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Bass idea: retractable frets

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by KB, Feb 21, 2005.

  1. KB

    KB Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2000
    Chapel Hill, NC
    I wonder if anyone has ever tried to build a bass with some type of retractable frets thus having the same bass be both fretted and fretless.

    My idea for it would be to have the frets spring loaded or attached to a retractable lever that would be located at the headstock. You toggle and lock the lever and the frets retract back into the neck below the fretboard. Toggle it the other way and the frets extend to normal position on the neck.

    This would require a channel in the neck under the fretboard where the lever arm and frets could be retracted into. It would also require a firm pressure when the frets are in use so that string pressure translated through them, but doesn't press them down.

    It could even be developed enough to be used in replacement necks if all the hardware could be contained within the neck.


  2. Petary791


    Feb 20, 2005
    Michigan, USA
    Dude, that's the sweetest idea i've ever heard! I don't think it would be feasable without lots of trying and money, seeing as when the frets retract, there's still that little line that's empty unless the frets are perfectly squared.

    Does anyone understand what I mean?
  3. Planet Boulder

    Planet Boulder Hey, this is a private residence...man

    Nov 10, 2001
    6,482 feet above sea level
    I once had impure thoughts. Oh, and I pluck my ear hair.
    Yep - Steinberger tried it back in the 80s. Didn't go over so well.
  4. I saw one of those on eBay a while back.
  5. KB

    KB Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2000
    Chapel Hill, NC
    Yeah it would take a lot of development to get it right
  6. JDGA fan

    JDGA fan

    Oct 9, 2003
    It's been done - I remember seeing someone on TV one time with what I think was a Wal Custom bass with retractable frets. I think he turned a knob or inserted a key into the body and turned it to effect the change; bit hazy on the details though - it's been about 20 years.
  7. KB

    KB Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2000
    Chapel Hill, NC
    I figured that it probably has been done as it seems like a good idea to try. But maybe it could be done a little easier to make it more mass marketable?

    Just my late night mind wanderings that thought of the idea
  8. KB

    KB Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2000
    Chapel Hill, NC
  9. didn't work over so well...try it again and you may end up rich though :)
  10. Eric Moesle

    Eric Moesle

    Sep 21, 2001
    Columbus OH
    The height of the nut would also have to go down as well, and even perhaps the relief of the neck would have to change to get a good "mwah?. If you ain't got mwah, there's no sense in playing fretless, is there????
  11. KB

    KB Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2000
    Chapel Hill, NC

    I guess potentially that could be worked into the "lever".
  12. gapupten


    Dec 29, 2004
    One other issue is that the fret material and board material
    would have to be the same, or at least have the same wear characteristics. With a board material harder than the fret material, more fret wear would result and a hole on the board would appear. The other way, over time, the fret would stick out.

    If something like this could be produced, it would be a costly affair to buy and maintain. Certainly more that two necks. A very limited market I would think.

    The only clear reason for such a device is that it would allow someone to play fretless in some parts of a song and fretted on another. In some situations, that would be hot.
  13. DWBass

    DWBass The Funkfather

    Isn't there a bass that has both a fretted section and a fretless section? I seem to remember an instrument like that!
  14. AlembicBob


    Dec 28, 2004
    MA, US
    The other thing that has been done in a similar vein is that basses have been made with interchangeable fretboards. Supposedly, the boards are held on magnetically, and probably with some guide hardware so that they go back into the exact right position. Guitar Center has been trying to sell an Alembic Spoiler set up this way for a few months. Take alook for Alembics on the InstrumentExchange website and it might still be there.

    This idea seems much more doable than retractable frets.
  15. This could be done digitally: a fretless guitar could digitally be made to sound fretted at the switch of a button. The other way around seems more difficult to me. Maybe an idea for line 6 to make a fretless variax-type bass like this.
  16. RichSnyder

    RichSnyder Alien Audio / Mesa Fanatic!! Supporting Member

    Jun 19, 2003
    Columbia, Md
    The cost and complexity of this far exceeds just buying two basses. Maybe when nanotechnology improves...

    "Transformer bass"
  17. Petary791


    Feb 20, 2005
    Michigan, USA
    Hey I was thinking of one more drawback. As I saw on a make your own fretless site; I'm guessing you wouldn't have flatwounds, and without flatwounds, you'll probably mess up your fretboard.
  18. xyllion

    xyllion Commercial User

    Jan 14, 2003
    San Jose, CA, USA
    Owner, Looperlative Audio Products
    This is so wrong. Rounds can be used on fretless basses. Do you have any idea how much playing time is required to create any measureable wear in the board? Play whatever feels and sounds good to you and have the fingerboard sanded if you play it enough to create wear. If you only play fretless a little bit, you may never need the board sanded.