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Fretted acoustic upright

Discussion in 'Basses [DB]' started by kidgloves2, Dec 7, 2013.

  1. kidgloves2


    Mar 27, 2006
    I play fretted electric bass. I have no experience with fretless and I'm not interested in it right now. I also like acoustic music, but acoustic bass "guitars" don't produce a lot of volume. So I was wondering if there is such a thing as a fretted acoustic double bass? This will be for my own compositions mostly. I'm not going to use it for classical. Think MTV unplugged rock music.

    I was watching the documentary Mr. Blue Sky, with Jeff Lynne. In it there was a fretted acoustic upright in the background. I've been searching the internet for info on it and I can't find any. It doesn't have to be that one though.
  2. tyb507

    tyb507 Supporting Member

    Sep 17, 2004
    Burlington, Vermont
    There's the Rigel Acousta Bass, made here in VT. I've never tried one or heard one, though. Also there was the Regal Bassoguitar made for a couple years in the 20s (I think) in Chicago (It think). It was a huge, acoustic guitar-shaped upright bass. I owned one that had inlaid lines for every fret position, but I think they mostly had frets (maybe mine had been modified). http://www.rickredingtontheluv.com/rigel
  3. Hi.

    There's one huge drawback with frets on a DB, it will be a total PITA to keep/play in tune.

    I do have the need ;), ability and tools to install frets on my BSO, but the ability to fine-tune (to be less out-of-tune) on the fly is so wonderful tool that I wouldn't want to give that up for anything.

  4. james condino

    james condino Spruce dork Supporting Member

    Sep 30, 2007
    asheville, nc
    Before I ever played the double bass, I had been playing guitar for a couple of decades and I though the same thing about adding frets. After about the first ten minutes of playing fretless, I never looked back and can't imagine life any different. I have several customers who have ancient old mandobasses from Gibson and Lyon and Healey with frets: they are about the most uninspiring and boring instruments I can describe.

  5. kidgloves2


    Mar 27, 2006
    Thanks for the input guys. the Rigel Acousta Bass is interesting, but I'm more interested in a traditional double bass body and fingerboard radius. Also a bass that won't break my back lol. But the Rigel is cool.

    It's possible I may learn to play a proper upright bass at some point. Edgar Meyer is a huge inspiration of to me. I'm already spread thin with guitar, mandolin and electric bass. Learning to play bass with correct intonation seems daunting to me right now.

    It's just that I compose so much on electric bass, I want to move that stuff to the acoustic world without extra problems. For now. :)
  6. Violen

    Violen Instructor in the Vance/Rabbath Method Banned

    Apr 19, 2004
    Kansas City Metro Area
    Endorsing Artist: Conklin Guitars (Basses)
    Add gut frets like a gamba. People had moveable intonatable frets for hundreds of years. Dont buy into the hype that they were out of tune all the time.
  7. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    If you want frets now, but see yourself migrating to "proper upright bass at some point" then I agree with gut/tie-on frets. They are used in Early music all the time, and they are adjustable. The use of different temperaments and precisely tuning intervals are two things that "separates the men from the boys" in Early music. They would often move frets, or even split them (having both a Gb and F# fret) in order to get the intonation they were looking for.

    Find a double bass in whatever your price range might be, and then seek out a Viol/Gamba/Violone player to help you with frets. The knots are tricky the first couple of times you try them, and getting them in the right place takes a while. You might need a shim under the nut to raise the action a little bit, but that's not overly challenging to do either.

    The best thing about going this route is it is completely reversible, and you can transition to a "normal" double bass at any time. I also would strongly encourage you to try double bass as it is. When are "spread thin" on multiple instruments, picking up a new one becomes less and less challenging the more you add. A lot of the skills become transferable, the musical concepts are the same etc. Although it does require significantly different technique than electric bass, you might not find the transition as daunting as you assume. A lot of what you need to adapt is your right hand technique. After you get that down, you can start removing the frets and nailing down intonation.

    Best of luck!
  8. here is a link about tying on frets. The article is for an early music lute instrument, but all the principles are the same.


    Finding proper material could be tricky, network with early music players in your area.

    The main reason to do this, is to get that "early music sound", but if you want to try it out.. have fun.
  9. James, while I have a decent variety of upright basses and any number of electric basses, if an old mandobass showed up in my price range, I'd jump on it in a minute. I'd like to have one just for mandolin orchestra stuff (and to sow confusion among other bass players).
  10. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    In my experience, a lot of early music players use their old gut strings to make frets. I'm not sure which string would be the right gauge as I never bothered to ask that question. Again, find a viol/gamba/violone player to help you with it and they might even have fret gut/old strings to let you use. While I wouldn't encourage you to bend the truth too much, Early music players can often be rather encouraging of other people "interested in pursuing it" because there really aren't that many around.

    This is the knot I've always used, and it creates a double fret that can be split to accommodate Gb and F# etc. http://www.greatbassviol.com/images/frets.jpg
  11. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN

    this is the best advice you're going to get other than to put on your big kid panties and learn DB as-is.

    good luck in your quest.
  12. punkjazzben


    Jun 26, 2008
    Tie-on gut 'frets' are one solution, but they're probably going to be a lot more work and trouble for you than simply learning the basic left hand finger/hand shape and playing a double bass or electric upright normally.

    FWIW, I find playing in tune easier on a double bass than I do on a fretless electric bass. Also, if you ever plan on playing with others, even if it is unplugged rock-style stuff, you'll end up amplifying the double bass just like you would amplify an acoustic bass guitar. Just something to think about.
  13. kidgloves2


    Mar 27, 2006
    Great advise guys. I will look into gut frets. Not sure how that would work out behind the neck with the thumb, but I will look into it. I like that it's reversible.

