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best way to learn fretless?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by sloppysubs, Jan 14, 2005.

  1. sloppysubs


    Nov 24, 2002
    Swansboro, NC
    i found out today im getting a fretless bass. however im debating wether i want lines put on it or not. ive played a few fretless basses here and there. given my intonation is not perfect but i do seem to play well on the unlined boards. i knwo that everythign comes with practice and ill be gettinga teacher to help me out with everything.

    so should i get lines to make sure everything is good, or stick to my original plan and keep it unlined and get the teacher? thanks.

    any other tips and hints are welcome.
  2. Aaron


    Jun 2, 2001
    Bellingham, WA
    Your ears should be your guide, but I don't really see how an extra feature is much of an inhibitor if used properly.
  3. I got my first fretless nearly 30 years ago. During that time, I took a long while off and, consequently, lost some of my intonation skills. This year, I restored the first fretless bass that I built and decided to try something to help with the poor intonation and the lack of confidence I had. My neck already was unlined and had dots where the frets would be but only the marked ones. I took another neck and matched it to my fretless and marked the "in between" frets. Then I installed dots for those positions between the original dots. To keep the whole system making sense, I enlarged the originals so I could tell their position from the others easily. You simply wouldn't believe the how well this works. It's as if I gained more confidence than I had even when I thought I was doing well way back when! Long jumps up the neck aren't a crapshoot anymore and it is as comfortable as can be.

    I recommend it heartily.
  4. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    If your final goal is to play with an unlined board, then you should probably start with one. But if the looks don't matter that much to you, then start with a lined one. You'll be able to develop hand-eye coordination quicker, which will help your muscle memory develop quicker, which is what makes you play in tune. Your ears are helpful, but once your ears have told you you've hit a sour note, it's too late-everyone else has heard it already. Your ears are a great thing to practice with, but you can't play with them-you play with your hands, and your muscle memory is the thing that will put them in the right place (along with your eyes if you use lines.) Lines also help when in live situations where you can't hear yourself. There are fantastic unlined players out there though (Michael Manring, etc.), so anything can be accomplished.
  5. Eli M.

    Eli M. Life's like a movie, write your own ending

    Jul 24, 2004
    New York, NY
    If you feel confident in your intonation, then by all means go unlined. Classical string players do it, so why can't we?

    There are three options for fretless basses:
    1) lines - I personally don't see the point to having lines. I don't look at the fingerboard, I look at the top edge of the fingerboard (there will often be dots there). So for this reason, you could go with...
    2) side dots, and no lines. Dots can be a big help, and it leaves a blank fingerboard which I think is prettier. And for the daredevils among us, there is the option of having...
    3) nothing. This is rare, and I've never seen a fretless bass like this (if someone has seen one other than a custom order, I'd be interested to know about it).

    You said your intonation is "not perfect" which leads me to believe that your intonation is at least decent. If that is the case, then you don't need lines, because as you said, it will come with practice.

    Here is my personal problem with lines. When I play a lined fretless, I get hung up on the visual aspect of it, and it hinders my playing and actually hurts my intonation. These basses were set up well and all the lines were where they should be, but as soon as I took my eyes off the fingerboard, my intonation improved. I may be the only person for whom this is true, so don't think I'm condemning lines.

    I play double bass and I used to play cello, so I have had experience on fretless instruments. So I am definitely biased toward unlined fingerboards. I don't even look at the double bass fingerboard when I play; dots or lines would be useless there. (I've seen some young beginning string players with stickers for dots, but I never had them). In fact, I am so confident in my intonation that the custom fretless I'm having built will have option 3 - nothing.

    But if you haven't had experience on fretless instruments, I see nothing wrong with dots or lines, and if they work for you, then go ahead.

    [EDITED to fix awkward wording]
  6. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    There's a fretless bass next to me now with no lines or side dots.......but it's a Wishbass! Even with lines, side dots, and light-up signs that say "Put your finger here," you couldn't get decent intonation out of this thing.

    Rosencrantz, I've heard other people mention that they have problems with lines because they start focusing on them too much, so you're not the only one. I haven't had the problem myself-heck, frets are lines, and I never get distracted by them when playing fretted :D
  7. sloppysubs


    Nov 24, 2002
    Swansboro, NC
    well my ultimate goal would b eto play on an unlined board. the fretless basses i have played have all had dots and no lines. to be honest ive only ever really used the dots at the 12th fret.

    i plan on not only practicing constantly, but also with a tuner. anytime i hit sour notes or notes right im gonna have that tuner in front of me to tell me whats up. i think that will help a lot.

    my fear about lines though is the whole getting hooked thing. i dont want to be crutched by them, i want to be able to get with it. that and unlined boards really look better to me and they dont have that fretted look.

    thanks guys and gals for the input, ill take this is very serious consideration.
  8. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Playing with a tuner is a great idea-make sure yours has a fast response. Since your goal is to play unlined, go for unlined!

