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Can any bass be turned in to a fretless?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by METALHEAD, Apr 8, 2005.

  1. Can any bass be turned in to a fretless?

    how do you do it and are what are the advantages and disadvantages????
  2. Tash


    Feb 13, 2005
    Bel Air Maryland

    Advantages: you don't have to buy a fretless
    Disadvantages: More often than not the resulting bass plays and sounds like ****
  3. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    Physically, yes. However, not all basses will be improved by the process, and I'd imagine that refretting a defretted bass would be more awkward than fretting an unfinished neck - not exactly one way but harder to go back!

    Are you contemplating this as a project or just speculating?

  4. FireAarro


    Aug 8, 2004
    You can't turn a fretless bass into a fretless bass :eek:
  5. I'm thinking of buying a cheap secondhand bass off my friend for about £50-£150. and i really want a fretless. i just wondered if it would be cheaper than buying one.
  6. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    Spend a few more pounds and go for a used Yamaha BB404F. Great first fretless for anybody.

    That said, yes, defretting might be cheaper. But when you factor in that you can easily ruin the fretboard/neck and even if you do a great job, the thing just might (and probably will, as do most defret jobs) turn out just plain awful. I've only heard of one or two really good defretted basses where the defretting wasn't done by guys like Joe Zon or Roger Sadowsky, and I've never played a good one personally.
  7. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    I'd go with the advice that, if you're in the market for a fretless, it would make much more sense to buy a fretless than to buy something you'll have to work on. If you really know what you're looking for in a fretless bass, you might get a bargain this way, but just by asking the question I suspect that's not the case at the moment.

    Therefore, it would be safer to spend a little more and get a fretless straight off - you can try it and decide whether you like it before you part with the cash and, if fretless playing doesn't work out for you, you're likely not to have shaved so much off the resale value.

  8. You can pull the frets off anything.

    Whether you will get the sound you want is a bit of a crap shoot.

    I think for a bass to have a good fretless sound, it must have a good in herent tone unamplified. meaning a live sound with a lot of sustain. Probably more can be said here. If it doesn't have this naturally it probably won't get what you want.

    I have read that there is a risk of creating structural instability. If the fingerboard is thin and/or the neck is not strong the removal of the frets may cause the the neck to flex. Hence, the board should be filled either with eboxy or wood or plastic fret markers.

    I wouldn't do it to a bass I love, but why not live dangerously if you know the risks.
  9. I once had this "operation" done on a 1969 Fender Precision and the results were very good. I bought a handmade acoustic bass that had been defretted the same way.

    If you are having a cheap bass defretted, don't expect any miracle.

    Have a good luthier defret the bass and fill the holes with epoxy. Having the whole neck shaved and epoxied a la Jaco can be a good thing too.

    If you can get your hands on a Godin A5.... That is the very best fretless I have ever played...
  10. I did just this to a Hohner Steinberger copy. Looks awful(I had no idea what I was doing, this was way before Talkbass exsisted)& sounds really good. I don't advise it, but I magine someone must have told Jaco he was nuts, too.
  11. I like Jeeps. I really, really want the open-air feeling of a Wrangler with the top down. I do not want any other brand, as I am a real Jeep kind of guy.

    A friend of mine can sell me a 2001 Cherokee for a nice price. And then I can cut the roof off and have a real Jeep with that wonderful feeling of open-aired freedom!

    But for a little more money I could get a real Wrangler (with a top that can actually be put back on after having been removed).

    What should I do?

    If you think about it in those terms, the choice is obvious. Yes, you CAN do this to a bass, but for a little more money (and a bit more patience) you can get the real deal and not damage another bass in the process. Just because one can do a thing does not imply that one must do it.

    And, yes, I do own a Wrangler. I bought it to avoid cutting the roof off of a friend's Cherokee.

    Okay, I am lying.

    About the Cherokee.

    Not the Wrangler.

    I'll shut up now.

