Pros and cons of using a fretless bass

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by dogwillhunt80, Jan 19, 2013.


  1. dogwillhunt80

    dogwillhunt80

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2012
    Hi.

    I am considering buying a fretless bass. Just love the sound of one.

    What I am wondering is if there is anything you can't do on a fretless or if there is something that sounds a lot worse on a fretless than a fretted.

    The things that are on my mind especially are:

    1. Does slapping/popping sound a lot worse on fretless basses in general than fretted basses? Or does it just depend on the bass itself? The bass that I currently own is an acoustic/electric Epiphone El Capitain and you can't really slap/pop on that effectively and I still want to have a bass where that is an option.

    2. Do certain effects pedals sound worse for a fretless than fretted? In my case, I have a Dunlop Crybaby bass wah pedal, EHX Big Muff, and soon I will have an Akai Deep Impact bass synth pedal.

    Anyone with experience with fretless basses and utilizing these, please give me your feedback. Much appreciated.
  2. kevteop

    kevteop

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2008
    Location:
    York, UK
    Yeah slap generally sounds a bit weird on a fretless, because the pitch won't be totally accurate and there's none of that gutsy attack. It's do-able but it sounds sort-of nerdy.

    Apart from that there's nothing much that can't sound good on a fretless. It'll sound different but still good and appropriate in 99% of pop music if you put in a good performance.

    As for effects: They'll all work just fine on fretless. Actually your synth could sound better because you can do pitch bends and crazy vibrato.
  3. Mechanical

    Mechanical

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    May 26, 2012
    Location:
    Chapel Hill, NC
  4. kevteop

    kevteop

    Joined:
    Feb 12, 2008
    Location:
    York, UK
    Intonation is tricky I agree, but as all double bass players know it's a matter of having a disciplined left hand and practising position changes until they become automatic. The problem a lot of bass guitarists have with fretless is their left hand technique is often quite haphazard.

    Geddy Lee is a great bass player but if you look at his left hand you can see he's going to struggle adapting to fretless. Someone with a more disciplined technique would not have the same problems.
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  6. Nashrakh

    Nashrakh

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2008
    Location:
    Hamburg, Germany
    Some fretless basses have a fret on where the 20nd would be (or whatever the last fret would be) so slap gets that zing from it.

    Can't remember ever seeing it on a non-custom build though but it definitely exists.
  7. Dr. Love

    Dr. Love

    Joined:
    Nov 5, 2008
    Location:
    Lubbock, TX
    Pro: you can have perfect intonation because you aren't limited by the frets.

    Con: you will never have perfect intonation because you're human. :D

    As far as slapping on fretless, check out some of Bakithi Kumalo's lines on Paul Simon's Graceland album. Yup, you can do it. Also, I've heard guys use effects on fretless with great success. Go for it.
  8. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Joined:
    Jul 23, 2008
    Slap, of course, can be done perfectly fine on the FL but it has a unique sound. Eg. Bunny Brunel plays his song "Ivanhoe" in this vid starting around the 4 min.mark. Lots of slap, which can give you a good idea of what it sounds like on an electric FL:



    This may or may not be what you need, though, so you might keep that in mind if you're planning on going all fretless.

    As for effects, reverb and delay can sound lousy on the FL unless you're really careful. You have to really stay in tune with "yourself", else it can sound really horrible. Octavers and probably bass synths will have a hard time with the FL also, since they depend on very steady and spot-on intonation. So that'd be a try-before-you-buy thing if you use those a lot.

    Other effects, tho, like chorus and flange sound fine on the FL, and in fact are good at masking small errors in intonation. So those don't present a problem on the FL and still sound great.

    Other than that, I haven't found anything that truly requires a fretted bass since I went all FL about 10 years ago. I've never been able to make a fretted bass sound good so I can actually do more on the FL than I could on the fretted. In fact, a good fretted sound is quite possible on the FL with a good set of dead rounds or flats, an unfinished ebony board and plucking over the bridge PU. And it'll be without that horrible clicking and clopping that you have to deal with on the fretted.

