Should I buy a fretless?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by toxi_20, Aug 6, 2020.

  1. toxi_20


    Feb 11, 2019
    I have been playing bass for 2 and a half years now, and I want to try a fretless or a six string bass, or maybe even a six string fretless. However, I have never played a fretless or a six string before, and the shops around here don't have either. Should I buy on of them online or should I maybe try to find a shop that has them?
    Lackey, CatchaCuda and zon6c-f like this.
  2. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music. Supporting Member

  3. toxi_20


    Feb 11, 2019
    Yes what?
  4. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music. Supporting Member

    Since you cannot find a six in a store,you should take a risk and order an inexpensive one online.
    Check out Music-Go-Round.
    They have a large assortment of used basses for sale.
    champbassist, equill and toxi_20 like this.
  5. gebass6

    gebass6 We're not all trying to play the same music. Supporting Member

    toxi_20 likes this.
  6. amper


    Dec 4, 2002
  7. Gorn


    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    Get a cheap one with any number of strings. It'll be a challenge regardless and you shouldn't waste money if you don't love it.
    Crispus, spvmhc, champbassist and 5 others like this.
  8. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD

    Feb 20, 2005
    Syracuse NY
    Endorsing artist: Dingwall Guitars
    Yes. Do.

    My 'first' fretless I figured out what my 'threshold of pain' would be for a bass that I wasn't sure I'd take to. For me that was $400. I did some due diligence and settled on a MIJ Fender Jazz bass (this was back in 1996). I was comfortable with that level of investment in an instrument that I might play a lot, or just have around the house for goofing on. I then checked out what I could find regionally (at that time there were definitely more stores around than now) and found two or three within about an hour and a half driving radius. Nowadays, if you can't find one to put your hands on, I'd find an online outlet that's got a good return policy so if you do end up with one that doesn't have a reasonable setup or whatever you can return it and get another, etc. until you find one that you really like.

    ...The next time I bought a fretless, it was a much bigger investment. That one ran me something like $2700 after a bunch of custom work. I'm playing it 5+ hours a day right now. So I guess that makes a fretless success story.
    spvmhc, pellomoco14, teh-slb and 8 others like this.
  9. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    uninitiated folks seem to look at the fretless as some 'huge leap' while not realizing (because they haven't played one) that they're actually easier to play in so many ways. the issue of intonation without training wheels (frets) is a real one, but working on that issue is part of the fun on the journey to becoming a real musician. a fretless helps the ear develop while being easier on all of the fingers and both of the fretted ax has action that feels as low as what is standard on almost all fretless pieces. and then: there's that beautiful sound!!! there are plenty of players on TB who only play fretless instruments...they're having way more fun than the others --- even while they're working (gigging)! also: there are 20-24 fewer setup issues (frets) which make things easier from the's a no-brainer! ;)

    if you have the 'urge' = get one and don't look back! good luck with your fretless choices! :thumbsup:
    SteveCS, spvmhc, teh-slb and 17 others like this.
  10. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    I would get a fretless. I have “sister” fretted and fretless 5’s. Love both of them.
    I don’t know if I’d get a 6 string unless the music you play calls for it. I used a fretless 6 When we played smith jazz, Yellowjackets, and I soloed a lot. I had a fretted 6 as well - 3 times - but I never made it stick. That’s just me.
  11. Bassdirty


    Jul 23, 2010
    I'm no genius, but Probably Yes to the question (and thread title) you asked. Remember?..

  12. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD

    Feb 20, 2005
    Syracuse NY
    Endorsing artist: Dingwall Guitars
    For me the 'really diving in' point was part of the fretless 'culture.' While I did play one live and in the studio back in the 90's I didn't REALLY dig in until recently. I did a show about a year and a half ago with my band that was billed as 'an evening of acoustic music with..." and we translated our own (electric) music into a new 'acoustic' setting. That was mostly guitars, stripped down kit and instead of the 6 keyboards, Moogs, etc. that our keys player usually uses he only used piano and B3. I can't play UAB, so I did fretless. I spent the 2 months ramping up to that show by only practicing fretless at home. That was an hour or two a day, and that make me passible for that show again.

    ...Then COVID-19 came along and I'd been looking for an excuse to REALLY do the dive. Being off the road and band in hiatus and having a day-job that moved home means I have a bass in my lap for between 5 and 8 hours a day now. I made a decision to make that the fretless...and haven't picked up a fretted bass since I walked off stage the first week in march.

    It's been challenging and rewarding. Every little step towards feeling like I'm a better player on it is a victory. When I first dove back in I did do a bunch of 'research' on the best way to do this and the end result was 'play it like you would any bass and as you get comfortable the differences will sort themselves out.' And for the most part that was effective. Not that we don't know, but the tone & timbre of a fretless is rich and more complex than a fretted bass. The way the notes are sculpted are also different (though obviously technique plays a part in that and you have more opportunity to sculpt differently). I find that I play differently on fretless and I think differently on me it's closer akin to 'vocal' in terms of what you do with pitch. One thing that has helped me with intonation greatly beyond playing with things and the usual diad & triad stuff is to play melodies that are ingrained into your personal psyche. They could be stupid little things (jingles and ads that you remember, song melodies, etc.) but I found because you know them so deeply, you know exactly if your pitch is on or off. Anyway, it's be a fun thing to do and work on extensively for the past 6 months. ;)
    DeepHz, spvmhc, NativeBobcat and 13 others like this.
  13. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member


    great way to put it. nice! :thumbsup:
  14. SteveC

    SteveC Moderator Staff Member

    This is a well thought out and written response.
  15. Wfrance3

    Wfrance3 Supporting Member

    May 29, 2014
    Tulsa, OK
    Look into getting an acoustic fretless. Only if you can play one first. I had one for a while. I’m not really a fretless player, so it got sold. I can play fretless a little, but I always just found myself copping a fake fretted thing instead of truly taking advantage of what the instrument had to offer.
  16. Admiral Akbar

