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De-Fretting my Bass

Discussion in 'Hardware, Setup & Repair [BG]' started by Tommy the Cat, Apr 22, 2005.

  1. Tommy the Cat

    Tommy the Cat

    Apr 22, 2005
    I have an old Ibanez GSR bass (the ones you get in the starter back things) that im considering De-Fretting.


    The fretboard is made of Rosewood. And im just wondering what would be the best way to remove the frets without like, destroying it.
  2. BruceWane


    Oct 31, 2002
    Houston, TX
  3. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    Here's a recent thread on the issue

    Don't do it.

    I copy and paste this text into the weekly defret question.

    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. If you like that Ibanez, here's one that might interest you. The picture is a fretted, but the bass for sale is a fretless version.
  4. herndonbassist

    herndonbassist Low Down Thumper Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Herndon, VA - NoVa
    I have to agree with Phil on this one. I recently purchased a Yamaha Bass on eBay with some EMG's in it and a note about how the frets were put in with epoxy. I really wanted a BB450, so I took my chances. I sold the EMG's (just not a big Active fan) and got half my money back, that's the good part. :bassist:

    The bad part is that the frets were put in with epoxy b/c someone (apparently while drinking heavily) yanked the frets out of the neck and then decided that they wanted them back in. :crying: To put it simply, the frets were so uneven, that it was rendered unplayable. I went ahead and took the time to remove all of the frets (in a more proper fashion) and to the best of my ability repair all of the gouges in the fretboard, and have (after also filling in the fret lines) finished the bass as a fretless "project" bass. While I am happy with my $100 project bass, I am STILL looking for either a fretted replacement neck, or a real fretless neck.

    It's just not a good idea, unless you REALLY know what you're doing. Even then, if it's because you want to save some money on a fretless, you'd be MUCH better served selling the ibanez for 100-125 and buying an SX fretless! That's my $.02! :cool:
  5. Hey guys, a proper defret has fillers put back in the slots There isn't any strength lost to voids in the neck. :rolleyes:

    Geez, when pros like Turner and Conklin make lined fretless's do you REALLY think they are going to compromise the structural integrity of their instruments?

    Let's think a little here OK?
  6. ::::BASSIST::::

    ::::BASSIST:::: Progress Not Perfection.

    Sep 2, 2004
    Vancouver, BC Canada
    an interesting idea i read about is where some dude defretted his neck but only from the 13th fret down. that way the bass is still very usable for most rock, but you still have some room to noodle around in.

    very clever, i think.
  7. Ignorance abounds in this statement. Phil's personal preference ignores the fact that this process has been completely and thoroughly vetted for 30 years now and the professionals that have learned the proper way to accomplish the task do it in a way that will actually increase the value of certain instruments.

    Not everyone wants to defret a collectable Fender. A large group of folks want to defret a $100 Essex or Ibanez to see if the fretless thing is something to invest money on. That is a perfectly logical and legitimate reason to defret. Even a midrange instrument in the $400-700 range is a candidate depending on the owner's intentions. In these days and times, it makes more sense to recycle than to instantly repurchase.

    I'm sure the market is eagerly awaiting the flood of Hondo P clones you've got stashed away in the closet there Phil.

    Yes, when you defret, the old side dot markers are still there. Damn, that's an unsurmountable obstacle isn't it? You've just spent 4 hours pulling and filling fret slots - what are you going to do about the 8 specks of plastic on the side of the neck? Let's think about this for a sec. If one fills the fret slots with something that contrasts, the marker issue is moot because the edges of the fret slots become ever so visible with the new slot filler. Viola'! instant position markers! Now take your drill bit and remove the old dots. Done! Or take the lazy mans approach and use a Sharpie and make'em black. There are any number of ways someone could eliminate those dots from being a distraction.

    Next issue please...

    You won't get any argument from me here that they are ugly on a fretless. But why were we defretting a bass in the first place? Was it to look good or was it to make a different sound? As far as I know, a fret dot marker has never made a sound on a bass yet. Of course I could be wrong but I don't think I am.
    This statement proves one or more of these:

    A. You don't understand the proper method of defretting a bass
    B. You've never seen a properly defretted bass
    C. You've never played a properly defretted bass
    D. You have never studied the subject nor have you done a defret on a neck to get a deep understanding of the issues on which you have stated so much wrong information

    A properly defretted bass will ALWAYS have filled fret slots. End of argument. Of course open fret slots would compromise the neck stability. If your whole argument is based on this fallacy, you have been misled and have been misleading others.
  8. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    You can disagree with me without being condescending you know Hambone. I have seen and played so-called "properly done" defrets, and my opinion stands.

