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Tips on playing fretless

Discussion in 'Technique [BG]' started by NickInMesa, Apr 21, 2010.

  1. I just got a Squier VM FL.

    It must be because I grew up playing poorly setup instruments that I learned to play with the finger right against the fret.

    I found my marks very naturally and played in tuned right away, almost without looking at the fret lines.

    I suppose this is a great first fretless. I enjoy playing it a lot and I'm surprise by the quality of this Squier.

    Anyway, if anybody could give me some extra pointers, that would be nice. What types of techniques particular to fretless playing should I try to master?

    To me, it does not get better than 80s Pino Palladino, especially all the Paul Young stuff :)
  2. groooooove

    groooooove Supporting Member

    Dec 17, 2008
    Long Island, NY
    IMO the biggest differnce is your right hand placement makes more of a differnce on your tone than it does with frets. closer to the fretboard gets more "muahhh" fretless swelling sound. towards the bridge sounds more accurate and tight.

    but this tends to be instinctual with most players. you can also add vibrato with your left hand obviously, wich should also come pretty naturally.
  3. queevil


    Aug 6, 2009
    Lets see here. I've been playing fretless for about 5 years now and like you I didn't have much of a problem playing in tune when I started.

    I found that wearing the bass a bit higher than a fretted bass helps because it allows me to have a bit more control over my left hand and it's sublte nuances that can have an effect on the tone. Pressing the strings with the tips of your fingers produces a different sound as opposed to the meaty pads of you fingers. So, having the bass a bit higher allows me to have more control over what I do with my left hand. Be careful though because sometimes wearing the bass too high can cause extreme angles to the wrist which can lead to an injury.

    Muting. I was so thrilled by the fact that I could actually play the fretless in tune that I didn't notice the sympathetic and unintended string vibrations coming from the bass. Well, one day I was playing and I noticed the sound of a harmonic ringing out underneath the notes that I was playing. I pondered it for a while and realized that the strings were ringing out because I wasn't muting them. Fretless basses are a bit more suseptible to unintentional ringing harmonics and open strings then their fretted counterparts. So, I had to learn to mute the strings to keep those noises from occuring. I won't go into detail about how to mute the strings because their are several methods and one method that works well for one bassist may not work that well for another because muting is done with the hands and we are all built a little differently. Do a search on this forum to learn about all of the different techniques.

    You may have already noticed that everything that makes the fretless such a wonderful and expressive instrument can make it sound really bad. One example is vibarato. The fretless lends itself to this technique very well but it can be used in very bad taste(not a fact, just my opinion). It's the same with every technique but you really need to use more care on the fretless. The things that can make it sound awesome are also the things that can make it sound really bad. You may find that you need to refine your overall technique a bit but maybe not.

    It's great to be able to play the instrument in tune. It's a whole 'nother thing to be able to have mastery over it's subtle nuances. I'm still working on it.

    I'm sure you've already realized that playing fretless is going to broaden your horizons musically. Have a blast with your new instument. I hope you love it. I wish I could see the look on your face when you discover somethng great about the fretless that wouldn't be possible with a fretted instrument. Rock on!
  4. nic salsus

    nic salsus

    Mar 16, 2010
    Play in tune or you won't get gigs.
  5. kreider204


    Nov 29, 2008
  6. kesslari

    kesslari Groovin' with the Big Dogs Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Dec 21, 2007
    Santa Cruz Mtns, California
    Lark in the Morning Instructional Videos; Audix Microphones
    The biggest starter tip I can give - play along with either a drone pitch or with records. Do this a lot. You'll hear if you're out of tune playing against "in tune" music, whereas if you just play solo, your intonation can drift and it can still sound OK to you.

  7. queevil


    Aug 6, 2009
    Really good point kesslari. I would add that you should take a minute to tune whenever you pick your bass up.
  8. Jools4001

    Jools4001 Supporting Member

    When You first get a fretless it can be tempting to gliss around everywhere and slide harmonics. The trick is to have some taste and use these tricks sparingly - just like a chef you can ruin a dish very easily by using too much seasoning or spice.

