lined or unlined frettless bass?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by slapbass81, Nov 23, 2000.

  1. slapbass81


    Nov 23, 2000
    i am going to buy a fretless bass, and i want to know if i should get the fingerboard with fret line markers or just blank. ive heard that if it is lined then you have to play exactly on the line then in the middle of it. but im not sure
  2. Larry Kaye

    Larry Kaye Retailer: Schroeder Cabinets

    Mar 23, 2000
    Cleveland, OH
    I'm pretty much strictly a fretted player who wants to use a fretless on a part time basis.

    I tried out a Lakland 5 string fretless in January this year plugged into a EA Iamp, you know the one with the tuner built in? It was a lined fretboard. I turned the tuner on, tuned up all the open strings and checked the harmonics, and then tried to see where exactly my fingers had to be.

    I had so much trouble getting the notes exactly in tune it was ridiculous. You can use the lines as a guide so you're not a full 1/2 fret off type of mistake, but, it comes down to bottom line how good your ear is to matching up your notes with whoever you're playing with.

    I felt that I played more in tune with fretless basses that only had the dot markers with the idea of finding one finger to use as a benchmark and trying to play as much in position as possible and always to use the open strings to verify your pitch.

    My recommendation is: If you are not a former not fretted string instrument player in your past and you practice a ton and have the time to really learn it right, don't get the lines. If you only want to play it occasionally for fun or as a diversion and don't have the time it takes to really fine tune your intonation, then get the lined board.

    Just remember, the one thing that pisses off the rest of your bandmates the most is going to be your being out of tune. If you have a good ear for intonation, I think the lines tend to inhibit you rather than help. If your finger happens to "fatten out" when you push down, you may think that you are sitting right on the fret and are actually a 1/16 of an inch off which makes you "out of tune".

    Fretless is a challenge and I'd certainly love to hear others opinions on the lined unlined issue.

    Good luck,

    what basses are you looking at? What styles of music are you planning on using the fretless for?

  3. MikeyD


    Sep 9, 2000
    I've played on both types, and I prefer a lined fretless. It's no substitute for good ears, however. The lines help me primarily when changing position - and also near the top of the fingerboard where notes are close together. I switch frequently between fretted and fretless, so a lined fingerboard helps in my situation. I find my intonation is better, too. I think unlined is "cooler" looking :), though, but I'm more concerned with how it sounds when all is said and done.
    - Mike
  4. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    You have to play exactly on the lines whether the lines are there or not. It's called playing in tune. In my opinion (humble as always), it's much easier with lines. My Pedulla has lines. My new Lakland will have lines. While I agree with Larry's well-considered observations, I haven't had the same problems with proper placement of my fingers on the lines. I play it through my DTR-1 tuner, and get the pitch right on almost all the time. I also have a pretty good ear, so I think that if I played the fretless a lot, I could do without the lines. Larry's recommendation about this makes a lot of sense to me.
  5. maestrox


    Oct 8, 2000
    I've owned both, and now have unlined. I think unlined is best, although I have to admit that when you're playing above the 12th "fret", it is advantageous having the lines for reference. Other than that though, I find the side dots and my ears provide all the feedback I need. One downside to having lines is that you can become a visual player, relying on sight rather than muscle memory and your ears.
  6. I have found that it makes no difference, ultimately. You get used to either.

  7. Unlike Andy, I think it could make a difference but only for experienced players. When I pick up a lined fretless, something clicks in my head and I find my fingers wanting to stop between the lines as if they were frets. I don't have any problems with an unlined fingerboard.
  8. Yvon

