Short-scale fretless electric bass

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Re: Short-scale fretless electric bass

Post by Martin Walker »

blinddrew wrote: Sat Oct 01, 2022 3:15 pm Well it looks lovely. :)

When setting up guitars I use the TRAIN acronym.
Tuning.
Relief.
Action.
Intonation.
Noodle.

Then repeat, especially the noodle part. ;)

Tuning was easy.
Relief took some on-line effort before I felt confident enough to gently adjust the truss rod in small stages.
Action - this is the tricky one, as fretless instruments need slightly different string heights from the fretboard, and I've got a set-in neck, so the bridge height could also prove critical to a low action.
Intonation sounded good straight out of the box, although I've already had advice to replace the current tape under the bridge with double-sided sticky tape once I'm happy with the bridge position, to make sure it stays there ;)
Noodling is probably the easiest part :mrgreen:
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Re: Short-scale fretless electric bass

Post by Wonks »

I see you’ve already mentioned the under-saddle plastic removal.

You may need to re-intonate it after loosening the strings enough to slip the material out, but you could wait to do that after sorting the neck relief out and adjusting the action.

You can also ‘pin’ the bridge in place, which I’d prefer to using double sided tape as a permanent measure, but don’t do that until you are fully happy with the intonation and your string choice.

The amount of neck relief you need depends on how straight/level the fretboard itself is, as well as your preferred action height. You won’t have the problem of uneven fret heights affecting playability, so you may get away with having slightly less neck relief than on a fretted bass. But I’ve never set up a fretless bass, so gave no idea if a really low action (and so a small string to fretboard angle) has an adverse affect on the sound.
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Re: Short-scale fretless electric bass

Post by Martin Walker »

Thanks for the expert advice Wonks!

Yes, I'm still unsure about whether or not to do deeper nut slots (low E currently sits about 2mm above the fretboard at the nut).

Part of me thinks that once I have the truss rod adjusted so that I can play without any buzzes with a capo at the first fret position, then I could (theoretically) file down the nut slots so that the strings are just a tiny amount above the fretboard, or even flush with it, as the only difference would be when playing open strings.

On the other hand, I'm also starting to read about setups to achieve the best fretless 'mwah/growl' sound, so I'll imbibe that advice before deciding on the final action.
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Re: Short-scale fretless electric bass

Post by Sam Spoons »

The nut needs to be a little higher than the fretboard or you may get buzzing behind the fretting finger as the string will be more or less resting on the fretboard between the nut and your finger. Nut slots (and zero frets) on fretted instruments are typically cut a little higher than the first fret to prevent this.
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Re: Short-scale fretless electric bass

Post by blinddrew »

I don't have any feeler guages to hand but looking at my upright I'd estimate the gap from the bottom of the string to the fingerboard to be about 1/3mm.
Give or take. ;)
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Re: Short-scale fretless electric bass

Post by Funkyflash5 »

As a guide to learning intonation, automotive pinstriping tape can be applied across the fingerboard as a mock fret line. It's thin enough to be relatively accurate and peels off cleanly when no longer needed. It's how I was taught upright bass.
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Re: Short-scale fretless electric bass

Post by Martin Walker »

Funkyflash5 wrote: Sun Oct 02, 2022 3:03 pm As a guide to learning intonation, automotive pinstriping tape can be applied across the fingerboard as a mock fret line. It's thin enough to be relatively accurate and peels off cleanly when no longer needed. It's how I was taught upright bass.

Oh wow, thanks for that tip Funkyflash5 8-)

I was determined to end up with an unlined fretboard this time, but your suggestion is very welcome indeed until my muscle memory kicks in. I think I'll go for 2mm pinstriping tape, as that is about the width of a fret. Oh, and Wonks was definitely right about me needing a side dot at fret 1, but I'll see I get on with temporary automotive pinstriping tape first.

On that note (pun intended) I've also this morning come across another fretless intonation decision to be made - do you set up the bridge so that for accurate tuning your finger is placed just behind the imaginary fret (i.e. where your finger would be on a fretted bass - that's the way my bass was set up at the factory), or dead centre over the imaginary fret marking.

I hadn't thought of the latter possibility until viewing this YouTube video this morning, which declares that the latter approach give better intonation right across the fretboard:

https://youtu.be/cEnd3Szjf6c?t=341

As I'm currently finding my eyes want my fingers pointing exactly over the side dots, I think I'm going to move the bridge close towards the tailpiece to achieve this. Any thoughts from other fretless players?

Martin
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Re: Short-scale fretless electric bass

Post by BigRedX »

Since there aren't any frets, the lines are only there to get you to roughly the right place and the whole joy of fretless is that gives access to all those in between notes (as well as removing the tuning compromises caused by frets in the first place), setting the intonation really doesn't matter.

