Custom fretless: my design/side dots?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Easy Rider, Jul 2, 2003.

  1. I'm currently trying to partially build (Just making a body, I'm buying the neck) a fretless bass. You know, so I can finally learn to play fretless. :)
    I have the following thing in mind: a solid body (shape based on my Iba SR1000, I love that shape) with NO magnetic PU's, just Piezo's in the bridge (I like the piezo sound). The body will get a sort of fern-like-jungle-plant design woodcarving, to counteract the 'emptiness' of having no mag PU's. I'll probably go for an outboard preamp, to keep it clean.

    How does that sound?

    Now about those side dots:
    I definitely don't want a lined fretboard, not only because I think a big clean slab of ebony looks and feels totally cool, but also because I feel lines are 'cheating'. I want to play by ear, not by eye.
    But I've noticed that on most unlined fretless basses there still are side dots on the neck. My neck will be custom made so I figure: to hell with those side dots! I want my neck totally clean. Heck, uprights don't have any dots either, right?

    What does everybody (anybody) think on that?

    I think it's a good idea, of course. It'll bring the price of the neck down a tad to, I suppose. :)

  2. I think it's your choice.

    That said, I would choose differently! I believe it's important to play in tune. ;) Side dots (and/or lines) may be important to some to achieve that goal. How many hours/day do you plan to work on your freltess playing?

    In the end, no one is going to be impressed with a bass without dots or lines that is played out of tune.

    Good luck with your project.

  3. wulf


    Apr 11, 2002
    Oxford, UK
    I think Jeff's bang on the money - your choice, but the learning curve is going to much steeper with no visual cues.

    As far as I'm aware, up right bassists do make use of visual cues, even if they're not as obvious as dots on the neck... and I don't think it's unknown for someone to take a pencil to their upright and mark on a few surreptitious lines for guidance.

    I recently had a bass defretted and filled with lines that are a little darker than the rosewood fingerboard - they've almost invisible from a distance but clear enough when I need to see them.

  4. Yep, agree with both Wulf and Jeff. I'd still have lines and dots. Wulf's idea of the dark lines makes sense methinks. I believe upright players reference where they are on the neck against where the body is, and it's a much shorter distance than your average nut to body distance on an electric bass.

    Playing fretless is challenging and something you need to work hard at. Lines help.

    CAVEAT: Unless your name is Michael Manring, in which case you can play in tune perfectly well lines or no. :)
  5. bodhan


    Nov 19, 2002
    I have temporary dots made of white glue over the fingerboard of my fretless, I can take it out with just a little scrach. It's very very usefull when starting to learn the fretless, and now, after 8 months of 5 hours/week of studying I fell more confident, but I'll leave the dots for a while! I agree you must play by ear, but first, you must condition your fingers properly over the fingerboard, so dots will help a lot.
  6. Well, tnx very much for the feedback.

    I intend to play at least an hour a day, but I'll probably end up playing two hours a day 'cuz I'm enjoying myself, just like I did with fretted bass. And believe me, no-one will hear my fretless playing until I'm any good! Accept the other people in the house.

    I must say I'm not so sure anymore about the side dots. But the concept of an 'unmarked' neck is so appealing... And beautiful.
    I think I'll solve it this way: no side dots, and if after two months of playing there's no sign of progress or really, really slow progress I'll have some side dots put in.
    Maybe even side dots at the fret positions.

    Lines are a total no-go. Too ugly. I want a perfectly smooth fretboard. Although the 'black' lines are a wonderful idea, but I don't compromise.
    Well, I try not to anyway...

    Ok, I haven't exactly never touched a fretless before. I have played two before, one unlined and one lined (yes, lined was easier, in fact too easy to be any fun) and the unlined one wasn't that hard to play. To me it's like playing a fretted with your eyes closed, using the Force so to speak. I love using the Force.

    Again, tnx everyone.

  7. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    I understand your view, perfectly. It was the reason why my first bass was fret- and line free: no cheating, ears only, and much prettier.
    However, I found that the side dots on 3rd, 5th, 7th and 12th were very useful. At least to know when to retune!:D

    Seriously, I'd not become a bass guitar player without these dots.
  8. emjazz

    emjazz Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2003
    Brooklyn, NY
    I don't feel that Jaco Pastorius or Gary Willis are any less of a musician because they have lines on their fretless. It's the end result that is heard that's important.
  9. Yeah, well, I have been rethinking my views last night, fiddling around with my fretted bass...
    And while doing so MKS' point about the nut-to-body distance grew more and more apparent, especially around say the 8th or 9th fret... not like an upright at all...
    And now Suburban makes a good point of knowing when to retune...


