fretless basses????????

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Chris Brodowski, Nov 13, 2001.

  1. I am just wondering what the advantages and disadvantages of fretless basses are. Some questions are:

    1) Tonal differences? (more or less agressive, more mellow, warmer, stuff like that)

    2) Action and feel differences? (are they easier or harder to fret, harder/easier to play, action differences, etc.)

    3) Advantages/disadvantages of fretless.

    Thanks. I have never played a fretless, and i'm trying to learn.

  2. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    1. Smoother, warmer and more mellow, although the good ones can get very aggressive when you want them to.

    2. Easier to play, harder to play well, and a good, properly set up fretless has very low, silky action, and is a dream to play.

    3. Advantages: The tone, the smooth action, the expressiveness, being able to play every note perfectly in tune, develops your ears.
    Disadvantages: More difficult to play well, limited selection of models until you get into the high end stuff, harder to find at your local guitar shop, and once you play fretless you won't want to play fretteds anymore. Wait! I think that last one may be an advantage.;):p
  3. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    1.) Yes, there is a tonal difference. The attack of the notes is different, and the overall sound of the instrument is different. It's had to describe, but the preferred word around here is "mwah". Glissandos sound a hell of a lot cooler, which is a bonus. Check out some recordings with fretless bass so you can get an ear for what they sound like. Anything by Jaco will suffice (and is a good inspiration tool at the same time :D ) and another good album with fretless is Paul Simon's Graceland. Remember that song "Call Me Al"? Check out the bass part and you'll hear a fretless bass.

    2+3.) Fretless is harder to play. Do a search for fretless in the Technique or General Instruction forum and you'll see a bunch of threads that can help you out. Fretting (if it's still fretting... hmm...) is easier/harder only depending on your string gauge. It might be a little easier because you can set your action much lower on a fretless. You do have to be EXACTLY accurate with your fretting hand, because a slight roll of the finger will change your pitch. This is where a good ear is essential, and ear training with intervals and whatnot will take up a lot more time in your practice routine!

    I defintitely think that a fretless bass is an advantageous skill to have. It's like being able to drive a manual transmission; you don't have to do it all the time, but it's good to know that you can if you have to. My fretless isn't my main bass, even though is was for a while, because sometimes you just don't want the fretless tone. But that's up to you, really.

    Good luck!
  4. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    The attack envelope of notes played on a well set-up fretless differs from that of a fretted bass. Fretted basses have a loud, immediate attack which then slowly dies away; fretlesses have a less pronounced attack but the notes tend to swell a bit, then die away. (Hence, the onomatopoeic "mwah" people are always talking about.) Based on the composition of the fingerboard and what it's coated with, the tone of a fretless can range from a woody, almost upright tone to a very bright roundwound sound.

    In terms of feel, the obvious difference is that there's no metal on the fingerboard to impede slides. You can play smooth glissandi, sliding harmonics, and classical rolling-fingertip vibrato. Slapping and tapping, IMO, don't sound as good on a fretless (I miss the sound of metal on metal), but it can be done.

    Fretlesses aren't necessarily easier or harder to play than a fretted bass, *assuming* you already have decent left hand technique. If you're still hanging the bass around your knees, curling your thumb over the top of the neck and gripping the whole thing like a baseball bat, your intonation will probably suffer.
  5. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Woah, Embellisher, you typed exactly what I was thinking when I read the initial post!

    Tell you what, Chris, fretless is the closest to Truth you can get on a bass. Which takes you awful close to Truth!
  6. thanks a lot everyone. I think in the future i want to try a fretless bass, but my budget (and music style) dictates fretted basses. That said, I'd love to play a Zon or the like.:D
  7. See, for me, I find switching between fretted and fretless very difficult. I learned to play on a fretless, and switching mid-set to fretted causes me serious technique problems.

    My guitarist and I generally try to keep switches between my basses in between sets, which gives me a few minutes to get used to the speed bumps again.

    Also, I find it alot more difficult to play a fretted bass. Fretless has ALWAYS been easier for me.

  8. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    Fretless is for wankers, just trying to be cool. Unlined is the worst. Frets are where it's at.

    After all, Jaco only had...


  9. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    This is a problem I've never had, I switch between fretless and fretted, 4's or 5's, 34" or 35", etc. on a regular basis. Heck, I switch between 34" and 35" fretlesses.

    Though I'll admit, like I've said before... if I could play it probably could be an issue:D
  10. frankencow150

    frankencow150 Guest

    Oct 17, 2001
    Well actually it kind of is,but I've never seen a thread similiar to his so here it goes...

    Ok I play alot of punk and ska,occasionaly hard rock.Everyone says fretless can't be used for punk and ska.My favorite ska band,Catch 22,uses fretless and he's really good and sounds great.So why do people say fretless isn't good for certain types of music?
  11. Differences can be all or none of the above depending on your set up and playing style. I played fretless with a country band for a year and never played one mwahhh. Only way you could tell is that slaps would go clack instead of click. ;)

    Yes Ethel, they do slap on some country songs.
  12. I have the same problem, I find it so hard to play on a fretted bass, I've been playing for a year now and my next bass will prbably be a fretless sterling. Frets are hard to play with and to me it makes my fingers feel bad and they just suck in my opinion.
  13. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Simply beacuse they don't know.

    What do they not know? They don't know that, either.

    Follow?;) :D