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Fretted vs. Fretless

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by stefeb, Jun 24, 2002.

  1. stefeb


    Jun 9, 2002
    Bethlehem, PA
    What's the advantage/disadvantage of a fretted base vs. a fretless bass, or the other way around?

  2. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Hm, this advantage/disadvantage view kind of misses the point.

    They're different instruments with distinctive sounds.
    There's stuff you can do on fretted that you can't do on fretless and vice versa.

    Fretted may be easier to learn/play, but even there some people might disagree.
  3. stefeb


    Jun 9, 2002
    Bethlehem, PA
    Aha...thanks. I'm knew to bass playing, and this is the first mention of the sound being different. I know it's hard to describe what something sounds like, but I'll ask anyway....what is the difference in sound?

    Is one more mellow sounding than the other, etc.?
  4. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Well, it's not that easy to describe, since there are countless possibilities on each instrument.

    Fretless can sound almost like an upright with flatwounds, dimmed highs, etc. or with a distinct growl when using roundwounds and more highs or even active EQ. Jaco Pastorius pretty much defined modern fretless sound, but there are numerous others who created their own unique voice, e.g. Pino Palladino (session, Paul Young), Mick Karn (solo, session, Japan) or Percy Jones (Brand X, solo).

    Phrasing is an important part in fretless playing, more so than on fretted, since things like vibrato can can be used more expressively.

    Fretted basses sound more brilliant or metallic in most cases, with a more distinct attack.
  5. snyderz


    Aug 20, 2000
    AZ mountains
    Everything JMX said. Plus, I just like the feel of a fretless bass with flatwounds. I've gotten to the point where I no longer play fretted basses. Most say that's one dimensional, but I can get the sounds out of my fretless basses to accomodate most types of music. Plus, I don't have to worry about fretwear!
  6. BassMann2112


    Jun 21, 2002
    try ribbon wound strings if you like the feel of the flats for your frettless. I have been using ribbon wound strings on my 59 jazz for almost 6 years now and would have it no other way.
    Cheers to all :D
  7. Ívar Þórólfsson

    Ívar Þórólfsson Mmmmmm... Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2001
    Kopavogur, Iceland
    Also what sets a fretless bass apart from a fretted, is the famous "mwah".
    It´s a sound, feeling if you will, that you can´t possibly recreate with a fretted bass.

    By all means go to a music store and try out a fretless bass. Pluck a note and let your fretted finger slide down the fingerboard and dig in a little. You´ll be hypnotized :) I know I was!
  8. I'm a newbie at playing fretless, and bought a MIM J fretless with a lined neck.

    At first, I thought I really needed the lines to help intonation, but I find now this is a hindrance. Reason: I habitually play using the side dots on my fretted instruments. A lined fretless puts the side dots between the fret locations, resulting in poor intonation. The unlined necks put the side dots exactly ON the fret locations.

    I'm going to replace the lined neck with an unlined, ebony neck (P-width) from Warmoth. This will cure my Fender dead spots, and put the side dots directly at the intonation points. I can then switch between P and fretless J and finger to the side dots without confusion.
  9. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    i thought the jazz started in '60. i'm not much on fender history, though, so i could be wrong.

    welcome to tb, btw.
  10. there are subtleties between fretted and fretless basses: generally speaking, fretted basses have frets, while fretless basses don't. ;)
  11. stefeb


    Jun 9, 2002
    Bethlehem, PA
    Could you repeat that :rolleyes:
  12. Suburban


    Jan 15, 2001
    lower mid Sweden
    With the frets gone, as some newbie said it: "I feel the tone go thru your fingers, arms chest and directly to your heart. I become one with the tone."

    It wasn't me, but it could have been...
  13. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    The string contact point on the former is metal whilst the latter is wood. Any descriptive words of the sounds made are influenced by that difference.

    As previously stated there's no real advantage/disadvantage unless you prefer one over the other. I have two basses, one fretted and one fretless. I play one over the other when I feel like it.

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