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That fretless sound

Discussion in 'Ask Michael Dimin' started by moley, Sep 10, 2002.

  1. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    I've been playing bass for about four and half years now, and I've recently bought a fretless. I've been listening to some of Jaco's recordings (Weather Reoprt as well as solo)... how do you get that really full and big sound - particularly on the high notes (e.g. A Remark You Made) - is it just technique or heavier gauge strings or what?
  2. i think a lot of jaco's sound was down to his gear, fretless J-bass, accoustic 360 with a twin 15" cab i think.
    Also, on a lot of weather reports stuff, i think joe zawinul doubled jaco's parts with a keyboard contrabass thing, giving it a fatter sound (teen town)

  3. neptoon

    neptoon Supporting Member

    Jul 25, 2000
    Melbourne, FL
    didn't he use a hartke 8x10 as well?
  4. i think that was later in his life, when he also started messing with 5 strings and stuff (he did, i have pics)

    i could be wrong though ;)

  5. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999
    When playing fretless, so much of your sound is dependent on your fingers. The way you pluck each note, the pressure exerted by the fretting hand, the vibrato in the left hand, etc. The potential is for a much more musical (lyrical) sound.

    You really need to do quite a bit of experimenting to find the right combination of attack, vibrato, etc to make the right sound for you. Personally, I use a very light touch on both hands with a medium amount of vibrato. The sound on the fretless seems to grow after the attack (much different then the frertted). I try to let each note on the fretless blossom.

    Take the time to learn the intricacies of your fretless.

  6. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    I have to agree with Mike on touch. Touch is important on a fretted bass, but touch is even more important on a fretless. I find that I get the best tone on my fretless, when I pluck on the bottom part of my finger pads. While I have tenacy to dig in on my fretted bass to pull out some extra growl/expression, I always play fretless with a very light touch.

    Strings are very integral also to your sound IMO. (On a fretted or a fretless). I prefer the brightness of roundwounds over flats. I used rounds on my fretless for years. Unfortunatley, while the rounds had the bright characteristic that I like, they always sounded sort of thin to me and sometimes too metallic. So I went and tried a set of Fender Nylon Filament strings. Finally, after years of searcher, I got the fretless tone that I was searching for. I had brightness, but the sound was full and fat.

    Action's also important. The lower the action you have, the more mwah you will get. If you have an unlined fretless, I suggest taking it to a tech to have it set, cause if you lower the action to much, you might have to have the intonation set. It's a mofo trying to set the intontation on an unlined fretless, as I learned one fateful day. ;)
  7. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    You said a mouthful in that one simple statement, Mike:)

    IME amplification rarely has anything to do with getting a good basic fretless sound. It becomes pretty obvious when you pass a decent fretless around and listen to the results different people get with the same bass in the same setting. Pretty eye-opening.

    You have to experiment with the things you mentioned, where you play on the bass, how you play... something as simple as which part of your fingers you pluck with can produce amazing results or the amount of pressure you fret with. The cool thing is, after you get some of this down, you can sound great even on a $250 fretless.
  8. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    Continuing the theme...

    I don't like playing other fretless basses. I like mine.
  9. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Actually, I would like to get a bit more 'mwah' as you put it. For some reason the mwah is good on the D-string, but not so good on the other strings - the G-string is particularly mwah-less. So lowering the action is the way to do this? My fretless is unlined as it happens. Do you not think it's worth trying to set the intonation myself if it needs to be re-set?
  10. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999
    You should definitely set the intonation your self (not that it matters too much). More important is "setting" the intonation with every note you play (by ear). Mwah can also be achieved by string choice. I've never had any qualms about using round wounds on my fretless - now there's some mwah!

  11. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    I've heard that roundwounds chew up the fretboard on a fretless, unless you get the fretboard treated... is that true? Finding the best strings to give me the sound I'm looking for is something I need to do, can you advise me at all on what kind of string, and what sort of string gauges I might need to achieve this? Any advice would be helpful, because as you know, bass strings can be expensive, and I can't afford to buy a lot of sets of strings at this point! Thanks,

  12. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    This is kind of funny or ironic in a way, as Jaco is famous for saying that his "sound" was in his hands and he goes to great lengths in his instructional video to get this point across.

