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Almost Fretless

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by JRBrown, Jun 19, 2002.


  1. JRBrown

    JRBrown

    Jun 21, 2000
    North Carolina
    Here's my newest wild idea. Is it possible to install fretwire so small that I get the best of both worlds? Intonation accuracy from the frets and the sound from the wood?

    I want a lined fretless anyway--just make the lines out of fretwire that's maybe 1/4 the height of normal frets?

    Have you ever experimented with this concept?

    BTW: What's the best wood for a fretless board?
     
  2. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I always seem to be the nay sayer. But, it wouldn't work.

    First, if the frets were only 1/4 the height of "normal" frets, there wouldn't be enough break force over the fret to create a terminal point for the string. The pitch of the note would probably be based on where your finger actually was (like a fretless) only the string would buzz on the fret. Which brings me to the next point.

    "Mwahhh," or whatever you like to call the classic fretless character, is created by the strings buzzing ever so slightly against the wood fretboard. So, if the metal frets were any height at all above the wood board, you'd have buzz, not mwahh.

    Ebony is typically considered the most suitable wood for fretless basses. Newer custom builders offer a variety of hard rosewoods and others as an alternative.

    Hardness is the key. I assume the darker woods are more desirable because the wear has less of an effect on the aesthetics of the bass.

    FWIW, if you actually practice, you will get better intonation accuracy from a fretless than you will from a fretted instrument. fret placement is based on the best compromise. If you take quality chromatic tuner and test every note location on your fretted neck, you'll see that they are not all in tune even when the open strings are tuned perfectly.
    Chas
     
  3. patrickj

    patrickj

    Aug 13, 2001
    Baltimore, MD
    you could play around with fretwire that isn't as wide(?) as normal fret wire. keep the same height off the fretboard, but make the frets less wide - you could make 1/4 pitch steps, etc.

    you won't get the mwah of a fretless, but you'd have more note "room".
     
  4. RS

    RS

    Aug 27, 2000
    Cleveland, OH
    "FWIW, if you actually practice, you will get better intonation accuracy from a fretless than you will from a fretted instrument. fret placement is based on the best compromise. If you take quality chromatic tuner and test every note location on your fretted neck, you'll see that they are not all in tune even when the open strings are tuned perfectly"

    I'll have to disagree. If you bass is well made and intonated correctly, almost every note should be on plus or minus one cent.
    I've checked my Sadowsky with a turner and it it seems dead on, except for a couple notes at the top of the neck.
     
  5. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    I am sure you are correct. I would say the same thing about my Q5 and variety of other well-made basses out there.

    But, just as you said "except for a few notes at the top of the neck."

    I know other players who solo in the upper register a great deal, they intonate to make those notes true. They have a few problems elsewhere.

    It isn't a matter of quality, but physics. That why they have the Buzz Feiten tuning system and about a zillion other attempts at correction out there.


    Admittedly, the problems are subtle. But, I never meant to suggest anything but that.

    The original post suggested that you were making compromises with intonation when playing fretless. My intention was to suggest they are no more so than those made when playing a fretted bass. And that you have more control over your intonation when playing fretless. Which is indeed true.

    Chas
     
  6. geshel

    geshel

    Oct 2, 2001
    Seattle
    If I were going to attempt something like that, I'd use a scalloped wood fretboard. With a sort of "sawtooth" pattern, so that "before" the fret position is recessed so the string is stopped right at the fret position, but "after" it is flat for a little ways so the string mwahhs against it. In between it would ramp down:

    (exaggerated for effect)



    ___....___
    ...\..|..
    ....\_|..



    (ignore the dots needed them to keep the spacing right?)
     
  7. actually, Roscoe made a few fretless basses like this- using aluminium/aluminum;) strips inlaid at the fretline so the string would make contact for correct intonation, but still produce a "mwah" against the fingerboard.

    I think they stopped making basses like this due to expansion problems with the aluminium- the strips protruding beyond the width of the neck- there was something about this in The Bottom Line.

    Lee Sklar's basses are fretted with very fine mandolin wire- also Meshell NdegeOcello (spelling?) said she has a Jazz bass with severely worn down frets that make slides sound smoother.
     
  8. RS

    RS

    Aug 27, 2000
    Cleveland, OH
    But, just as you said "except for a few notes at the top of the neck."

    A few, as in one or two. Which to my ears I would never be able to tell. So to me it is perfect sounding.

    "The original post suggested that you were making compromises with intonation when playing fretless. My intention was to suggest they are no more so than those made when playing a fretted bass. And that you have more control over your intonation when playing fretless. Which is indeed true."

