Fretless: How hard is it?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Dragen, Feb 10, 2001.

  1. Dragen


    Aug 31, 2000
    I own a Fender Jazz Bass (not fretless), and I like it, but I want to check out other options too. Like a fretless or even a 5-string fretless. The problem is that I haven't gotten a chance to try a fretless and probably won't before I order one myself. So I kind of need to know how difficult ii is to play both fretless and fretted (I have only played since this summer, so Im not that experienced). Any reflections on this would be appreciated.
  2. snyderz


    Aug 20, 2000
    AZ mountains
    I'm new to the bass myself, but now have 3 fretless and just sold my only fretted bass. (I'll get another when the time is right) I seem to have an affinity for the fretless bass, as it is very natural for me and I just kept picking up the fretless vs. my fretted bass. I play unlined and really enjoy it. I know that a fretted bass is better for certain styles of music, but my axes are perfect for me. Too bad you can't get hold of a fretless bass even for a short period to try. Any good buds with one that will let you use it for a few hours? Good luck. Bottom line is that if you get a smokin' deal on a used fretless, you can get your money out of it if you decide that it isn't for you. Please don't pay retail for a new one.
  3. Well, it depends what kind of wood it's made of. Fretless fingerboards are often made of ebony, so yes, it may be a little harder.:)

    Joke aside, it's a little more difficult to play on a fretless, but far from impossible, many people do it!
  4. eric atkinson

    eric atkinson "Is our children learning "Is our teachers teachin

    Feb 4, 2001
    Man i could say 2 things here i go both ways on this subject!Ive played bass for 16 years now!A huge part of me says dont get one play the fretted for a few years!You really havent played long enough to know were the notes are on a fretted bass(thats not meant to piss ya off)!But you really need to know the neck like the back of your hand before trying a frettless!But then again if you are a newbie to the bass id say hell go to the frettless first!Its a damned good way to get to know the bass!But expect to sound like crap for a few years!Id say if you get one learn a song from a cd you like alot and learn it well!play it over and over again till you know what the bass notes truly sound like then try to play it on a frettles you will be very supprised how truly hard it is!
  5. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    Actually, it ain't that hard. I've had my Pedulla for about a year now, and playing it really improved my playing overall. It's really fun, and much more expressive. I got lines on mine and don't regret it (I just don't play enough to dial it in without lines, although I've played a blank Warwick with dots, and that's not so bad either). I've found that you really have to dial in your EQ on both the Pedulla and the Lakland to get a decent tone out of the B string. This may be due to the fact that I have flats on both basses, Thomastik Jazz Flats on the Pedulla (which are plenty bright, and awesome to boot), and Lakland Osborn Flats on the Lak, which are more mellow. In the long run, you may not need that fifth string.

    Anyway, go for it and don't look back. It'll add dimension and parameter to your style.
  6. ACP


    Nov 30, 2000
    I started for about three months on a fretted before trying out a fretless and I've never went back. I don't really think it's harder, just different. After a while of playing fretless you'll probably notice that when you play a fretted bass again the frets just get in your way.
    Go for it.
    Frets are for wussies! ;)

  7. Wow,I am scared to death to even look at a frettless! ;)

    If you have the feeling you could handle it...I say go for it!One day in the dim future I hope to be able to play a frettless....for now it is just a dream but someday....

    Follow your heart! Go west young man!! lol

    Usul....over and out!
  8. Dragen


    Aug 31, 2000
    First of all: Thanks for the great feedback! You're great at giving advice. I've been looking around and I found three basses in a mag that was interesting. The Aria AVB40FL appeared to be great because of a great playability. The Carvin LB-70F was looked very nice, too.But then I saw the Jazz Bass fretless.........I just love that bass!!! It had the frets lined up with white markings, which I suppose is both good and bad. Nice help for the notes, but it feels kind of like cheating. The really nice thing is that I may have the possibility to get a fretless J-Bass soon. It's a mexico, so it ain't that expensive. I think I'll buy it........after this summer I guess.......finances......

    Perhaps I can get some financial support from the government......they actually give musicians that from time to time. Nice....
  9. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    I'd recommend that anyone who hasn't touched a fretless should... I think most people, given a chance to play a fretless with a good setup, are amazed at how hard it isn't. If I had an opportunity to play fretless early on I would have. Back then they were pretty rare.

    I think they're a heck of a lot of fun to play.
  10. frederic b. hodshon

    frederic b. hodshon Supporting Member

    May 10, 2000
    Lake Forest, CA
    my first bass was a Fender fretless Precision...they didn't have lines back then.

    I agree with Brad, it isn't that fact I find it EASIER to play than a fretted.

    I bought a fretted in the 80's for a band that refused to let me play fretless. Needless to say, that bass AND my involvemnt in the band didn't last long.

  11. Dox


    Aug 17, 2000
    Millville, New Jersey
    I agree with Usul. When I first started bass I was scared to death of fretless. I still have yet to even see a fretless in person but now everytime someone mentions one I shake and get a huge smile on my face. So now I have added a Fender American/Mexico Jazz/Percision to my need to get list. Depending on the money I have will I get a American or Mexico.. And I play a Percision now.. So depending on what I like to get out of my fretless would base on Jazz or PRecision... But I think my next bass while be a Ibanex BTB five-string for band purposes... (I can't belive I am going to get a five string.. ::gasp::)
  12. NJXT


    Jan 9, 2001
    Lyon, FRANCE
    Last friday, in a shop, I tried for the fisrt time a fretless bass, with fretlines.
    And, man, I had to look hard at my fingers to put them right on the spot and listen carefully at the same time. It was less difficult than I thought but it wasn't that easy.
    I can play my fretted basses without looking too much at the neck, but not a fretless, right now, that for sure !
  13. Brooks


    Apr 4, 2000
    Middle East
    Few months before I got my first fretless, I started practicing playing practically on the fret. When my partially-lined fretless came in, I had no trouble at all with intonation. I still play both fretted and fretless, but my preference has definitely shifted to fretless. I am now able to play without looking at the neck in the first 7-8 positions...higher up the neck it still gets dicey. Overall, it might be a bit more difficult to play a fretless, but it's well worth it.
  14. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    Unfretted is NOT hard to learn!
    Unfretted will MAKE YOU learn proper bass-playing!