    LS
  9. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2011
    Location:
    suburban Chicago
    Most people do not play fretless exclusively, they use it more as a condiment than as a main course. But there are those who use fretless for everything, especially those who switch back and forth between double bass and electric. If you are a well trained double bass player fretless is natural so you would tend to use only fretless when you play electric. The advantages of a fretless are that it has a different sound and that it can be played perfectly in tune since the notes are defined by where you put your fingers and not by where someone else put the frets. In fact you can play fretless with a microtonal ensemble if that is your thing. The big disadvantage of fretless is that the burden is now on you to define the intonation. You have to learn to do that and it takes a lot of work to do it really well. I wish I could!! I think it would be a mistake to regard a fretless as a replacement for a fretted bass and expect it to do everything just like a fretted bass does and react the same to effects. It is a slightly different animal so you either need to have both, or you have to be willing to work with the fretless, regard its differences as assets, and learn to use them creatively rather than trying to force it to emulate a fretted bass.

    Ken
  10. BottomThumper

    BottomThumper

    Joined:
    Dec 1, 2012
    Location:
    N. Michigan
    I've had nothing but a fretless for the last 13 or so years. I could use it for virtually everything and until recently, didn't even think about getting a fretted bass. I just picked up a Squier with frets because of two things: stronger attack and ease playing double stops/chords. Fretless will definitely clue you in to how your left hand technique is doing, and will also be a good test of your pitch. Playing with a pick on fretless has never sounded right to me, and slap is good for accents but I don't like it throughout a tune.

    Effects are a lot of fun without frets. I've always favored chorus/flange, but when I think about why I was drawn to fretless, it was that tone... that tone which starts disappearing if I dirty it up a bunch.

    Consider getting a lined neck if you've never played a fretless instrument.
  11. Dan Knowlton

    Dan Knowlton Supporting Member

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    Aug 12, 2002
    Location:
    La Mesa (San Diego area), Cali
    Check out Alain Caron on YouTube for some great slapping on fretless.

    I like this track -


    Dan K.

  12. frankie5string

    frankie5string

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2008
    Location:
    Toronto, Ontario Canada
    That's actually slap on a FRETTED bass... He doesn't really slap on his fretless F-Basses because they have a huge pice cut out of the bottom of the fingerboard to accommodate truss-rod adjustment.

    If you're curious about his technique, he "twirls" his thumb to get up/downstrokes and uses three fingers for popping over the "Fretboard" to get that really fast, articulate playing.
  13. topo morto

    topo morto

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2010
    Location:
    Lloegyr
    Slapping on fretless is great fun.

    I don't think most overdrive / distortion effects sound as good with fretless, unless you just want a dull buzzy sound, as they feed off the high frequencies in the initial note transient. Higher gain fuzzes (e.g. mammoth) can sound very cool, and you can get synthier for the reasons kevteop mentioned.
  14. Mystic Michael

    Mystic Michael Hip No Ties Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2004
    Location:
    New York, NY
    Absolutely. Different tools for different purposes.

    There is no such thing as any single instrument that will do all things well. That's why we have 18-string, fretless, 40-inch scale "coffee table" electric basses loaded with onboard preamps, filters & DSP circuits...as well as your basic 34-inch scale, fretted, four-string passive, '51 Fender Precision Bass...and everything in between.

    The application dictates the instrument...not the other way around... :eyebrow:

    MM
  15. klaus486

    klaus486

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    WOW! Bunny makin look easy on this vid!
  16. CauliColin

    CauliColin

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    Feb 16, 2011
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    North Lincolnshire
    Fretless is great. The only problem for me is that I am so used to playing my fretless with tapes that I don't like going back to my fretted with rounds because I am just so damn used to the sliding and vibrato and such comfortable playing! (Distortion works well with it, by the way).
    If you want a fretless, get one! I prefer it to my fretted!
  17. Malak the Mad

    Malak the Mad Over the River and through the Looking Glass Supporting Member

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    You've never heard "Malignant Narcissism", nor seen him play it consistently from show-to-show, have you? ;)

    Even though he admits it's more challenging to play, he's still as disciplined as he needs to be when the situation calls for it.
  18. Jean Baudin

    Jean Baudin

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    redwood city, ca
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    Pros: Mwah.
    Cons: Pitchy, Dog.
  19. That Sustain

    That Sustain Banned

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2013
    Because of the wolfnote, fretless bass is harder to record.
  20. frankie5string

    frankie5string

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    Jun 16, 2008
    Location:
    Toronto, Ontario Canada
    That's not true at all... lol! Maybe if it's a badly designed fretless bass ... ?
  21. Vince Klortho

    Vince Klortho

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2013
    Location:
    Squierville, California
    One thing you may have to watch for is getting a good tone. There is a guy where I used to live who played with several different bands and used a fretless precision with nylon wrapped strings. Unfortunately, I hated listening to him play because his sound was dull and lifeless and almost always lost in the mix. I hope you don't make that mistake.

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