    Admiral Akbar

    Mar 12, 2013
    New York
    Yes - get a FRETLESS and play it.

    the best advice I can give anyone regarding playing FRETLESS bass is from Jaco Pastorius (whom while never seems to win ‘greatest bassist of all time’ polls in 2020) is by far one of the greatest innovators and fretless bassists of all time. His advice: “practice fretted bass!”

    practice FRETTED bass, huh??

    there are probably 2 big reasons Mr. Pastorius shared this with us:

    (1) optimal left hand technique on fretted bass in placing one’s fingers right behind a fret. This builds produces the most accurate and clean sounding note. This muscle memory finger placement accuracy transfers over to the fretless to enhance intonation.

    (2) practicing fretted bass allows the player to focus on playing BASS, and avoiding all the pitfalls of “mwah” and slides that can overtake a fretless performance away from playing real supportive bass. Even if fretless - the player still has the obligation in a band setting to provide the musical foundation for the entire ensemble.

    finally — what has helped me is practicing diatonic scales and arepegggios (ear training), playing along with vocalists, and practicing Bach’s Cello Suites.

    so — yeah, get a fretless bass and play the heck out of it! :)
    coy garcia, toxi_20 and EchoEcho like this.
  17. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD

    Feb 20, 2005
    Syracuse NY
    Endorsing artist: Dingwall Guitars

    I may be in the minority, but I think that there's a lot of fretless players out there that sort of want to keep it mysticized. All sorts of 'play blindfolded by the full moon in a dark and windowless room' stuff. That's not necessary and really works to scare people away from fretless. Have I played in a dark room before? Yes, but mostly because I wanted to make sure I was doing ok and if I were in a venue and stage lights went dark that I'd still have a grasp...and be able to see my luminlay effectively. ;)

    I know one guy who's pretty on about how he only plays fretless and there's only one way to learn and play (not a TB'er) and is full up with the blind-foldy full moonie stuff... and actually laughed when I mentioned how I pretty much picked it up and treated it like a regular bass and told me I was 'doing it wrong'. I recently saw a video of him doing stuff on line and while it was definitely more slappy-tappy fretless than I'll ever do, what I did notice was that his intonation wasn't really all that great! Whelp, I'll keep working my way.

    The other thing that I've always noticed is that dudes picking up fretless are often pointed to these ridiculous players and pieces right off. Such a freakin' bad strategy and good way to chase people away. It reminds me of when I spent time working in undergraduate statistics class. The first day of the semester every new student, who's already worked up and anxious about math and stats opens up their big the last chapter and sees formulas that have 27 greek letters and numbers and whatever else...and only demoralize themselves. The reality is that by the time you work your way through the book from chapter one to chapter 30, that complex formula isn't complex anymore. You know what the symbols all mean and how to take it apart. Bass playing in general, but fretless in specific is the same process. Start with the basic and little stuff and work your way up into the big stuff as you get better and master each piece along the way.
    SteveCS, DeepHz, bassrique and 7 others like this.
  18. skyline_01

    skyline_01 Endorsing artist: Nordstrand Audio, Tsunami Cables Supporting Member

    Nov 14, 2006
    Lebanon, OH
    Yes, do it. I'd start with something inexpensive to learn on and then see how you like it. If you stick with it and "get good" then it will certainly make you a more versatile player.

    I got my first one (MIJ unlined Jazz, sadly long gone) in the mid '90s and used it off and on in college jazz band, and I've integrated my current one (unlined 'Ray with Nordstrand pups/pre) into my band's original music. It really does give it an entirely different character and feel.
    JC Nelson likes this.
  19. BurningSkies

    BurningSkies CRAZY BALDHEAD

    Feb 20, 2005
    Syracuse NY
    Endorsing artist: Dingwall Guitars

    Agree. I end up practicing both the same way, albeit I do spend 'extra' time in making sure when I do 'slide' I'm being accurate, etc. One thing that really helped me was that I've been playing fretted basses with tiny frets for the past 15 years. Banjo fretwire. You have to really be up on the fret or it sounds horrible. That helped me when I made the transition, then I treated the fretless like a fretted bass with even smaller frets! How do you get really good at playing stuff on a fretted with accuracy? Lots of finger exercises and scales & modes. Lots of the same scales played in different positions and ways until you really can nail 'em across the neck or up and down the neck. I also thought maybe I was the only one who does 'spider exercises' on a fretless...and not just in an easy reach 5-12 fret range but down in the 1st position, etc. too.

    One of the best compliments I was paid for that one 'acoustic' aka fretless gig I did back a year and a half ago was "I knew you sounded different but I couldn't quite figure out why...then half way through the set I said to myself "that crazy MuthaF***er is doing this all on fretless and I just realized it."

    To me that was just right, because often fretless gets a really bad name for overplaying, for applying all the vibrato & slide techniques too aggressively. I didn't want to be THAT player. I wanted to play bass but have the ability to apply a wider vocabulary in a meaningful and subtle way but also be able to just 'play bass' in the traditional sense with it.
    MrWolf14, OogieWaWa and SteveC like this.
  20. nonohmic


    Dec 13, 2005
    ABQ, NM.
    I would buy a MIM fretless Jazz and play the snot out of it.

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