    In my experience very very few bass players achieve that perfect level of intonation. Jaco, Steve Bailey, maybe Percy Jones are the only ones I can think of that are maybe more in tune on fretless than fretted.
     
  9. BFunk

    BFunk Supporting Member

    Lee Sklar uses mandolin fretwire on his basses to achieve this. He has been doing it for years.
    [​IMG]
    (I don't even want to guess how old he is.)
     
  10. JRBrown

    JRBrown

    Jun 21, 2000
    North Carolina
    Reply from Alembic:

    "Sure! We've installed mandolin frets and they work great. Of course, they wear out awfully fast. I heard about this idea in an articale about Lee Sklar. He said that practically everything you heard him play on recording and thought was fretless was actually a bass with mandolin frets."
     
  11. Suburban

    Suburban

    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Yeah, that's because the tuner is calibrated to tempered scale, and with rather wide tolerances.
    The fretwork on a bass is also made to a tempered scale, and with rather wide tolerances.

    If you, as I did, start out with fretless, you'll learn to play in tune. Most of us will:rolleyes: . Then, when picking up a fretted, one gets frustrated over the inability to play in tune! Regardless of make of the bass.

    With fretless and a good ear, you will play in tune.
    With a fretted, no tone will be perfect, even with the most exquisite instrument.

    YMMV.
     
  12. RS

    RS

    Aug 27, 2000
    Cleveland, OH
    I think it would be frustrating to have such a good ear that a note a couple cents off would drive you nuts.
    I'd rather be happy than "right" any day.
     
  13. Jazz Ad

    Jazz Ad Mi la ré sol Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    You beat me to it.
    Will Lee does the same.
     
  14. pilotjones

    pilotjones Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2001
    US-NY-NYC
    Interesting ideas!

     
  15. what if instead of having a very small, short fret you had a very wide short fret? that way it would almost be like have a dome fret. or what if you made slots in the right places along the length of the string in a very hard finger board like graphite to allow for more exact intonation?
     
  16. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Not even them, IMHO. I have never, at any time or in any place, heard a bassist who was more in tune on a fretless instrument than on a well-tuned fretted one. Sure, the *theoretical* potential is there; I've just never heard it done--in every song, through every set, all night long.

    I know about the tempered tuning thing. Keep in mind that if you're playing with instruments in tempered tuning (like a piano), it actually sounds worse *not* to use tempered tuning.

    Not that some out-of-tuneness is always so terrible. Every instrument is a little out of tune here and there. And don't forget that the very act of plucking or picking a string actually knocks it a bit out of tune, as you can see if you're hooked up to a tuner and can hear if you listen close.

    I often think we fretless players like to believe we play in tune more than we in fact do. It can come off as a subtle kind of oneupmanship in relation to fretted players.

    Just my $0.02.
     
  17. this has already started to happen to me and it's one of the most irritating pet peeves.
     
  18. why dont you just intonat at both the 12th and 19th fret (24th fret in somecases)

    it tends to give me pretty good intonation across the board.....
     
  19. geshel

    geshel

    Oct 2, 2001
    Seattle
    There are two different issues at hand here: being perfectly in tune in the equal-tempered system which guitars use, and playing individual notes that are perfectly in tune in the proper context.

    My Hanewinckel, as far as I can tell, is in tune with a tuner over the entire fretboard.

    But I can play a major third up past the 12th fret on the G and C strings, and it warbles. Both notes are exactly in tune. But major thirds in equal temperament are sharp, and don't sound so hot. If I stretch the low string "out of tune" the warble goes away and I'm left with a really beautiful interval.

    When that sort of thing is necessary, it's a lot easier to do on a fretless. :) I think that's when we get into the domain of fretless players with good ears (Mick Karn - even if he doesn't know what he's doing :) he plays entirely by ear).
     
  20. RS

    RS

    Aug 27, 2000
    Cleveland, OH
    "Not even them, IMHO. I have never, at any time or in any place, heard a bassist who was more in tune on a fretless instrument than on a well-tuned fretted one. Sure, the *theoretical* potential is there; I've just never heard it done--in every song, through every set, all night long."


    Well I don't even have as accurate an ear as those fellows, so they sound more in tune than me. But I agree with you. The margin for error is just too large, imho.

    "I know about the tempered tuning thing. Keep in mind that if you're playing with instruments in tempered tuning (like a piano), it actually sounds worse *not* to use tempered tuning."

    I was just about to make that same point.

    "Not that some out-of-tuneness is always so terrible. Every instrument is a little out of tune here and there. And don't forget that the very act of plucking or picking a string actually knocks it a bit out of tune, as you can see if you're hooked up to a tuner and can hear if you listen close."

    And that one.

    Good points. How'd you read my mind?