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How hard is it to switch from fretted to fretless?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by 0scar, Jul 29, 2005.

  1. 0scar


    Jul 11, 2003
    I'm in the process of getting my Kubicki fixed by Philip himself, so I was thinking maybe when I ship my bass out to him, ask him to change the neck into a fretless one. I've always been interested in playing a fretless, I was just wondering if the switch is hard. If I were to do this, preferably I'd like fretlines painted on, even with this would it still be a difficult change? I've been playing since I was 12/13 (I'm 18 now) and I'd consider myself an advanced-novice. I've played fretless in music stores before, but then again, there's obviously a difference between messing around with a fretless in a store and jamming out with a band or practicing to songs.

    Thanks in advance
  2. BuffaloBob4343

    BuffaloBob4343 Supporting Member

    Jul 3, 2005
    Buffalo, NY
    I am in the process of doing this right now myself, although I will be purchasing a couple of fretted basses over the next few months.

    Of course, the biggest thing you have to get used to is this: On a fretted bass, no matter where your finger hits the fretboard between two frets, you always get the note dictated by the lower of the two frets. The lower fret dictates the vibrational end point of the string.

    With a fretless on the other hand, it is exactly where your finger contacts the string to the FB that dictates the note. As such, even rolling the finger to one side or the other will raise or lower the pitch slightly.

    While the foregoing may be obvious, everything that makes a fretless harder to play well stems from this fact. First, you have to intonate your bass, that is figure out where on the fretboard the notes are. You can play around with a tuner and you can also use the tuned open strings to intonate notes as well. Having lines helps because it gives you a reference when intonating.

    The next thing is you need to practice a lot to improve your left-hand accuracy, to hit the spots on the fingerboard as accurately as possible. What I found is that the best way to do that is make sure you are achieving a full fret distance (that is, a full step) between your fingers. This is not as easy as it sounds!

    I found that my middle and ring fingers on my left hand would not separate very far, nor could I extend one indepdently of the other. Thus, I could not get a full fret or step difference between those two fingers when on the fingerboard in the first or second positions and it remained difficult until I got significantly higher up the fingerboard. If I wanted to play the two notes sequentially, I had to slide up on the fretless. This of course was never a problem when playing a fretted, because as long as the two fingers were separated enough to straddle a fret, it was all good.

    I have since been exercising these two fingers and the tendons that control them. I have been forcing myself to do the "Live Long and Prosper" V with my left hand, which I could not do at first, but now I can. I have done stretching exercises to develop the control to better separate my fingers.

    Also, if you sing while you play, this is more difficult with a fretless at first simply because accuracy is so important. But it is nothing one can't overcome with practice.

    Frankly, I think playing a fretless makes you a better player. It forces you to have great form, it forces you to become more accurate, and it forces you to listen to what you are playing and to adjust quickly if you are off more than a tolerable amount.

    I hope this helps! I say go for it! The sounds you get from a fretless are just so unique and gratifying. However, I highly recommend keeping a fretted around, too. I don't think a fretless is ideal for every scenario!
  3. JayAmel

    JayAmel Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2002
    Carcassonne, France
    I have no fretless at this time, but I used to own some in the past. First, a defretted Jazz copy. Then an unlined Jacobacci.

    From what I experienced, getting the good pitch was not that difficult, even on the unlined one (but I must acknowledge I had side dots on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 17th and 19th "frets"). Actually, having those few locates made things easier to me and more "natural" too.

    As Buffalo said, the kind of tone you get out of a fretless is unique, and many players are quite addicted to that sound. I even have a friend who *CANNOT* play on a fretted bass, tonewise and feelwise.

    The good thing with fretless basses is that they are easier to setup, since it's all about the straightness of the neck, so you can get very low action and no buzz or dead spots, of course.

  4. When your fretted technique is sound, you should have few problems. I switched from a fretted to an unlined fretted one with no problems whatsoever... except perhaps some minor adjustments when playing really high up the neck.
  5. fourstringdrums

    fourstringdrums Decidedly Indecisive Supporting Member

    Oct 20, 2002
    I've never really had a problem, although I did have to be alittle more careful not to "slop out" with my technique. Playing up higher was alittle more of a challenge, as well as chords or double stops. But, it's always been said that you may think that you're playing in tune and everything is great when you play by yourself, but as soon as you play with another musician (not a drummer), you may find that you're not as in tune as you think you are.