Intonation…fretless vs fretted

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by g-dude, Nov 26, 2021.

  1. Okay, so I know the deal…

    Lines and dots on a fretless are guides, and the instrument may shift a little which means you have to use your ears.

    On an upright, if you have inlaid side dots, they will not necessarily always be in the right place.

    I get it. It makes sense.

    But on fretted…shouldn’t we be worried about the same thing? Or do we just not sweat the minor issues with intonation as much? Or maybe it just isn’t on the radar?
  2. Michedelic

    Michedelic MId-Century Modern

    Well, as long as you land somewhere in between the frets on the note you want, and adequately press down, you’re golden. Other than that, there’s vibrato, which is optional.
  3. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    I guess I'm not clear on the question.

    Because of the stiffness of the strings which is different for each string, and the fact that the strings have to be depressed to fret them (thus increasing tension), frets on a fretted instrument can't be positioned so that every note is perfectly in tune. Fret positions are a reasonable compromise, and then on instruments with adjustable saddles, you have to adjust the saddle position as well. If you change the strings to a significantly different type, or you make big changes to action height or neck relief, you may have to go back and re-adjust the saddle positions. People spend a lot of time "intonating" their fretted instruments to get the best overall compromise for intonation across all the strings and all up and down the fretboard.

    OK, some people take the thing out of the box and never make an adjustment, but that's not recommended.
    el murdoque and VictorW126 like this.
  4. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    Augusta, GA
    On a fretless instrument the G in a key of C is different than the G in the key of A since you can use just intonation. I don't play much fretless, but that's the main reason purists seem to get annoyed by markers.

    On a fretted instrument, you play close enough to in tune using even temperament to be okay. But it is always slightly out of tune.
    Koshchei, Ekulati, SteveCS and 4 others like this.
  5. Right, but at the end of the day, I feel like there is a far higher level of concern for the intonation on a given day for a fretless.

    I mean, how many fretted players check their intonation every time they pick up the instrument?
  6. Lo-E


    Dec 19, 2009
    Brooklyn, NY
    The amount that a fretted bass is out of tune is so minuscule it is of little consequence in almost every musical application.

    It’s also important to adjust the saddles on a fretless bass to adjust intonation just as you would on a fretless bass. Many people fail to recognize the importance of that.
  7. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    I do; I use a tuner (or a well-tuned piano) to confirm that the open strings are tuned, every time I start to play.

    I know the frets haven't moved since the last time I played it; I know the saddles haven't moved; and I know the strings are the same ones. So I don't need to confirm those things.

    Playing a fretless (I play upright but I don't have a fretless electric) - hell, every single note the "frets" have moved, because the "frets" are formed by me pinching the string between the tip of my finger and the fingerboard. Every single fingered note on a fretless instrument has the potential to be noticeably out of tune. With a fretted instrument, once you get it mechanically set up, as long as you leave the mechanical bits alone, and you tune the open strings, the fingered notes will be as much in tune the 50th time you take it out as the 1st time.

    Now of course if you change something mechanical, you've got to readjust.
    VictorW126 and WestyBassBob like this.
  8. Ampslut

    Ampslut Supporting Member

    May 15, 2017
    Barrackville WV
    Pretty much like playing the trombone. Somewhere between your ear and muscle memory, you get it done.
  9. Except that you might have some shifting that occurred….temperature/humidity changes.

    I mean, I know we all do the twice a year check and truss rod adjustment :)whistle::angel:) to make sure our intonation is spot on.

    Back when I was playing guitar, we couldn’t figure out what was sounding horrible one time…turns out the other guitarist was out around the 7th fret by a full quarter tone! :eek:
    scott sinner likes this.
  10. 5andFretless

    5andFretless Supporting Member

    Dec 18, 2007
    Long Island Ny
    The op is making an interesting point that appears to be missed. Since I'm often one of the first to make a comment about lines and dots on a fretless only being guides, he's implying that frets are no better in that respect with the problem the player can't adjust. Good point.

    I think it has to do with a skill required to play fretless, being able to hear subtle intonation issues. On a fretted instrument most players don't listen that closely to that aspect of what they are playing, since there is nothing they can do about it. They are close enough.
    MynameisMe, Bass4Gsus and g-dude like this.
  11. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    That's just checking your tuning. Checking the intonation would require checking open strings and also checking the tuning at the twelfth fret, at the very least.
  12. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    He is correct about that, but it's a compromise most of us have learned to live with, and there's not much to be done about it so I don't know why it is a concern to be addressed. Fretless players, singers, violinists all have the option to play more in tune than those whose instruments have fixed pitches.

    There are fretted instruments that have the frets adjusted to be in tune to a different temperament. You could always buy one of those, or play fretless.
  13. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    A full quarter tone out? Wow.

    That sounds more like they inaccurately installed the frets or bridge rather than something that either shifted over time or in response to atmospheric changes.
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2021
  14. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    Augusta, GA
    Fretless players check their intonation every time they finger a note. Fretted players can't change their intonation the same way, so they don't care about it. Fretless players still adjust truss rods and saddles the same as fretted players.
  15. Believe it or not, after a setup, things were fine.

    He wasn’t aware that intonation could be an issue…if you think about it, the easiest way to notice it is to play the same part as someone else. Depending on what you do, you can actually totally fail to notice the problem if it gets masked the right way.
  16. You don’t need to be nearly as on top of the truss rod on a fretless, because as you note, the fingers can adjust things accordingly.

    By the same token, I would argue that most fretted instrument players check their tuning and that’s it 99% of the time…meaning plenty of opportunity to have their intonation out at the 12th fret.

    I developed a sort of paranoia about it after having a bass and string combination that I simply could not get to stay consistently intonated. In fact, I have to stop myself from checking for intonation issues due to things shifting in situations where I simply don’t have the opportunity to address the issue.
  17. Except there is - adjusting your truss rod and saddles.

    The point that some have picked up on, and others have missed, is that fretted players will often plug in and tune up and not check their intonation at the 12th fret, which is a simple check at the end of the day.
    JRA and SteveCS like this.
  18. Gsnorgathon


    Jan 15, 2020
    If you want to be really picky, you can change intonation slightly on a fretted instrument, by pulling toward or away from the bridge, or away from the centerline of the string (or bending the neck forward or back :eek:). When I'm doing spare droney ambient stuff, I do that all the time. But typically? Nah. Hit it, Dee Dee!
    SteveCS likes this.
  19. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    I'm not really following, so I guess I didn't understand the intent of your OP.

    It's a given that you will adjust your overall intonation as needed with those methods, but that has nothing to do with microtonal adjustments you can make on the fly while playing fretless, or specialty frets that give you those microtonal adjustments, which is the comparison I assumed your OP was addressing. I didn't think those two things were under discussion. You can't "fix" intonation on the fly while on stage by working with truss rod and saddles, but you can with a fretless bass.

    I think most of us check our intonation from time to time, but not at the same rate we check our overall tuning.
  20. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    So I guess you're just drawing attention to the fact that not everyone checks their intonation that often. Fair enough.
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