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fretless opinions

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by StingrayKid21, Mar 23, 2003.

  1. StingrayKid21

    StingrayKid21 Holding down the low-end since 1996.

    Oct 7, 2001
    Portland, OR

    I've recently been considering taking up fretless bass just for something new and different to learn. I am gonna be saving up some money and I have already found a great EB/MM Sabre Fretless at BassPalace.com that has caught my eye. I will probably go try out a few fretless at a local shop before I go spending too much money anything though. Now for my questions:

    1) Is unlined fretless difficult to learn w/o a teacher? I've been playing bass for about 7 years and I have a pretty good feel for the fingerboard but I know it will be quite a challenge nonetheless. I just don't really want to spend the money (plus I don't have time) to get a teacher. Some people have said that having a good tuner helps a lot to get the intonation right and I have a good tuner. Mainly I just want to know if I will be starting back at square one if I start playing fretless...

    2) How well does fretless work with heavier rock music? My band plays somewhat heavy rock w/ two sometimes-distorted guitars. Does a fretless bass cut through as well as a fretted bass?

    Any opinions are appreciated!

  2. Skerik1


    Sep 21, 2002
    Saint Paul, MN
    I saw a local band play a few months ago, and their bass player played a fretless jazz bass. I thought it sounded pretty gosh-darn cool. It sounded very different. He wasn't hard to hear at all. He had his E down-tuned quite a bit--a fretless would actually be best (in theory) for tuning down because you can correct intonation problems just by moving your finger a bit.

  3. SoComSurfing

    SoComSurfing Mercedes Benz Superdome. S 127. R 22. S 12-13.

    Feb 15, 2002
    Mobile, Al
    For fretless in rock, try to download anything off of The Nixons' self-titled album. That was just about all done with fretless, and they are kinda hard alternative-rock.
    As for lined vs unlined, I usually find the lines to be a bit more distracting. When there are lines I always want to look down to see if I'm in the right position, but without lines, I generally feel more secure about my hand position from muscle memory and by ear.
  4. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    You won't be starting at square one. You'll be fine with either a lined or unlined fretless. I prefer unlined because I think it looks better, but if I found a lined fretless that I loved the feel and sound of I wouldn't let the lines affect my buying descision.
    Fretless will cut just fine in heavy rock.
  5. No, you won't be back at square 1 with a frettless. Lined is easier but unlined isn't that much harder. Practice at first using a tuner to get a feel for where "in tune" is. With a fretless you have to press down where the fret would be on a fretted instrument. This means that you left hand position is a little closer to the bridge with a fretless than it is with a fretted bass. In time you get use to it and things are fine. I don't like to switch back and for between fretted and fretless. My brain just doesn't do well with this. I gig with a fretted bass because I'm also lead singer, backup singer and soundman. I just don't have the luxury of concentrating on my intunation that much, I'm too busy singing and worrying about the PA. Oh well.
  6. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Ah good stuff, someone else coming over to the fretless way of life :D

    The lined vs unlined issue: overall, I think a lined one is gonna be more helpful for intonation.

    Having said which - my fretless is unlined (simply because it was an unlined one that was for sale) - and I've only very briefly tried a lined fretless - and I found it really confusing. But, I think the consensus is that you get used it fairly quickly - and those lines are gonna help you play in tune.

    But, bear in mind that an unlined one will still have dots on the side of the neck, so it's not like you're completely on your own.

    In fact, after playing my fretless almost exclusively for over 6 months now (ever since I got it) - I find a fretted confusing! The reason is, I've gotten used to using the dots on the side of the neck as a reference - and on the fretless the dots are positioned where frets 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 etc. would be - whereas with a fretted, the dots are in between the frets. Confusing at times!

    I imagine you'll find the lines particularly useful around the 9th-15th fret area. That's because, the dots on the unlined (on my one, anyway) at this part of the neck are at frets 9, 12 and 15 (then 17, 19 etc. as normal). This means you've got 2 "frets" (not 1) in between each dot - which basically means it's harder to know where to put your finger by looking at it.

    Another thing I've found, is that on the higher strings, since they're further from the dots you're looking at, it's harder to know where to stop the string. This is because of the "perspective" element - i.e. you've got to judge the angle of the "fret" (since you're not looking at it straight on). It's not like it's a real problem, but you have to get used to it - because (I found) it's not where you expect it to be, at first.

    Whereas, I imagine these issues are solved with a lined fretless.

    But having said all that, I've got on pretty well with my unlined fretless.

    And no, you won't be starting at square one. But your technique will need refining. For one, you're gonna have to be accurate with your left hand, obviously. And also, you'll probably want to refine your right hand plucking technique too. With a fretless, the range of tones you can get according to how/where you pluck the string is greatly increased, IME - so you'll have to experiment with this in a way you probably won't have before - especially if you're after the "mwah".

