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New fretless has problems

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by frits51, Dec 29, 2012.

  1. frits51

    frits51 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2011
    Heath, Texas
    My first fretless, Yamaha RBX250F from Ebay, $150.

    I took it totally apart, got rid of 97% of the roundwound string rash on the fingerboard (almost said 'fretboard'). New Alpha 250K large diameter pots, Sprague 225P orange drop capacitor, 0.1uf, new jack, Babicz bridge, changed all hardware to black. Rotosound 88 nylon tape wound strings, .115 - .065.

    Neck is dead flat, action is low. Bass plays great but I have some sound problems.

    E, A and D have a nice growl while the G is just the way I wanted it - almost all fundamental, very little overtones. This with the tone knob fully low. I can't overstate the big difference in tone between G and the rest of the strings. So, I have a tone balance problem across the strings. Playing at the bridge, the neck or in between, the difference is constant.

    P-type pickup is adjusted 'normally'. Closer to A and D. Farther away from E and G.

    Pots are linear taper. Vol measures 218 ohms, tone 238 ohms. Coming off the low end, the tone varies over the first 35% of rotation, then doesn't change from there on. I basically have two tones to choose from. Almost like a switch.

    Last, but not least... ZERO Mwah!

    All playing so far has been with MB-115 amp EQ set flat, no GK 'boost'. In other words, amp is in neutral.

    I was looking for a poor man's approximation of URB which I got to my satisfaction on the G, but not E,A,D. Plus, no mwah.

    I'd love to hear some ideas!

  2. Stilettoprefer


    Nov 26, 2010
    Jack the action on the EAD strings up a little bit. That "growl" is probably string buzz against the fingerboard. Could also just be that the strings aren't broken in yet. To get my electric basses thumping correctly, the strings have to be on for about 3 weeks.

    You say that you got rid of the marks from the old strings, did you use a radiused sanding block to do this? Because you'll end up with low spots on the fingerboard if you didn't use a block. This causes buzz.

    Now "mwah" is technically just buzzing against the fingerboard. Achieved by playing harder or with really low action and an almost flat neck relief. Upright basses have high action and little to no buzz. Any mwah or buzz on those basses is from playing really hard or a weird setup.
  3. frits51

    frits51 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2011
    Heath, Texas
    Thanks for the quick reply!

    OK. Took the EAD strings up some. Tonal balance is WAY better. That was a good diagnosis.

    Yes, I used an 8" long radius block with 400 grit paper to tidy up the fingerboard, followed by 0000 steel wool and lemon oil per Rob Allen's FAQ.

    Being new to fretless, I thought mwah was achieved with flatwould strings and low action so... that's what I did. But that seems to have caused the tonal imbalance which is now fixed. I've gotten better mwah from my Lakland 55-02 fretted bass on the A string because the action was too low.

    So, mwah is more technique than setup?
  4. frits51

    frits51 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2011
    Heath, Texas
    Tone knob works better now, too.
  5. Maybe equal parts, at least for me. There are several threads on *mwah* but IME rounds, lowish action, mostly rear PU and boosted mid/low mids do it
  6. frits51

    frits51 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2011
    Heath, Texas
    So, mwah (rounds) and URB simulation (flats) are somewhat contradictory?
  7. Tommy el Gato

    Tommy el Gato

    Jul 6, 2007
    Somewhat contradictory, yes. Over on the Double Bass side of the forum, people commonly complain about that "big electric fretless" sound, where all you're hearing is a jaco-style growl, but there's this upper-midrange element that indicates a piezo pickup. The solution is usually to use darker strings and crank up the string heights. The same goes for electric bass: You want more growl? Use bright strings with low action.
  8. Somewhat(again, in my opinion/experience)- although I've heard people coax *mwah* from flat-strung basses, also a similar sound can come from a double bass, so for me it's not a severely black & white thing. Also, convincing DB simulation may be more technique than setup.

    Disclaimer: Everything I say from here on in will be IME/O. :)
  9. Slowgypsy

    Slowgypsy 4 Fretless Strings

    Dec 12, 2006
    NY & MA
    Mwah and upright bass thump are such different sounds... I'm baffled that you might be trying to achieve both at the same time. Or have I read this wrong?
  10. frits51

    frits51 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2011
    Heath, Texas

    Yes, I was trying to achieve both. But input on this thread has caused me to alter my expectations.

    I'm new to fretless and I thought you could get both from the same instrument. In the absence of mwah, I'm having fun with the URB thump.

    I never should have visited Rob Allen's website and listened to the clips. My project falls far short, which means it matches my bank account.
  11. frits51

    frits51 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2011
    Heath, Texas
    Also, my tone control is not 'fixed' after all. Still basically two tones, no gradual scale of change. Using a linear 250K pot with .1uf Sprague orange drop.

    The G string is still in another tone zone than EAD. Stilettoprefer's suggestion of raising the action helped a lot, but there is still a distinct difference. G = almost all fundamental, EAD = plenty of overtones.
  12. Tommy el Gato

    Tommy el Gato

    Jul 6, 2007
    You should be able to split the difference between the thump/fundamental of a dark URB sound and still have some growl. My trick to it is using bright flatwounds (rotos, chromes, Fender flats) on a hard fingerboard (in my case, epoxy coated rosewood). Only thing is, that sound is going to be tighter and more precise, but not as warm and airy as the actual upright bass. In fact, the sound reminds me of Geddy Lee on Hemispheres or 2112, but with the growl in my bass taking on the character of Geddy's slightly distorted tube rig.

    A lot of today's modern upright players are also splitting the difference between old-school thump and the "big fretless electric" sound. You'll notice that players like Dave Holland or Larry Grenadier both have growl in their sounds, but in order to play strait-8ths, funk/rock inspired stuff, there needs to be a lot of punch and fundamental. Granted, Dave's and Larry's solutions are very different, but very effective, so I suspect your way around this on fretless electric may also be different from my own.

    I also just want to note that some strings take a while to break in and will sound uneven as they do so, which may be the problem with your G imbalance. With my current set of Fender flats, the E sounded weak and the A didn't growl at all, but it all came to life and evened out after the strings were on for a couple of weeks.
  13. seang15


    Aug 28, 2008
    Cary NC
    Mwah is result of low action, just don't have low action if you don't want it.

    Flats and a piece of foam for a mute, placed near bridge. Also practice some palm muting.

    A piezo pickup might do it, too.

    In short, I tried for some years to get an URB bass tone. I finally nailed it two years ago. That's when I purchased an URB.

    Best of luck!
  14. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    You won't get any growl or mwah from the Roto TruBass 88s. If you like tapes, try the Fender tapewounds. They really grind nicely. Plenty of big round low end along with good mids and a decent amount of high end.

    Otherwise, you can try a brighter flat such as D'A Chromes, such as Tommy posted. But in the long run, mwah on a fretless is very little like the woody growl you get from double bass. SO, some experimentation is in order. It can get expensive.
  15. frits51

    frits51 Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2011
    Heath, Texas
    Wow. Lots of great info.

    Thanks everybody. After I get my expectations in line, I'll see about the bass.