    Your resonse to my point (1) implies that you didn't read it. You don't care about turning a $100 bass into firewood, I would. Fine.

    (2) How many defret jobs have you actually seen with the side dots fixed?

    (3) OK, you don't mind fret dot markers on the front of the neck. I think most would.

    (4) How deep are the filled-in fretlines in a fretless that was designed from the ground up as a fretless?
    OK, I think that the fretline slots on an intended lined fretless are much shallower than those on a fretted or defretted neck. I also think that Turner and Conklin are using better wood and better construction techniques than Ibanez and Essex.

    In your response to (1) you write
    SO you're implying that someone who is looking to defret a $100 instrument to "try out" fretless is going to take the time and have the knowledge to really do it right? Judging from the budget conversions I have seen I wouldn't make that same assumption. And chances are when their "home converted" fretless doesn't live up to their expectations they'll end up with a runined instrument they can't even give away and a completely inadequate experience learning what fretless is all about.

    To some people $120 for an SX is a major investment. I started playing when I was 12, I know others here also have.

    Why not just sell the $100 Ibanez or Essex on Ebay and get an intended fretless instead?
  9. I defretted my SX and I think it sounds and plays great for what it is. Am I happy with it? Yes. If it was my only bass, would I do it? No. I have a number of basses. I have a fretted flea bass, a fretted brice and a fretted warwick thumb. and i had a fretted SX bass. I wanted to try fretless without dropping $ on a bass. I have enough 4 string basses to last a good while, so i took the frets out. Sounds like any other fretless I have played and didn't cost me a dime. I radiused the board and intonation and action are great with no rough spots. Let people do what they want and how they want. Good lord.
  10. Then you contradict yourself when you state that a defret has 1/8" "grooves" left in the fretboard. C'mon, who are you kidding?

    There's the condescension. You know good and well I read your post because I addressed every single concern of mine point by point. And you also know that a $100 bass isn't a $100 bass to anyone but the retailer that sells it. From that point on it's downhill baby. If you decide to defret that bass, you'll likely be defretting an $80 bass if you're lucky. Let's get real here.

    All of the ones I've done. How many have you done? Besides, the fact that you haven't seen it has absolutely no bearing on why someone else should or shouldn't defret a bass. It's a fact that it can be done and very possibly has been done.

    Now here's ignorance - as in ignored what I wrote. I stated specifically that I agree that front dots are ugly but that this isn't a valid reason to not defret. Dots don't make sound and that's the ultimate reason to defret.

    Apparently you state this to start and keep an argument up eh?

    I don't need to think about Conklin as I've seen and poured over all of JT's customs. The fret slots are of standard depth and I imagine that they are so that there was enough working material to push down into the slot and glue. Understand that JT's basses have natural wood in the slots and not a plastic. And sure, Conklin and Turner are using good woods. But you tell me, which is a better wood - this $65 fretboard from a 7 string Conklin or this $20 fretboard from a 4 string Ibanez. Hard to tell? You bet it is because there's not a hell of a lot of difference. In fact, it's very possible, not real probable but possible that there is no difference in the wood quality at all just the origin, and fee's paid for the log and processing that eventually became the fretboards. I'm not saying they ARE the same and if you put words in my mouth you are a liar. But the relative difference can be minimal. Besides, we aren't talking about yanking the frets on a Conklin are we? Let's get back on subject...

    No Phil, if they follow your intentionally misguiding posts saying that it's an absolute no-win situation, THEN they will have a completely inadequate experience. I only have to point to the handful of complete tool noobs that attempted the prescribed PROPER procedures, did it right, and had a good experience, to prove my point. Conversely, I only have to point out the group of equally complete tool noobs numbering about double the first group, that DIDN'T follow the directions to prove my point again.

    Yes, it is a lot of money to some people. And by the time they've learned on that instrument, it won't be worth anything but the $80 or less I mentioned before. Now, if they've done their homework and they think they're good enough for a fretless and they go to daddy Phil, what's he going to say? "OK son, you can go get a fretless, just sell your bass on ebay and buy yourself a new one." Get real Phil, what do you expect someone to get with the $75 they are going to get from the proceeds from that bass? Well here's a flash - For the cost of a couple of MacDonalds dinners, they can defret it according to the how-to's on TB, do it right, have fun, make good sounds, learn a thing or two, have fun, then they can go by a bass, a real bass, a real fretless or a fretted or even a $120 Essex and not be out a damn thing.

