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Fretless - Lined or Unlined?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by KB4178, Jan 22, 2014.

  1. KB4178


    Oct 7, 2012
    Boone, NC
    Thinking about getting my first fretless bass, and the Squier Vintage Modified Precision fretless is really tempting. I'm concerned about the lined fretboard, though. On the one hand, it seems like the lines might be good "training wheels" for learning proper intonation. On the other hand, the lines might keep me from learning how to get proper intonation by ear if I ever get an unlined fretless.

    Thoughts? Suggestions? Thanks!
  2. SaneseBass

    SaneseBass Banned

    Jan 22, 2014
    If you have to ask, get lined. Jaco did so.
  3. punkjazzben


    Jun 26, 2008
    Take this advice fron a double bass player.The lines are there for reference and for learning, but after a while you stop looking at the fretboard and forget about them. Still, when I'm making a large shift, they're useful for reference.

    The Squier VM is a great instrument and you won't be disappointed.
  4. Dots over where the fret lines are will help you big time. Most lined fretless basses have the dots between the fret lines. I have both lined and unlined fretless basses. I have found the lines don't make that much difference, but they are occasionally helpfull. Dots over the frets gives a good visual reference.

    Don't think that lines are training wheels either.
  5. marcberez

    marcberez Supporting member Supporting Member

    Jun 23, 2012
    Tampa, FL
    Lines for me are confusing as hell! I keep wanting to play behind them.
    pmad_bass likes this.
  6. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    I tried unlined with just the dot markers on the side, but my intonation sucked as soon as i was playing something unfamiliar.
    My bass has an unlined fretboard, but fret markers on the side and that's all i need even when stepping out of the stuff i know by heart.
  7. spvmhc


    Apr 14, 2011
    You can ease into fretless using a lined bass. I also agree that the Squier VM is an affordable way to make the transition. Good luck!
  8. bassdog


    May 23, 2005
    Atlanta, Ga
    Lines will help you. Lots of pros play lined fretless basses. Practice playing your fretted bass just a hair behind the frets and start thinking on the frets for notes. That is where you will play the fretless. Pretty much on the lines. You really need to get that in your head. You won't want to play the fretless between the fret lines as if it were fretted bass. Have fun.
    bucephylus likes this.
  9. rpauldesign


    Jan 21, 2014
    This may or may not be helpful, but my old man helped me put together a fretless neck for one of my P-Basses a few years ago, and instead of adding lines or inlays to the fretboard itself, he put tiny dot markers in the edge of the fretboard so they were visible to the player, but the audience wouldn't see them.

    They've helped me a great deal - if you were concerned about the cosmetics of having a lined fretboard (the 'training wheels' thing), that could be an option. TBH though I wouldn't worry about that and would probably go with lined anyway, it's the sound that matters! ;)
  10. Grissle


    May 17, 2009
    For me on an upright the fundamental is stronger to me and easy to play in tune. But with electric there seems to be more harmonics involved and it sometimes plays tricks on me with the whole ensemble going. So I like lines on electrics.
  11. Torn Bassist

    Torn Bassist Supporting Member

    I'm learning fretless and use the lines for reference, the longer you play the less you will need the lines unless your learning a new song. I noticed in a video that was taken from our last show that you couldn't see the lines and if anyone noticed they would just think it was a fretted bass and that's not important to me....
  12. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    Most band leaders would hire a player who can play in tune with "training wheels" over a player who plays out-of-tune on an unlined board.

    If you search Youtube there are tons of videos of the best fretless players ever (Jaco, Michael Manring, etc.) using their eyes to help with intonation. There are also plenty of videos illustrating the opposite, for example there are some dreadful videos of Sting playing very out-of-tune with the Police because his face is glued to the mic and he is not watching what he's playing.

    Anyone who tells you "pros never look at the fingerboard" is making sweeping and inaccurate generalizations.
  13. Gorn

    Gorn Supporting Member

    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    I'm awful at fretless, and I've failed on both lined and unlined. After a while if you're not using your ears, you're gonna stink at fretless regardless of what's on the fingerboard. It comes down to aesthetics. Unlined looks cooler.
    SherpaKahn likes this.
  14. Jaco Taco

    Jaco Taco

    Jul 30, 2012
    I'd agree that unlined looks cooler. But quite frankly, the best sounding fretless players who have impeccable intonation, like Jaco did, used lined fretless basses. So take that for what it's worth.
  15. bassdog


    May 23, 2005
    Atlanta, Ga
    Another thing about unlined fretless is that in a band setting it can sometimes be difficult to hear yourself well because of all the other "noise" around. That can make it very difficult to intonate well. Been there done that. Just like frets on a neck, the lines help make sure you are playing the note in tune. Very important to do that. Don't let anybody dissuade you from playing lined fretless. I had both lined and unlined at the same time. I mostly played the lined but went to unlined at times in very listenable situations and once I was very comfortable on the lined board. Always used line in increased volume situations.
  16. scotch

    scotch It's not rocket science! Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2006
    Albany, NY USA
    Please see Profile for Endorsement disclosures
    Lined or unlined, neither matters as much as playing in tune! I play for a living & have been playing more fretless (and upright) over the last 7 or 8 years. I've never had an artist or bandleader 'look down' on a lined instrument. (I have a couple of both types. )

    I will disagree a hair with a couple of the above posts about "playing on the line". Keep in mind that the pad of your finger flattens out as you apply pressure to the string. This results in a sharp note if you center your finger on the line. Instead, use your ears to find the right spot slightly behind the line to get in tune! (Keep in mind that those lines are not going to be 100% accurate across the length of the neck too!)
    jonathanhughes and iualum like this.
  17. SoVeryTired

    SoVeryTired Endorsing nothing, recommending much

    Jul 2, 2011
    Milton Keynes, UK
    Thanks, that's some good advice -as someone who has their first (lined) fretless on order.
  18. Nobody here is Jaco. Jaco also had lines because he ripped the frets out and the slots needed to be filled.

    Lined or unlined, doesn't really matter. Practice a lot and you'll be comfy on that format. If not, try the other. Most of the guys who offer strong opinions play fretless occasionally at best.
  19. Doctor_Clock

    Doctor_Clock The Moon Machine Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2013
    Brooklyn, NY
    "The lines are there for reference and for learning, but after a while you stop looking at the fretboard and forget about them"

  20. don't be a hero..


    on a double bass it's different- dont try to compare the two. the positions are much easier to feel on a double bass. electric basses just have one long neck, good luck pulling an F on the A string out of thin air with no reference points at all.
    fretlessguy likes this.