    To play fret free, you must have an ear for intonation, which you get from practicing, and will be useful in many areas besides playing bass.
    And somehow you may learn to feel(?) your intonation and tone. Weird? I did.

    When practicing on a fretted bass you will be tempted to sloppiness, as you won't have the crusial *need* to fret at the very right point. Heh, a gee-tar man tried my fret free once - he didn't hit one tone right, 'cause he didn't care to check where he was at! He was used to having inch-wide tolerances for the fretting finger. I never missed intonation (badly...), then.
    Now, confined to a fretted bass, I see my technique loosing the edge, more and more :( :mad:

    Bottom line: fretless five, foreve...well, for my next axe.
  15. darthspada


    Jan 20, 2001
    Lancaster, PA
    I popped my bass playing cherry on a Fender Jass fretless. I had screwed around on fretted basses prior to that, but my first gig on bass was with the fretless. I pulled it off flawlessly, even though I was a guitarist then. I know a few others who started off on fretless and found the conversion to fretted basses very difficult. I love the fretless and hope to have my own soon. Don't be intimidated by it. Just use care when recording, because those off notes will shine through like spotlights during dear season.
  16. Last Call Playa

    Last Call Playa

    Feb 12, 2001
    I switched to fretless last year and have rarely touched a fretted since. I think they are easier to play actually. If you are new get a lined then switch to a unlined later if you want, although there is no need unless you want to make sure everyone KNOWS that you are playing a fretless.
    I like to impress the ladies with my long fretless ebony neck.;)
    Forget all the bullsh1t you hear about "intonation" and being forced to "feel the sound", this isn't bohemian transcendental meditation, and you're not Luke Skywalker.
    Fretless is actually kind of a cheat bass. If you're off on a note a little, (if you have a good ear) you can quickly slide to the right position w/out anyone really noticing. And you don't get that sharp rattle you might get on a fretless when you are off on your notes.

    Plus, fretless just sounds fabulous.
  18. Fretless is very different. It is hard for some and easy for others depending on how your body is wired. If you are going to be really good at fretless, you will have two things going for you: a good sense of pitch, and good muscle memory for those blind up-neck jumps. Yeah, you can crawl and slide around 'til you get your pitch, but it'll make the listeners seasick. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing how good your sense of pitch or your muscle memory (kinesthesia) is except to try playing fretless. Similar situation: I practiced URB for 2 hours a day for 2 years and had to quit. No muscle memory, and sliding home every time I want to go up-neck isn't my idea of quality playing. Even tried taking the mega-vitamin program that the Army put its shooting champs on to improve their muscle memory. No luck. See, it's like catching a ball. As a kid, I never could catch one except in the face. Turns out I have zero depth perception, but I think maybe there's more to it, namely, I just can't catch a ball. Easiest thing in the world for some, hardest thing imaginable for others. I just bought a tape course on visualization, I have some crazy kind of idea about translating visual images to tactile images and maybe it will work. But it's all an uphill battle. See if you can borrow a fretless from a friend who's clueless like me. Play it for a couple of months. By then, you should know if it's going to be easy or hard.
  19. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    Draggin' --

    As always, i can't resist chiming in on a good fretless thread.

    I think the first thing you need to ask yourself is, WHY do you want a fretless? If it's because you think it's just "the thing to do", then it may not do you all that much good. If your playing style is heavy-handed and bottom-heavy with a pounding rhytmic pulse, fretless may not do anything for you at all. If you like a bright metallic attack and tons of sustain, you won't get those on a fretless.

    I will risk some flames and forward the opinion that fretless is an instrument that allows lots of nuance, expression, and subtlety, but in order to coax them out of the instrument, you need to play it with dynamics. I do NOT consider music NOT played this way to be at all invalid -- quite the contrary, I can't play a heavy punk style with any credibility at all, and I respect people who can. What I am saying is that if your style is like this, then a fretless stands little chance of changing your sound. And sound is what it's all about, right? So why introduce the difficulty of playing in tune if it's not gonna do anything for your sound?

    If, on the other hand, you're looking to add gentle slides and slow, pretty vibratos to your style, then fretless is DEFINITELY the place to get it. And IMHO it is WAY worth the extra effort to get the tone and the expressiveness.

    And I will also add that it is NOT so very hard to learn how to play in tune. Lines or side dots, whatever blows your skirt up. (Me, I got unlined because, I admit it, I WANTED people to see that I was playing a fretless 6-string. Ah, vanity. But LOTS of people play lined fretless. Fine by me.) It is easier to play in tune if you use the string bass fingering method of only two half-steps per hand position -- that is (on the E string) 1st finger on F, second finger on F#, 4th finger on G (treat the 3rd and 4th fingers as a single unit as though they were rubber-banded together).

    Have fun and good luck!
  20. elan_virpul


    Feb 12, 2001
    i was surprised to find out how easy it was to play fretless, but it's very addictive. . . i can't stop now with the fretless. . . is there a fretless anonymous program out there? a twelve step program for fretless junkies?