What is "mwah", anyway? And how do you get it?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Eli M., Sep 15, 2004.

  1. Eli M.

    Eli M. Life's like a movie, write your own ending

    Jul 24, 2004
    New York, NY
    Since the first time I ever heard a fretless, and the first time I ever heard the term "mwah" to describe it, I have had an idea in my head of what "mwah" refers to. However this seems to mean something different for different people.

    I read a post here where someone said that mwah is cause by the strings slightly vibrating against the fretboard. This makes no sense to me at all based on my experience. I have played several fretless basses and all of them were set up with action high enough not to buzz at all, but they all mwah'd just fine (in fact, I've notice that higher action creates more mwah). Furthermore, I have always felt that any sort of buzzing sounds kind of crappy to me.

    My ideal mwah has always been the sound of Bakithi Kumalo's bass on Paul Simon's Graceland Album. The songs that best illustrate this are "The Boy In The Bubble", "Graceland", and "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes." Listen to those songs and you'll get an idea of the sound I look for in a fretless.

    There is also the possibility that mwah is created by the player's technique. I've noticed that I even get a little mwah on my fretted bass if I play close enough to the bridge, pluck hard enough, and use a bit of vibrato (this actually only happens on the D and G strings). It might also be the pickups - I tend to get this sound using the bridge pickup, never the neck pickup. From my experience it could also be the strings - when I use flatwounds I get a sound closer to that of a fretless.

    So, what does mwah mean to you? Is it the same as my concept of mwah? And how do you achieve it? Is it due to the woods, pickups, strings, action, or something else, or a combination of factors? And how much do you think technique has to do with it?

    I don't know how much of it has to do with wood - I'm going to be ordering a Nordstrand NJ with an ebony fingerboard, but I need input on my choice of body wood (ash, alder, or mahogany). Does wood have anything at all to do with mwah, and how much?

    (and as a side note, I've always thought is was more "mwow" then "mwah".)
  2. MichaelScott


    Jul 27, 2004
    Moorpark CA
  3. Vic

    Vic There's more music in the nuance than the notes. Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Central Illinois
    Staff, Bass Gear Magazine
    Actually, you're totally right... the poster you cited just wasn't telling the whole story.

    To explain...

    When a string vibrates, it vibrates in smaller circles around a larger circle. Therefore, if you pluck the string just right, it doesn't really matter if it's fretless or fretted (as you point out)... you can actually get a lot of "mwah" that way. It's one of my favorite tricks on fretted basses when playing jazz... trying to somewhat emulate an upright sound.

    However, the part that IS limited to a fretless is this...

    Since the string is not lifted from the fingerboard like in the case of the fretted, and especially if you have the action set pretty low, like most fretless players do, this is really accentuated by the fact that the string brushes against the fingerboard in its concentric circles as it rotates around at the "fretted" end (so to speak), which is where you get the extra "blossoming" effect. Again, you can really emphasize this with the technique above, too... I do it by literally playing it like an upright by getting up on the fingerboard and sorta' "pinching" the strings against it instead of "plucking" the strings like I normally do. Makes the strings rotated in a bigger circle to and starts the rotation in a great spot to emphasize the "mwah".

    "Mwah" is also significantly affected by the resonance of the instrument and especially the neck, too, since direct fingerboard contact is made.

    If I've left anything out, I welcome info.
  4. j-bass


    Feb 5, 2004
    just got my 1st fretless and learning diamonds as we speak

  5. Vic

    Vic There's more music in the nuance than the notes. Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Central Illinois
    Staff, Bass Gear Magazine
    Depends on yer technique and what you're going for. It can be either. :)
  6. Eli M.

    Eli M. Life's like a movie, write your own ending

    Jul 24, 2004
    New York, NY
    I'm so envious! I wish I had a fretless right now!

    And thanks everyone for the information - I knew it had to be more technique-related than people normally say it is.

