Intonation…fretless vs fretted

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

  1. I cannot imagine how awful a fretless would be in the hands of the people that strapped on that bass guitar.
    LBS-bass likes this.
  2. You live in a pretty stable climate, even if you do get four seasons.
    scott sinner likes this.
  3. turf3


    Sep 26, 2011
    Well, I have three modern cars and I'm still checking the oil just like I have for the last 45 years.
  4. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    I doubt it's a lot. Sure there will be some but more likely a small minority, at least amongst actual regular players. As for the fretless thing, the focus isn't really hyper. Being constantly concerned with intonation goes with the territory, and is a second-nature matter of technique related to the practicalities of playing, not a workshop issue related to the playability of the instrument. Of course the fretless player is also concerned with the setup aspects since they directly impact the ease with which consistent technique can be developed and applied. But that's a different question.
    LBS-bass likes this.
  5. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    OK, this made me laugh because after all these posts there's still a disconnect here about the way the word intonation is used. Of course a fretless player is focused on intonation. You can't play a fretless instrument without focusing on intonation with every single note you play. A fretted instrument is DESIGNED specifically to eliminate that concern. That is what frets are for! So what you're saying here is just a huge "duh."

    And I've been to church events, I've played and sung in churches, and I've sold musical gear to many churches. You're not talking about a cross section at the top of the professional level pile here. You're talking mainly about the guys who used to play in a band when they were kids who got talked into being in the worship group by the pastor. I know that some churches really put a lot of effort and money behind their music, but a lot of these groups are ragtag volunteers with little to no real experience. Checking intonation? Most of them don't even know that's something that can be done. You came along behind those guys and did them a favor by finally providing a proper setup, which is all this conversation is really about. It's about setups.
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2021
    Mushroo, SteveCS and James Collins like this.
  6. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    I am from Maryland. It's anything but a stable climate. It's horribly humid in the summer and dry and cold in the winter and everything in between. If Scott's basses haven't needed intonating in a decade, it's not because he lives in a magical land where nothing ever happens. I don't know why you can't just take it on board that this isn't as big a deal as you seem to think it is.

    Instruments need a good setup. That includes proper intonating. They don't need this done daily or weekly or maybe even yearly. Most of us double check our intonation when we change strings, and we're usually happy with what we find.

    There are players out there who don't understand the concept of setup. They walked into a GC, pulled something off the wall, took it home, and haven't got enough ear to know that they're out of tune, or the knowledge to understand why, because they haven't been taught, because they're learning from YouTube. That's the real problem you're describing, but you're attributing it to a lack of regular attention, when it's really a lack of knowledge on the part of inexperienced players.
    James Collins likes this.
  7. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    What you are talking about isn't as much an issue of intonation even though the intonation was terrible. The issue seems the bass players in your worship group are tone deaf or just don't care that what they are playing is in tune or not.

    Believe it or not, once you set the intonation at the bridge with proper neck relief, unless you put wildly different strings on the instrument you never have to adjust the bridge again. Changes in weather cause the neck to bow differently if at all, so you just have to adjust the truss rod back within limits. So it sounds like your church bass was never setup and no one noticed because they can't hear.

    The point again about intonation on a fretless instrument keeps getting missed. Fretless players don't have to check bridge saddle intonation as much as a fretted player should because intonation for a fretless player has to deal with just where they finger the note. Every note they play is a chance to adjust intonation. The comparison between the two instruments you are trying to make just seems nonsensical.

    I think your post would make more sense if you said:
    "This is an over generalization but fretless players overall seem to pay more attention to the notes they are playing than fretted players. Fretless players check intonation with every note they play, so they will notice when they are playing out of tune. Whereas an average bassist on a fretted instrument doesn't always hear when he is out of tune. So if the instrument is poorly intonated, he will just pluck away playing the wrong notes and never even notice it.

    I know this isn't every bass player, but I recently experienced this first hand when I tried to use the house bass (EBMM Stingray) at my worship band. It was so poorly intonated that anyone without damaged hearing should have been able to pick up on it immediately, but it sat in use for months in this condition."
    I think if your post went something like that it would get your point across about noticing when intonation is off without conflating the two meanings of intonation.
    OldShark, g-dude and LBS-bass like this.
  8. el murdoque

    el murdoque

    Mar 10, 2013
    I do so, constantly. Every time I play a note, I also listen. If my intonation is off, that note is off.
    If I fret the correct note but that note is sharp or flat, I'll perform a quick check with a tuner that will show if the string is out of tune or if the intonation needs to be set.
    g-dude, Mushroo and James Collins like this.
  9. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    I think another tangential issue is learning to play based on tablature and no one tunes by ear. If you are used to an electronic tuner telling you when things are in tune and you don't know what notes you are playing on the fingerboard, it amplifies this handicap.

    Once I started reading sheet music and tuning by ear with either a pitch generator or a tuning fork, my ear got significantly better.
    LBS-bass likes this.
  10. James Collins

    James Collins

    Mar 25, 2017
    I feel the same way. There is no need for a dedicated intonation check with a tuner if you have ears. I would trust my ears over a tuner even.
    Mushroo and SteveCS like this.
  11. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    Same here. And, as someone pointed out earlier in the thread, you can do some microtonal adjusting on a fretted instrument. You can't flatten notes, but you can sharpen them, either deliberately or by accident. Most of us learn to listen for these kinds of errors and we also learn that we can use that to our benefit as appropriate. I think it's safe to say that listening is always an important component to playing; hearing whether or not you're in tune is only one facet of deep listening.
    Mushroo likes this.
  12. My current cars don’t have dipsticks. All electronic sensors.