    Bye. :bag:
  12. RunngDog


    Jan 22, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    Elephant's post is right. Back in the days when Jaco defretted his Jazz (or epoxied a Jazz he'd bought already defretted -- depending on which of Jaco's stories you want to believe), there weren't a lot of options out there for someone who wanted to play fretless. Fender was making a very few fretless P-basses, but the fretless Jazz, which was really essential for the sort of tone Jaco ended up getting from a bass, was still decades away (Fender Japan started making fretless Jazzes about the time Jaco died). So defretting an early 60's fretted Jazz was about the only option available.

    Today there's lots more options available. Fender makes fretless basses in the US, Japan, and Mexico -- and there's a host of other manufacturers making fretless basses of every shape & size and at every price point. In addition, the Internet has created a much more efficient market for basses. So if someone has a really wonderful bass but wants a fretless, the smart play is not to defret (and thereby devalue) the wonderful bass but rather to sell it at a fair market price to someone who a fretted bass, and to buy an "equivalent value" fretless bass at a fair market price from someone who owns but doesn't want one. Thirty years ago, that wasn't an option because the bass market was almost entirely local. [FYI, this is the same advice I give people thinking about refinishing a vintage bass -- the smart economic play is to sell it unrefinished and use the proceeds to buy whatever it is you're looking for.]

    And if you're really convinced that your bass has unique qualities known only to you and not marketable, then there are fretless necks available on the market that are generally going to be much better (and much safer) than what you'll get defretting the original neck. And if you're not happy with the results, or if you just want to sell the bass down the line, you can put the old neck back on and sell the bass as "all original" at a much higher price point.
  13. adam on bass

    adam on bass Supporting Member

    Feb 4, 2002
    New Braunfels, Texas
    Endorsing Artist: Spector, GK, EMG and D'Addario
    I had my Roadstar II done last year and it sounds an plays great. I had it retro_fitted with EMG's also and I LOVE IT. I guess it's hit or miss. That bass was really nice to begin with. So you have to go with the old adage, "Garbage in, Garbage out".
  14. I defretted my cheap slammer p-bass. I put flatwounds on it and it has a GREAT fretless sound. Intonation, playability, and plugged in sound are a different story, but I still count it as a worthwile project.
  15. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    I hate it when people defret. No matter how "professionally" done it is, unless you're talking about replacing the fingerboard, it always amounts to a butcher hack job.

    Reasons not to defret:
    (1) Completely destroy any monetary value of the instrument. You may say "I don't care" but someday you'll want the thing out of your closet and nobody will want to buy it.
    (2) Side dots are in the wrong place. On a proper fretless bass, the side dots are at the note locations. Whether lined or unlined, this always makes it easy to see where you are unless the stage is absolutely dark. These dots are much brighter than fretlines. Some basses have the dots between the note locations, but that is the exception, not the norm. Once you get used to playing a "defretted" fretless, you'll have a difficult time adjusting to a "intended" fretless should you want to upgrade or change basses in the future.
    (3) Large front dots on a fretless neck look awful. We can argue the aesthetics of lined or unlined 'till the cows come home but no-one, even the biggest lined fretless advocate on this board is going to stand up and say big dots on a converted fretboard look anything but HIDEOUS. I know they were good enough for Jaco....
    (4) You compromise the integrity of the neck. Minor concern, the frets only stick in 1/8" or less of an inch, but still, Who would buy a fretless with 1/8" deep grooves in the neck????

    There is absolutely no reason to defret any bass when so many manufacturers offer so many choices for such reasonable prices.
  16. This is exactly what I am talking about. One of my many hats is that of Brass Instrument Repair Guru. I always look at the "why" just as much as the "what" when asked to do custom work to a fairly decent horn. I have made much less money because of it, but I can't live with the old "customer is always right" mantra in many cases: sometimes the customer is very poorly informed and needs to have the real, science-based information.

    I will talk guys out of boogering up a nice trombone or trumpet if they can not make me see the reason for an unproven customization. I do all requested repair work without hesitation, but am unwilling to commit a "stupid" without having a very good reason.

    Sometimes a simple just-to-see-what-it-will-do-to-the-tone-type of hack to a pretty junky instrument is fine. So long as the horn is crap and the owner is honest with themselves that it might end up playing worse than ever after being "acoustically adjusted" by me as per their request, I am usually fine with it.

