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Tobias Bass Fretless Conversion!


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Posted (edited)

Hey guys

Quick back story, I've played a Tobias Toby Pro bass since I was 18 (18th Birthday present from parents). Managed to pick up the 5 string version of my original 4 string last year and was lucky enough to find another matching 4 string to be a back up to my #1 as I wanted to "retire" my #1 due to sentimental attachment.

Annnnyway, recently I've been really wanting a Fretless bass again but as I don't really have the room for another guitar, I thought I'd go about converting one of my basses (I've done fretless conversions for people before and on a bass I used to own) and decided the #2 was the perfect candidate. End of the day, this one has absolutely zero sentimental attachment and I only paid £100 for it (seller had it listed as an Epiphone bass, if they couldn't be bothered to list it properly, I wasn't about to correct them). 

So, I had some maple veneer left over from the last fretless conversion I did for a "customer" (a few mates have paid me to do fretless conversions on their basses after playing my converted bass) and went about getting it done. Reason for the veneer strips is because I still wanted fret lines so I could see where I am! Hopefully this stops me tinkering with my basses for a while so I can focus on a new model railway I'll be building soon (should no guitar tinkering get in the way! 😂)

Just as a side note, this isn't a professional job as I'm not a trained luthier but I think you'll agree the end results look great. I'll list the steps here then add some photos of the steps down below.

1: Remove frets = I did this by taking a Stanley blade and gently sliding it under the fret to lift it and remove and glue keeping it in place. Next, I slowly lifted the fret wire out with a pair of pliers and cleaned the slot by gently running a hand saw through the slot a couple of times. This way it didn't widen the slot and left it with a flat edge to push the veneer in to. 

2: Veneer strips = The veneer strips were cut to over hang the sides of the neck so I could trim them flush with the edges of the board and use it as an indicator for which note I'm playing 😂. A swab of clear super glue on the lower half ensured the veneers stayed in place. Once the glue had dried and hardened over an hour, I used a Stanley blade held flush to the board to trim off any excess. The remaining bits would be sanded down later on.

3: Touch-ups and polish = Using a very soft and very fine sandpaper on a soft pad with a hand-held drill, I gave the fretboard a final sand over on a very low speed to get rid of any remaining protruding veneer then checked the board back over with a 10" radius block (which is the original radius). No change at all to the radius so no problems there. There were quite a few scratches on the lacquer down the side of the neck so I just used the hand-held drill again with a polishing kit which got rid of all the scratches and returning it to it's previously lovely gloss finish. After all that was done, I applied some Linseed oil to the board (BTW, I don't care about the pros and cons of lemon oil vs linseed oil)

4: Setup and test = I'm not going to be using Roundwounds on this as in my previous experience, they cut in to the fretboard too much so I used my favourite Flatwounds, the D'addario Chrome 50-105 but as Flatwounds have more tension than most Rounds, I tuned this down to B E A D which again is a personal preference for 4 string basses.With a little neck adjustment, the strings aren't floppy at all and have great tension and balance. I dropped the action to my preferred 5/64s, set the intonation (as close as possible without frets!) and lowered the pickups back down a tad. The end result instantly made me smile instantly. Playing fretless is so much fun and so much more expressive. 

Any bits that chipped out of the board during fret removal were filled with rosewood dust and glue. I am still undecided about Epoxy coating the board as I feel there isn't any need to do so because I'll always use Flatwounds on it and love how it currently sounds/feels to play.

In conclusion, I was worried at first that I might regret doing this but no way in hell will I. I haven't played my fretted basses since finishing this and am just having so much fun with those lovely "muah" slides between notes. I'll get a video clip up on here in the next couple of days but wanted to share my progress with you all on here. Even had my guit*rded friend who said "why would you want a fretless?, it's an awful idea" end up saying "yeah I can see why you've done that, it sounds great" and is now pestering me to jam "Parisienne Walkways" with him 🤣

I should add that yes, there is a missing potentiometer from this bass because I haven't been able to get the EMG stacked preamp I want for it yet but the wiring has been done inside ready to just clip it in. The neck volume pot on all 3 acts as an active/passive push/pull so I can still use the fretless in passive mode (with the passive TBX tone pot) until I get the preamp and the bridge volume pot is a push/pull to swap between series & parallel. All 3 basses have had Hipshot Ultralite tuners installed, the two 4 strings have a Badass II installed, the #1 and 5 string have EMG preamps installed and #1 has had Nordstrand pickups installed. Eventually all 3 will have EMG preamps (2 band on Fretless), Nordstrand Pickups, Hipshot ultralites, Graphtech Black Tusq nuts and Leo Quan Badass bridges (II on the 4's, V on the 5'er).

Anyway, enough of my waffle, here's some photos and a family photo at the end. Enjoy!

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Edited by ForbiddenWytch
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1 hour ago, Richard R said:

Very smart. And a great trio of guitars. 👍

Thank you Richard! Other basses have come and gone, but these will never go. Would love the 6 string to complete the set, even though 6 strings is too many for me, but they're rarer than rocking horse droppings!

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Just now, ForbiddenWytch said:

Thank you Richard! Other basses have come and gone, but these will never go. Would love the 6 string to complete the set, even though 6 strings is too many for me, but they're rarer than rocking horse droppings!

I know what you mean about wanting the set. 🙂
 bought the 5 string version of my four string earlier this year and I've put the four string away to learn to play 5. There is I think a fretless, but I'm not accurate enough even with frets!

 

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1 minute ago, Richard R said:

I know what you mean about wanting the set. 🙂
 bought the 5 string version of my four string earlier this year and I've put the four string away to learn to play 5. There is I think a fretless, but I'm not accurate enough even with frets!

 

😮 Wow, that is such a pretty bass! You've got a great pair there (oo-er) and they look incredibly well made. That orange/red burst is lovely.

And as for the fretless thing, i'm not exactly a precise player but I find the fret lines really are helpful for making sure you get at least close to the note. I've had an unlined fretless and it just didn't work for me. I get confused easily 😂😂

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