The fretless bass guitar as a first instrument for a complete beginner?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by RiseOfTheWooten, Jan 4, 2006.

  1. Most people wouldn't recommend a fretless bass guitar as a first instrument to learn on for a beginner who has never played a bass guitar (or any other instrument for that matter).

    But then I was thinking - there are plenty of beginners out there who learn to play the violin, viola, cello and the double bass.. all fretless instruments.

    Wouldn't it be ok for a beginner learn to play bass on a fretless bass guitar as a first instrument?
    gebass6 and zontar like this.
  2. gre107


    Dec 25, 2005
    My first bass was a unlined fretless Fender Jazz. I learned more from playing that bass due to having to think about what I was playing and where the notes were.

    Playing fretless makes you more aware of position, touch, sound, dynamics the whole lot!

    I would highly recommend it for a begining player.
  3. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    Much like learning how to drive in a car with a stick shift, it will not be as immediately easy as the alternative but the extra effort will pay off in the end.
  4. There is no problem learning the fretless as your first instrument before fretted. Each has its own advantages. But in my opinion i feel that I have progressed much further playing fretted seeing that I can visualize the fretboard and auralize the notes while I play. I got a fretless in May and made huge mods to it. It looks and sounds better but to me its more of a canvas. I go to it when I want to write songs or feel very expressive or to try new ideas. IMO either way works out but to me I use it as a drawing board. Still prefer the fretted though.

    Only cool part about playing and having a fretless are the many people saying, " How do you know where the notes are?" or " How do you play that thing?"
  5. fr0me0


    Dec 7, 2004
    Winnipeg Canada
    I could see people getting frustrated learning on an unlined fretless. But I'm sure the determination would really pay off.
  6. Cool, thanks for your all your input. I've previously met with huge aversion when speaking about the fretless as a first instrument. I guess I can see the point of some of the issues put forward but like I said, there are fretless instruments out there that people learn to play from Square One so why can't it apply to the bass as well. :)
  7. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    The only drawback I see is that it might take you somewhat or even a lot longer to learn from scratch with a fretless electric bass. If time constraints are not a concern for you, go for it.

    Will you have a teacher? Having one might be a big help to you in developing your ear and keeping the fretless properly tuned. If you are trying to teach yourself to play bass on a fretless and you have never played any instrument before, the challenge could be daunting.

    Of course, you could start out unassisted and pick up an instructor at any time in the future that you feel you have gone as far as you can alone.

    I wish you luck. Keep us informed about your progress.
    LeeNunn likes this.
  8. I learned on a '74 Fender p-bass fretless with lines. Learned so much I believ about notes , chords, slides...
    She was a beautifull blond......still love blonds....oops off topic.
    Anyway now I can play both frets and fretless easily...
    So go for it....Groove on...
  9. Actually when I posted this thread it was a general question, not for me. I have had years on the piano until a couple of years ago when I decided to pick up the double bass. So I got one and had lessons from a really good teacher for a couple of months. It was during this time when he also showed me how everything translates on to the bass guitar and it was lightning striking me when I realised the similarities between the two instruments, I could pick up the bass guitar and start playing immediately. So I got myself a fretted 4 string and was able to mess around on that.

    I've always loved the fretless sound though, whether on the double bass or the bass guitar. I am no where near proficient on the bass guitar (I'm not even that good on the db!) but I would really like to get a fretless at some stage.
  10. I'm a big proponent of "if you want to learn an (any) instrument, just do it".

    That being said, most people who learn violin, cello, etc. are in pretty structured environments. Often starting as young as 3 or 4 years old. They participate in ensembles, private lessons, etc. and have a lot of guidance. Often people learning bass, or guitar, or more "rock band" instruments are self-taught, and so, as many people have said, it would probably take a lot more discipline and practice to get started on fretless vs. fretted. Then again, some people just have "it" :bassist:
    Westsailor, longfinger and LeeNunn like this.
  11. pafriend


    Sep 21, 2005
    Los Angeles, CA
    I started on a fretless. I don't know why, but a fretted instrument always felt weird to me, and I preferred the fretless sound. I started without lines which is very difficult with no prior fingerboard knowledge. I have a lined bass now. It's a lot of work, but I am happy that I've stuck with it.
    zontar likes this.
  12. Hermes


    Dec 9, 2005
    Here's a couple of "training wheels" tricks for a fretless. Kids learning the violin do this:

    (1) Mark a double line on the neck by the E string with a pencil where the fret would be. You can clean it off later with windex.

    (2) You can put on temporary frets with splicing tape and peel them off later.

    Don't mark them all - just the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 7th frets. I did this when I was learning upright bass. You can use harmonics to be sure you mark exactly the right spot.
    Jhengsman likes this.
  13. Wow I'm amazed at the positive support for the fretless bass as a beginner instrument. I had previously received huge "no no's" over this. :)
  14. mmg


    Nov 7, 2005
    Boston, MA
    my bass teacher learned on a fretless then moved to db and is now majoring in college on the db.
  15. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    I don't think there is a problem at all with it. Follow the advice posted above with marking positions. Many fretlesses have side dots anyway.
  16. klocwerk


    May 19, 2005
    Somerville, MA
    I played upright before bass guitar. Same concept.
    You're better off doing it fretless first imho.
  17. Tired_Thumb

    Tired_Thumb Guest

    Just a question, is there a reason a lined fretless has only been mentioned once in this thread?:confused:

    Actually, I started for maybe a month or two at max on a fretted bass, but really accomplished nothing beyond what was required to play punk and was too lazy to develop finger dexterity. I switched to fretless to push myself to greater heights, and that couldn't have been a smarter move; my motivation level was phenomenal. I use a lined fretless myself which will help you see the notes on the fretboard visually and help you out at first, but then you'll find yourself gradually transitioning over to using your ears predominantly while playing. These days I use the lines more as landmark beacons than pinpoint locations for notes, if you catch my drift.
  18. Grovergirl


    Apr 1, 2017
    When you start on a fretless you begin right away to use your ears. I never understood the concept of people suggesting frets for beginners, it seems counterintuitive to me to learn to make sounds by using your eyes.
    I started 3 years ago on an electric upright; I marked the 3rd and 5th very lightly on the right side and played with guitar toolkits tuner app on my phone open. This meant the first step I took was to train my ear.
    For logistical reasons I mostly gig with Hofner violin bass and the frets drive me bonkers!
  19. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    As I see going to seem alien to a complete beginner. So, with this in mind (granted a fretless may be a little more difficult) I don't see it as a major set back to start on a fretless.
    csc2048b, vin97 and zontar like this.
  20. Badwater


    Jan 12, 2017
    Back in the day before the electric bass,everyone learned bass on a stand up double bass, and it had no frets.
    csc2048b and zontar like this.

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