    Keep in mind though that lines aren't a crutch-they're a tool to help you play better, just like side dots, tuners, your ears, etc., and like the side dots, they're a tool that will aid in your muscle memory. Anything that helps you make better music is a good thing. Becoming overly-dependant on them is the fault of the player, not the lines (I can't imagine anyone going up to Jaco or Gary Willis and saying they were using crutches ;)) This way if an unlined doesn't work out for you, you won't feel like you're "giving in" to using lines. My first fretless was unlined (I liked the looks better), but in the end I was more comfortable on lined.
  9. sloppysubs


    Nov 24, 2002
    Swansboro, NC
    thanks brian

    ill give all that some thought too. im going to some local stores tomorrow, so ill try out all kinds and see what fits me best.
  10. Try playing along with CDs to build up your ear. That way you'll hear when you're playing out of tune.
  11. sloppysubs


    Nov 24, 2002
    Swansboro, NC
    do you mean cd's of fretless bass or anything? cause i do listen to cd's for ear training now. but i would think fretless would be a little different in that youd want to hear fretless music. thanks
  12. jvbjr


    Jan 8, 2005
    Practice plugged into a tuner so you have a visual reference other than your fingers.

    You can always put pencil lines on an unlined fingerboard as a crutch in the beginning and clean it off later w/ some Windex.

    I don't mind lines like Wal has, but the Pedulla lines are too much for my taste.
  13. Brian S

    Brian S

    Nov 11, 2003
    Atlanta, Georgia
    I got my fretless, lined bass 3 months ago. The lines enabled me to play a gig with it less than a week after I got it. At first I stared at my neck almost constantly while playing, which was difficult since I play in a big swing band (18 pieces) and we read charts. Glancing back and forth without losing my place in the music was a challenge. However I have noticed that I now look at the neck less often. So I wouldn't worry about getting hooked on the lines. For myself, I think I chose the right approach: use a lined bass as a training tool and then eventually switch to an unlined bass.

    Good luck on your bass. Let us know what you finally get.
  14. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
    FWIW, I play acoustic/upright bass (no marks obviously) and I have a fretless 6 string with lines.

    I like the lines on my 6. To be honset, even after years of playing, I like to have some reference points when playing stuff like Yellowjackets. For basic big band/walking stuff, I don't really need/use them. I know it shouldn't matter what music I'm playing and I should be able to go without, but that's what I have.

    I don't think having lines makes you less of a player (Jimmy Haslip for example) and I don't think having a blank board makes you a better player. I let that issue delay my purchase for too long - worrying about what people will think. What matters is what they think when you play, and I haven' theard any complaints.

    Different strokes for different folks. Get whatever you are comfortable with and be ready to have fun. i play my fretless almost exclusively.
  15. Nice post. Thanks.:bassist:
  16. Eli M.

    Eli M. Life's like a movie, write your own ending

    Jul 24, 2004
    New York, NY
    I think I'll chime in again although I don't know how relevant this actually is...

    There is an accordionist named Raif Hyseni who plays with a shiny fabric cover on his keyboard. I took a lesson or two with him and he says it teaches you not to look at the keyboard when you play. Another thing it does is it makes the keys more slippery, so it's easier to play glissandos and things like that - a lot of fast runs become a little easier with the cover, as long as you know where you're going. I've played accordion with and without the cover, and it's pretty easy to play with it on. Not to mention it looks impressive. Much like an unlined fretless fingerboard. It helps you to play by feel instead of sight, to develop muscle memory.

    I just thought that would be interesting.

    (I could have sworn I posted this same thing in another thread about fretless basses, it's the first instance of deja vu I've ever had. Sorry if the wording is a little off in this post, it's three in the morning).
  17. sloppysubs


    Nov 24, 2002
    Swansboro, NC
    thanks. yea im gonna go unlined and just work at it. hopefully i can be a really good fretless player. if it dont work that way, ill have lines slapped on.
  18. +1
  19. Two tips I used when I picked up a fretless bass:

    Play whatever songs you're used to playing on a fretted bass on your fretless. Then you'll know when you f*ck up a part. :)

    Also, when approaching fretless, ask yourself, "How would [my favorite bassist] play fretless?", then approach your instrument that way. (My example was "How would Mike Watt play fretless?")
  20. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Agreed. Play whatever MUSIC you listen to or will play... it doesn't have to be fretless. Learn how to get the fretless to not sound like a fretless. Slipping and sliding is easy... learn to play with precision.