1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

Dove right into fretless...

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Sundogue, Jan 3, 2014.

  1. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    I converted my 5 string Yamaha to fretless. I pulled the frets and redid the fingerboard, making sure it was straight, true and silky smooth.

    Admittedly, this was done out of boredom. After 35 years of playing in bands, I spent the last two years trying in vain to put a quality (non-traditional cover band) band together. I won't go into the gory details but every time we got close to gigging one member would pull the rug out from under us (two completely different bands no less). So I just kind of gave up and resigned myself to not gigging anymore. Just kind of thought my gigging days were over.

    But after months of my gear sitting in storage, and being completely jaded by commercial music in general and the local cover band scene in particular, I felt I needed to do something drastic to feel inspired to even pick up my bass at all.

    I thought, "What the hell...I'm not in a band and I want to do something completely different." I guess defretting my Yamaha and jumping into the world of fretless bass and playing music I never played before qualifies as "completely different".

    Anyway, it plays like a dream. No dead notes or buzzing/rattles, etc. and it has opened up so much with tonal possibilities. After 35 years of playing fretted basses and never really looking at my neck much anyway, the transition to fretless has been pretty seamless. No difficulties in finding the notes sans frets. It is going to take some time for me to develop my skills with all the subtle nuances that fretless affords though. It is just amazing how low my action is set now and I never realized that with fretless where I pluck, how I pluck and how I finger the notes on the neck can have such a great impact on tone that fretted just didn’t have.

    It’s kind of hard NOT to overdo the slides, vibrato and that “mwah” sound since it’s all new and fun to me and so I have to be conscious to also play it so it still sounds like a fretted bass when needed. But thus far I am really digging going fretless. It’s refreshing and inspiring. And since I’m not in a band currently I can just focus on being the best bass player I know how to be and play whatever music I feel like without any concern over getting a gig.

    It’s taken me from not wanting to even play bass anymore, to exploring all kinds of new things with bass and playing music that matters to me more. Will I ever gig again? At this point I don’t really care. I’m just thrilled to be playing at all. Perhaps I’ll form another band with completely different goals this time around.

  2. jnewmark

    jnewmark Just wanna play the groove. Supporting Member

    Aug 31, 2006
    Stax 1966
    Play guitar.
    I have an old, cheap fretless ( Ibanez ? ), that is lined, that I yank out every once in awhile, just for my own amusement. Right off the bat, I could'nt get the notes right, until someone told me that I needed to pluck the note on the line, and not behind it, like a fretted bass. Do you find this to be true, as I notice your bass still has the fret lines ?
  3. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    I don't pay much attention to the lines. However when I first set it up I noticed that I almost have to play slightly behind the lines when closer to the nut, right on the line in the middle of the neck and a bit ahead of the line higher up towards the bridge for it to intonate accurately.

    But really I wouldn't care if there were no lines at all because I don't look at my neck when I play. It's all on feel and sound anyhow. I'm digging it so much I'm GASsing for a Warmoth Maple neck with an unlined ebony fingerboard and have my brother ( an excellent woodworker) make me an Ash with Walnut top P-Bass body. That would be a 4 stringer.
  4. frankieC

    frankieC A swell guy from Warren Harding High

    Jul 21, 2012

    Cool Story. I'm glad you've reignited the spark. Congrats.
  5. I found the same thing since I bought my ESP fretless5 a few weeks ago. Hard time not glissing at every opportunity - great! - more opportunity for exercising restraint on an instrument that already demands it! Feel like I'm just scratching the surface on the other things you mentioned that seem to be so much more noticeable on a fretless (vibrato, slurs, etc.). Read that a lot of players quit playing fretless after the novelty wears off, but I find, like you, that it's inspired and enhanced my playing and can't see myself ever not having a fretless now, not to mention what it can add to a set when I switch over.
  6. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    Thanks. Yeah, sometimes gear can be inspiring. I feel like I'm learning a new instrument. What was old is now new to me.

    While I can easily find the notes, executing them properly is still something I need to work on more. So easy to "cheat" when you have frets. I don't mean that in a disparaging way towards fretted players...it's just now there is no excuse for being even the slightest bit sloppy or carefree in my technique. Which is yet another reason the fretless has given me some new life. Even the simplest of things are pushing me to be better.

    Playing fretless now has also opened up possibilities in other ways. I am liberated in that the whole neck can be "played" and I can do more even playing less notes. There is just something about it I can't quite explain...There is a unique way I can phrase lines now that I just didn't feel before.

    I don't think fretless is better than fretted and certainly there are many, many far better fretted players than I, but the fretless just resonates with me (pun intended ;)) in the same way bass did when I first picked a fretted one up over 35 years ago. Magic. Mojo. Whatever "it" is. :)
  7. thiocyclist


    Sep 19, 2012
    The answer depends on how you intonate your strings, so you can set it up to suit your play style. In any case your ear is a better guide because the angle you finger a string from also affects intonation (in addition to whether you're over the "fret line" or in front or behind it). When I do chords and stuff I have to adjust some of my positions because my finger angles change.
  8. bassbenj


    Aug 11, 2009
    What a great story! It very much follows the advice that I often give here about finding something totally new when you are in a rut. Your new adventure is not only fun and exciting but destined to keep you from being one of those players I see around who play the same old bass they started with, in the same old way they learned to play it, doing the same old music half-heartly as gigs. Who wants to be there? You might as well have a boring job in a cubicle.

