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Learning fretless; fretlines or not?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by kb9wyz, Sep 11, 2008.

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  1. kb9wyz


    Sep 8, 2008
    Hi all,

    For you guys who have learned to play the fretless way I have a simple question:

    Would you recommend that I purchase a bass with or without fretlines, and why?

    Thanks guys for your advice about this.

  2. wallybill


    Apr 4, 2007
    Tuscola, Il.
    Jaco's had fret lines.
    'nuff said.
  3. Jactap


    Aug 4, 2006
    Bremerton, Wa
    I'd go with no fret lines. I've never owned/played a fretless bass guitar (its on my to-do list still) but I play upright bass. No fret lines would force your ear to develop more and I'm pretty sure that if you needed to you could use tape marks.
  4. JimmyM

    JimmyM Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    Doesn't matter. You shouldn't be looking at the neck anyway.
  5. Rudreax


    Jun 14, 2008
    New York, NY
    If your ears are good enough, go with what you want.
  6. tswd


    Jun 20, 2007
    I got one with the lines. I disagree, a little, with everybody saying if your ear's good enough you don't need the lines. By the time you realize you hit the wrong note, it's too late. You have to adjust on the fly to figure out if you're hitting things too sharp or too flat. It's so much easier to just look down at the lines and see where you're off a little bit.

    If you have a ton of time to practice to get where you can play on a lineless bass, then go for it. With the lines, you can get up and playing really quickly. After one or two practices, you'll know where you need to place your fingers relative to the lines and you're off and running from there.
  7. ()smoke()


    Feb 25, 2006
    whatever you feel comfortable with...in the threads i've sifted through on the topic, it seems to polarize into 2 main camps, each having reasonable points

    personally, dots on the side of the fretboard are my preference, with no lines...i can't really see the fretboard when playing anyway, just the side
  8. BluesWalker

    BluesWalker Supporting Member

    Jun 17, 2008
    San Diego, CA
    From one who plays both fretted and fretless basses, I say yes to fretlines, dots on the side or both. Some fretless basses that use lines are (were) Jaco, Gary Willis and Chris Tarry.

    Upright basses have no lines but their are significant changes in the neck thickness and feel that guide correct finger positions that are then appropriately adjusted with the help of a good ear. This physical help does not exist on a fretless electric thus lines and dots are needed to get you close, especially in the learning stage, which you adjust using your ear. Vancouver bassist Chris Tarry explains this a lot better than it just did, so check him out.

    It also helps a lot to use a fretless that is identical to your fretted bass. This helps with muscle memory to find the correct finger placements. This was Jaco's approach: he stated that he always practiced on a fretted jazz and performed/recorded with the fretless.
  9. ()smoke()


    Feb 25, 2006
    ^ this is a good point! i picked up my fretless jazz last night to noodle while talking to my wife, and man, i need practice since i recently moved from gigging a fretted jazz to a 35" scale 5!
  10. Scottgun


    Jan 24, 2004
    South Carolina

    The only reason he had fretlines was because he ripped the frets off himself and filled the gaps with putty.

    Get an unlined. They have dots on the side of the fingerboard on those rare occasions you need a reference point. That's plenty.
  11. I would say do what you feel is best, but I believe that having fretlines dose aid in developing intonation. Every now and then having a visible destination for your fingers is helpful. I have played lined fretless and upright, on my upright I have drawn "target lines" with a pencil. I had an upright teacher who did that.
  12. magickbass

    magickbass Guest

    May 24, 2008
    All this talk about fretless basses is giving me G.A.S.
  13. +1
  14. True - but the neck of an upright with regard to your vantage point and other 'landmarks' is easier (IMO) to orient on than an EB. Looking down the fingerboard on an upright and getting familiar with the first few positions using the upper bout as a reference offers you some pretty handy visual cue points that you don't really get with an EB unless you hold it like you would an upright.

    Excuses, excuses, I know - but I've always found it much easier to orient myself on an upright than on an electric fretless.

    I both agree and disagree. How's that for a non-answer?

    I am finishing up my first build - a 5-string, fretless - and I WANTED to go with a lined fingerboard but through a series of newbie mistakes, ended up with no lines.

    "So what?" I think to myself. I started on upright and my first fretless was unlined - what's the big deal?

    So I dotted the side of the fingerboard (helpful) and have played it a few time and found that while the dots are helpful, and yes, you should be using your ears and not relying on being able to see the lines on the board, it's more difficult to play without the lines. Not impossible and I will definitely get used to it and ultimately be a better player (ear-wise) for it - but it doesn't change the fact that it is just a bit more challenging to play.

    I don't mind the challenge, but if I could do it again, I'd keep the lines. My next build (if fretless) will be lined unless I get really comfy with this unlined version.
  15. When I get around to trying one...

    If it already has lines, then fine.
    If I actually ORDER something my preference would be dots. It looks cleaner.

  16. Ah, the old "cause Jaco did" argument. :smug:

    (just goofin' with you dude)
  17. Joel S.

    Joel S. Reserved for future witty use...

    Jul 9, 2008
    I have the Squier VM Fretless Jazz. Damn good for the money... has lines though.
  18. jimmy rocket

    jimmy rocket

    Jan 24, 2008
    Ayden, NC
    +1 to the "you shouldn't be looking anyway" argument, BUT...there are certain situations where I've found the lines to be helpful.

    1) When starting out in my fretless endeavor I found the lines to be a better visual cue to get myself situated on the fretboard. The dots work too, I just happened to have found the bass I wanted on the bay and it was lined.

    2) if you're ever in the situation where you don't have adequate stage volume or can't hear yourself in the monitors well, it can get you in the ballpark and save your fretless booty the embarrassment of slooping all over the fingerboard.
  19. Throckmorten


    Aug 3, 2006
    Central NY
    Jaco, Marc Egan, Gary Willis, play lined fretless almost exclusively. Doesn't mean it's right but it does show me that they don't let their ego or fussiness about aesthetics get in the road. They do what works.

    URB unlined? Sure, and a 42" scale compared to a 34". You don't have much wiggle room on an BG. If you play URB, how good is your intonation high up on the neck? That's what fretless BG is all the time. It just may be that with regard to good intonation a fretless BG presents more of a challenge (and there seems to be this subtext that the guys playing those big unlined uprights are spot on all the time -- not so. Which makes you wonder if there were lined URBs maybe more guys would play them, or play them better)

    The lines are certainly not 100% accurate either. Like the Pirate's Code, They're more like what you might call guide lines. But they sure help to get you where you want to be.
  20. So true! When I replaced the fretboard on a junker bass with a home made, lined fretless fingerboard, I inadvertently cut some of the fret position slots slightly crooked. I was initially bummed, then I realized - it just doesn't matter! Those thing don't impact the intonation. They are just there as reference points!

    After that, I actually considered making a fingerboard with really wacky fret position markers - maybe zig-zags or something... Haven't gone there yet, but it's still on the table!

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