Intonation…fretless vs fretted

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

  1. J33


    Nov 13, 2021
    Always use the ears. The reality is that even and especially with a tuner...your instrument will always be out of tune slightly. Here's a video that explains this phenomenon:

    Also with fretted instruments...the goal is to play as close to the fret as possible. It is entirely possible to pull a note slightly sharp by playing in the middle of the frets if your pressure is too strong. Playing close to the fret also makes this much physically harder to do if you have uneven pressure between sting gauges.

    With fretless, there are different kinds of fingerboard substances used that greatly effect the precision required. There is a smaller margin for error on an epoxied board than there is on an oiled board. The value in an epoxied board is an incredible tone with a sitar-like quality added to it. This also depends on the choice of flatwound vs. Rounds. I personally always use rounds on an epoxied board. The growl and character with rounds is beautiful to my ears.

    I always use lined or marked fretless basses because in a professional setting...I need to know instantly if a problem is occurring with a truss, a tuning key or a neck shift that isn't related to my intonation. The fretmarkers give me the instant information I need while playing that there is a problem not related to accuracy instead of having to test the bass in a controlled environment. The reality is that I'm going to probably have to use that bass for a studio or gig tomorrow or the next day...and I need to know exactly what's wrong in order to get it fixed quickly. Diagnosing on the spot saves a ton of time. I don't care what the purists have to's never once kept me from a gig, a studio or from achieving musical satisfaction.

    The upright is much easier to achieve pitch because it's scale length offers a larger relative "sweet spot" for the correct pitch. The trade off is the physicality of the Upright hinders certain aspects of playing that can be effortlessly achieved on an electric.

    Always use the ears first no matter what.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2021
    g-dude likes this.
  2. OldShark


    Apr 18, 2021
    Well, while you are generally "unlimited" on fretless you still may be limited when playing with other equally tempered instruments, and I would assume that's usually the case when playing with keyboards or guitars...
    Ekulati likes this.
  3. That guy Luther gets around. Don’t know how he works on so many guitars I. So many places.
    J33 likes this.
  4. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    At risk of digression, I always think of Luthiers with respect to acoustic instruments. Electrics, IMHO, are the realm of technicians.
    LBS-bass and JRA like this.
  5. Intonation is intonation. It literally means the same thing.

    The practice may be different, but the definition remains the same.

    12 TET is not perfectly in tune - if you look to the traditional definitions of the various intervals. Your fifth in 12 TET is indeed off - it’s not a pure 3:2 ratio.

    On a perfectly set up instrument, the minute it is set up, it is indeed perfectly in tune with the 12 TET standard…but how often do people check their intonation at the 12th fret? That’s my point.

    While some will say that you check it twice a year, it’s not like it magically changes only twice a year. If the instrument shifts, the odds of you catching it exactly are zero precisely when it happens unless you check intonation at every tuneup!

    How many people here really do that?

    I can tell you that playing at churches has resulted in me tuning way more often than most would, because churches is are an incredibly unstable environment for instruments.

    Show up at at 7:00 or 7:30. Climate control has just been switched over to whatever it needs to be so that it’ll be comfortable in an hour or two. Start sound check and rehearsal. As the room warms up, continue to check everything between songs. Finish up and head to the green room which for some reason is never the same temperature. Have a production meeting. Head back out, and have to recheck. Building temp continues to change, so more retuning during the dress rehearsal. Finish up. Go back to the green room. People start showing up, and with the doors constantly opening, temperature can shift dramatically. Service starts, this continues. Most of the way through the first song, everyone is there. Then you get temperature and humidity shifts from hundreds of people.

    I can play a bass for a significant length of
    time at home without needing to retune, but it’s crazy how much I have to be on top of things when I play at church!

    The worst was a tie showing up at it being 55 degrees, and showing up and it being so humid that it was like someone took a shower in the building. Different churches, but you see the same thing over and over due to the unique circumstances of playing first thing in the morning.
  6. I see why someone would hold that view.

    The intricacies of an acoustic and electric are definitely a bit different.
  7. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    Every note of every song. If I'm sharp or flat, I try to fix it immediately.

    This is what I'm trying to say: Good bassists adjust the bridge intonation on their basses as-needed (setup) AND while on stage they try to play each and every note in tune (technique).

    It's not an "either-or" situation like a lot of people are arguing. The bass needs to be intonated AND the bassist needs to be intonated. Jaco's bass might be set up with good intonation, and yet if I'm a bad fretless player, when *I* play Jaco's bass it has bad intonation.

    (This is true on both fretted and fretless bass.)
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2021
  8. Acoop


    Feb 21, 2012
    Intonation is the same on fretted and fretless basses and set up at the twelfth fret. ... The best place to land your fretting finger on a fretted bass is right before the fret and on a fretless its on top of where the fret would be located. ... On upright you don't get the luxury of adjustable bridge saddles for intonation. ... I wonder why no one has invented one yet?
    I find, good intonation comes from keeping a consistent fretting hand positioning. ... Fretless should be played with the same intonation consistency as a fretted bass. ... Which is hard to do. ... After you've achieved that then you add the smooth slides and sideways vibrato that make a fretless sound great. ...
  9. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    There are two intonations to speak of.