On a bass like yours I'd get the angle of the bridge so that E and G are roughly in the right place and leave it at that.

Remember also that on the higher "frets" the dots are going to be subject to parallax.
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Re: Short-scale fretless electric bass

Post by FrankF »

One of the comments from Scott's YT clip (as linked by Martin):

"For me, vibrato on a fretless means you are in tune at least some of the time.". :lol:

I'm wondering how difficult it is to remove the frets yourself, if you decide to buy a fretted shortie, for example. I'm sure I saw someone on YT using a soldering iron to warm each fret up, then just pulling them out with needle-nose pliers. Is it as easy as that? And, aesthetics aside, is it viable/playable to just leave the slots unfulfilled?
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Re: Short-scale fretless electric bass

Post by Martin Walker »

FrankF wrote: Mon Oct 03, 2022 4:29 pm One of the comments from Scott's YT clip (as linked by Martin):

"For me, vibrato on a fretless means you are in tune at least some of the time.". :lol:

I'm wondering how difficult it is to remove the frets yourself, if you decide to buy a fretted shortie, for example. I'm sure I saw someone on YT using a soldering iron to warm each fret up, then just pulling them out with needle-nose pliers. Is it as easy as that? And, aesthetics aside, is it viable/playable to just leave the slots unfulfilled?

When I removed the frets from a 60's Hagstrom bass guitar it was easy - I just gently tapped them out sideways using a nail punch.

However, many modern guitars have fretboards with bound edges, so I believe you have to lift the frets out vertically with a special tool, and that can be more prone to fretboard damage, especially if the frets have a 'tang'.

You could certainly leave the slots unfilled, but it's easy enough to fill the slots with your choice of coloured strip, to leave a tuning guide.
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Re: Short-scale fretless electric bass

Post by BigRedX »

It's best to invest in a set of proper fret pulling pliers to do the minimum amount of damage to the fingerboard. The wood used for the fingerboard will determine how successful this process is. Some will be better than others. Heating up the frets works because it causes the slots to enlarge slightly which means less damage to the ends of the slots.

The whole point of fretless is the smooth fingerboard. That means you need to fill the slots left by removing the frets and repair any damage caused by pulling them out. If you want the lines to be visible use either contrasting wood or wood filler. If not pick something close to the actual colour of the fingerboard.

You may also need to level and re-radius the fingerboard after removing the frets as this is much more critical than on a fretted instrument, where any small bumps and imperfections in the surface are disguised by the frets.

Edit: The frets on modern instruments are often glued as well as hammered in, and even on an unbound fingerboard the tangs of the frets will have been shortened to allow the sides of the slots to be filled to hide them.
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Re: Short-scale fretless electric bass

Post by Wonks »

You warm the frets up with a soldering iron in case they were installed using glue, and that helps to loosen the glue's grip on the tang. So the fret should come out without risk of taking some fingerboard with it.

As to removing the fret, it should come out the way it went in.

Some frets (at least in the 60s) were installed from the side, so should be knocked out that way. Maybe Martin got lucky when he defretted the Hagstrom. I'm not 100% sure how you'd tell, but there will probably be tell-tale marks in the wood at the fret-ends.

Otherwise the correct tools to remove frets are pincers that have been ground flat at the ends. The idea is that the pincers grip the fret itself which is then pulled out, and aren't used to get under the fret to lever it out. It's not a good idea to use needle-nose pliers as they are far more likely to slip and for you to damage the fingerboard. And if the frets are well seated and griping the fretboard, you'll need more of a hold on the fret than the small grip area that needle-nose pliers will give.

It's not a good idea to leave the fret slots unfilled. For a start you'll start to wear the edges of the slots where you are pushing the string down on them a lot quicker than the rest of the fingerboard.

But the fingerboard, as part of the neck, is under compression from the strings. Leaving the slots empty prevents a lot of the fretboard from being part of the compressed neck area and so helping to spread the load. As a result, the load-bearing cross section of the neck becomes smaller and puts more strain on the rest of the neck, making it far more likely to develop a bigger bow in it over time and possibly to twist over time as well. Even a softwood fillet, if glued in well, can add strength back in to the fretboard under compression.

Extra bow can normally be compensated for by the truss rod, but the truss rod is then also pressing harder against the fretboard. Leaving the slots unfilled makes areas of the fretboard weaker and there is always the chance of the fretboard cracking along a slot line.

If the rest of the neck is of strong construction (especially if a multi-laminate), then you may never see any ill-effects, but it really is much better to fill the slots than leave them unfilled.

Edit: As Big Red X says, it is a good idea to go over the fretboard with a suitable radius block after defretting and then filling the slots. It's surprising how uneven some fretboards are.
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