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Is it possible? Adding fret lines to unlined fretless bass

Discussion in 'Luthier's Corner' started by DeltaPhoenix, Apr 16, 2019.

  1. DeltaPhoenix

    DeltaPhoenix Supporting Member

    Apr 6, 2011
    Hi, I figured this is the place to ask.

    I was going to commission a Marleaux Diva fretless bass w/fret lines on the neck. These are pretty expensive basses but I thought that with the time that I have available, it would be a nice shortcut to getting some useable time with the bass.

    Someone I know on here heard that I am interested in a Marleaux Diva and he offered me his for a very nice price. His Diva has an unlined board but does have small fret lines on the side of the neck. So, I am thinking, it would be nice to save some money and pick this one up.

    I am willing to give this bass a good try as it is. If I just can't get there on the unlined neck, can I have a luthier add fret lines? The bass is neck-through.

    Smooth_bass88 and T_Bone_TL like this.
  2. HaMMerHeD

    HaMMerHeD Supporting Member

    May 20, 2005
    Norman, OK, USA
    Yes. It's a couple hours of work for any competent luthier. There should be one near you.
    Bobro and DeltaPhoenix like this.
  3. T_Bone_TL


    Jan 10, 2013
    NW Mass/SW VT
    IMHO, side markers should be all you need. Due to personal / band circumstances I dove off the very deep end of fretless (upright) not quite three years ago now. I used "tape marker lines" for a while, and moved to just bits on the side, and have just been using a single bit on the side where the 3rd "fret" would be for quite a while now, which gives me adequate reference. I occasionally think about plonking some tiny shell dots off the side of the board, but I haven't gone there. Just one tired bit of drafting tape...

    Generally I try to avoid looking, but that one helps me find my place if I need to glance over there. Ideally I'd do it all by ear, and I probably should spend some time playing blindfolded or the like to improve that...

    It's a do-able task, but might cost a lot more than you expect; contrariwise, a cheap (rather than merely inexpensive) job could muck up a nice (expensive) bass for you.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2019
  4. Altitude

    Altitude An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure. Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2005
    Denver, nee Austin
    It’s a matter of making 20 to 24 small dados in the board, in correct spots, and filling them professionally. I’m sure it could be done well but may cost more than it should.

    Maybe live with the bass without lines a minute and see if you still want them?
    groooooove, Jakeman, cchorney and 5 others like this.
  5. Scottgun


    Jan 24, 2004
    South Carolina
    Instead of that, perhaps do what lots of kids learning violin, cello, etc. do: use tape as markers then take it off when you are comfortable.
    Jakeman, cchorney, Waltsdog and 4 others like this.
  6. Most of the time you'll be looking at the side of the fretboard, not the top. Keep it as it is for a while, before doing something irreversible.
  7. My ears are terrible, I rely on markers when playing fretless (there I admitted it), I have no problem playing with only side markers. I think you'll be fine without the lines.
  8. DeltaPhoenix

    DeltaPhoenix Supporting Member

    Apr 6, 2011
    I will definitely give it a go without adding lines. Good to know that it is doable if needed.
  9. bholder

    bholder Affable Sociopath Supporting Member

    Sep 2, 2001
    central NY state
    Received a gift from Sire* (see sig)
    I highly suggest stick on side dots.
  10. I can do it with a sharpie and a ruler and I'm much cheaper than any luthier!
    wraub, Dean N, Waltsdog and 2 others like this.
  11. Adding the lines later is doable but, even with the lines, you still have to use your ears to some extent. You’ll probably be fine with the lines on the side.
    Aqualung60 and MynameisMe like this.
  12. Kukulkan61

    Kukulkan61 Supporting Member

    Feb 8, 2011
    Northern Arizona
  13. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    If you can play lined fretless, you can play unlined. I find the challenge with just using the top dots is on the bottom strings - my eyes don't typically always looks straight down the top line, so my eye sees the "line" a bit behind where it should be. It just takes some practice to adjust.

    I still prefer a lined fretless, but I don't think I'd have the nerve to chop on a pretty unlined neck. I'm sure it could be done and I'm a do it yourselfer galore - but I think I'd have a pro handle this task if you end up gong that direction
  14. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I build and modify basses
    BassikLee and NeonVomit like this.
  15. Deano Destructo

    Deano Destructo Fender & Upton addict. Hasn't slept since 1979. Supporting Member

    Dec 10, 2000
    Seattle, WA.
    This guy did it, though I believe he had them painted on his '71 and then lacquered over.

    Really wish Fender offered a fret-less with dot inlays on the fret board. Personally just hate the appearance of lines only. Also, while I'm wishing how about a Precision (that's not a Franklin Signature)?
  16. Ross W. Lovell

    Ross W. Lovell

    Oct 31, 2015

    When I first started playing fretless, someone suggested this. I used pinstripe tape, but the tape was brown in color to match the fretboard.

    It allowed me to feel my way around initially. Eventually after about 16 months, I removed the tape as I felt comfortable on where my fingers were going.
    T_Bone_TL likes this.
  17. Scoops

    Scoops Why do we use base 10 when we only have 8 fingers Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 22, 2013
    Sugar Creek, Wisc
    I am me
    A Diva is meant to be NAKED! :drool:
  18. project_c


    May 8, 2008
    London, UK
    I have a Fender with a 78 fretless maple neck that I wanted lines on, the neck needed work anyway so I didn’t feel like I was ruining it. I took it to a luthier, he did a great job. I play a lot at the high end of the neck and I don’t have endless hours available for practice so I need those lines as a reference point. I love the unlined look too but I prefer staying in tune if I have to take a solo. If I was playing simple repetitive lines it wouldn’t be quite so important, I could get by without lines.
    dan1952 and DeltaPhoenix like this.
  19. Ghook

    Ghook Supporting Member

    Sep 25, 2018
    Eastern US
    Give it a fair shot w/o lines. Being a new Fretless player, no lines, side dots only, I can pretty much say, with confidence, much easier than you may have previously thought. In no time it seems my fingers simply found the targeted note, even if micro sliding into them occurred. My wife never noticed and she would have if I was off noticably.
    DeltaPhoenix and T_Bone_TL like this.
  20. Afc70

    Afc70 Supporting Member

    Feb 2, 2004
    Northeast Arkansas
    6671958A-02CE-48CD-B8F7-4EBBBF89D6AF. I really enjoy having lines on my fretless Roscoe, I’ve never agreed with the “not looking at your fretboard” advice. Gary Willis & other pros say the same thing, in agreement with my position- Eyes, ears, fingers, mind, they all work 2gether to express what you are trying to say through your instrument. Use every tool to your advantage & itl be helpful. Playing in the dark or closing your eyes, seems like you are handicapping yourself by doing that. Imo/ime anyhow...
    project_c and DeltaPhoenix like this.

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