Upgrading pickups vs upgrading preamp... or both!?

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Eric Aquilina, Nov 3, 2021.

  1. Eric Aquilina

    Eric Aquilina

    Oct 17, 2021
    Buffalo, NY
    I have an ESP LTD B-205 bass guitar that I have recently converted to a fretless, which is pretty sweet but I cant get any tone I desire from this bass. Compared to some spectors I own, or those Ibanez fretless basses I listen to online, the LTD just lacks in all forms of tone. It has no growl or projection from the bass, the tone is very dull and flavorless.

    Now would it be worth it to buy an upgrade for pickups, or an upgrade for the preamp? Or would it just be more worth it to get a good sounding fretless bass instead? I'm not looking to spend too much money on upgrades, so whatever gets me there or improves the tone the most, while being the most affordable option will be my best pick.

    The current electronics according to the ESP website:
    NECK PU - ESP Designed SB-5N
    BRIDGE PU - ESP Designed SB-5B
    ELECTRONICS - Passive P.U. w/ Active EQ
    ELECTRONICS LAYOUT - Vol/Bal/ABQ-3 3-Band EQ

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.
     
  2. dwizum

    dwizum

    Dec 21, 2018
    My gut reaction in a situation like this, having no personal experience with the setup in your bass, and trying to do things in an order of operations based on least cost combined with greatest impact, would be to try the current pickups passive. If you really like them, either leave them passive or add an EQ you like. If you don't like them passive, replace the pickups with something you know you like (or at least something you like the sound of in online sound clips or videos) and try the new ones both passive and with the stock EQ. Still no luck, then replace the EQ.
     
  3. ctmullins

    ctmullins Dominated Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    IMO, the pickups provide the basic tone, and the preamp shapes that tone. So if you don’t like the basic tone, a pickup swap is my advice.

    However, first try bypassing the pickups, preferably straight to the jack. Sometimes a crappy preamp can make good pickups sound crappy. Eliminate the preamp temporarily, so that you can get an objective idea of the pickups’ inherent tone.

    Edit: @dwizum always comes through, and types faster too! :roflmao:
     
  4. dwizum

    dwizum

    Dec 21, 2018
    Surprised I beat you considering I'm chicken pecking on a phone keyboard!
     
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  5. Snaxster

    Snaxster

    Nov 29, 2008
    Hello Eric. If that is true when the bass is not plugged in, then that is the natural sound of the bass and new electronics will not help it much and/or likely will not be worth investing in.

    You can test this by playing it not plugged in, first positioned as you normally would be, then with you ear touching the upper horn of the body (not pressed so hard as to dampen harmonics, though).

    If what you hear in that test is consistent with the amplified sound (I am assuming that's what you described), then that is the natural sound of that bass.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2021
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  6. Eric Aquilina

    Eric Aquilina

    Oct 17, 2021
    Buffalo, NY
    How exactly do you bypass the pickups?
     
  7. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    I assume you've already thought of this, but just in case: What about strings?
     
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  8. Eric Aquilina

    Eric Aquilina

    Oct 17, 2021
    Buffalo, NY
    This is true, it doesn't naturally sound very good at all. Not to mention the feel of the bass too is lacking compared to my spector 5 string for comparison. I didn't really realize the natural sound actually had as much to do as the electronics. Thanks for the responses!
     
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  9. Eric Aquilina

    Eric Aquilina

    Oct 17, 2021
    Buffalo, NY
    I have been only using the stock strings, but they are very similar to other strings I use that sounded much better for other instruments
     
  10. SteveCS

    SteveCS

    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    Do any of these deficiencies manifest when NOT plugged in?
     
  11. SteveCS

    SteveCS

    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    THIS ^^

    (@Snaxster - you beat me to it!)
     
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  12. Eric Aquilina

    Eric Aquilina

    Oct 17, 2021
    Buffalo, NY
    Ha! yes, the bass doesn't really impress tone wise unplugged either
     
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  13. SteveCS

    SteveCS

    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    What, if any, dressing processes were used on the fingerboard? Was it properly levelled and trued? Does it have the right grade of finish to work well as fretless? For example, if it is rosewood, is the grain especially open and grainy (not so good) or smooth and tight?
     
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  14. Eric Aquilina

    Eric Aquilina

    Oct 17, 2021
    Buffalo, NY
    So I was very new to this process, it was like the first DIY luthier job I have done. I used Cyanoacrylate glue as the finish on the neck after I sanded it. I don't know how open the grain is, but all I know is that the fretboard is made out of Roasted Jatoba, according to the website.
     
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  15. Eric Aquilina

    Eric Aquilina

    Oct 17, 2021
    Buffalo, NY
    If this helps at all, I didn't find the bass sounding good BEFORE the fretless conversion either
     
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  16. ctmullins

    ctmullins Dominated Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 18, 2008
    MS Gulf Coast
    I'm highly opinionated and extremely self-assured
    Oops, that’s awkward wording. What I meant was bypass the preamp, and preferably any other components, sending the pickup outputs straight to the output jack.
     
  17. themickster

    themickster

    Oct 4, 2015
    England
    Look up basses on YouTube and listen for any you like the sound of. Get one of those or its pickups.
     
  18. newwavefrank

    newwavefrank Gold Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2009
    Salt lake City, UT
    my experience with fretless basses has been that it either works or it doesnt. I have tried many fretless basses that left me feeling blah. I never tried modding them though, but my gut feeling is that it won't get you what you want. I would just look for something else personally. Oh as far as strings just make sure they are nickel not stainless. I love stainless on all my fretted basses, but they sound HORRIBLE on fretless.
     
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  19. SteveCS

    SteveCS

    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    If it sounds poor unplugged then it is unlikely to sound amazing through an amp. I would recommend spending a little time trying to improve the acoustic properties;
    • General maintenance: make sure all nuts, bolts and screws are tight and nothing is loose or resonating;
    • strings: check for twists and set witness points;
    • Bridge: check the break angles - if necessary shim the neck to create break more angle at the saddle - remember you've dropped the saddles a fair way just to compensate for the missing frets;
    • Relief and Action: some fretless basses tend to do better with minimal relief and ultra-low action and some seem to need deeper relief and higher action to generate a decent tone, but it really is a matter of whatever best fits your technique.
    How far this gets you is anyones guess, but you will know in short order what the future holds for the instrument, and I tend to agree with this...

     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2021
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  20. Ampslut

    Ampslut

    May 15, 2017
    Barrackville WV
    Has the neck been epoxied? I not I would have that done regardless of what you do with the pickups.