Moron newbie has question about fretless basses

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by paul_mccartney, Jan 3, 2001.

  1. Well, since I'm trying to teach myself bass ( is great, BTW :)), I must ask this question of you good folks.

    Just what is the difference between fretless and fretted bass? Timbre? Playing style? Ease of playing?

    Could someone explain this to me?

    The best answer I got was from a 14-year-old guitar player. He told me that the only difference is that they're easier to play. If so, why aren't all basses fretless?

    If any of you incredibly talented, Jaco-level bassists could help me out a little ..... :)
  2. that is a great page, you should try thats a pretty good page. i am not at jaco level i am more at gruffpuppy level. well thats a great statement from a guitar player of any age. easier i would say no. has a diferent tone and sound that i personally love. i have a pedulla buzz bass and i love it. probally consider it #1 in the list of basses i have played. the sound is hard to explain with out listening to it. it has a different swelling of the notes that i fretted doesn't have.

    so is you freind looking for a fretless guitar?
  3. Luis Fabara

    Luis Fabara

    Aug 13, 2000
    Ecuador (South America)
    Audio Pro - Ecuador
    The Diference is:
    The Fretless does not have frets.
    Frets are the metal things were you press the strings agains in the neck.
    The fretless has none, thus providing a distinctive tone, it has a MWHA (Purry sound) that is not present in fretted basses.
    Also, you have to develop a great sense of pitch, because to play in tune you have to find the exact point where to press the string against the fretboard.
  4. Cirrus

    Cirrus Guest

    Apr 30, 2000
    Las Vegas, NV
    You just need to listen to one of each side by side to be able to hear the difference in tone. Some people like it, some don't. I'm indifferent either way. I will say this... I learned to play the violin before the bass, and it was probably a full two years before I felt comfortable not having any kind of marking on the neck to direct me to notes. Granted that on a violin a relatively small movement on the neck produces a pretty big change in pitch, you do have the advantage of keeping your hand in more or less one spot 90% of the time you play. On a bass you'll be up and down the neck so you won't just need to remember where your fingers go, but where your hand rests as well. But, it will happen over time. As with anything, do it enough and it will become second nature.

  5. 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
    Frets are the reason why the Fender Precision Bass is called a Precision bass. With frets, the notes are pretty much played in tune as long as your finger is somewhere behind the fret. On a fretless, you need to finger the fretboard EXACTLY on the fret line (or where the fret line would be) to be in tune. So the fretless is arguably harder to play. (No arguments now, please.)

    The tones can be quite different between the two types. Fretless basses often are more "growly" than fretted. Of course, it's easier to get that "mwah" on a fretless. I could spare myself some flame by not making the next comment, but, here goes ... ::: putting on Tolex suit ::: ... It's a good idea to start out on fretted. Do fretless later, after you've had a chance to pick up some fundamentals (pun mildly intended, for those of you who picked up on it {second pun not intended}).
  6. darn Tolex, i would have to agree with ya, i played fretted for a year and then switched to fretless for about ten. don't really have any regret but i am still having a hard time finding a fretted that doesn't kill me with its fret noise. i found a Thunderbird and RIC are pretty good, and i just traded in a maple neck StingRay for a Warwick thumb, this was a wise choice. wish i had that advice years ago and i wouldn't feel like i was starting from scratch again. :)
  7. virtual.ray


    Oct 25, 2000
    Hi Paul,you are not a moron.
  8. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well, just goes to show that you should never believe anything 14-year-old guitar players tell you - sounds like he was the moron! :rolleyes:
  9. Copycat

    Copycat Supporting Member

    Nov 14, 2000
    Pittsburgh, PA, USA
    Here's an analogy. It's like the difference between driving a stick and driving an automatic. Playing the fretless is like driving a 5-speed (or 4, depending on your string preference. Hah.). You have to be more attentive. With the fretless, your fretboard is just that--a board. Nailing the note is much more challenging, because even rocking your fingertip to or fro will change pitch. But like the 5-speed, the fretless can give you a sense of more control. In the right hands, it can be more expressive, more "vocal" in its sound. Listen to Pino Palladino on the Paul Young stuff. The fretless sings. If you're a rock player, you'll probably favor fretted, because unlike what that 14 year old told you, the fretted is easier to play, and because it has frets, the sound will probably be more cutting and percussive for you. It's metal against metal, rather than a less abrasive string against wood. This reply contains a number of generalizations, of course, but I hope it helps a bit.
  10. Rockinjc


    Dec 17, 1999
    This is only about the billionth time this has come up.