    I'll probably have some side dots after all.
    They're really small anyway.

    Yet again, thanks everyone for the advice.

  10. Oh hey, no disrespect meant to Jaco or Gary! Or anyone playing a lined fretless, heck no!
    Please, let that be clear. Play what you want, what you like, 'go forth and sound good'. If my fretless playing gets any good I won't start slagging fretted players or something. Any musical instrument takes skill and effort to master, be it fretted, fretless, with keys or having to breathe through it, or whatever.

    I just think lines are ugly and to my personal taste not challenging enough. I enjoyed learning to play bass a lot, maybe even more than playing it now that I can. So I want to really have to learn something, for me that's a huge part of the kick.

  11. emjazz

    emjazz Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2003
    Brooklyn, NY
    No disrespect taken. I just was giving my thoughts on the subjuct. This is also what made me come around. I also wanted at one time to have no lines and dots on a fretless. I was thinking in the same manner as you. Good luck with whatever you decide.
  12. Cool. Aesthetic preference, all by itself, is a good enough reason to prefer unlined. But please don't fool yourself into believing that lined players use their ears less or that unlined players have better intonation. In my experience, and that of others I respect (e.g., Steve Lawson), neither is true.

    And ... please don't take this the wrong way, but ... if you don't think playing a lined fretless is challenging enough, it's possible that you may not be nailing the intonation quite as well as you think you are. It's been my experience that most fretless players--definitely including me!--*think* we play in tune better than we do.;)
  13. xush


    Jul 4, 2001
    mobile AL
    I learned on an unlined fretless with side dots @ 3/5/7/9... it can be done, but you have to be pretty careful.

    What kind of neck will you be buying? Do they even make unlined fretless necks with side dots, or are you getting it from a luthier?

    My latest bass has an unlined ebony board with side dots at every position; that's taking a little getting used to, but I don't think it would be much fun without the dots.
    You could go with smaller dots I guess.

    JP Plume 5f

    MAJOR METAL The Beagle Father Supporting Member

    Mark PM sent to you:)
  15. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Inactive

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    I'd always been a no lines guys, always liked a clean board with dots at 3,5,7, etc. Then I came
    across a semihollow Elrick NJS that had dots on the left and then right side of the top of the
    board and lines on the side only. I got over it. Since then I've picked up a few more lined and
    unlined fretlesses and, while I still prefer the look of a clean board, I wouldn't throw any of
    them back;)

    The three on the left are: lined, side lines with dots, lines. The three on the right are
    clean. Didn't even realize I lined them up like that until now.

  16. Brad, you just have a sick number of cool basses.:D
  17. i personally think lines help if you're looking at them, but only for certain intervals. for example, without lines, i find it easier to get into the sweet spot for maj/min 3rds and maj/min 6ths, because i'm going on feel and ears. when you play a major 3rd or 6th it sounds a bit better to play just a little under the note, and if you play minor 3rds or 6ths it sounds better just on top. with lines its kind of hard to achieve this because you have to cheat off of the line just a little. on the other hand, playing while looking at lines makes it easy to hit those perfect 4ths and 5ths nicely. one other thing is that i find it very easy to play in tune on an unlined board below the 12th fret, but my intonation gets iffy at times above the 12th fret since everything moves closer together. for this reason, i like the idea that the F bass Caron model is unlined down on the bottom, with some lines up top on the treble side.. best of both worlds.
  18. Pics from Bunnybass of the F-Bass approach. This is my idea of someway in between lined and unlined, and the best of both worlds:
  19. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Inactive

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    This is the same setup as my Elrick custom NJS.
  20. Bryan R. Tyler

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

    May 3, 2002
    Reviewer: Bass Player Magazine
    I'm having lines put on the fretless I'm having built right now, and I was thinking of having the side dots line up directly under the lines at the 3,5,7 etc. frets. I may have them be LEDs as well. I figure they might as well line up where I'm going to have to place my fingers. Has anyone seen a bass like that before (pics?)?