1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  

fretless vs fretted

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by squiershredder, Nov 25, 2017.

  1. squiershredder


    Nov 24, 2017
    Dallas, TX
    as a long time cello player, should i play fretless basses? do i absolutely need to learn everything on fretted bass as is so heavily insisted by the internet?
    FrancescoB likes this.
  2. BryanB

    BryanB Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Hi and welcome to talkbass. Since you are accustomed to playing a fretless instrument you may find playing a fretless bass much more expressive and enjoyable. It is hard to get the same punch from a fretless as a comparable fretted bass, but there are lots of great sounds you can get out of a fretless that you simply cannot do with a fretted bass. (But I suspect you already know this.) You see a lot more fretted basses on youtube simply because the Fender Precision, the first electric bass to have wide-scale market success, was designed for guitar players who wanted to play bass, not upright bass players. Fender didn't even offer a fretless until the mid-seventies. So many of us who first learned to play bass played on a fretted. But that should not stop you.
  3. squiershredder


    Nov 24, 2017
    Dallas, TX
    thanks for the help. i think ill need to try a fretless and see how it compares to make my decision
  4. Play whatever you want. You'd probably have an easier time with fretless bass than most players, who have never before played a fretless instrument.
    gebass6 and TrustRod like this.
  5. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    Many people insist on learning on fretted because IMO and IME fretless scares the crap out of many bassists. As a cellist I doubt you'll suffer from that same fear.

    Fretless can easily replace a fretted and in many cases sound like one. I do full gigs that most might think required a fretted. The keys to that are that I don't always play a fretless like a fretless; no endless sliding into notes, no ever-present sing-song-y chorus to dilute the punch, no only playing it on songs that originally have fretless on them.

    Setup can be an even more huge factor than on fretted. You can get away with very low action on good ones and that can yield effortless playability with a big sound. I prefer two pickups for versatility. Active or passive is a toss-up. I only use roundwounds on mine, with no wear issues after long term use. Being able to hear yourself is a must so a proper rig helps.

    Have fun... I know I do
  6. talman

    talman Guest

    Nov 9, 2017
    I started with a fretless because I liked the looks of the smooth, ebony-black „fret“board! :D And I have always liked the sound of double-basses - and that of the Arab oud. I imagined the freedom one has, in terms of intonation, with a fretless instrument would be nice. In regards to getting the notes right, I found it not as hard as I thought it would be. The Warwick Rockbass Streamer which I purchased does not have fret-lines, just side-dots... I have been fooling around with guitars for about 10 years, so I did not start from scratch. One should get and play the instrument one likes, I think.
  7. Wisebass


    Jan 12, 2017
    Lost in Space
    Hi squiershredder :) welcome to TB!!

    no cello.


    no you don' t have to learn on a fretted bass to rock!!!

    play the bass that feels right to you :bassist::bassist::bassist:

    may the bass be with you

    squiershredder and gebass6 like this.
  8. Tom Bomb

    Tom Bomb Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2014

    Playing fretless is FUN - Fan-tastic. Un-precedented. Non-linear. - but 'FUN' in every sense of the word. Go for it!

    Unless you're sliding into home, there are easier ways to get to where you're going. None more fun :cool:
  9. J.D. Detroit

    J.D. Detroit

    Nov 12, 2015
    I'd say hit a few shops if you can, get your hands on both types and see what feels good.
    Go back a second time or three even before making a final decision.

    Good luck and welcome. :)
  10. bucephylus

    bucephylus Supporting Member Commercial User

    Aug 18, 2002
    General Manager TecPadz LLC
    Decision somewhat depends on how much reading you intend on doing. Unlike cello, the fretless bass guitar has no physical landmarks, except the nut and neck joint; and the orientation of the instrument does not lend itself to muscle memory. I’ve been playing fretless for 40 years, and still won’t take a fretless into a serious sight reading situation. Perhaps, there are accurate fretless sight readers out there; but, I have yet to hear one.

    The only other issue is possible mix situations. Fretless playing requires better audio feedback than fretted. Certain mixes, such as those with heavy guitar wash, just aren’t worth the effort, IME. OTOH, fretless is great for driving horn sections; so, just depends.

    Sight reading aside, you should quickly get the feel for what is happening. It’s a beautiful instrument, and well worth the effort for the right ensemble situations.
  11. dmt


    Apr 19, 2003
    Orbiting Sol
    I’m gonna go against the grain here and say that, in my limited experience and as experienced through my limited abilities, they two aren’t interchangeable — to me, they’re pretty much two different beasts.

    Of course a fretted is never gonna sound or act like fretless (well, unless you defret it), but the other way around obviously has more wiggle room. You could play a fretless like a fretted (as Brad Johnson said above, not mwaahing into notes while using a chorus pedal would be a good start), but to me — I dunno, theoretically that should be fine, but if I’m playing a bass line to a song or progression that calls for a fretted bass-type part whilst on my fretless, before long I always end up wishing I just had my fretted bass. Horses for courses, for me anyways.


    I guess if you’re determined, you could certainly force a fit, it’s just that it’s not a natural fit (imo). For me anyway (some random guy on the internet, lol) the fretless just makes me want to play different things than a fretted does. There is some overlap, but the strengths of each lead in somewhat different directIons from there, ime.

    All that said, Jack Bruce of Cream fame was a classically trained cellist that made a big name for himself on fretted bass in the 60’s, but then spent the last decades of his career playing much of the very same music on a fretless. I can guess that for him, he wasn’t "forcing a fit" like I said above (lol) but simply following his vision in relation to his music and his playing. So, whatever works for you is good. I still think they lend themselves to different vibes, though. But it can be done
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2017
    Son of Wobble and gebass6 like this.
  12. dmt


    Apr 19, 2003
    Orbiting Sol
    Of course, as this is TalkBass, the answer is "Buy both"! :laugh:
  13. BassUrges


    Mar 14, 2016
    I just played Zep IV on fretless as part of a class. Worked fine. The one think I personally can't do on fretless is get a decent slap tone.

    There is a real issue, noted above, about physical landmarks. I can shift much more accurately on the DB because the bare neck area is so much shorter.
  14. bezo420


    Aug 28, 2011
    Yep. Buy both! _20160502_184128.JPG
  15. cnltb


    May 28, 2005
    Play what you prefer. No, you do not have to learn everything on fretted bass.
  16. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Supporting Member

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    Yes. If you are told something on the internet, you MUST obey.
  17. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    no. you don't need to learn anything on a fretted instrument! good luck! :thumbsup:
  18. cchorney

    cchorney Supporting Member

    Oct 21, 2010
    Meriden, CT
    Nobody in the rock scene plays fretless bass. Except for these folks. And probably a kazillion more less famous players. The internet's a fool. Play what you want, my friend.

    Fretless guitar - Wikipedia
  19. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    Some fretlesses lend themselves to slapping better than others. I prefer that type to the WB Frog variety. Two pickups help IME.
  20. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    My fretlesses are unlined but have side position dots at 3,5,7,9, etc.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.