Anyone else skipping fretless all together?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by bad_andy, Jan 6, 2009.

  1. bad_andy


    Sep 21, 2005
    Omaha, NE
    I know that many, many bassists feel awkward with a fretless bass. I'm just curious about how many people have actively decided against it. I know lots of guys who have a 'representative' fretless that they'll play for one or two songs at the gig. It's just no contest between those guys and the players who live and breathe on unlined boards. It just doesn't work for me as a novelty instrument, but I feel like the majority of non-serious fretless players use it just that way.

    Personal experience: I've owned two fretless electric basses and while I loved them both for how they sounded, I just decided that playing fretless bass well is a part time job in and of itself. If I was going to invest the time, I decided to pick up a whole other instrument for my trouble and went upright instead.

    This isn't a judgment against the fretless electric bass, it's beautiful voice or the wonderful expressive possibilities it holds, just a decision about what to do with my very finite amount of time on this Earth. I just got curious about how common this decision is among the other fretted electric bassists out there.

  2. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    I've played fretless bass years ago, but like you I just didn't really need it for the gigs I was doing, and while I love it, I couldn't justify having one when I couldn't spend the time I personally felt it deserved.

    I love fretless! And I really admire a bass player that plays one well.

    Maybe someday I'll get another.
  3. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Fusion Cats Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    I know a lot of bassists who have. I've gone the other route - I'm really deeply into fretless at the moment.

    Either way is good - play what you love, and groove on it.
  4. ErebusBass


    Feb 20, 2008
    Madison, WI
    I have a cheap bass that I defretted, but I play it very little for the specific reason you mentioned. I can't play it very well, and currently I feel that my time is better spent practicing on my fretted basses.
  5. I've done the same thing since gettin my fretless back from HG Thor, and I've found the key at least for me is to not play it "like a (sterotypical) fretless" with tons of slides, double-stops, and mwah but instead playing fretted lines on my fretless where only the attack is different.

    4-string, 5-string, 10-string, fretless... each has a uniqueness that I try to find and make work for me.
  6. Rotorbar

    Rotorbar Guest

    Jan 6, 2009
    I have two fretless pbasses. They're all I have, so I guess I'm skipping the other way; I don't have a fretted bass. No, I'm not a snob, or at least I don't think I am. I'd agree that fretless is almost a whole 'nother animal. I find that they're more work to play, but I like them. I like the tone, and the way you can go from one note to another with no fret noise. I must hasten to add that I really dislike hearing players go "Bwayooow...Bwayooow" throughout a song, and I avoid making that noise. I find it refreshing that I can listen to the notes and not have to look at the neck when I play. On the other hand, I notice my intonation goes bad whenever I'm tired, and I know of no way to compensate for that. I painted over the dots on the neck because I find them distracting. Other bass players are intimidated by this sometimes, and I tell them they shouldn't be. It's different, but it's kind of like when you go into a room in the dark and you already know where the light switch is and you just reach for it. With practice, most anyone can play one, but whether or not you want to is another issue...

  7. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Jul 23, 2008
    I've gone the other direction, but I imagine it's the same type of experience.

    I fought with fretted for quite a long time but I just slap couldn't get it to work. No amount of practice or trying this or that bass could ever lead to me getting a good sound, I couldn't get clear notes, just lots of clank and flub. I just don't have the strength in my hands to do it.

    I've always been kind of fascinated with the fretless anyway, but at the time I was thinking about switching I didn't care about muaah or slides, I was just desperate for a decent sound. Even, clear, audible notes without clank, flub, need for loads of compression, buzzy frets, out of tune up on the heel, etc. Just drove me nuts..... So about 7 or 8 years ago I gave in and bought a fretless (my L2000). I havn't gone back to fretted since.

    So to me it just boils down to what kind of sound and playing experience you prefer. If it just don't work, it just don't work. If it do work, it do...

    Fretted and fretless both have their own techniques and sounds and IMO it's just a matter of taste which one you go with. Some can do both, but I'm one of the poor slobs who cant ;)....

  8. mikezimmerman

    mikezimmerman Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2001
    Omaha, Nebraska
    I don't think you're unusual at all. While I enjoy playing fretless, in my experience the majority of bass players I've known (outside of TB!) don't own or play a fretless, and many have no interest in it.

  9. i am a relative newbie, i have been playing bass for two years. played keyboard for many years before that, so I have a decent amount of knowledge about music, e.g. sight reading, theory, etc.

    my main instrument is a fender american deluxe jazz bass. but i thought every bassist should have a fretless, so at one point i bought a really beautiful lakland skyline (three tone sunburst, ebony fretboard, etc.). since i don't have much time anyway because of my job and related travel, i haven't played the fretless much at all. i struggle to keep up with regular playing on my main bass.

    i couldn't agree more with the comment above that playing fretless is a full time job in itself. i love the sound of this instrument, but to master it would take a huge amount of time that i realistically don't have. just haven't had the heart to sell it yet.

    on another note, i met jeff berlin here in switzerland last year at a bass clinic. he is arguably one of the top living bassists today. you've heard stories, i'm sure, about well known bassists having tens or even hundreds of instruments (clapton had several hundred guitars at one point, before he auctioned many for charity). well, jeff berlin has exactly ONE bass, a custom dean that he plays anywhere and everywhere. his message to the folks at the clinic was: find your style and tone on an instrument that you love and stick to it. really sound advice, that's the direction i am going in.
  10. Bongolation


    Nov 9, 2001
    No Bogus Endorsements
    I passed on fretless for two main reasons:

    1: They are extremely hard to play in tune -- Jaco claimed he was the only one at the time who did, and I don't much doubt that.