    You can also apply vibrato by the subtle roll of a fingertip or great wide semitone or more - again, wide vibrato is a great effect if used very sparingly. When you do apply vibrato, try to form the habit of applying it along the length of the string (like a cellist) instead of pushing and pulling the string back and forth across the width of the fingerboard like you have to do with fretted basses..
  9. Rickett Customs

    Rickett Customs

    Jul 30, 2007
    Southern Maryland
    Luthier: Rickett Customs...........www.rickettcustomguitars.com
    Work on you Vibrato. Slower on Low notes, faster on high notes.
  10. nic salsus

    nic salsus

    Mar 16, 2010
    When I posted the tip "play in tune" I got an eye roll. I was dead serious though. I've played all sorts of fretless basses since 1976 and the thing you work on above all others is intonation. Vibrato, screaming Bunny Brunel slid harmonics etc don't mean anything if you aren't playing in tune. Good sounding vibrato always starts from an in tune note. The beginning fretless player should be concentratng on a good mechanical approach (the same as a fretted instrument) and intonation. Everything else needs a solid foundation in these two things to mean anything....and it's a helluva lot of work.
  11. Passinwind

    Passinwind I know nothing. Commercial User

    Dec 3, 2003
    Columbia River Gorge, WA.
    Owner/Designer &Toaster Tech Passinwind Electronics
    I've been playing fretless pretty much exclusively for 35 years or so. The best tip I can impart is to try NOT to make it sound like a fretless. Once you can do that reliably everything else will fall right into place, IME.
    ScreaminBejesus likes this.
  12. Radio


    Jan 8, 2010
    New Haven, CT
  13. StringThing


    Dec 6, 2007
    San Diego
    Gary Willis has some great tips in a book he has out... 101 things about the bass or something to that effect. Tremendous tips, many especially for fretless.

    Those VM Squires are, even with price as no option, really, really good. Mine put my fretless Lakland and Warwick in thier cases. Honestly it did. It played as good, sounded as good or better. What clinched it was that it was the most FUN and easiest to let myself go on.
  14. StringThing


    Dec 6, 2007
    San Diego
    That's hilarious... The post above mine posted same time... Guess we're onto something.
  15. StringThing


    Dec 6, 2007
    San Diego
    Go download Graceland from Paul Simon.... Peter Gabriel has some great stuff with Tony Levin. Play along to something or with someone. I used to try and play in the dark to see where I was at with muscle memory.
  16. Chris K

    Chris K

    May 3, 2009
    Gorinchem,The Netherlands
    Partner: Otentic Guitars
    Steve Bailey - The Ultimate Fretless Workout. Book + CD.
    Says it all.
  17. Asher S

    Asher S

    Jan 31, 2008
    • Take your time and accept the fact that your intonation will be far from perfect for a long time
    • Practice against a constant tuner tone or a recorded track
    • Your ears, not your eyes, are your best friends when playing fretless: LISTEN to your notes
    • Practice octaves, listening for that out of sync vibrato that you'll hear when you're not quite on the octave
    • For that "mwah" sound: turn up the mids on your preamp (if you have one), and pluck over the neck
    • Don't go nuts with vibrato to cover up poor intonation. In fact avoid it entirely for the first while and use your ears.

    If you like Pino's work from the 80's, check out these musicians/albums (partial list):

    1. The master of all time, Jaco, many great albums, but The Essential Jaco Pastorius is a decent collection of most (but not all!) of his best recordings
    2. Larry Coryell, "Tricycles": Mark Egan on bass- amazing. Here's a vid of Mark playing with Metheny in 1980, including a cool bass solo:
  18. Human Waste

    Human Waste

    Apr 29, 2010
    From Jaco: For practice, play a fretted bass, fingering ON the fret.

    From me: Don't look at the neck. Trying to play in tune visually is impossible, it will only screw you up.
  19. My teacher said if you play lined fretless to play exactly on the line is that right ?? If it is boy do I need to improve my left hand intonation

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