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why do some do without lines?

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by marsk, Nov 2, 2002.

  1. marsk


    Aug 17, 2002

    I have read why fine fretless players such as Steve Lawson and Gary Willis play with lined fingerboards, but I would like to know what advantages players such as Michael Manring and Alain Caron see in an unlined fingerbord.

  2. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Frankly, I think you're probably better off with the lines. When I started playing fretless there weren't that many choices for instruments around, so I ended up with basses with unlined fingerboards. Over the years I got used to it, but I think having the lines probably makes learning to play in tune a little easier. As far as I'm concerned, anything you can do to help yourself play in tune is worth looking in to!
  3. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    hey michael

    on this topic, have you ever found it hard to play on a lined fretless - since you're more used to unlined?

    the reason that i ask is that i mainly play unlined fretless and i have the hardest time playing with a lined fretless - every time i look at the board it get flumoxed.
  4. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    I agree with JT. My fretless in unlined, but even before I got it, I tried playing a friend's lined fretless, I just found it really confusing. Since I was used to playing between the frets, it felt wierd to play on the lines. Even the first time I tried it I found the unlined one much easier.
  5. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    I bought an unlined bass because it was cheap and I got a good trade in. I personally prefer my fretless over anything else (there was this single cut Elrick 5 though....)
  6. If you get flumoxed every time you look at the fretboard on your fretless, don't look at it! I've always played unlined fretless basses, maybe because I never have a reason to look at the neck. My Rickenbackers have side marker dots on every fret position, so I just use those to 'navigate'. My 12-String Hamer only has dots in the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th fret positions, so it's a little tougher. Check out the other fretless basses on my website, it's not done yet but the guitar photos are all there.
  7. That's, um.... interesting.

    What does a fretless 12 string sound like? :confused:
  8. The sound of my fretless 12 is tough to describe as it's also strung differently from most 12-string basses. It is strung 'Inverted' (see my website for details, fretless12.com) which allows me to play guitar chords simultaneously with the bass lines. Imagine a fretless bass combined with an acoustic 12-string guitar and that will get you pretty close. Not quite as much growl as Tom Petersson's tone. I've got a song on the compilation CD just released this week on the 12-String Bass website plus I'm working on an album which will feature this bass.
  9. temp5897

    temp5897 Guest

    Not to be picky or anything but this is not the best technique for playing a fretted bass. The notes should be fretted just behind the fret for the best tone (plus this makes going between fretted and fretless that much easier).
  10. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Just as well I don't play a fretted bass at the moment then!
  11. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I think Jaco said something along these lines as well and I think that intonation on fretless is a real problem. So there have been many occasions when I have been at Jazz classes/workshops/jams where there have been fretless players with unlined boards and the players themselves don't seem to notice that they have intonation problems - but it really sticks out like a sore thumb to any listeners.

    So - other people present (sax,trumpet players) have asked me in private later - why that bass player sounds so bad - and I have to explain about intonation being difficult on fretless bass.

    I think when you are just playing on your own it sounds "cool" to have that slightly out of tune sound - but when you put it next to other instruments - like in a Jazz context where you have a lot of chord changes, then even slight intonation problems really stand out.
  12. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    This is a big part of the problem - how people perceive what they do. I've had students play things to me to 'prove' that their unlined fretless intonation was good, and it proved exactly the opposite... One of the reasons why a looping device is the most important practice tool there is - you get to listen back to yourself straight away, and can also record a part on fretted, then double it on fretless and see how close you are...

    Any confusion that comes from having lines there would only take a few hours of practice to overcome. When I first picked up a Rick Turner Renassaince fretless, the whole instrument felt weird to me - why? because I'd never played anything like that before. 1 week later I was in love with it, I'd got a feel for it, worked out how to get a sound from it, and life was the better for it.

    Fretlines remove that corrective bit that often come at the beginning of a note for people playing unlined fretless. I've said this before, and again qualify it as being anecdotal, but based on years and years of listening and teaching, but in general, the players I've heard playing unlined fretless play less in tune than those with lines, and even those who get close on an unlined fretless are still correcting the second half of most notes. Michael is the finest exception to this rule - his intonation is better than mine, but his practice regime has at times, I gather, been off the chart with regards to being emulatable by anyone with a job... And he's been playing bass longer than I've been alive... :D

    I have no problem with people playing unlined fretless at all, but you really do have your work cut out for you, it's an uphill struggle... all fretless playing requires a lot of 'maintainance' work - if I don't touch a fretless for three or four days, my intonation takes me half an hour to get back, leave it a week and I'm up to 1-1.5 hours to really get back on top of it... And that's with having an accurate and specific visual reference for every note...

    ..and as for the aesthetic argument that unlined looks cooler, or looks "more fretless' - huh? since when was that the main factor in playing music???? Do you camoflage the frets on your fretted bass to make it look more sleek? Nope, cos frets look fine, as do fretlines. The fretlines on my bass are as white and clear as they can be. And if there was a way of making my bass scratch 'n' sniff to help me play more in tune, I'd engage that sense as well - sight, sound, touch, ESP, muscle memory - whatever, I really want to play this thing in tune, and the sum total of my experience, listening, teaching and observation so far suggests that you are far more likely to play in tune on a lined fretless... :D

    just my $0.02... ;)

  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Yes - this is exactly my experience over the years. I can only imagine people practicing away on their own and thinking - wow I sound just like Jaco, and this unlined board looks so cool! ;)

    Without putting this up against any external reference!