    2: Fretless was a big marketing hype by manufacturers who saw it as a major windfall for them in eliminating the expense of fretting. Fretting and high finish are the two biggest labor expenses in making basses -- fretless oil-finish basses (remember them?) were a manufacturer's wet dream, eliminating HUGE production costs per unit. If I got a fretless bass, I'd want a big price cut -- the manufacturer is sure getting his. If a manufacturer tells you otherwise, he's lying.
  11. barebones


    Jan 3, 2005
    Denver, CO
    I've played mostly fretless over the years. I like the feel of it, whether I'm utilizing an actual "fretless sound" or not. I do sometimes consciously put it away, though. Mainly so I can be a little lazier, sling the bass low, rock out, smile at da ladies. For some people, though, this topic is like asking, "phillips or flathead?" or "hammer or saw?" Different tools for different jobs is all. I'd definitely keep one around if I were you, just for when you need a little change of pace or direction.
  12. I dunno i just got a cheap SX fretless for Xmas and its probably one of the most fun instruments I ever owned. Sounds great. Plays great and I love the challenge of using your ears and not the inlaid fretlines. Its like Sudoku for bass but more fun!!
  13. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Jul 23, 2008
    This is really kind of a myth. The really good fretless players like Steve Bailey are really really spot on, but even I can play in relatively good tune even when improvising.

    The truth is, if you're _fretted_ technique is good, it's not that hard to go to the fretless. The fretless just happens to be much more hostile towards bad technique than the fretted is so, if you can't play too well to begin with, it really magnifies on the fretless.

    Wrong on 2 fronts:
    1) In fact, fretless models of a particular bass are a fair bit harder to sell. They're a fraction of the sales of the fretted models so they're not generally that important in terms of revenue.
    2) Because of 1, most company's fretlesses are based off their fretted models, BUT aren't significantly less hard to make. The lined models are usually ones that already have the fret slots cut and some kind of inserts are put in the slots. Er, have you ever done a fretted->fretless conversion by filling in the slots? It ain't cake and in fact it's a bitch to get the fingerboard smooth enough to play correctly. The unlined models with a blank board don't have the problem with the slots, but it still has to be VERY smooth and flat to work well as a fretless board.

    For this reason, often fretless models are a more _expensive_ option for a bass. And it's a good reason!

  14. I bought a fretless, because I wanted to get into playing one after many years of playing a fretted bass. I bought it for the simple reason of playing it on 2-3 songs with my bands and that would be it. It has remained that way when it comes to me playing my fretless.

    Besides, I don't like staring at the neck so much.:rolleyes:
  15. lambro


    Jun 1, 2004
    it should not take much time at all to adapt sound technique on your fretted to being just as competent on fretless

    your ear should be that good too, if frets have made your ear lazy then thats all the more reason to play fretless

    being a guitar player first, the quest for intonnated bends had my ear trained in no time

    it almost sounds like you should force your self to play fretless to be more well rounded

    I can go between fretted/fretless bass, acoustic or electric guitar without any fuss

    it opens up more possibilities and creates a better chance of not playing in a rut

    if you say no to fretless you say no to life
  16. I've owned one OK Squier fretless and played a fretless Ken Smith and I didn't dig either much, and that says quite a bit because I LOVE Ken Smith basses. I think that I'll have a fretless sometime down the road but I want it to sound like sharp, defined and growly like (who else? :p) Jaco. The Squier and the Ken Smith sounded very close to an upright and that's not the tone I want out of a fretless.

    As far as playing one, I'm not terrible at it but I could use some work (who couldn't?). I think that if I practiced enough I'd be fine, they really aren't some huge nightmare to play you just have to be more precise because it's far less forgiving than a fretted instrument. I think what prevents a lot of people is that, in my experience anyway, fretless basses are very limited tonally. The way it sounds can't be as drastically changed by the on-board pre-amp as fretted basses can so you really have to know what sound you're looking for and know what sound this bass can provide before you decide that you want to buy it.
  17. I have a freakin' NICE fretless Stambaugh 6, but I really shouldn't. I sometimes play it...
  18. I've played fretless on and off since 1969, I find myself using my current one, a Lakland 55-02 about half the time. The tone just calls me back to it no matter what music I'm playing. I really prefer playing fretless, but some tunes just call for a fretted instrument. So to me, a 50/50 split is a good compromise,, picking it up and watching the gui**** player go.."Oh no,..whale noises" a HUGE plus! :D
  19. Frets all the way for me - can't live without them not to mention the sound one gets with bright rounds.

    Maybe I'm wrong, but I think playing a fretless with all the notes sounding right takes a LOT of talent, and accuracy.
  20. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    I own one for a rainy day. Its more of an investment at this point. I dont need the money badly enough to sell it, I dont need anything else, so i keep it.