Playing a fretless like a fretted

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by jbennardo, Aug 23, 2005.

  1. OK. I just purchased a great fretless bass from a fellow TB'er. My problem is in the heat of battle, I sometimes play it like my fretted. I do incorporate some slides and things, but to me that's just fundamental. Does anyone have any tips or suggestions on things that make a fretless sound fretless without sliding all over the place?
  2. nysbob


    Sep 14, 2003
    Cincinnati OH
    I'm not sure why this is a negative...first and foremost a bass has to function as a bass. The elements that make it sound fretless are kind of subtle and that can get lost easily in a band context...but so what. Enjoy it for what it is - a more expressive instrument that still has a job to do.
  3. elros


    Apr 24, 2004
    Proprietor, Helland Musikk Teknologi
    I make my fretless sound like bass - because that's what it is. Most of the time, even fellow musicians don't notice that I play the fretless. I like to save the fretless "licks" for the right situation.

    OK, there is a bit more to it than that: the fretless sounds more clean (no fret buzz) and so it sounds more like just Bass. If I play the fretted bass, it often sounds like a fretted bass: a bit sharper sound, a bit more fret buzz etc. But most of the time, the fretless sounds just like bass, more so than the fretted.
  4. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    Hey John! What's up?

    I also tend to slide a lot when playing my fretless, but IMO, more than sliding all over the neck, it's important to make sure that you put a small amount of vibrato in every note you play unless you're in the middle of a fast passage. Try not to sound too exagerated, because a nervous vibrato (which is a real issue for me because I know how to do it but most of the times it's hard to keep it under control) isn't as cool as many people may think (at least in my opinion and after years of frustration with that). I also noticed that soloing the bridge pickup and putting a generous amount of midrange frequencies in your EQ settings make the vibrato more noticeable. Have you tried sliding harmonics? That's a cool technique that also works on fretted basses, but not as well as on fretlesses (it really shines here).

    Also try playing the closest possible to the neck (again, unless you're playing Donna Lee at 218 bpm ala Jaco or playing harmonics), even over the last portion of the fingerboard. Setup also works for a good fretless tone: Try to set your action the lowest you can without choking the notes (fret buzz isn't an issue here) and harmonics. This will allow the strings to graze nicely on the fingerboard, which is a key component of the mwah that every fretless player looks for.

    Hope this helps.
  5. Perhaps the basses aren't as different as I once thought. I was sure there was a distinct technique to playing fretless and I was missing the boat. It sounds like I'm doing many of the things you suggest. I need to add more vibrato and make sure my intonation is good.

    I'll stop worrying so much and just enjoy. I'll continue to study great fretless players and pick up some pointers as well.
  6. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    IMO, you don't necessarily have a problem. There are a couple of things that are kinda specific to fretless, but they don't make up the bulk of fretless bass playing. Just because you're playing a fretless, that doesn't mean you have to do overtly "fretless-y" stuff all the time. Glides and vibrato and all that can become tiresome if overused. They can be the aural equivalent of shouting all the time. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just lay it down, and not worry so much about sounding like a fretless. (This doesn't mean don't practice your vibrato.;) )
  7. slybass3000

    slybass3000 Banned

    Nov 5, 2004
    Over the 25 years of recording I did, my best track was a Slap bass on a fretless. It was an arabic kind of tune and doing so gave a percussive and woody tone to the bass track. I should admit that the bass track did the tune. So, experiment with it and don't be shy to play it like a fretted bass.
  8. I've been thinking about using some bass chorus in spots... any suggested effects unique to fretless or anything that reall goes good with it? Any that are absolutely wrong?
  9. nysbob


    Sep 14, 2003
    Cincinnati OH
    Any effect you use on a fretted bass can work well on a fretless too. A little delay in the 150 -200 ms range is real nice if you're soloing.
  10. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    What sounds good, is good.

    Keep in mind, though, that some effects that sound good when you're soloing, especially in the upper registers, can muddy things up when you're back down in the groove trying to sit right with the other instruments.