would be likened to the lowest you'd ever see on the electric bass guitar.

    Many of those guys also tend to play amplified with rope core strings and don't have to dig in much to get their sound. If you do dig in hard on a bass setup like that, you get a ton of buzzing. They tend to be very quiet unamplified. Especially if the bass is fairly heavy anyway.

    A DB has no truss rod, so the proper relief must be carved, scraped and otherwise sanded into the fingerboard. Getting the strings right down on the board is a difficult, (and expensive) endeavor. And because of the 41"+ mensure (scale) the vibration path of the string is stupid huge. You can literally watch the oscillation of the E string with the naked eye. Even though the action is higher, you are still getting the growl from the string rattling on the fingerboard just like with a fretless slab.

    Some of what you may be hearing and mistaking for mwah is a jazz DB player's tendency to play certain passages with the feel of glissando. If the player is good, it's just his style. If not, he's hunting notes :) !!

    As for mwah on the fretless BG, listen to Hambone. As usual, he's right on.
  12. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    Oh and another aside from some old guy who knows nothing:

    Your amp setup makes a huge difference as well. If you are scooping the guts out of your tone, you'll suffer for mwah.

    Gotta have the mids to make is zing!!