    Yvon Supporting Member

    Nov 2, 2000
    Montreal, Canada
    My intonation always been better on an unlined fingerboard. Because i use my ear and not my eyes, and that is the way it should be.
  9. i play a lined pedulla, was my only bass for 6 years, now i am playing a stingray full time and still getting used to fret noise but after a while on the pedulla i never looked at the neck i still pick it up once and still don't look at the neck i don't know if my ears got better or my muscles are just trained, if i got another frettless it wouldn't have lines, probally just to answer the question is it my ears or muscle training
  10. rickreyn

    rickreyn Supporting Member

    Jun 16, 2000
    Lutz, Florida
    I agree with the commnent if you don't have the time and you aren't an ex cello player, it's best to get the lines. I have recently purchased a Yamaha TRB5F fretless with lines and I am thankful that they are there. Some say if you've got the ear, playing without lines is easier. I say with the good ear you know better than anyone you are out of tune! One thing I'm struggling with is that my lines are so faint that I can barely see them. I thinking about having them removed and maple lines put in.
  11. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    I have the same issue with lined fretless... I don't play fretted on the the fret so it seems wrong to play on the line with a fretless. I'm okay with a lined fretless if I don't look at it... unless it's the equivalent of a defretted bass that has lines and side dot markers "between" the frets. That's moderately useless for a fretless for me (but yes, I know it worked for Jaco. And?). The most useless fretless I've ever seen had no lines but had side dots at every fret position. How fast can you count?

    So which should you get? Whichever one you think might work better for you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a lined fretless if that's what you like. You need to make an effort to try a few of both types if you can, that'll help more than any yammering we do here;)

    I play an unlined fretless... because I think I'm cool.
  12. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    Works for me. People don't realize that if the position of the bass moves (they way you are holding it), the angle that you are looking at your fingerboard changes and so does where it looks like you should fret. It's that parallax thing.

    Gary Willis plays a lined fretless and said he knows that at some positions he has to play (slightly) behind the line, some on the line, and some (slightly) after, you have to be familiar with the bass.
  13. Well, I have had both as well. My current is lined, but that is just the way it came. I don't consciously notice the lines anymore. It doesn't feel anymore easy of tough than my previous unlined bass.

    I seriously think you can get used to either, and base this opinion on the fact that I have got used to both.

  14. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    That's true, Andy... I just don't want to get used to lines:D
  15. Blackbird

    Blackbird Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    My first fretless had no lines and that's my preference, but when the opportunity to buy a Pentabuzz came along, I decided that it was too good a deal to pass, even though it has lines on it. I find that they are useful in the high register (12th fret and up), but I have to fight the urge to look at the fretboard all the time, something that by itself can have an adverse effect on performance.

    Also, not having the lines forces a player to find the proper tone with his/her ears, rather than relying on what could be an visual crutch that might be less accurate. If you adapt to your or someone else's bad tuning on a lined instrument and someone sees your hand a little off the line, they assume you're the one who's out of tune because of the visual crutch.

    Of course, musicians with a good ear won't hassle you like that but it takes all kinds to make a world...

    Will C.:cool:
  16. Chuck M

    Chuck M Supporting Member

    May 2, 2000
    San Antonio, Texas
    I've got three fretless basses right now and they all have lined fingerboards. I have a Pentabuzz, a Hexabuzz and a production Jaco bass. I like the lines OK but think unlined looks very cool. I use my ears mostly (also play upright) but do use the lines some.

    I would not pass up a good deal on a bass because of lines or the lack of them. It really makes little difference.
    I've had both.

  17. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    Brad -

    I play both fretted and lined fretless at every gig. At first, I had the problem with wanting to put my finger behind the line, but now I just think of them as two completely different types of instrument. When I'm playing fretless, I change my whole mindset, like I would have to if I picked up, say, a trumpet. It works.

    On the looking at the fretboard comment from Big Wheel, it's OK to look at the fretboard. Just look up once in a while for audience contact. Seems like most of the big kids do it.
  18. Chris A

    Chris A Chemo sucks!

    Feb 25, 2000
    Manchester NH
    I've had both lined and unlined, and I believe that the string "buzzes" differently on the material of the line than it does against the wood of the neck. I've noticed it on the 2 basses that I've owned with lines and not with the one that I've owned without. Ironically, the first fretless that I've owned was the unlined. Has anyone else noticed this?

    Chris A.:rolleyes:
  19. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    Munji, I played trumpet...if you change your mindset "that" much just to go to fretless...damn!:D I just play bass;)

    Some big kids don't have to deal with lines, period.
  20. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    Another trumpet player. Why is that? I started playing trumpet in, aaahhhhhhh, 1956.