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Thread: Fretless fingerboard leveling

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    Chris JB_From_Hell's Avatar
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    Default Fretless fingerboard leveling

    My bass is a 21 year old Warwick Corvette. Ebony board, ovangkol bolt-on neck.

    I would like to try cleaning up the fingerboard a little. It was very difficult to photograph the wear, but you can feel it at places under the E & A strings. The D & G show wear, but it's not as much.

    Currently, the neck has very little relief, the nut is adjusted just high enough for open strings to not buzz, and the action is a little over 1.5mm on the G, a little over 2mm on the E. Roundwound SIT Foundations 45-105 strings, standard tuning.

    I'm still very new to the bass world in general, and especially to fretless. On a guitar, I like higher action, but since there's no bending on a fretless bass, I'd like to be able to get it as low as humanly possible. Inherently, since there are no frets, there is going to be a little noise from the string vibrating against the board (bassists call this 'mwah'). My D & G play very cleanly, but there is some buzz on the A & E.

    Looking for advice on how to address this myself. Most are saying take it to a luthier, but since I love round wound strings, this will need to be done again in the future, so I'd like to learn to do it myself.

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    Chris JB_From_Hell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

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    Chris JB_From_Hell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

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    OH THE DOUBLE THICK GLAZE! Clint 55's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    My guess is that marks that small would not be the cause of the buzz. The 1st thing to check would be that the bow is continuous and does not start to come back up towards the upper register. However it is possible that the board is not completely continuous and free of bumps. If you just want to work on the board regardless, all you need is a radius block and sandpaper. You can stick the sandpaper to the block with this but it's not necessary. You can start with relatively rough grit if you want which I like to do because it's easier to sense how the material is being removed. Then go through the grits to get the scratches out. I would probably start with 80 then go 120 and 220 and decide if it needed 320, 400 or 600. Some people don't like to start with a rough grit on their instruments. You could start as fine as 150, 180, or even 220 and probably still get some cut and be able to level. The principles to leveling a fretless are the same as getting frets level. Make long strokes and be mindful of how you're shaping it. Also, the truss rod isn't effective at the heel so you can add "fallaway" in that upper section if needed where you focus on that area to make sure the board continues flat or a slight downward angle.

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    Last edited by Clint 55; 02-07-2020 at 08:35 AM.
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    Chris JB_From_Hell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    Assume the marks in the board are maybe 30% deeper than they appear in the pics.

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    OH THE DOUBLE THICK GLAZE! Clint 55's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    Yeah it could be nice to remove the marks and you could probably improve the continuity of the board if you were to work on it.
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    Chris JB_From_Hell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    I put a set of D’Addario Chromes flatwounds on it last night. Less buzz, but I’m still gonna do some sanding. Rather than using a radius block, I’m gonna level each string path, then blend between them. Makes sense, since the strings are going in a conical path.

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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    You want to be the best? Why don't you just slather that slab with Marine Grade Epoxy?

    ***bass jokes anyone?****
    “For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts.” Yvonne Chouinard

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    Chris JB_From_Hell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    Quote Originally Posted by NegativeEase View Post
    You want to be the best? Why don't you just slather that slab with Marine Grade Epoxy?

    ***bass jokes anyone?****
    Lol.

    My other two basses have frets, though both may get defretted. The Yamaha has a rosewood board, so I would finish that with something. The Allparts neck on my Franken-P is glorious ebony (which is a big motivator to rip out the speed bumps), so it’ll stay bare.

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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    Quote Originally Posted by JB_From_Hell View Post
    Lol.

    My other two basses have frets, though both may get defretted. The Yamaha has a rosewood board, so I would finish that with something. The Allparts neck on my Franken-P is glorious ebony (which is a big motivator to rip out the speed bumps), so it’ll stay bare.
    Cool. I figured there is always room for a Jaco joke on a bass thread.
    “For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts.” Yvonne Chouinard

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    Chris JB_From_Hell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    Quote Originally Posted by NegativeEase View Post
    Cool. I figured there is always room for a Jaco joke on a bass thread.
    Absolutely.

