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Why do so many people seem to think that Fretless tone is in the fingers?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Kwesi, Nov 3, 2010.

  1. The fretted version of this topic has been beat to death and then some but I think that, specifically related to fretless, it can take a few more licks ;).

    I've owned three fretless basses; a Squier, a Schack, and a Clement. The Squier may as well have been fretted because the only difference between it and a fretted bass was the lack of fretbuzz. The Schack was a fantastic bass, easily distinguishable as a fretless bass by tone alone. Of course, I'm talking about the mwah-factor. The Schack had it. And now I have my Clement. I poke the thing and it WAILS (in the best way possible :D).

    I don't really see how one person would get more out of a fretless bass than another person would. To me it seems far more up to the bass. I have a friend whose been playing bass about as long as I have but we have very different styles of playing. I remember way back when, handing him the Squier and he got pretty much the same not-so-fretless fretless bass tone that I did. About a week ago he comes over and I hand him the Clement. This is 4 years after the Squier and he's played very few fretless basses in-between. He pokes it and the thing wails, lol. Essentially, a fretless newbie picked it up and it still sounded great (not talking about the playing, just the tone).

    Is that kind of experience uncommon?
  2. bassmanjla


    Feb 16, 2010
    Hollywood, CA
    i'd say someone just stepping in and playing a fretless and sounding good, when they don't play fretless often is something uncommon. you gotta be a pretty good player otherwise if you do.
  3. joinercape

    joinercape Supporting Member

    Dec 22, 2007
    IMHE, one's fretless tone makes much less an impression than confident playing and good intonation. My eight year old grand daughter, who is of course extremely cute, cannot play the bass or the piano, but she loves to mess around with both when she comes over. I can't say I find the "tone" from either makes up for her lack of playing ability, even though the instruments are top notch.
  4. While that may be true, when was the last time you heard some one with fantastic tone and no ability? The only reason I made the distinction in the OP was to assure readers that my friends was no virtuoso, lol. He is however, a good bass player.
  5. joinercape

    joinercape Supporting Member

    Dec 22, 2007
    I didn't mean any disrespect of your intentions with this thread, honest! I think for the working bass player, fretless is another tool in the arsenal, and like tools of any trade, one can do the work of many in the right hands. Tone will always be subjective, though what we hear sitting around the practice room is not the same as what an audience hears from the dance floor/ concert hall. They should hear whatever is appropriate to the music in most cases.
  6. Setup is importing when your chasing the "mwah factor".

    The action has to be low enough, and the fingerboard flat enough, fir the strings to buzz nice and evenly against the fingerboard. As you discovered with your Squier, if that isn't taken care of, there will be no "mwah", no matter how you attack it.

    That said, on a well set-up fretless like your Clement, your right and left hand approach can have a huge impact on how you sound. Greater than the impact on a fretted bass.

    I suspect that this is what you've noticed other people talking about.
  7. powerbass


    Nov 2, 2006
    western MA
    I've built several fretless basses in my quest for an ideal fretless sound. What I came to realize is that the body wood should be light weight, the neck very stiff to allow for very low action, and the fingerboard very hard if you want a rich mwah. From there it is up to strings, amp eq and your technique. Check out the basses used by top fretless players - Michael Manring's Zon Hyperbass has a composite neck w/a phenowood fingerboard and mahogany body. He also uses very light gauge round wound strings
  8. dj5


    Sep 17, 2009
    I know what you're saying - I had a fretless 6 for about six years, and which was my exclusive bass for that time, but it had almost mo "mwah" at all. And I know it was set up correctly, very low action, low at the nut, and straight neck - it just wouldn't do it well, unlike almost every other fretless I've played.
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    But you are comparing 2 people with similar abilities - no reason why they should be any different.

    You need people of differing abilities!

    So each year I go to Jazz Summerschool and there are a few bass tutors and maybe 12 - 15 bass students amongst the course members.

    On many occasions I have been able to stand in front of them and compare the difference.

    The Tutors are all very experienced Jazz pros, who are working in bands with great players - students are anything from beginners to semi-pro.

    But there's no mistaking that the tutors get a much better sound out of sometimes "worse" gear.

    It's most noticable with Double Bass, where the tutors get way more volume and much better tone than the students - completely different sound from the same instrument.

    On one occasion I was with a few people playing bass guitars - some of the students had very expensive basses and got variable sounds out of them. The tutor picked up a cheap-looking Squier Jazz and blew everybody away with tone that sounded like Jaco at his best!! :eek:
  10. I agree with your points here. Any decent fretted player (like me!) can get an absolutely beautiful fretless tone out of most fretless EB's. However, in my case, since my background is piano, and I went immediately to fretted electric (no DB experience... none of those years of intonation woodshedding), my intonation (or lack of!) keeps me from EVER considering gigging with a fretless.