    On Paul Simon's Concert in the Park, the bass player (not Bakithi Kumalo) plays "Diamonds" on a fretted bass. It sounds so dead.
    It also made me cringe when this bassist tried to play "The Boy In The Bubble" on the fretted bass.
  7. Vic

    Vic There's more music in the nuance than the notes. Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Central Illinois
    Staff, Bass Gear Magazine
    When you do, make sure you play a bunch of them before selecting. Personally, I think it's a lot harder to make a great fretless than a great fretted. I think you should be prepared to spend a little more to get one that really "sings" the way one should. I have a Zon, and it's absolutely magical. Now I just have to aspire to do it justice. :)
  8. Lync

    Lync Supporting Member

    Apr 13, 2004
    Try playing up close to the neck. You'll get plenty of mwah. You may have to pluck or pick the notes differently as to not create string buzz.

  9. BassDmb18


    Dec 28, 2002
    Davie, FL
    That tone in the Paul Simon tunes sounds just like the Tone I get from my new Kingston Fretless. :hyper:

  10. Sorry, I'm going to have to disagree with you hear. It's really quite the opposite. If a fretless bass has high action it will have less "mwah" and more of a round thump sound with less sustain, (more like a typical upright). to get the most mwah out of your bass, you need to lower the action as much as you can without the strings buzzing. Some people lower the strings even more so they do get a little buzz. They also get even more mwah. Have You ever listened to Michael Manring? His action is just about as low as it gets. His strings literally vibarate against the fingerboard. His bass probably sounds bad unplugged because of this, but with an amp he gets a great tone with tons of mwah. (He most likely lowers his action so much because of all the tapping he does).
  11. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    This has been my experience too. High action = thump, low action = mwaahh.
  12. Vic

    Vic There's more music in the nuance than the notes. Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Central Illinois
    Staff, Bass Gear Magazine

    A big part of the mwah comes from NOT lifting the string off the fingerboard (like a fret does) and letting it interact with the fingerboard more... if you raise the action, you're going the wrong way. IMHO.
  13. Lonnybass


    Jul 19, 2000
    Minneapolis by way of Chicago
    Endorsing Artist: Pedulla Basses
    Want some mwah fast? Try this easy recipe...

    Boost your mids way up. If you have a parametric or a graphic EQ, boost around 800/950 hz

    Cut your lows way down.

    Cut your highs way down.


  14. alansan


    Mar 12, 2004
    Dublin, Ireland
    Listen to Jaco on ‘Continuum’ from his self-titled first album. He’s mwaahing all over the place. I still find it hard to believe he got that sound from a passive Fender and a pedal or two...
  15. metron

    metron Fluffy does not agree

    Sep 12, 2003
    Lakewood Colorado
    I dont believe any pedals were used on Continuum. Im pretty sure its just an overdubbed line.

    I also agree that low action = more mwah. It comes mostly from learning to control the attack of the note. Plucking near the end of the neck helps a lot.
  16. Someone was jealous that they didn't have a Fretless.

    Check out this Brice (SX) 5 string fretless with bonafide quilted maple top for only $149 + shipping


    I put the SX in there because it's sold by Rondo Music - which sells the SX (Essex) bass guitars almost universally praised by others on this forum.

    I'm buying my first bass and it's so tempting to buy this for the time when I eventually will be able to play fretless.

  17. Matt Ides

    Matt Ides

    May 12, 2004
    Minneapolis, MN
    + 1
  18. Eli M.

    Eli M. Life's like a movie, write your own ending

    Jul 24, 2004
    New York, NY
    I have also heard that roundwound strings will give you more mwah. I don't know whether to believe this, because I understand you're not supposed to use flatwounds as they will eat up the fingerboard. Also, fretlesses I've played have been strung with roundwounds and none of them mwah'd that well (MIA Jazz, Stingray, Warwick Corvette, Pensa J-4L). I would be inclined to think that flatwounds will give me more mwah, since that has been my experience on my fretted Jazz.
  19. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    While there are great flatwounds out there, generally roundwounds will give you much better mwah. The majority of well-known "mwahful" fretless players use roundwounds. They will eat up your fretboard a little faster, but if you play with low action and a fairly light touch with your fretting hand, you shouldn't get much wear at all.
  20. Vic

    Vic There's more music in the nuance than the notes. Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Central Illinois
    Staff, Bass Gear Magazine

    I can guarantee you from personal experience (20+ years playing electric fretless off and on... MANY brands) Bryan is 100% right.