Fretless, Thinking of making the switch.

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by cassanova, Dec 18, 2004.

  1. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    As many know I'm considering purchasing a new bass within the near future. I've finally narrowed down the brand I want. I've decided to go with the Cirrus 6 string. Only it's going to be one of the custom jobs. (alder body, redwood top-wood, in Peacock Blue, with a maple board, with sweepable mid-range frequency electronics.)

    I'm now torn on whether or not to go the fretless route or stick with fretted. I've been considering making the leap to fretless for a short time now but am still very leery about taking the plunge. I know what to how to play a fretted and am unsure of how different a fretless would actually be. What are the pro's and con's of a fretless bass?

    I'd also like to know if a maple board is a good idea for a fretless bass. I've noticed that fretless basses always seem to have rosewood, ebony, pau ferro, or some dark wood for the fretboard. My reasons for a maple board are purely asthetic.

    I'm also currently doing a search on said topic, but would still appriciate any additional input.
  2. If you have good left hand technique and a good ear there are no con's.
  3. Aaron Saunders

    Aaron Saunders

    Apr 27, 2002
    Maple is very soft and would need some kind of coating. Once it's coated, it should be totally fine -- it's just that the rosewood family (including pau ferro, etc) and ebony are very hard, resilient woods and don't NEED to be coated (it's just a good idea).

    Go for lines on it. None of this "but I like the look of an unlined board" stuff -- when you're going six string fretless, it's just such a bloody task to play in the first place that lines, while not necessary as clearly a lot of people have noted for them, help immensely. My main bass is a Yamaha BB404 fretless with lines. I can usually to pretty decently in the lower registers (<12th fret) of an unlined four and occasionally a five. Played my teacher's unlined sixer last week and I nearly died -- it was killin' me left and right. I eventually wrestled into the correct intonation on it, but it sure was a bugger of a job to do so.

    As for the difference between playing fretted and fretless? Since I've played fretless almost exclusively for a few months now, when I play fretted, I feel really constrained and not as free. There are a LOT of things on a fretless that you can't do on a fretted, but it just doesn't go the other way. Slap? Put on roundwound strings. Everything else just takes practice. There are just so many small inflections and such on a fretless that makes it MUCH more lyrical and soulful than a fretted.

    PS: I checked out your profile and noted that you only have 2 five string basses -- have you ever owned a six string? If you haven't, then I'd still say go fretless, but DEFINITELY get lines.
  4. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000

    No I've never owned a 6 string for any length of time. The one I did own was an Ibanez SR-406 and it was bought only to be played sold so I never really played it.
  5. JazzerHF


    Dec 14, 2004
    Hey man, fretless is pretty awesome, if you already have a fretted. Im searching for a fretless bass myself, but unlike the other guy, im not a fan of lines. why? because you start playing with your eyes insted of your ears, and thats what its about. Also, the lines trip me up, its like running over railroad tracks.

    as far as what you can do on fretless... think about upright bass players and the amount of expression they get on their instrument, now give that expression to the electric bass, and there you go. Or just listen to Jaco.
  6. James Hart

    James Hart

    Feb 1, 2002
    Endorsing Artist: see profile
    maple is harder then rosewood. Maple needs coating because it turns grey / black from age and finger grease. My maple board is treated by and no coating is needed because the coat is on the inside

    Lines are really useful when you are staring at the face of the board.... Un seen when standing and performing, you should play with your ears.

    but then I cut my teeth on a defretted 4 string ibanez back in the 80s for a year or so before going unlined (washburn then yamaha)... so I did have lines when I started.

    I stepped into my first 6 string with an unlined fretless
  7. Figjam


    Aug 5, 2003
    Boston, MA
    Yeah maybe is harder than rosewood etc and it has a zingy tone to it.
  8. Matt R Miller

    Matt R Miller

    Apr 27, 2003

    if you decide to make the jump to fretless, you will be glad you did. the fretless bass is so much more emotional and expressive than a fretted bass. you will find yourself playing tear-jerking melodies late into the night on many occasions. plus the sound of sliding down a fretless me goosebumps! go with the fretless, you won't regret it.
  9. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
  10. Mojo-Man