    I do miss the procedure for checking the oil on an air cooled Porsche: warm the car up, park it on a level surface with the car running, pop the engine cover and check the dipstick.
  13. Mushroo

    Mushroo Guest

    Apr 2, 2007
    Well said! :) It is all about mindfulness. Some players are more mindful than others.

    I'm not saying this to brag or be arrogant, this is just the reality of how people learned to play pre-internet: I learn songs by jamming along with the radio. The songs flow into each other and there's no time to stop and re-tune. Many famous songs are off-pitch from A440 standard. If the song is only moderately out of tune, I avoid open strings and bend fretted notes to pitch. If it's very out of tune, I re-tune to the radio as I go, and then quickly tune back at the end, so I'm ready for the next song.

    I'm "old school" that if you want to be a great musician you need to use your ears and be mindful of each and every note you play. I remember something Michael Manring said in a NGSW masterclass. I'm paraphrasing but it was something like: "Every note you play tells a story. Every note has a beginning, middle, and end."

    This video made me think of you guys. Richie Havens' guitar is wicked flat, but the bass player rolls with it: He retunes his bass on the fly, and the show goes on. You can see in the background, the guitarist walks over and checks in with the bass player: "Are you hearing this too?" There is a lot of mindfulness happening on that stage!

    Sometimes I wish I could invent a time machine and send a bunch of Snark tuners back to the '60s.
    LBS-bass likes this.
  14. When I say intonation I mean whether a given note is hitting the proper frequency in hz.

    On a fretless, every note you play is an opportunity to have proper or improper intonation.

    On a fretted instrument, assuming the frets are properly installed at the precise locations necessary, and the instrument is freshly set up in an accurate manner, a person with proper technique should be able to play a note that is properly intonated.

    If the neck of the instrument shifts due to humidity changes or what not, then every note played is potentially improperly intonated.

    I’m using the word intonation consistently. It’s whether the note played results in the intended frequency. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about intonating each note on a fretless, or doing a setup to make sure the guitar is to spec, each note is either properly intonated or it isn’t.

    On a fretless, every note is an opportunity. On a fretted instrument, you’re more likely to have an “all or nothing” type situation.

    Given it’s an all or nothing situation, a simple check on a regular basis seems prudent.

    As for the churches I’ve played it, it’s a mix of people with outside experience and folks of limited experience…but most of them do have outside experience at the places I’ve gone, ranging from having been a professional musician to playing in a military band, to having studied music in college.

    Ironically, of all the musicians I’ve encountered in churches, it seems like the bass is the absolute worst in terms of people who really know the instrument. I have a few theories about that for another day…
  15. Agree with this 100%.

    A tuner will tell you if your instrument is in tune…but it also won’t tell you if you’re getting a low frequency oscillation in pitch.

    Happened to me one service, and it drove me bonkers. Nobody else noticed, but it was stupidly annoying. No idea what the causes was, but the best solution I could come up with was not letting notes ring out as long.

    Have you ever played an upright? The whole instrument will tell you if you hit certain notes properly. Playing an E on the D string perfectly will get the E string to start vibrating enough to where you can literally see that you are in tune with a string you haven’t even played.
  16. The worst service I ever played was when the guy playing bass accidentally had detuned his snark by a half step.

    The WL was looking at me, I was looking at him, and we’re mid song not being able to figure out why it sounds horrible. Meanwhile the guy in bass had no clue there was a problem.

    Oh how I wished the sound guy was paying enough attention to figure out who was not in tune so that they could be dialed out of the mix.
    Mushroo likes this.
  17. LBS-bass


    Nov 22, 2017
    Yes, and the only thing most of us are saying is that this rarely happens. It seems like you think it's a way bigger problem than it is. You have multiple experienced players agreeing that it's not generally a big issue for anyone who has a proper setup.

    Mindful listening (as Mushroo calls it) is a bigger problem for ANY player, but the degree of inaccuracy you'll hear from fretted players who have proper setups is minimal and usually consists of sharp notes when too much pressure is applied from the fingers. Technique fixes pretty much eliminate this problem with fretted instruments; fretless players are constantly microadjusting on the fly.

    Again, I think your issue is with inexperienced players who don't know they need to have their instrument set up at all. It's not "fretted players pay less attention to detail." It's "inexperienced players don't know everything they need to know in order assure their instrument is properly calibrated."

    Since I'm saying this over and over and you're not hearing me, I'm going to stop now. I hope you have a great day!
    el murdoque likes this.
  18. Killing Floor

    Killing Floor Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2020
    Austin, TX
    I can get behind this. I mechanically set/validate intonation on my fretlesses. I’d say unless it is a new instrument I don’t touch the points more than twice a year unless I notice something. I practice fretless at least a couple times per week with a running tuner as a checkup. Setting a fretless requires fixed check lines. I’d expect at least half of the fretlesses in the wild are just as they came from the store. I also agree that “intonation” may mean something different in context. I’m not sure setting a fretted is more difficult unless the frets are imperfect.
  19. And what I’m saying is that it doesn’t hurt to check, and many people are blissfully unaware of the quality of their setups - or the impact that certain climates can have on the instrument.
  20. Ekulati

    Ekulati Supporting Member

    Jan 2, 2016
    Richmond, VA
    I think our friend here exemplifies what I often point out, that being perhaps TOO MUCH INTERNET LEARNING to the exclusion of practical day to day experience.

    Tim Skaggs and LBS-bass like this.
  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 20, 2022

Share This Page