    A fretted or a fretless instrument can have bad intonation. They can be adjusted to limit some of it. On a fretless instrument i think it would only be noticeable if one string was wildly intonated badly.

    On a fretless instrument, the player can have good or bad intonation independent of the instrument. I suppose you could invent things on bass the player could do to play with bad intonation (bending the strings, playing with too much pressure), but for the most part intonation is set on the bass.
    Guitalia likes this.
  10. Guitalia


    Jun 7, 2008
    Baltimore, MD
    Bridge intonation concerns aside, it's a moot point when most fretless players I hear can't play in tune all the way through a given song. Listen to Jack Bruce in the reunion Albert Hall and Madison Square Garden Cream performances: cringingly out of tune on his fretless bass a lot of the time, and he'd been playing fretless instruments since he went to a conservatory on a cello scholarship as a schoolboy.

    Of course, the bassist in a rock/jazz trio like Cream has nowhere to hide---any out-of-tune notes are glaringly obvious to anyone with the ears to hear it. I can see how fretless players get away with it in the context of, say, worship band performances, where so much is going on that only people like me who are sensitive to bass tuning will notice. But it's an inevitable problem. After all, Ron Carter, when asked how his upright bass playing has changed over the last 50 years, said, "I'm really starting to be able to play in tune."
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2021
    LBS-bass likes this.
  11. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    Why would that be? You can't place your fingers in the appropriate places to match equal temperament? If you're using your ears properly it's more than likely you're doing this without even thinking about it.
  12. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    I do not have a technician to work on my voice, but I need to concern myself with intonation every time I open my mouth to sing. There's no such thing as "setting" intonation on vocal pitch so I don't understand this statement.

    What others have pointed out is that fretted and fixed-pitch instruments have set-points for intonation that may need to be adjusted with routine maintenance. It's a technical process that is specific to those instruments, and for that kind of instrument, it's pretty much the only time we ever think about intonation (unless you're pressing too hard or bending a note to compensate for being out of tune overall).

    But it is not the only kind of process through which proper intonation is achieved. Your fretless bass can be properly intonated at these set points at the factory using the standard processes, but it must also be properly intonated with the fingers with every note you play. Big difference.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2021
    Mushroo likes this.
  13. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    It's almost understandable for a live performance, because it's hard to hear bass notes on a big, boomy stage. But I had to learn a song for a performance next weekend and there's an upright bass solo in it that's horribly intonated. I made the joke to the others in that band that I need to get to work figuring out how I'm going to play that out of tune solo. This is a studio recording, and I really don't get why something that epically awful was left in by choice.
    Guitalia likes this.
  14. Guitalia


    Jun 7, 2008
    Baltimore, MD
    Anyone in a masochistic mood can listen to rock, blues, and even jazz recordings from the '50s and '60s and hear badly out-of-tune basses, even on some studio recordings, and even sometimes with fretted Fender basses. Fretted and fretless, electric or upright, it's usually notes on the E string that are out, since the pitch is hard to hear when tuning that string without an electronic tuner, but here's an example of an upright where the D string is flat. Ugh.

    g-dude and LBS-bass like this.
  15. logdrum

    logdrum A person! Supporting Member

    You got it reversed. Higher string height makes that more flat. Basic trigonometry: a2 + b2 = c2. I usually have to adjust the intonation adjustment in - towards the pickup if I raise string height on the saddles. I know the bow of the neck needs a slight adjustment too - flatter if you set your bass with high action. One of my basses is a bit higher than the Fender spec, because I use light EB strings
    g-dude likes this.
  16. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    He had it right. If you have high action, you have to press the string further. Your old string length is now longer and there is more tension on the string. So the note will be sharper than a situation where you have low action.
    SteveCS and JRA like this.
  17. I was listening to Red Garland with Paul Chambers on bass.

    Even when he was out of tune, he still sounded good. Hopefully someday I can play out of tune that well! :roflmao:
    Guitalia likes this.
  18. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    I don't know what the ops point is anymore. It seemed in the beginning he was noticing that fretless bass players were concerned frequently about intonation. Now his posts seem to indicate that no one cares about intonation and the only intonation is set at the fret positions and the bridge. Butt he knows about different temperament. It is a very confounding thread.
    JRA and LBS-bass like this.
  19. Koshchei


    Mar 17, 2019
    Peterborough, ON
    Totally! A quarter tone is half a fret, which is a LOT to be out by. His saddle would need to have been moved a centimetre or so to bring it back in. Just looking at his instrument, even before hearing a note, should have raised questions about his intonation.

  20. I was thinking the piano didn’t sound great, but that bass…I think I listened for three notes before I decided that was enough.
  21. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    May 21, 2022

Share This Page