Ask the Expert – Getting a brass-like tone from a fretless bass

Malcolm Douglas from Slough in the UK asks:

When I play my fretless bass I am able to produce a brass-like tone that I cannot obtain when I use my fretted instrument. I have heard Lawrence Cottle and Geoff Gascoyne produce this brassy sound while playing fretted instruments. Both were playing SWR combos and I wondered if the SWR Aural Enhancer circuit was the key to getting this sound. So I bought a Workingman’s 15 similar to Geoff Gascoyne’s but I still cannot find the brass-like tone he produces.

Have you any suggestions?
Hi Malcolm

Having consulted a few seasoned bass players I’m afraid we’ve all come to a similar conclusion, firstly there have been a few gadgets over the years that have come and gone to imitate a fretless sound but there is a reason why they’ve gone. If you really want to get a fretless sound you just need to buy a fretless bass, which you already have.

Second, and even more regretfully, with those guys who can get the ‘brassy’ tone with fretted instruments, the key is the fingers and not just the gear. I’ve seen so many people trying to imitate a certain player’s sound by buying the exact same equipment and still sounding nothing like them because the way they physically pick, fret and attack the instrument is different.

The aurel enhancer circuit is similar in concept to the ‘loudness’ button that many of us had on old Hi Fi systems with Dolby enhancement. It accentuates the sound you have but I don’t think it will radically change your tone into the sound you want. As we know the sound of metal strings making contact with metal frets is different to metal strings on a wooden fret board. What you might be describing is a sound that’s a bit more hollow with less attack, in which case if you have a Jazz type bass, try using the bridge pickup and rolling off the tone to see what results you get.

Kind Regards