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Your first impression of an unlined fretless.

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by FireBug, Feb 9, 2006.

  1. FireBug


    Sep 18, 2005
    I remember my pre-talkbass days when I was ignorant about many things. One of them was the concept of an unlined fretless (I didn't even know you could get one lined). I thought that to play one you had to be extremely good and whenever I heard of someone who played a fretless, they were immediately elevated above everyone else.

    What was your first impression of a fretless bass...lined or unlined? What did you think of people you knew who played them?

    I've reserved a Corvette Standard fretless and I feel it may possibly the biggest creativity move since I started playing. I became interested in them when I picked one up and discovered I could play it fairly well. Envisioning the frets always helps, but with side markers, all you really need to use is your ear.

    For those of you who play a fretless unlined, do you ever see people scratching their heads and staring? Anyway, just share your first impression.

    On a side note, my guitarist is going to kill me. He already hates my Streamer for it's lack of face markers and knows of my impending unlined fretless purchase. "Envision the frets," I tell him.
  2. froovs


    Mar 17, 2005
    i practiced hard on my self-defretted bass for about six months

    it was of course lined

    then i made the jump to a blank plank...

    my very first impression was "phew its not a disaster, i can play this reasonably well"

    i knew right from then id made the right decision, and with enough work that the move to fulltime fretless would be the right thing for me

    everyones different tho

    preferring one type over the other doesnt make you any more or less of a player

  3. Mudfuzz


    Apr 3, 2004
    I own both, my main fretless has lines but the fact it has lines didn't have anything to do with why I bought the bass, it sounds great and that really is all that matters to me. My other one has no lines and no dots on the face or side, I use it for odd stuff and am always changing the tuning, it's made from parts from four different instruments. A lined board is nice if you are in a situation that is very loud and or you can't hear yourself well or are in a room with odd acoustics where everything sounds a little out of tune but not necessary. I also started playing upright before I got a fretless so no lines there either.

    My thoughts of the linelessness of others? eh I’d seen both fretted and fretless bass way before I stared playing neither holds any mystique for me.

    On the other hand my most hated guitar center memory involves a fretless zon, a phishhead and a very loud amp, it made me feel a bit seasick.
  4. I bought a cheap unlined fretless, and loved it to bits. I was amazed that it wasn't as hard as I thought. But yeah, I find that people are like 'how do you know where the notes are???'... except for bass players, cos we're smart. I just spent a bit on a Warwick Vette 6er, but I wanna get a Warwick fretless of some description, I've only good things.

    But, if any one can steer in the direction to get Gary Willis's tone, please help me!
  5. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Most times, I've seen people playing unlined fretless (apart from top-level pros) I've been struck with how poor their intonation is - it really stands out!

    I don't know - but my feeling/impression is that people get them and think how great they sound in their bedrooms, playing on their own - but don't realise how hard you have to work, to actually get to a point where you can really play in tune with other instruments like piano/keyboards - and not just make some kind of approximation that sounds "cool" in isolation! :meh:
  6. The first bass I ever played live was an unlined fretless. I had only been playing bass for about 3 or 4 months tops (no previous musical experience either) and I didn't own my own bass. I borrowed the fretless from a friend about a day or so before I needed to use it live. I guess I didn't think too much about it at the time, but looking back it was a pretty gutsy move.

    As a result of playing a fretless very early on I've never really thought they were all that unique or uncommon. However, the more I meet other bass players in my area the more I feel they really are uncommon.
  7. Baryonyx

    Baryonyx Banned

    Jul 11, 2005
    Marathon Man
    I've always played unlined fretless as I much prefer the look. I had reservations at first about being able to play without ines but I took the jump and it came off well! It's true that you do learn to feel your way around it, a lot of it is not concious effort, more muscle memory. But I much prefer to see people playing unlined basses...it looks more impressive!
  8. Vorago

    Vorago (((o)))

    Jul 17, 2003
    Antwerp, Belgium
    I play mainly a lined fretless, and let me assure you, there is, like Brucemeister said, nothing as confronting as playing together with a piano and intonate correctly. The lines are a help, but in the end your ears have to do the intonating. That's a mistake I made, and still make, I play fretless with my eyes, you have to play it with your ears.
  9. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Yeah, I've been in a lot of Jazz workshops/jams with BG players who have come along with unlined fretless and people are saying to me in the break - why does he sound so bad!!?? :confused:

    They're playing all this Jaco stuff, licks - but so poorly-intonated, compared with piano, horns etc. - it just sounds horrible!! :rollno:
  10. Baryonyx

    Baryonyx Banned

    Jul 11, 2005
    Marathon Man
    Oh yes, I wholly recommend using a tuner when you play fretless. I can plug my bass into my amp and plug a tuner into a separate input just to check my intonation, it helps to build good fretless habits (I've seen players before who have gotten the wrong approximation of the notes before when playing alone and as soon as they try to play in a band situation they fall flat since they can't make the minute shift into the "correct" note.)

