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Why does my short-scale fretless sound crappy?

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by Rob Page, Oct 7, 2020.

  1. I've built three 34" scale fretless basses and they sound good. I built a 30" scale fretless and it sounds terrible. The only real difference between them is the scale and the fretboard wood. On the long scales, I used walnut with 7 coats of superglue. On the short scale I used Patagonian Rosewood which is actually "curubay" and 7 coats of superglue. I'd read rosewood is not dense enough for fretless so I put frets on it and now it sounds great. Then I read that curubay has a Janka rating of 3840 near the top of the list (and way more than the walnut I used on the others at 1010 rating). So I'm stumped. I have heard great sounding short scale fretless basses, what am I doing wrong? I used Earnie Ball strings I think - which I also used on the long scales. Thx
    Beej likes this.
  2. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Commercial User

    Feb 4, 2011
    Fillmore, CA
    Professional Luthier
    Tell us what you mean by "sounds terrible". Missing the highs, missing the lows, poor definition?
    TonyP- likes this.
  3. Slidlow

    Slidlow Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2009
    Oshawa, Canada
    You mentioned you think you used Ernie Ball strings, so were they actually short scale strings? I would have expected the Patagonian Rosewood to be harder then the walnut?
    T_Bone_TL likes this.
  4. rudy4444


    Mar 13, 2012
    Central Illinois
    The number one factor in equalizing tone when reducing the scale length is to bump up the string gauge to a heavier string.

    Because the physics of short scales they can require a bit of experimentation to find the string type that produces the tone that meets your expectations. You might pose the question over at the short scale bass players group to get some better ideas of what works for short scale players.

    A inquiry on the strings forum might do you well, also.

    Strings [BG]

    I personally love LaBella Black Tapes, but string choice is a very individual decision.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2020
  5. Missing highs and poor definition for sure. It doesn't "growl" like my 34" scales do. You feel connected to them, not with the short scale. But when I put frets and roundwounds on it, it plays, feels and sounds very good.
  6. Yes, Ernie Ball short scales.
  7. Ah, good info. I didn't actually know there WAS a short scale group! I'm new here. Thx
  8. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    IMHO, even with all things being equal, shorter scale fretlesses have their own character compared to longer scale brethren. Some things to compare:

    As mentioned, strings and thickness. I go up from a 130 B string on a 34" to a 135 B on a 32", so I'd probably be going up larger on a 30" to get similar playability. Even then the 30" may be floppier in feel by comparison, and requires a little adaptation to play.

    Pickup location is also important even being placed in the same relative locations as a 34" scale bass. I find the overall tone shifts a bit towards the "bassy" with a shorter scale length. I haven't made a jillion short scales, but the ones on which I've put the pickups just a bit closer to the bridge have sounded more like their longer scale cousins to my nearly-deaf ears. :D
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2020
    T_Bone_TL and Rob Page like this.
  9. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    And, pics! We need to see pics. For some of us, it's our only life... :bored:
    RĂ´ckhewer, wraub, Supadope and 4 others like this.
  10. Ha! Well thanks for asking. Here's the short scale with Patagonian rosewood+7 coats of superglue fingerboard with the Ernie Ball short scale flatwounds that sounds like crap! social_pd_S4F_082920.jpg
    Tendril, SteveCS, Bootrice and 11 others like this.
  11. Beej


    Feb 10, 2007
    Vancouver Island
    Very nice! That fingerboard is gorgeous! :thumbsup:
    gebass6, StevieMac and Rob Page like this.
  12. Slidlow

    Slidlow Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2009
    Oshawa, Canada
    Gotta be the strings, I see no reason structurally or visually why that bass would have less then spectacular sound. Never tried any Ernie ball strings myself.
    T_Bone_TL and Rob Page like this.
  13. So, again, I've since put frets and roundwounds on this guitar and it sounds and plays fine now. So was it the Patagonian rosewood? (probably not). the Ernie Ball short scale flatwounds? (maybe). I'm going for a second attempt but don't want to start cutting wood till I have some idea how I got off track.
  14. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Very nice! I got nutn on the strings. My big hotdogs would get tangled on a short scale. :wacky:

    But Welcome to TalkBass!!!!
    Nephilymbass and Rob Page like this.
  15. Slidlow

    Slidlow Supporting Member

    Apr 15, 2009
    Oshawa, Canada
    My only guess is the Ernie Ball shorts are not up to the standard of their longs?
    T_Bone_TL and Beej like this.
  16. Yeah, maybe you're right. I think I'll go forward with my next build, stick with the Patagonian rosewood and go with La Bella or D'Addario as Scott Whitley advises here. I'll let you guys know. Heck if it doesn't work out I can always put frets on it and call it a day!
    raphaeld likes this.
  17. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    The hardness of the wood is vitally important on fretless when you're talking about uncoated boards, but your strings weren't touching the wood, they were touching the glue.

    I agree with the other reply pointing to the pickups. You can't assume the same locations that work on a longer scale will sound best on a shorter one.

    Also, you can't assume the same strings in a different winding length will be the best sounding strings for a different bass. If you'd tried several different kinds before you installed frets you might have found one that worked better.
    T_Bone_TL, Rob Page and raphaeld like this.
  18. raphaeld


    Sep 19, 2012
    After receiving my Maruszczyk short scale, which I find super comfy to play, I was toying with the Fretless Short scale. Wasn't sure it was even doable.
    Now I see it is, but there are a few things to take into account.
    Good to see there are options!!
    Rob Page likes this.
  19. Bassamatic

    Bassamatic keepin' the beat since the 60's

    Ditch the EBs, and put a set of T.I. Shorty Jazz Flats on there. I have them on 2 of my short scales and they are fantastic.

    If they don't work, try the LaBella White Tapewounds. I have heard these on a fretless and was impressed.
    Groove Doctor and T_Bone_TL like this.
  20. Scott Whitley says (in that article I posted above) "...Thomastik JF324 Jazz-flats...by far my favourite flatwound short scale strings!!!" So that's TWO recommendations! Sold, I'll go with those on my next build.
    Andre678 and T_Bone_TL like this.

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