    Punkjazzben, I tried electric fretless and I couldn't play in tune for my life. It even had lines. If I played slow songs I was ok, but I do a lot of fast riffs. Those sounded terrible. That's part of the reason I was looking into creating this unique acoustic bass. But if you say playing in tune is easier on an upright, I might give it a shot.

    I contacted Upton Bass to see if they would do a custom fret job. I know they do a removable neck option, so I was thinking I could get a second neck later that's fretless. They talked me out of it. lol :)
  14. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    I really don't blame the guys over at Upton for talking you out of it. It really is rather gauche in the double bass world, and you won't see them used outside of Early music. It might seem like a good idea, or a way to get good intonation without having to work for it, but it's a bit of a cop-out. On their side of things, it would also be a huge pain in the ass because they wouldn't have the measurements or tools to put in frets, and it would be extremely difficult to intonate, as double bass bridges don't have adjustable saddles like electric bass bridges. So chances are they would have to charge a crazy amount to do it, put in a lot of work, and end up with a product that wouldn't be satisfying for either party involved.

    My gut fret suggestion is because you really want frets, and it provides you a way to do it without "ruining" a normal bass. I look at it like putting training wheels on a bike. Others will also look at it the same way, but make assumptions based on you being a grown adult with training wheels on...

    As for intonation being easier on double bass or fretless electric, I don't really know. You can definitely play fast passages on either and be in tune: see Jaco, or any other monster fretless player out there, and Edgar Meyer, Joel Quarrington, or any other double bassist out there. You have to approach learning either instrument as a completely different instrument, and it takes a lot of practice and dedication to learn them. A lot of electric bass players think that because they already play electric bass, they should be able to pick up a fretless and be gigging on it tomorrow. I see a lot of people pick up fretless basses and sell them a couple months later, because they just can't get the intonation down. Good intonation is a life long quest and you have to put the hours in. Likewise, a lot of guys that learn double bass or electric bass who want to switch or double on the other assume that because the word "bass" is in the instrument name, it's going to be a quick and easy transition.

    If you want to learn double bass, get a double bass and go for it. It's going to be a big commitment, and take a lot of time and effort. You're going to need to find a teacher and take at least half a dozen weekly lessons to get you off to a good start with technique that allows you to make a good sound, and prevents you from injuring yourself. And at some point down the road after you've put the hours in, you will look back at this conversation and laugh, because you are playing just fine without frets.
  15. Nathan Levine

    Nathan Levine Supporting Member

    Apr 25, 2008
    Anchorage, AK
    Just get a Kala U-bass and call it good. It really seems like your best bet. You are already set up for electric work and with the smaller scale you might be able to play even faster. It would also ultimately be much much cheaper than what most would call a fools quest.

    If you are really set on this idea of some sort of fret system on an upright bass then gut frets really seem like the way to go. Totally un-invasive. Dan at Gamut should be able to set you up nicely.
  16. punkjazzben


    Jun 26, 2008
    I've been playing electric for 15 years and double bass for 13 years. I approach them as completely different instruments. But comparisons are inevitable when making the transition.

    I wouldn't say playing with good intonation is inherently easier on DB compared to fretless. I think, for me, I have better intonation on double bass because I've followed a fairly established pedagogical tradition, whereas there really are no such established traditions with electric bass (just lots of 'tips and tricks' from different pros). So perhaps the reason I find it easier is that there are tried and true techniques that most double bass players learn when they start (with a teacher).

    I think you should give it a shot, and be sure enter it with the mindset that the DB is a different instrument.
  17. abaguer


    Nov 27, 2001
    Milford, NJ
    I hear where you're coming from OP and here's my opinion. Life is short, especially when you're spending a lot of time trying to put frets on a double bass, movable or not. If you want to play and explore a violone, go for it. If your ultimate aim is to play upright so you can do unplugged alternative music. Do that. There are guys playing alt-everything on upright (See Avett Brothers, Modest Mouse etc).

    Since you already play bass guitar and write your own stuff, then you've already achieved something. Put the energy you put into those two things into upright. I know quite a few guys who don't "play" upright regularly, but own one for casual jams or recording their own tunes. They all seem to be fine doing that without having to get a big fretted DB. Good luck
  18. kidgloves2


    Mar 27, 2006
    Lots of valuable advise here. I think I might just forget the frets. The guy at Upton said the reason he is against it is because it's hard to install them and get proper neck relief. That confused me because it can be done on electric easily. Then I realized it's achieved with a truss rod on electric and carved on an upright. If a neck could be designed with a truss rod for upright, then frets wouldn't be a problem. Until then....

    How do you guys feel about dot inlays? Edgar Meyer has them. :)
  19. Jeremy Darrow

    Jeremy Darrow Supporting Member

    Apr 6, 2007
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Fishman Transducers, D'Addarrio Strings
    There a several threads, and a wide variety of opinions, about fingerboard inlays. My opinion is that inlays or markers can help to get you in the ballpark, but they will not substitute for the hard work it takes to play in tune. Here's why, correct intonation for a given pitch doesn't always occur at the same point on a string. For example, if you're playing in the key of C, your D will be a slightly different pitch that it would be if you were playing in Eb. If you put a bunch of markers on your bass, it might help. But, if you really want to play in tune, you'll have to get the rest of the way there with your ears.
  20. drurb

    drurb Oracle, Ancient Order of Rass Hattur; Mem. #1, EPC

    Apr 17, 2004
    Not if you're sticking to the well-tempered scale where a C is a C is a C. I realize that many don't stick to that and that there's good reason not to. Still, I agree that frets are ill-advised for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that, unless one uses a compensated bridge, notes that are, say a fourth apart, aren't precisely across from each other as one goes across strings. The differences are slight, but they're there.