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Is fretless bass really that different?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Kwesi, Nov 3, 2010.

  1. Yes, this is my second fretless thread in less than five minutes. Don't judge me! They're different... so there!

    Anywhoozle, exactly how much different is fretless bass to you? I figure if you've got good technique it shouldn't be that much more difficult (with lines at least). Yes, that assumption is completely unsubstantiated but that seems to make sense to me. I have yet to gig on a fretless but ever since I got my Schack last spring I've felt comfortable enough to do so (lack of opportunity). I approach it like a fretted bass... without frets. Add a little vibrato and everything seems to work out just fine. Should playing without bits of metal pressed into some wood make it that much tougher to play well?

    Mods feel free to delete if there is too much overlap with my other thread. I believe that they are separate issues though.
  2. DaLoCo


    Jun 16, 2010
    South Africa
    Fretless is easy enough to play, I have similar experience. What helps is that I have good intonation from singing in vocal ensembles. I am at beginner level, but the two very good bassists I rotate with cannot play in pitch on my fretless. In a band situation intonation is the bigger issue, before anything else.
  3. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    I play both regularly. I find the fretless tone 'rounder' in attack and having a fuller sound. (I should say that both my fretted and fretless are p-basses) With fretless I HAVE to listen more carefully and I'm probably more involved with my sound, both in terms of note selection and intonation, than I am with fretted. Whether or not this makes my fretless playing better is too subjective for me to answer, but I enjoy playing fretless more than fretted.
  4. I fret differently on a fretless. I don't always press to the board on every note with a fretted instrument.
  5. Highfox


    Mar 10, 2010
    I only started with fretless a few months ago and I seem at this time to have a totally different approach to it than I do fretted.
    It's like Jaco said the speed bumps are taken away lol, I find I do a lot more sliding to notes, Vibrato attack and it seems my fretting hand never really leaves the strings (if that makes sense)?
    They are like 2 different animals to me and give a totally different feel, but as I said I'm a Noob to fretless.
  6. pierreganseman


    Aug 23, 2008
    To me frettless is a whole other instrument... much harder to master....

    but that's just me...
  7. Setting aside tone and attack for a moment, intonation is where fretless separates the men from the boys.

    In that area, fretless is a mile wide and a mile deep, compared to fretted.

    At the intermediate level, it's just about playing as "in tune" as you would on a fretted. Many fretless players are happy to stay at that level, and in that case, I guess the differences aren't that great.

    But fretless allows you to progress far beyond the limitations of fretted basses. My dad was a classically-trained viola player, and he was very aware of the intonation compromises when he played fretted instruments. On fretless, he would play a C# a little south of where he played a Db, push some notes a hair sharp for a brighter sound, that sort of thing.

    I say this with some sadness, because in this area, I'm definitely in the intermediate camp. I'm a pretty accomplished player on fretted bass, by a hack on fretless...
  8. spufman


    Feb 7, 2005
    Central CT
    Steve_R makes a great point.

    My fretted style includes a lot of double-stops which gets me into some fretless trouble if I'm not REAL attentive. But my fretted style also includes various slide, smear and muting junk that translates really well to fretless - in fact I need to tone it down or it can sound too exaggerated. Fretless is a wonderful mind and body experience.
  9. Rickett Customs

    Rickett Customs

    Jul 30, 2007
    Southern Maryland
    Luthier: Rickett Customs...........www.rickettcustomguitars.com
    Over the years I've preferred fretless, for gigs, but still use a fretted as well.
    Once you get past basically"holding pitch", like Steve said, it is a "mile wide and a mile deep". Once you can hold pitch with other fretted instruments in a band setting, you gotta take it up a notch, cause the technique for fretless is just scratching the surface, with just holding pitch and I don't just mean sliding either ;)
  10. zenrad

    zenrad Supporting Member

    Feb 4, 2009
    Bergen County, NJ

    I can play a fretless just fine, as long as it has lines and until I have to play with other people and remain in tune :D

    There are many different techniques and skills that apply to fretless, it can sound quite beautiful and I have nothing but admiration for those who are skilled at playing one.
  11. I love the sound of fretless and I own one, but I can't do much more than play a few notes in tune.

  12. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Playing with skilled abandon on fretless can be a whole different thing (something which I cannot do). Playing like that and not sounding like poo is something that takes a lot of skill. Most folks tend to play fretless like they play fretted but add in vibrato and some extra slides. But there are some guys out there can really emphasize the sounds you can only get on a fretless with real skill that can show you how different it can be. Watching Michael Manring or listening to Franc O'Shea really rip into certain parts can showcase how you can make a fretless sound just like a fretted or like a totally different instrument.
  13. jgroh

    jgroh Supporting Member

    Sep 14, 2007
    I would say that it is different, at least for me it was. I have a pretty clean technique, but when I got a fretless a couple of years ago, it took me a bit to get up to speed with it (and it has lines). Mostly because I am in a gigging band (and busy like everyone else), and it only got played a fraction of the time.

    I still havent gigged with it yet, but I am itching to. I have the technique well enough down to where most people wouldnt know its a fretless until I wanted them to. But Im still nervous about it. I have some gigs coming up where I think I am just going to take it and use it for at least the first set and see how it goes.
  14. raymondl3


    Dec 10, 2007
    The intonation thing is tricky. It took me a few years to get to the point where I could make that micro adjustment (the difference between 90% in tune and 100% in tune) quickly on every note. The style of music makes a difference too. In my hard rock cover band days, intonation wasn't an issue because I'd be chugging eighth notes for 2 to 4 bars at a time so I had time to adjust. Compare that to reading a chart like "Prelude to a Kiss" or some ballad you don't know in a dark room when you can't look at your left hand and there is a lot of room in the music. Big difference.
  15. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    North Dakota
  16. :D +1 Even my double bass playing buddies consider intonation on a fretless electric very difficult, due in part to the 'horizontal' orientation of the neck IMO, which makes right hand technique quite complicated to 'lock down' for many.
  17. richnota

    richnota Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 11, 2005
    Santa Cruz
    Fretless includes all the magic stuff between the frets.
  18. Jjango


    Nov 16, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    I've never thought about that before, but it is a very good point.

    I was acapella singing from a very early age, and I think that may have something to do with my having good fretless intonation. If you can't hear the right pitch, you probably cannot play it.
  19. raymondl3


    Dec 10, 2007
    Very true.
  20. Big B.

    Big B.

    Dec 31, 2007
    Austin, TX
    IMO, the natural phrasing of the human voice is the benchmark for a good fretless sound.

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