    If you're anything like me, after playing the fretless a lot, you won't want to go back to the fretted! :)

    Really, now, I find fretted basses uncomfortable and noisy, and limited in expression (no real vib, no sliding, no mwah :( ).

    Some more fretless advice:

    As far as intonation goes, don't be relying on sight (despite all that I said above about dots & lines etc.). You *must* rely on your musical ear to tell you whether you're out of tune. it is perfectly possible to play fretless in tune without looking at the fingerboard. In fact, I recommend it. I find (on any instrument) when you're not looking at what you're playing, you can *hear* it better. And, the key with intonation is to hear the note in your head before you play it, IMO. Your muscle-memory will allow you to stop the string in the right place without needing to look at it - and hearing the note in your head first is a trigger for your muscle memory. Just like singing, really. Hearing a note in your head allows your vocal chords to pitch it.

    You'd be surprised how well it works for fretless.
  7. Atshen


    Mar 13, 2003
    Grim Cold Québec
    Just to add to what moley just said, I'd say maybe the lined fingerboard is helpful when starting out, but when your ear and muscle memory develops, I think it's far better to play unlined, because the important thing is not to put your finger exactly on a line, but exactly on the right spot for the note to be in-tune. The higher you play on the neck, the harder it gets, because the notes get closer to each other and the position of your fingertip becomes more critical. I personally started on an unlined fretless, and a good way to practice this on a fretted bass is to play with your fingertips excatly over the frets, rather than behind. Of course you will sound like muck, but the transition from fretted to fretless will be easier.
  8. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    My ideas on this kind of transition, fretted to fretless, is based on my own experiance - going the other way! I started on a fretless, unlined, and now play fretted.
    The result has been, that my ear and technique has gone sloppy! When I try a fretless it sounds just as out of tune as the fretted (at best...:meh: )

    My advise:
    Get an unlined fretless. Makes you rely on your ears.
    Only practice on fretless. To improve ears and technique.
    Play most gigs on fretless. It can do most of the tricks. A fretted may be necessary form time to time, but if you can play fretless, you can play fretted (not necessarily the opposite...). You'll hate the speedbumps, but for one song per show, you'll survive:(

    :bassist: on
  9. Kelvin


    Apr 30, 2000
    I play both regularly for the past 7-8 years. Obviously I'm more comfortable playing a lined fretless, especially on the higher registers.

    That being said I've found the unlined to be an excellent practice bass. Where you'd want to be on a fretless is to be able to hit on pitch fairly accurately and adjust very slightly as the note blossoms. (I hope I'm making sense here). I know of some ppl who start off playing an unlined fretless, then get discouraged and stop playing fretless altogether. "It looks cooler" is never a good argument for poor intonation.

    Hope this helps.
  10. Atshen


    Mar 13, 2003
    Grim Cold Québec
    About the fretless in a heavy rock context, Steve DiGiorgio is one of the best metal bassists today, and he plays exclusively on fretless basses. Here's some albums he played on: Death's "Individual Thought Patterns", Sadus' "Elements Of Anger", and a Testament album but I can't remenber the title. This guy's awesome! :bassist:
  11. True, to a point, but ... don't you realize that lined players do this too? No good lined player I've heard thinks that lines are a substitute for ear. And as far as intonation goes, if lines are good enough for Jaco and Gary Willis ...

    I really think this is a nonissue and that everybody should do what works for them. There's no better or worse.
  12. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    The thing that I really like about having lines is that in those cases where I can't hear myself onstage, I can be sure that I am reasonably in tune.

    Not the best situation to be in, but haven't we all had to play in places where we couldn't hear ourself well enough to be sure the notes were in tune?
  13. Atshen


    Mar 13, 2003
    Grim Cold Québec
    VERY good point here. The worst case is when you can't hear yourself and the stage's too dark to see your neck... :eek: :confused:
  14. xyllion

    xyllion Commercial User

    Jan 14, 2003
    San Jose, CA, USA
    Owner, Looperlative Audio Products
    I started on an unlined board and found it to be much easier than a lined board. I find the lined board to be distracting. My current fretless is lined and I needed to train myself to not stare at the lines. Also, the side dots on a lined board are mid-way between fret lines which is also distracting since they aren't where you should be putting your fingers.
  15. As for the fretless not cutting through, as Philbiker said, you won't have to worry about that. Musicman basses are heard through a mix EASILY, fretted or fretless. It all depends on whether you like to tone or not, and since your name is "StingrayKid21", I figure you do.