    Another thing is that while I was playing fretless, I used to have my brother playing guitar and we'd jam there, it really helped me get a feel for the fretless.
  11. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    I bought an unlined fretless Dean Edge about 3 months ago, and run it with a Peterson Strobotuner (when I'm playing in my bedroom). My intonation doesn't seem too bad; nor does it with Band-in-a-box ... but ... I do look at the dots ... I find that with other instruments, I do tend to adjust, and get on the pitch (at least as far as my ear and the Strobotuner can tell) I'm not sure though I wouldn't still find intonation problems in a live setting (have only tried fretted so far there). Still trying to find a proper venue to experiment.
  12. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    My first fretless was an unlined Warwick Standard Corvette, and that was my exact experience. I wanted an unlined fretless because I thought they looked really cool and were impressive to play for other people. I thought I was doing pretty well, until I took it a a recording session at my friend's place. Needless to say, playing that CD back to yourself afterwards shows you ALL of your flaws. Listening for slight intonation changes doesn't help much when you've been playing for four hours and your ears are half-shot. I liked how it looked, but I knew getting the music right was the most important thing, and I didn't have the urge to put in all the extra time to get my unlined playing as good as it could be if I was playing a lined one just to keep the nice looks. There are very few unlined players that I've heard who play with the intonation accuracy of the many lined players I know of with good intonation. No one other than Michael Manring even comes to mind at the moment.

    I made sure my next fretless had lines, and it helped a great deal. My muscle memory developed quicker because of the hand-eye coordination, so my fingers went to the right spot much more often, which is the most important thing as a fretless is played with your hands, not your ears (which only tell you if you played the right or wrong note after the fact, and are easily fallible when other instruments are playing or your hearing goes). It also gave a much better visual reference point- it's tough to line up your fingers on the G string when looking at the side dots on the B string side of the neck.

    I won't go without lines again.
  13. phxlbrmpf


    Dec 27, 2002
    But unlined fretless basses do have dots on the side of the neck, don't they? I'm not sure if I'm ready for an unlined fretless yet, I used my defretted Ibanez ATK when I was playing in a musical band and it worked reasonably well, though, I never had the feeling my lines were noticeably out of tune and the others didn't seem to think so, either. My eyes were pretty much glued to the fretboard, though.
  14. James Hart

    James Hart

    Feb 1, 2002
    Endorsing Artist: see profile
    I'm not claiming to have great intonation....

    but my bass has side markers. lined or unlined, I do not look a the face of the neck when I play. I sit or stand upright looking ahead.
  15. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Yes, they have side dots at the location of where the fretline would be if it had one. The only fretless electric bass I've ever seen with no top or side markers was a Wishbass.

    Nearly all lined fretlesses have side dots in the same position that they would be on a fretted bass, which is in-between the fretlines. I have always wondered why bass builders do that, as they're absolutely useless there. For the one custom fretless I had made for me I specified that the side dots be located directly under the fretlines, and the fretless I'm having built now will have them there as well.
  16. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    Is this true? I was sure that the dots on my Dean Edge were at the fret points, not in-between ... I checked by lining up the nuts on my Ritter Roya (4-34") and the Dean (4-34") and the Dean's dots are at the fret points.

    I also talked to Rob Allen on the Fretless Deep 4 that he is doing for me, and he puts all his dots at the fret points (plus adds a 'zero' dot ... not sure if that is what it's called, but up next to the nut).

    I have a more basic question. Why would anyone need a lined fretless? At least the way I hold my bass (i.e., with the fretboard pointed away from my eyes) I couldn't see the lines even if I wanted to (frets are different ... they stand away from the fretboard). I depend on the dots for guidance; fret lines just seem like an annoyance ... but then I haven't played one yet.

    BTW, I can see how your intonation could go way off if you play fretless unaccompanied; you need the other instruments to keep you disciplined and on key. I've heard players say that fretless is a problem unless you have pretty good monitoring, like headphones or a speaker pointed at your face (ouch ... hearing loss)
  17. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    Yes, strangely it is. The side dots are supposed to be on the note locations for unlined boards, but for lined boards they're almost always between the notes just like a fretted neck. They would be MUCH more useful at the note locations.

    My first impression of unlined fretless was "wow that looks cool". I've got both an unlined and a lined fretless, and despite the pronouncements of TB posters I've found that the presence of lines does not help me at all with intonation.
    Yes. I would have to crane my neck way out over the bass to see the lines on my lined fretless while I'm playing. The side dots are easily visible at a glance from the top of the neck. Much more useful.
  18. FR5


    Feb 12, 2004
    I guess I went through the following phases:

    - on hearing Jaco on Don Juan Reckless Daughter: wow, what is that, that can't be made by a piece of wood and two hands
    - two days after buying my first fretless: this looks so totally cool, I'm a better bass player now
    - two months after buying my first fretless: this is much harder than I thought it would be. Total respect for fretless bass players
    - two years after buying my first fretless: I'm getting there, just don't go too high on the neck
    - ten years after buying my first fretless: I don't sound like Jaco at all, and I don't really need to (see my signature)

    I agree with Westland: why use a lined fretboard if you can't see the lines anyway. I only use the dots on the side of my bass and my receptors on the side of my head for intonation purposes.

    I'm getting there, I'm getting there ........ :)
  19. Not only that, but playing live vs. in the bedroom introduces a slew of other challenges. You can't hear yourself as well, you might have a bad monitor mix, you might be standing but practice sitting down, you might have bad stage lighting and can't even see the side dots on the board, etc.

    I can play an unlined capably when just fooling around, but I'd hate to try it onstage at this point.
  20. threshar


    Jul 30, 2002
    I started with a defretted MIM Jazz and I loved it. It had lines.
    Then maybe a month or two fo seriously playing the MIM I picked up a warwick corvette std fretless, unlined. It took a day or two to become accustomed to it but nowadays I don't have too many issues once I warm up. The whole trick is playing along with a cd or band and LISTEN to yourself. You can be off by a ton playing by yourself, but if there are others playing you'll know exactly when you're slightly sharp/flat. That is the whole trick to it all. Always play along with something. I'm now using the fretless pretty much exclusively. At my last gig I got a ton of compliments on the sound of it. Still need my fretted for a few tunes though (Slap just doesn't cut it on a fretless, imho).

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