    Mojo-Man Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2003
    Maple is fine for fretless fingerboard.
    I have a 1977 fretless-P-bass, maple fingerboard.
    TI-Flats, great for live playing.
    I prefer rosewood for recording.
    Good luck.
  11. rockindoc

    rockindoc Daily Lama

    Jan 26, 2002
    Bonham, Tx
    Ditto. Why have a lined fretless unless you're playing a dobro? Leaning down and over the fretboard will make you kyphotic. Upward-facing side dots/lines should be enough for reference.
  12. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Right ... so tell that to Jaco, Gary Willis, and Jimmy Haslip. They apparently didn't realize that playing with lines would mess them up. Too bad, they could have been good....

    Sorry, I don't mean to pick on you, but this is really a misconception that ought to die. If someone doesn't use lines and plays well, then cool; if they do use lines and play well, then cool too. The eyes vs. ears thing is really nonsense IMNSHO.
  13. JazzerHF


    Dec 14, 2004

    I dont think it discredits anyone if they use lines (those guys are proof). As long as a person has chops, they have chops.
    Its just that I personally feel that when i play with lines, I find myself staring at the fretboard more worried about getting my finger on the lines than i am worried about my playing. But without lines im listening more and adjusting based on what im hearing as opposed to what im seeing the fretboard. that maybe just me, but I wouldn't be surprised if thats the same for others. no offense taken, its important to get different opinions on a subject when trying to help someone decide.
  14. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    My main reason for wanting lines is asthetics. Like I said, I think the board looks naked without the lines on it. I also dont like the look of the board without them. Especially if its a wood like Ebony. Maple boards are so light that I can go either way on it.
  15. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Odd ... I don't lean over the fingerboard, and I can see the lines on top of it perfectly well .... This should not be an issue IMHO.
  16. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    I would strongly urge you not to spend that kind of money on your first fretless, unless of course you're rolling in the dough. Why not get something used or inexpensive and see if you like it. You might hate playing fretless.

    Fretless basses as I understand it move much slower on the used market.

    Lined unlined doesn't make a difference. Unlined have big easy to see dots on the side of then neck that probably give you just as much position help as lines. I've never owned a lined fretless.
  17. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Hey cass, what's up? Fretless is a lot of fun; I think you'll like it. One thing about a maple FB: it's not as tough as ebony or pau ferro, so there's a good chance that it would exhibit more string wear than you would like, unless you get some kind of hard finish on it or maybe get some of that stabilized wood that Gallery sells. But if you're getting this from Peavey, you likely won't have those options. My suggestion, I have to say, would be not to go with maple for the FB. I like black ebony, but macassar ebony, pau ferro, or even something exotic like purpleheart or satine (bloodwood) could probably work. Maybe wenge too, though personally I find the texture and look more porous than I like for a fingerboard.

    Actually, another question: you said peacock blue ... but is that gonna look funky over redwood? My guess would be yes, but then I haven't seen it--maybe it would be cool. I guess my bias is that redwood is such a nice-looking wood, I hate to see it covered up.

    Anyway, good luck with your purchase.
  18. Chef

    Chef Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    May 23, 2004
    Columbia MO
    Staff Reviewer; Bass Gear Magazine
    I have fretless's with both maple and ebony/rosewood fingerboards. The maple is definately brighter. I would not have a fretless as by only bass, but they bring a very nice difference to your arsenal of weapons. Not alwyas appropriate though, depending on what type of music you're playing.
  19. johnvice


    Sep 7, 2004
    I agree. I like to think of lines as "intonation training wheels". As it definitely takes some getting use to. Once you get your "sea legs" of intonation, you can just ignore the lines.
    My "fretlessisms" are limited to sliding up or down to a note. I use harmonics in my playing so "sliding harmonics" is a favorite. That said you can do so much with slides from major "statements" to the more subtle "suggestions".

    Ouch! I wouldn't do either with a fretless. Slapping would damage your fret board. Bass God Gary Willis has an expression like "If it's a conflict between metal and wood, the metal will win". Willis also suggests refraining from string bends on fretless to avoid fretboard wear.

    It could be argued that Jaco used round wounds but he also applied several coats of marine epoxy to his fretboard to prevent fretboard wear.
  20. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000