Why fretless?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by count_funkula, Aug 23, 2001.

  1. count_funkula

    count_funkula Guest

    Dec 13, 1999
    Greenville, Tx
    What are some advantages of the fretless bass?

    I could see if you are soloing you would be able to do more with a fretless but for normal playing I dont see the advantage. I have been listening to Gary Willis a lot lately and it seems like most of what he is playing could be done on a fretted bass just as well.

    By the way, lets hear from all the Willis fans out there. That man can jam!

    Is a fretless something that every bass player should explore or is it such a specialized instrument that most would not get much use out of it?

    Please educate me.
  2. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    Looks cool; sounds cool. Different method of phrasing; different type of vibrato--the rolling fingertip kind. The notes on a fretless bass tend to swell and sustain, assuming it's set up right, rather than attacking sharply and dying away. Not an essential part of the bass player's arsenal, but if you can play one without making an audience seasick, you get bragging rights. Also sounds better to my ears for trad walking lines and Latin music (with those huge glisses). Obvious benefit: sliding artificial harmonics.

    Gary Willis might not be the greatest example of "lyrical" fretless bass; he has a very busy approach, so the mwah isn't always evident in his playing. If you want a good example of what the fretless sounds like, listen to some Mark Egan or Michael Manring. There's also plenty of prominent fretless on Marcus Miller's latest recording.
  3. Well said about waliking and Latin, Chris. I also notice that switching back and forth between fretted and fretless compliment each other. When I practice on fretless, I pay MUCH more attention to positions; when I go back to fretted, I'm a little faster. Then, when I go back to fretless again, my positioning is a little more on the mark. Win/Win

    And the absolute *BEST* effect you can use with a fretless, IMHO is a flanger. So unbelievably good. Remember "Lady in Red" by Chris de Burgh? That's the sound.

    Mike J.:cool:
  4. Bass Guitar

    Bass Guitar Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2001
    For "mwah" and virtuosic fretless playing, don't forget the grandfather, Jaco Pastorius, and other advocates like Steve Bailey, Mick Karn or Steve Lawson.
  5. LowfreqB


    Nov 10, 2000
    United States
    Those are great threads BW. I would like to say besides Jaco, that Sting is a great fretless player. I saw an old movie the other day. It was called "Urgh...a music war". The film shows a bunch of late 70s' early 80's footage of live performances from various artist. The police open and close the film out and Sting uses this cool fretless p bass with a maple neck. He is dead on with his intonation. very cool.
  6. sunnking

    sunnking Guest

    Jul 13, 2001
    i agree and disagree with christopher, the fretless does allow different aspects of phrasing come out both swelling/sustained AND sharp attack and quick decay. remember that many players used to mute their strings for quicker decay with a fretless to simulate an uprite. both are cool sounds to play with.
  7. funny, the very reason i love gary willis' playing is because he doesnt do the typical sliding of harmonics all the time along with swooping and sliding into notes.songs like speak,the necessary blonde,and its only music, demonstrate what i think is the best way to state a melody on fretless. its more of a voice like vibrato rather than the trombone player that decides to over use their slide because its there.
  8. XavierG

    XavierG In Memoriam

    .....I seriously doubt you could classify one as being more 'advantageous' than the other. They're different animals with different traits. The fact that a fretless is great for that 'weeping legato' is of no advantage to someone who wants to slap all day, and vice versa. Did someone say that already?
  9. rickreyn


    Jun 16, 2000
    Lutz, Florida
    Playing a fretless is part of the Willis sound. Other components are a little vibrato, muting, playing over the bridge area, and dymamics (amp set loud with soft touch, leaving headroom). I think playing a fretless gets him the little buzz in his sound. Otherwise, there is little mawah or whatever in his music.
  10. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago

    Fretless is another arrow for the quiver -- one more tool to get a sound that either you or someone else might want to hear.

    Fretless is something for a bassist to explore in the same way that a mountain bike would be something for a touring bicyclist to explore. If you're really happy doing what you're doing, well, fine; nothing says you have to change anything. If you want to look into going different places, it never hurts to investigate -- you may find beauty and joy in places you otherwise might never have gone.

    It's funny -- I have two identical basses except one is fretted and one fretless. In my regular soft jazz group, I use both, and yes, I love to solo on fretless. But a certain local good-time rock'n'roll band (Beatles, Dead, 50's, even some current Top 40 stuff) calls me to sub every couple of months or so, and guess which one THEY like? The fretless! I don't even bother to bring the fretted to that gig any more. What's that say about how much use the average player could get out of a fretless? Ya never know...
  11. Zoot H Rollo

    Zoot H Rollo

    May 10, 2000
    Redmond, WA
    only fretless for me.

    real bass.

    anything with frets is really just another guitar.


    but, seriously...

    its all about feel and flexibility. i can make my fretless sound fretted if i want.

    something about the quality of a held note on a fretless.


  12. Davidoc

    Davidoc Guest

    Sep 2, 2000
    Northern VA and JMU
    Fretless alows super low action impossible to achieve on a fretted bass.
  13. Angus

    Angus Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    That's bull, Davy. I can set my strings on my fretted just as close to the frets without fretbuzz as I can with my fretless to the fingerboard without fretboard noise. It's just relative heights.
  14. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Supporting Member

    Why not?
  15. Aaron


    Jun 2, 2001
    Seattle, WA
    I prefere the sound of a fretless. IMO, there is so much more you can do on a fretless.
  16. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago

    hehe... there are those on the planet who reserve that term only for string bass -- with no amplifier. ;)
  17. Zoot H Rollo

    Zoot H Rollo

    May 10, 2000
    Redmond, WA
    i was waiting for that!!!

    i agree!!!!!!!!!

  18. I choose fretless for the same reason I adjust the settings on my fretted or choose to play the particular notes or rhythms - it's a personal musical choice that I think is best for the song. The percusiveness of the fretted is necessary for many of the tunes we play as is the bloom and expressiveness of the fretless. It's simply a musical choice.

    I wish I were good enuf to make a fretted sound like a fretless and vice versa, but I'm not. I need the instrument to help me out ;)

    Plus I need an excuse to buy more instruments :eek: :D