    For the record, I love Jaco, but the tone I’m going for is nothing like his. About the only famous player’s tone I like ripping off is Justin Chancellor’s heavy distorted sound from the Aenima album. Believe it or not, a P bass with an EMG into a Boss ODB-3 into a Rumble 60 set flat with the mid scoop button pushed nails the tone in H.

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    Administrator Mincer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    Also, I can't imagine it would be a lot for someone to make a new fingerboard out of whatever exotic material you want. It just has to be harder than the windings of the strings.
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    OH THE DOUBLE THICK GLAZE! Clint 55's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    If it were me, I'd do 1 fretless with flats, 1 fretless with half rounds, and 1 fretted with roundwounds.
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    Mojo's Minions ItsaBass's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    If you must play a fretless with rounds, then periodically shaving the fretboard is just a fact of life. It has to be done in the long term even with flats, but it has to be done frequently with rounds.

    Your strings sound stupidly low. 2 mm on the low E? That's ridiculous. My typical E string height over the last fret is more than twice that (usually around 5 mm), and I use ultra heavy strings. I'd also get away from the "I have to have my strings as low as possible" philosophy. It doesn't really do anything to help you, and it creates lots of other problems. If you find it hard fretting, use lighter tension strings, not lower ones.

    FWIW, I learned bass on fretless, and played it exclusively for 20 years before adopting fretted basses, so I have a ton of fretless play time under my belt (and two fretless basses that I have had for decades now).
    Last edited by ItsaBass; 02-09-2020 at 11:57 PM.
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    Chris JB_From_Hell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    My measurements are 12th fret, if I didn’t say that before, and pretty consistent with what most of the people on TalkBass are claiming to use. Yeah, it’s pretty low, but the Warwick sounds really good like that.

    I have a set of D’Addario Chromes on it now, which are very bright sounding flats. If I play aggressively, there is still some buzz with those, but it’s more growly sounding buzz, and doesn’t hinder anything. I’ve always had an issue on guitar with needing my action up higher because I played too hard, and this is working pretty well to force me to lighten up with both hands. Gary Willis advocates the “let the amp do the work” approach, and it’s working out for me much better on bass than it ever did with guitar. I think the reason why is because I’m mostly playing bass with a clean tone, and use distortion as an on/off effect, whereas with guitar I’d leave the drive on all the time, and use my right hand and volume knob to control the tone.

    I’m also finding that the higher I have the action on the Warwick, the more it sounds like an upright bass, which is really not what I’m going for.

    What gauge strings are you using? My rounds are 45-105, and my Chromes are 45-100.

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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    Quote Originally Posted by Mincer View Post
    Also, I can't imagine it would be a lot for someone to make a new fingerboard out of whatever exotic material you want. It just has to be harder than the windings of the strings.
    I just saw a guy with a board fretted up to the 12th, then fretless after that. He put a veneer over the fretless portion, making it have the same action all the way up. Pretty cool.

    I’m researching adding an extremely low fret to the very end of my Warwick’s board. Nothing that can actually be fretted, but to give slapping a little more definition.

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    OH THE DOUBLE THICK GLAZE! Clint 55's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    Quote Originally Posted by JB_From_Hell View Post
    I just saw a guy with a board fretted up to the 12th, then fretless after that.
    Venom

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    Mojo's Minions
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    Quote Originally Posted by Clint 55 View Post
    Venom

    god, I love Venom. theyre the greatest live metal band ever in IMO.
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    OH THE DOUBLE THICK GLAZE! Clint 55's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    They rule!
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    Chris JB_From_Hell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Fretless fingerboard leveling

    So... time for me to feel like a dumbass.

    I just figured out how to adjust the Warwick’s bridge properly. I’d been using the saddle inserts to adjust the action, not realizing the entire thing moved up and down. After reading the manual and doing a little sanding, it’s playing and sounding even better. And now my absurdly low action is a hair over 2mm on the E at 12, a hair under 1.5 in the G, and it sings.

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