    De-fretting an EB, even a cheapo, is no longer an experiment since it has already been done many, many times. It works, but it weakens the fingerboard which can sometimes really screw up the neck. It looks truly bad when finished, even by a good luthier that is extra sensitive about the final appearance of the axe.

    My advice is for you to get a real fretless EB. Or, If you are just insistent on seeing what this particular bass will sound like as a fretless instrument, spend some money and have a luthier mount a new fingerboard and reset your action and tuning. I think that you will be pleased with the results.

    I am a pro tubist in an orchestra in the day-to-day world, but my love is my growing relationship with my upright bass. I am new to the EB world, so all of my "cranial bass" sounds are that of an upright, even when playing on my EB. I can tell you that it is a really nice sound that you are seeking.

    You will find fretless to be much more demanding of you, accuracy-wise (much, MUCH more) but the sound is just too cool. Please don't sacrifice a functioning bass to an experiment that already has a historically well-documented outcome just to save a little filthy lucre. If you do this project right, you will have a whole new world of sounds and styles open up to you. If you do it through "home surgery" you have a very decent chance of ruining a functioning instrument just to satisfy your curiosity. Have it re-done or sell it "as is" and get a cheap fretless.

    Above all, take your project idea seriously and have a lot of fun, no matter what you end up doing. The fretless sound is really cool and very much worth the tons of extra work that you will have to do to make the switch. (And the "tons of work" will really only be a factor at the beginning when you are learning to adjust your reach and sharpening your listening skills.)

    As I said: Have fun!

    Wade :D
  17. Bassliner


    Mar 15, 2005
    No matter how good the results are; NEVER, EVER, do this please!
    Cheap basses can sound astonishing after a defret (don't go defretting just yet please) or can turn out to be fire wood.
    Don't do it yourself; let someone do it that CAN actually do it ;)
    My experience with my 2 fretless basses:
    $150 TCS Jazz; bought it already defretted (from a luthier) and I coated the board. Plywood body and it sounds GREAT for this price. A little miracle....
    $1050 Fender Jazz '77 defretted. Now, I didn't defret this bass, and I wish sometimes the previous owner never had for the sake of originality, BUT; it's the most beautiful fretless I ever heard. And I'm serious about this. It sucks that it has been defretted but someone up there liked that bass and decided to bless it with a beautiful voice for which I'm very grateful. I bought this on eBay and never heard it or even played it before I paid it. A big and risky gamble, but Im glad I did it.
  18. think WAY back to the time of when jaco roamed the earth. jaco wanted to get rid of the "speed bumps" on his bass. did he have a choice of a nice fretless? nope. fretless was unheard of for electric bass. so he did what he had to do. rip out the little suckers, pop in some wood filler, and epoxy the neck. honestly, it didn't sound all that bad. yes, you could mess up your neck for life, but at the same time it could still come out good. just because MOST necks come out like crap doesn't mean they ALL do. its all in opinion. if you want to take the risk, go ahead, i know i would. :bassist:

    p.s. just because you value something as a personal opinion doesn't neccisarily make it a fact. :D
  19. spc


    Apr 10, 2004
    South of Boston
    I had my USA Lakland JO converted at the Pedulla factory, and I am as happy as you could possibly be with an instrument. I was a bit afraid of ruining the resale value, what if it doesn't sound good, etc., and it did take me a while to get it so that I was happy with it (strings, pickups, setup,), but I love it!
    Regarding Philbiker's comments about the side dots, I can't imagine how the dots being at the fretline would be easier to see than dots "between" the frets. I will agree that when I happen to play a "proper" fretless (dots at fret locations, there is something of an "adjustment" period ;) ). And on the JO, I love the look of the face dots (they are birdseye maple, I would not like the standard white ones though).
    My first warmoth was also defretted (maple board) and coated by a local luthier, and he did an amazing job.
    I have no plans on parting with either...

    ymmv, yadda, yadda, yadda...
  20. I can't wait to buy a fretless so that I can put frets in it... :hyper:

    IMO...the next craze...FRETTED basses...I think it'll catch on...don't you?