Fretless Technique

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by FunkFlo-Mofo, Apr 14, 2002.

  1. FunkFlo-Mofo


    Jun 22, 2001
    I've played quite a few fretless basses at stores in the area, and I'm thinking about either picking one up or making my own (a-la-Jaco). Anyone have any advice on playing and technique. You pretty much just ave to finger where the frets would be, right?
  2. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001
    yeeeeaaahhhh sorta, the trick with playing fretless is you have to really, really, really LISTEN to your notes, fretted basses are very forgiving intonation wise (fret anywhere between two fret and theres your note) on a fretless you have to be BANG ON or it sounds like a cat trying to go to the toilet through a sewn up bum:D .

    eg, on my fretless (not lined) my D note (A string 5th fret) is actually right on the 'dot', however my D note (D string 12th fret) is more where the c# fret line would be on a fretted.

    To get the 'mwah' sound play practically on the neck (around about where the neck meets the body), use a light touch and 'feel' the note (ooo zen) let it swell and then (maybe) use a slight vibrato (because your playing fretless dosent mean you have to slide into and 'wobble' every note)

    To get the 'jaco' funk effect play back on the bridge and just use your bridge pup...again USE YOUR EARS.

    heres a good exercise:
    using your open D string as a 'pedal point/guide tone' play the A, D, F#, A on the G string slowly, take the time over each note to find the correct pitch, a good trick is to listen for 'pulses' generally if the note is sharp or flat you'll hear either a slow or fast pulse, move your finger to the position where you cant hear a pulse (similar to tuning with harmonics)..above all LISTEN.

    Hope this helps/makes sense.
    bswag likes this.
  3. red-hot-bassist


    Sep 18, 2001
    listening is the best advice you can give for fols learning to play on a fretless. My ear improved so much when i started on a fretless, granted mine has lines but I have played afew unlined and i have been okay!!!

    the mwah makes persevering worthwhiel!!!!;)
  4. Lipis Roman

    Lipis Roman

    Mar 5, 2002
    Man, you guys aren't kidding about really having to listen while playing fretless, you really got nail those notes with pin point accuracy. I just converted an old MIM Fender Jazz to fretless out of pure curiosity (never even touched one before). After setting it up and getting the intonation set as dead on as I could, I must say that I sound down right horrific on this bass, disgusting even. I was making noises that should never be heard by anyone....

    I've pretty much avoided any and all fretless related posts in the past thinking I'd probably never venture down that path. Now that I have I think I got me some catching up to do, to say the least.

    Another thing I noticed was that after playing the fretless for only 2 hours I went and picked up my P Bass and it felt almost foreign to me, felt like my technique took a major leap backwards. I never thought about it before but I tip my hat to anyone who can play both well, seems like it's gonna be a heck of challenge for me.

    Even though I sound sickening on the fretless right now I think it's safe to say that I'm already hooked. :)
  5. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    I'll say it again: I find that switching back and forth frequently between fretted and fretless really helps me play fretless in tune. Having your fretted in your ears will guide you on fretless.
  6. Strong positional playing is a key part of playing a fretless in tune. Its like playing fretted. Once you are locked into a position you shouldn't need to look at your hands till you move up/down the neck. This is great in theory but it takes a lot of practise to get right. I'm still working on it. :) Good Luck
  7. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    I for one do not subscribe to the "able to play in the dark" school of fretless thought. Yes, it would be a bit easier while singing into a mic, but you can adjust the mic position to allow sightline to the fingerboard. (Guess how I know... :rolleyes: )

    The more important point is: LISTEN. Of course you need to play in tune, and the best way to do that is with your ears!
  8. The best way to stay in tune is to hit the notes dead on. Your ears tell you if the note is out of tune. Then you correct it, you haven't stayed in tune. I do it all the time agh. I guess I like 'playing in the dark' because i always want to look around whilst playing. But your ears don't keep you in tune, they tell you when you are out. I wish mine would stop telling me. (hee hee not really, I'm not that bad)
  9. jaybo

    jaybo Guest

    Sep 5, 2001
    Richmond, KY
    I shudder when I see fretless guys trying to do a vibrato like a fretted bass wobbling up and down. On fretless it's almost imperative to play on the tips of your fingers to get really good intonation plus you'll get a much cleaner sound. Just stick with it and you'll get it.
  10. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    I posted this about vibrato in a thread a long time ago:

    The thread is here:
    bswag likes this.
  11. Tizzy Whizzy

    Tizzy Whizzy

    Nov 14, 2000
    i built my own fretless bass and the neck is unlined. I'd have to say that that the thing that helped me get my intonation down was playing with my high school jazz band. as all the lines progressed logically and it was really easy to tell when i missed a note. granted, my intonation still sucks something aweful when I get past 12th fret. But i suppose i could just play all my songs an octave up for practice... my advice would be to play along to music that you have or to play with a band. If you just play it alone all the time, and your ear sucked as bad as mine did, there is a good possibilty of not noticing that you aren't playing in tune and developing bad habits further.
  12. I notice that when i am perfectly intonated i have an easier time playing in tune with my other bandmates even if either of us are out of tune. The absence of frets allows for so much more complete playing. I play an unlined and love it even after coming right off years of fretted bass playing.
  13. nysbob


    Sep 14, 2003
    Cincinnati OH
    Zombie thread! :eek:
  14. Jaco Taco

    Jaco Taco

    Jul 30, 2012
    The Walking Thread.
  15. sonicnuance

    sonicnuance Commercial User

    Aug 30, 2003
    California, USA
    Engineer & Owner, Sonic Nuance Electronics
    +1 to Murf
    I find if I cannot clearly hear the pitch while playing fretless - I immediately go to a fretted bass. I find the better the sound system/monitors/sound engineer - the easier it is for me to play fretless on a song.

    Lines do help but I found that unlined fingerboard can use a permanent marker to put lines for a temporary reference. I love the look of unlined but due to the uncertanties of being able to hear oneself, I recommend getting a lined fingerboard.
  16. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

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