    I agree with what Brad and Mike have said about "touch" on fretless and this is one of the things that made Jaco such a great player - a lot of people pick up on his fast playing, but his touch on fretless makes every note sound great - I like his sound on Joni Mitchell's albums and you can really hear the wonderful tone without the distractions of Joe Zawinul's complex synth productions . So - often it is just Joni on vocals and guitar plus Jaco and minimal percussion - but the big fretless sound is still there - even more evident if anything.
  13. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Thanks Bruce, I've got some of Joni's earlier albums, before Jaco, and they're very good so I guess I'd better get the ones Jaco played on. Do you think Jaco's instructional video is worth getting? I agree, what's great about Jaco was not just his lightning fast playing (though, how he plays teen town so fast yet so cleanly is beyond me! I'm still working on that one at half speed), he also got a really big sound, even high up on the top strings (e.g. A Remark You Made) and every note just sounds great!


    *wonders if Bruce is a Steely Dan fan, from his signiature*
  14. Jim Dombrowski

    Jim Dombrowski Supporting Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    Colorado Springs, CO
    It seems to me that a major part of Jaco's "big" sound came from playing at very high volume in the studio. You can really hear this on Joni Mitchell's "Mingus" album.

  15. ok, couple of things
    regarding strings - i use Rotosound black nylon wound strings on my fretless, gives me a really mellow, almost upright like sound. Rounds do grind up the fretboard, regardless of how u treat it (just depends on how long it takes) Jaco use to practise on his fretted and save his fretless's board for gigs and recording.

    Regarding a Remark U Made - Jaco uses a few chords, especially near the end, and chords on fretless sound huge!

  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well technically they're double-stops, rather than chords - but that's another debate!! ;)

    If I play those on my Electric Upright - they sound even "huger"!! :D
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    NOT according to the man himself!!

    So here is an extract from a 1978 BBC Interview with Clive Williamson, that is posted on


    "Do you get that incredible singing bass sound on an ordinary guitar, or are there some special effects that you use?

    I don't use anything special... I've actually got less on it! I have a fretless bass, so it's virtually like I'm playing a wood bass. In other words, the strings go into the wood on the neck and then, being that it's a bass guitar, it gets that bright, direct sound. So I'm the first guy to be using a fretless, is actually what it boils down to, and then more, because I'm the first to really get down and play it, because other guys cannot play it in tune, y'know? I've been playing the bass guitar for almost 12 years, and I've been playing fretless for about nine, so I've got quite a bit of mileage in my hands already. I play in tune like a cello player, and use legitimate vibrato. There are no tricks... it's just all in the hands! I just have a standard 1962, I think it is, Fender Jazz bass, that I took the frets out of.

    What amplifier do you use with that?

    In the studio I don't use an amp, I just go direct, right into the desk. It's virtually acoustic is what I'm doing, you see? And then on stage I use an old Acoustic 360 - two of those amps, actually, and you get into all sorts of fun! It's a whole different thing on stage... (laughs) Are you comin' to the show tonight? (smiles) You should really come along, because it's some other stuff completely (laughs). This is some real fun!"
  18. near the end during joe's solo, he starts by playing mostly root & octave, but then he starts adding in the 10th as well.

  19. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well, I still hear them as double stops, but you can porbably play this particular bit lots of ways - I can hear Wayne Shorter coming in with notes at this point as well - but the question is more about the sound I suppose and Jaco is telling us that it comes from his touch and his cello-like technique - legitimate vibrato etc.
  20. Mike Dimin

    Mike Dimin

    Dec 11, 1999
    The sound starts in your heart and your soul. It gets translated by the brain and implemented by the hands.

    To create the sound that you want you must be able to hear it, to feel it, to sing it.

    Who cares if the strings rip up the fretboard. If you need to do it to get the sound that you need, then do it. The bass is just a tool, nothing more!