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Setting intonation on a fretless bass

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Geri O, Jan 11, 2014.

  1. Geri O

    Geri O

    Sep 6, 2013
    Florence, MS
    I know this has to be a silly question, but is there an official procedure for setting the intonation on a fretless bass?

    My fingertips are fairly wide, so it's hard to tell if it's in the spot it needs to be on the 12th position. Is it kinda a crapshoot, best-guess thing?

    I really don't have any reason to think I'm way off, but curious minds and all...

    Geri O
  2. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member

    There will be a bit of a fudge factor due to fingertips not being pointed in shape. I set the intonation by matching as best as possible/reasonable the 12th fret harmonic and the noted pitch when the string is pushed down. It is not hard to find the most "proper" place on the string for the harmonic, just listen for the clearest, loudest tone.
  3. If the neck is lined, use a small thin piece of metal like a paperclip to remove uncertainty about finger placement. Then, intonate as you would a fretted bass.
    (I don't own a fretless, this is a best guess/suggestion)
  4. Use a capo.
  5. joebar


    Jan 10, 2010
    if lined, I use a credit card and press down at the 12th fret line
  6. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Long-time FL player. In the lower positions, you can get away with centering the pad of your fingertip at the side dot (screw fingerboard lines because they generally force side dots into the realm of stupidity - off pitch; at "fretted locations" - great make me think 2x as much; how worthless is that?). But as you work your way up the neck, the ratio of your finger pad and the distance between proper pitch locations becomes very important.

    You can get away with a half-assed intonation setup on FL if you have great ears and can wing it on the fly. Been there; done that. But your best bet is to match the open string with the octave harmonic.
  7. walterw

    walterw Supportive Fender Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 20, 2009
    the octave harmonic matches the open string automatically no matter how you adjust, that's of no help.

    just dial the strings in so that stopping the 12th "fret" at the position marker normally, with your finger, is pretty much in tune; the rest is done by ear while playing.
  8. slareman


    Nov 7, 2007
  9. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Late night brain-dump error.
  10. seang15


    Aug 28, 2008
    Cary NC
  11. pfox14


    Dec 22, 2013
    Why would you need to set the intonation on a fretless?
  12. Lo-E


    Dec 19, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    Yep, this is what I've always done.

    Looking at slareman's link to Gary Willis' instructions, notice that he highlited the word YOU. Set the intonations to be correct where YOU like to place your fingers. It's very personal, and as Jeff Scott says, there's a fudge factor involved.

    Get it as close as you can, but don't lose sleep over it.
  13. Get a Godin -- no adjustments to the bridge at all. :)
  14. That's true re Godin!

    I use a tuner and play the octave note accurately according to the fret markers and adjust intonation till my tuner displays an accurate pitch. After all it is a bit dependent on your technique as to where you place you LH finger. Thus my octave intonation is accurate with my LH technique!

    Assuming you are RH'ed of course!
  15. JTE


    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    I used to use the credit card, but found (I've been playing fretless since '88) that just putting my fingers on the string gets the intonation much more consistent with how I actually play. And, pfox14, that's WHY you set the intonation. Of course you have to make small adjustments, but setting the intonation makes where the stops are much more consistent along the whole neck and across all the strings. That in turn allows one to play more consistently and require less small adjustment.

  16. On my lined fretless, I use a method á la Gary Willis (great link). For my unlined 5er I check 12th position dot indication vs harmonic on the lowest string but higher strings will be adjusted until it "feels correct", in lack of a better term. Of course the end result is quite similar either way.
  17. Geri O

    Geri O

    Sep 6, 2013
    Florence, MS
    All of you responders, thank you so much! You've all contributed helpful ideas. I appreciate it. While I'm realizing that I'm on the right track, I learned several things, plus the link to the Gary Willis tutorial was awesome. Thank you for that.

    Being a former (and lately, possibly in present times, too) piano tuner, I'm pretty sensitive to the pitch, which is frustrating on one hand, but one the other hand, allows me to correct the pitch pretty quickly, an excercise that I've thoroughly enjoyed practicing. I just want to make sure all the reference possibilities were in place.

    Thanx again. I've seen (and admittedly been part of) some topics that deteriorated into unfortunate snarkfests. All of you guys were great.

    Geri O
  18. Dbassmon


    Oct 2, 2004
    Rutherford, NJ
    Finding the octave node will indicate where to place your finger on the what would be the 12th fret on a fretted instrument. When you finger the octave in that position, is the note sharp or flat? Sharp, saddle is too far forward, flat, too far back. Adjust until it is right. This is not exact as the slightest change in your hand posture will change the pitch but this will provide a way to intonate the instrument pretty closely and now you must use your ears.
  19. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member

    IS that when too many people get together and share their teeny clip-on tuners? :bag:
  20. Geri O

    Geri O

    Sep 6, 2013
    Florence, MS
    +1!! :D