    The other thing I can think of is that, when practicing on your own, you are calm and under no pressure; so you can concentrate solely on technique and maybe get your fingering just right.

    But when it comes to playing with other people and chords going past at maybe two a bar - then you have to concentrate on lots of other things- listening to others, feeling the groove, where are we in the form/song etc. etc.

    So - the lines are going to be a big help when you make that position shift at high tempo - and if you don't have them and are thinking about 5 other things at that point in time, then your intonation may be the first thing to go out of the window!
  14. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    As someone who suffered from the "slide it in " syndrome the biggest hurdle was knowing that I did it, not the fingerboard.

    If I had a time machine I would probably go lined but I'm set in my ways. 5 years of my fretless and I dont want any other fretless (hmmm).

    The biggest challenge for me is playing with a cellist (two of them actually and one's intonation was way better).

    Flutists are another pain in the butt. Whats the point in playing fretless into a tuner for an hour to stand next to someone who doesnt know how to tune their instrument? I know how to tune a flute and a piccolo now (didnt go down to well when I confiscated them Korg tuner in hand).

    Back on topic I'm getting to know the wood greain patterns on the fretboard I need to hit to be in tune. I'm glad I dont use phenolic fingerboards...
  15. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    this is a very good point - it's one of the things that upright players use to know their positions... (I would, however, get dot markers on an upright too, like Edgar Meyer... :D )


  16. I never had this problem, but if you want to talk 2 inch vibrato give me a ring.
  17. CS


    Dec 11, 1999
    There's an answer to this but not on a PG rated board
  18. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    I bought my fiwst fwetless a few weeks ago... an ibanez musician unlined.
    i had planned to go lined for pretty much all the reasons above, but it was pretty cheap.. and nice :)

    I must say I have trouble with it - i play it in jams as often as I'm allowed ;) and practice with it regularly to a practice CD i made up a few months ago - just simple diatonic chords on midi piano in all keys through the cirlce o' 5ths.

    i find the lower notes easier to play because a slight intonation problem at a lower pitch is harder to hear, higher up the fretboard i have more trouble - one mm out and you're a larger percentage off perfect pitch. still it's one of those things that sound great when it's right and BAAAAAD when it's wrong!
  19. Hi Steve-

    I realize many people have difficulty with fretless intonation, particularly students as they are new to the task. And much like how stating a ship is unsinkable quickly condemns it to a watery grave, so are people who attempt to prove they can keep their fretless in tune are almost certain to fail. That's just the way life works. But allow me to play Devils Advocate here. I submit that playing a lined fretless may actually tend to make intonation more difficult in the long term. I think it creates an over-reliance on visual information. Its like singers who use their lyric sheets for every performance. They don't have to actually know their parts because the cheat sheet is close at hand. I think lined basses work in exactly the same way. The goal becomes to find the lines, not to know where on the fingerboard to position your fingers. It's a subtle but important difference. Knowing where your intonation is frees up your playing. What happens when a string breaks in the middle of song and you are suddenly out of tune? If you don't need lines you can easily compensate. Or what happens when you play on a poorly lit stage and your lines are tough to see?

    After reading these posts I strapped on my bass and tried to play it while looking at the fingerboard. The angle of the bass seems completely unnatural to me as I never look at the fingerboard except from the side. I probably have a rather unique perspective here as I've played fretless basses exclusively since 1976. It initially took me 3 months to figure out how the intonation "works" but since then it hasn't been much of a problem. Sure I'll miss occasionally but it's pretty rare and usually only occurs after something bizarre happens in the audience that momentarily distracts me. And I tape my gigs regularly just for verification that all is well.

    While from a manufacturing standpoint there is little difference between fretted / fretless basses, I think the assumption that these are just differing versions of the same instrument needs to be examined. From an intellectual perspective a fretless is not just a variant of a fretted bass due to the greatly differing mental requirements involved. It may be more correct to regard it as a separate instrument. Assuming proper tuning, playing a fretted bass allows you to concentrate on technique, style, groove, etc. Intonation never enters the equation. But fretless requires intonation to be the fundamental concern. I think this is the main reason players have difficulty making the transition from fretted to fretless. They are literally having to learn it all over again from step one! They haven't had to develop the precision that is required with a fretless. And once they return to the fretted bass, that precision isn't needed and quickly disappears. That is why your "maintenance" work is necessary when you grab your fretless. There are advantages to specializing!

    Lined or unlined is certainly a matter of personal preference where aesthetics are concerned, but I think if I play fretless then it should look fretless. Its not a main factor in the music, but it certainly plays a part in overall presentation. I'm not one of those ideologues who believes that "The Music is Everything" because in the real world thats just not true. The music has to be good, but many other factors are involved. Look at how many successful bands are out there with really mediocre players but they have something that keeps the crowds coming back for more. Call it image, mystique, presentation, marketing, whatever. And how many technically excellent bands can't get gigs because they are boring. The music is not everything. If I can make an impression by playing a bass thats undeniably fretless, thats exactly what I will do. Its tough to get noticed these days, and every little thing counts.
  20. an amusing aside,
    Guy Pratt (Pink Floyd bandmember/prolific session player) said in an interview how people would come up to him after seeing him play his Status lined fretless, and ask "how do you make that thing sound fretless?"- "it is!":D

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