    It's true that a fretted bass is easier to play in some ways. To play in Equal temperament, the frets offer a guide so a player can mechanically find the notes without regard for tonality. If you are the type to take the path of least resistance, this is your bass. It's also easier to play a fretted bass if you are tone deaf.

    If you want options a fretless is very nice. On these it is easier to be more accurate if you like to go beyond just twelve tones. I love messing around between the major and minor thirds or around the sevenths. Also on a fretless I think it is easier to hold down notes. After years on fretless and upright, I picked up a fretted hotrod P and the neck is thicker for one, and also I am used to doing a lot of left hand muting. With frets it takes a fairly precise feel to keep the fret from buzz away.

    Having two nearly identical P basses, one with speed bumps and one without, I would say that the biggest difference is the sound fretted having a more aggressive attack and slightly brighter tone. This also depends on how you play it. Stick around long enough and evenly you may get the chance to enjoy both.

    BTW, How on earth does a singer find the right notes without frets?

  11. Thanks to everyone who replied. I don't feel like such a moron newbie now. :)

    I think I'll stick with the fretted....
  12. MikeyD


    Sep 9, 2000
    Okay - no arguments! One thing that people sometimes forget (or didn't know) is that the 12-tone tempered scale is a compromise. Some of the notes are actually out of tune with each other - the most blatantly obvious being the major third. What's nice about a fretless is: you can play the major third a little low (for example) to get it right in tune harmonically. A fretted bass or guitar cannot do that (unless you bend or pull a little tension out of the string - which is difficult with basses).
    - Mike
  13. furtim


    Dec 12, 1999
    Boston, MA, USA
    I STRONGLY recommend that you at least try out a fretless bass if you're at all interested. It's a whole different world, and you really have to feel the bass to know the difference.

    If you ask me, basses were obviously made to be fretless. I can say that now that I have one. ;)

    And, of course, now we have the requisite Just vs. Equal Temperment discussion. Yay. :D
  14. Rockinjc


    Dec 17, 1999
    I would not go so far as to say that the bass was made to be fretless, but no doubt Just Intonation imposes some heavy restrictions on expression.

    A lot of music seems to have the bass or chord instruments relatively stable while the 'other guy' bends the heck out of their strings. Blues, country or klezmer come to mind. If the 'other guy' leads the band and owns the PA it could be problematic. The 'other guy' may consider variable bass notes a problem. At times I have found myself 'Pretending' that I am playing a fretted bass to keep the other guy happy. It's a good exercise at least. :)

    Even though I at times enjoy playing five, six, seven, or twelve divisions per octave, I sometimes equate it with color by numbers with a few paints missing. It's all situational!

    BTW - In his video, I think Jaco said the fretless was easier to play than fretted.

  15. Copycat

    Copycat Supporting Member

    Nov 14, 2000
    Pittsburgh, PA, USA
    In response to Jaco's assertion that fretless is/was easier to play, let's not forget that Jaco was a prankster and something of a contrarian. He coulda been funnin' ya. Of course, anybody who would find yanking out his own frets and slapping boat varnish onto his fretboard a sensible alternative to taking it into a music store for defretting has a completely different conception of ease and difficulty than I do.
  16. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    Jaco was definitely a different, out there cat, but back in the day defretting was pretty uncommon.

    Even if he had been inclined to visit a luthier type, he may have had a hard time finding one who new much more about it than he learned by trial and error.
  17. Rockinjc


    Dec 17, 1999

    I believe the Jaco was straight the day he made his video albeit a little raggedy. It's clear to me that some things are easier on a fretless and some on a fretted bass. If you have jumbo frets that adds thickness to the neck. On top of that IMHO Low action and light touch can be more musical on a fretless because you get Mwah instead of bzzzz.

    Have you seen the video? If you understand the context that Jaco was within when he said fretless was easier and can let me know what you saw that makes you feel the way you do please let us know. There is no doubt that Jaco was a complex creature (ok freak), as were many of the masters. This alone is not a good reason for discounting my point. We are all creatures of contradiction.


    [Edited by Rockinjc on 01-10-2001 at 05:27 PM]
  18. LOL! :D