    It is ALL about intonation (i.e., it is mostly in the ears). Mwaw and all that stuff takes about a day to develop (assuming you can play). Yes, there are some instruments that don't lend themselves to that tone (you really need a bass with a bridge pickup to get that tone IMO), but in general, the intonation is the deal breaker for most.
  11. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    You're missing the point. :help:

    The tone is in the fingers to a great extent but the bass plays some part. It has to...different woods, different strings, different electronics = different tone.

    However, give the same bass to two different players and you'll get different tones.
  12. rolandm

    rolandm In search of the lowest note.

    Aug 8, 2010
    Peoria, IL
    One word. Blanton. His capability in ringing a note and getting whatever tone he needed for a given passage was squarely in his hands. He could shoot through a passage muted and quick or stand a note on its end and let it howl. I'm sure that even for a young man in that era, he had a very good bass. But his recordings and the recordings of his contemporaries show a vast difference, and the only documented variable that really makes sense is his hands.

    We all know that different string heights and different pickup placements on a bass guitar will make a difference in how the bass sounds, as will the fingerboard and how it is finished, and the woods and amount of mass of the bass, whether it is a solid wood neck or a truss-rod neck. But in the end, the final coloring of the sound is done with the hands. Flatten your fingers, pinch the fingerboard, mute behind the finger or ahead, whatever, and you change the way the note comes out. Finding a wood and pickup configuration that enhances that will make it far more apparent, but we were constantly preached proper fingering technique in string classes for a reason. It's because it greatly effects how the instrument speaks, whether it is an upright, an electric or a cello or violin.

    Just my .02.
  13. Moe Monsarrat

    Moe Monsarrat

    Jul 30, 2006
    Austin, Tx.
    Endorsing artist:Regenerate Guitar Works Carvin, Micheal Kelly Guitars
    If you are dealing with a properly set up fretless bass of reasonable quality, get two players to play it and you will hear a difference. It ain't the bass. I can hand my bass to another player (good or bad) and he doesn't sound like me. Maybe better, maybe worse but not like me.
  14. plangentmusic

    plangentmusic Banned

    Jun 30, 2010
    Everyone has a different touch and on a fretless it brings out a certain aspect of it. But of course, all basses have their distinct tone. I think that's the case with or without frets.

    Not to digress but, I could never understand one thing -- if everyone wants that classic Jaco sound, why not just use a Fender J? That's the sound. No need to look any further.

    And honestly, if anything ever happened to mine, I'd get the Squire. Great bass.
  15. My guess is, many do. However, some want 5 or 6 strings, and many are not completely at ease with the 60 cycle hum that comes when you solo that bridge pickup, etc.
  16. Big B.

    Big B.

    Dec 31, 2007
    Austin, TX
    Not every fretless is created equal. Some basses sing and some just dont. As hard as you try you cant shake mwaah out of a bass that doesnt have it. Low action and good pickups are very important. IME experience the best fretless sound comes from having the strings so low that you can breathe on them and push them down. This requires a well worked fingerboard that is true from end to end. IMO this is a problem with many fretless basses. Quality, high output active electronics also go a long way towards a great fretless sound.

    The problem/benefit of good fretless tone is that every single imperfection in the left hand will be amazingly clear. In some respects I actually find it harder to be consistently in tune on a smoking fretless bass than on DB due to the up front nature of the BG sound. The good news is that nothing will fix your left hand technique quicker than a few months with a hi-fi fretless bass.

    And by the way, if you want that singing fretless sound leave the flatwounds at home. They wont get it done.
  17. Big B.

    Big B.

    Dec 31, 2007
    Austin, TX
    These are great points. Also the way you stop the notes with your left hand affects the tone. If you want a crisper, cleaner attack stay on your fingertips with as little pressure as possible. If you want a rounder, singing tone use slightly more pressure and flatten more of the pad of your fingers on the string. A good fretless is fun because it magnifies the individual nuances that make us all our own bassist.
  18. REAPER52


    Aug 17, 2008
    And dont forget the importance of which strings you use. I can get lots of mawh with Sunbeams and not so much with TI Flats .
  19. lamarjones

    lamarjones Supporting Member

    Aug 27, 2002
    Raleigh, NC
    Are you and your friend really in different places playing wise with respect to fretless? I noticed in the other thread you said you have yet to gig on a fretless, and it seems like you are saying the same or near about your friend.

    There are some fretless players that really have control of their tone to the point there is no reason to roll off the highs at all, then can get they very smooth no buzz tone right out of their fingers and dial all the snap in with just their fingers as well. I can do it somewhat, but at blazing speeds the difference becomes noticeable. And especially while gigging, when you aren't suppossed to be paying attention to technique and just play, the consistency can sometimes be noticeable.
  20. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Freebo. He moves from a singing sound to a very close emulation of a double bass to a singing sound with one bass on those Bonnie Raitt records from the seventies.


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