    OF course you are all excited now about fretless which is good, but remember when your only tool is a hammer everything looks like a nail! Over-using fretless effects is like over-using low notes on the B string. Can be killer but needs one to develop taste. But clearly you already know this.

    For me the current thing is my SX Fender clone passive 6 string I converted to fretless. It's a new world for me and I feel about it like you do every time I pick it up and play it rather than one of my modern active fretless 6ers.

    As for gigs, don't worry about it. If you get excited about music the people around you will tend to get enthused too and that transfers to fans and those who would hire you. Hey, I've done bands that never made it beyond the free gig stage too (our Samba band for example) but I'd not trade that unique educational experience for anything. And later other things come along if you are ready to grab them.

    Good luck!
  9. It might be your perspective - notes shouldn't be behind the lines in one place and past the lines in another. If it was intonation, they would all drift the same direction, like getting gradually further away from the lines either backwards or forwards (but not both). It might just be your perspective - it is hard to see if you are right on the line unless you are looking at the neck straight on.

    I have one DIY fretless like yours and one (just finished yesterday) no line neck but with a few dots on the side. The dots are where the frets would be, not where they would be on a fretted neck (in between the frets). The dots are accurate bit honestly I would almost rather that there were nothing there at all. Using a technique like with upright where you pay attention to hand position and visualize shifts in your head seems to be munch easier, at least on this new neck.

    Anyways, congrats. Fretless is awesome - glad you made the decision to covert!
  10. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    Yes, there is no one single answer...to many questions about fretless really. Where you need to play the notes on the neck depends on where on the neck they are most accurate given the setup of the bass, the strings, how you finger them, etc.

    You also have to remember that while a fret gives a distinct location of the string length "cutoff" if you will, your finger is rounder and wider and many things come into play...Do you use your tip? Do you use the fat part of your finger? As thiocyclist mentioned, if you are doing chords or octaves, etc. the angle of your fingers comes into play as well.

    Lots to think about, yet at the same time there is no need to "overthink" things either. The biggest thing is learning to trust your ears. Regardless of where you are pressing on the string, if it is right, it will sound right...even if it looks wrong on the fingerboard.
  11. I agree about the slides and whatnot. Fretless is fun to mess with. I bought a fretless J bass just because it was at the local GC and I thought it would be cool to learn, and it opened a door to all the stuff you can do on a fretless.

    I found that fretless actually sounds really good with a pick. But that's just my opinion.
  12. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    I have always been keenly aware to not let new toys become the sole purpose in playing.

    First time I got a fiver I realized that just because I had a low B, didn't mean I HAD to play on it all the time. Or like a new effect used all the time suddenly has no effect. ;)

    One of the things I was very conscious of when I decided to go fretless, was to be sure that for all the wonderful new things I could do on it, that I had to also still be able to do ALL the old things I used to. Even so, the old stuff is fun to play again. Weird. :D
  13. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Fun stuff! Good looking project!

    Congrats if you can make it sound like a fretless. I never could. I have owned several fretless basses, and every single one sounded like me playing a fretted bass. Zero "mwah" at all. Even sliding sounded nothing like a fretless. A guitar player I played with for ten years didn't even know I had been playing a fretless for several gigs.
  14. AltGrendel

    AltGrendel Squire Jag SS fan. Supporting Member

    May 21, 2009
    Mid-Atlantic USA.
    This, also practice double stops and don't be afraid to move around the fingerboard. Especally above the 8th fret area.
  15. What a site this is! So much good info on a wide variety of subjects - every bass player should be required to be a member!
  16. Runnerman

    Runnerman Registered Bass Player Supporting Member

    Mar 14, 2011
    Good story. What filler did you use and what topcoat on the board?
  17. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    Plastic wood. It isn't really like regular wood filler/putty and does not compress. It also doesn't take stain very well, so despite me wanting to darken the lines, they are still quite noticeable.

    I used Tung Oil on the Rosewood fingerboard.
  18. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    A lot of that "mwah" (which I tend to think of as mwah-ha-ha, as in a sinister laugh ;)) comes from the action and setup. I have the nut slots filed down to almost the fingerboard and the action is super low. I get mwah-ha-ha on every string, anywhere on the neck. Almost too much.

    I'm still messing with different saddle heights and different strings. Currently have Chromes on her now, but had Circle K's on them before that. Not sure what string I want to settle on yet. I'd like to try my old fave Sunbeams. Still experimenting a lot. A LOT. ;)
  19. I put D'Addario tapewounds on mine and they sound fantastic (feel good on the fingers too).
  20. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    Put on some D'Addarrio's I had lying around. I like roundwounds better than flats on the fretless. Still just an experimentation with strings.