    Face it, all encompassing statements like yours never cover all of the situations one would like them to. Yours doesn't even cover the instances you need them to. :scowl:
  11. artistanbul

    artistanbul Nihavend Longa Vita Brevis

    Apr 15, 2003
    I agree 100% with hambone. And I really cannot find anything more to add. Maybe just this; during the time spent on a careful and remotely guided defretting job, the amount of knowledge a person earns beats the crap out of a 100$ bass very much. I know it does.
  12. herndonbassist

    herndonbassist Low Down Thumper Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Herndon, VA - NoVa
    I am inclined to sway my opinion, mainly because I am only dealing with the clean up of someone's butcher job of a neck on a bass that I recently bought. Am I bitter, yes I am, more so, that I didn't think to ask specific questions. I can't say that it was misrepresented, but I CAN say that I have one heck of a mess to deal with.

    So I take back the thought that you can't defret an instrument and expect it to be as good as an intended fretless. :cool:
  13. Robert, that's what we're here for...Just how big a mess are we talkin' about here :confused: :D
  14. herndonbassist

    herndonbassist Low Down Thumper Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2005
    Herndon, VA - NoVa
    Well, I am pretty certain that this guy read the old legend about how Jaco (while drunk on a tour bus) pulled his frets out with a butter knife.

    There's a TON of wood gouges. Luckily I don't think he did ANY sanding to the fretboard. The really bad part was that he decided to put the frets BACK IN! This is where he did a bit more damage b/c the slots were too big so he put them back in with epoxy. :crying: You can imagine how it looked, but it played even worse (I know that this is a shock) because none of the frets were level.

    I (after reading the sticky...) removed the frets (again) with care, and decided that I would try filling some of the gouges, most of the filler has crumbled out, so I am pretty much back at the beginnin. :help:
  15. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    Well ignoring all the arguments for doing it or not, I defretted this exact bass myself with great results. Do a search on my username or "just de-fretted my old Ibanez" to find the thread.

    I used a butter knife to get the frets started on the pulling, then some fret cutters from Stew Mac to ease them out the rest of the way. I filled the lines with Maple veneer, radius sanded the board, and sealled it afterwards. I also had to file down the nut slots to get the action correct. I spent about 30 minutes pulling the frets, and a couple of hours filling them back in.

    Worked great, sounds even better as a fretless, and brought an old bass that I never played, but had sentimental attachment too, back into being played.
  16. small, heavy be

    small, heavy be

    Apr 25, 2005
    um, any specific thoughts on defretting an acoustic bass? i can't imagine that it would be but so different, but then again that's why i'm asking.
  17. Juneau


    Jul 15, 2004
    Dallas, TX.
    Same principles should apply, but I have no direct experience Im afraid.
  18. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Saint Louis, MO USA
    I've converted a couple of basses. One using the method I documented with the web site. The other, I powerplaned the fb completely off and replaced it with a new blank. Both were very servicable. To reply to the specific concerns:

    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.

    If the work is well done, I don't think this is true. I actually sold the lined fretless that I created for the same $$ I paid. If the bass is highly valued before, you probably shouldn't do it anyway.

    (2) Side dots are in the wrong place.

    This is true. But, if you defret using the method I documented, you'll see the edge of the markers for reference. I don't see that it matters anyway, but they could be moved easily enough. You create more than even sanding dust in the process to create a bit of filler for the markers. Just pop them out, mix the dust with a little 2-part epoxy and you are fine. You can leave them off of replace them in the "correct" place.

    All that being said, if you are playing fretless with your eyes, you are missing the best part of the fretless experience.

    (3) Large front dots on a fretless neck look awful.

    That's a matter of opinion. Even still, they serve the same purpose on a lined fretless that they do on a fretted instrument, and that's visual reference. You don't like it, don't do it.

    (4) You compromise the integrity of the neck.

    IME, this simply is not true, and there's no reason to believe it to be true in any case. Frets add no structural integrity to the neck at all.
  19. I recently bought a bass of ebay, and had a similar experience... this guy tried to remove the frets, though He must have tried it with plyers and NO Heating by the looks of things... if that wasnt enough, he decided to cover up the ****e work he done by Re-Fretting it, with the same kind of ability that he used to defret it... But I liked the bass, its got some great ideas in there, so I took it to my miracle worker, and he's defretting it.
    He's fixed up the fingerboard, straightened everything out and is going to set it all up nicely... we'll see how it turns out, though its looking great so far.
  20. How much is a fretless neck? Why not go that route? It seems to me that unless you're really into all that labor (which is cool if you are) it would be easier to try buying an aftermarket fretless neck. No dots, no grooves....end of story.


    Try this....Less than $200 bucks.

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