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How Important is Fretless?


Kooky Mogessi

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I've been thinking of getting a new bass and thought of getting a fretless. Is learning how to play on a fretless really as tough as i've heard? And are there any companys that make a better fretless than the rest? thanks for all the help
"Cliff Burton (the "Major rager of the 4-string mother f***er", from Metallica)" Direct quote from Wikipedia (censored out of respect for the forum)
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I would highly recommend getting a lined fretless bass if it's your first. Yamaha makes the best budget fretless on the market from my experience, if you want to save some bucks. They also have lined fretboards. Also a fantastic video to get would be Steve Bailey's fretless bass. :thu: The biggest thing I had to learn (and continuously work on) is muscle memory, and listening to make sure I'm in tune with those around me.
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Is this your first bass ever? It could be done, but I wouldn't recommend making your *first* bass a fretless. But I'd also say, don't be afraid. If you want to do it, just do it. You'll love the experience! Fretless is really, imho, its own instrument.

 

I'll second the vote for Yamaha as an excellent starter fretless. You can always seem to find something very inexpensive on eBay, especially in the Yamaha RBX line. (My first fretless was a Yamaha RBX200F.) And for $150-$250, you're not risking much (& depreciation isn't going to affect your resale value much, if at all, on one of these).

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Fretless is a wonderful world. You can do so much with EVERY note. It's almost a "vocal" instrument when you can vary the vibrato and touch to such a minute extent.

 

I recommend lined fretboards to. There's really no reason not to have them and they'll make life much easier. Mark Egan and Jaco and Gary Willis ,etc. all use(d) lined boards.

 

By the way, the "everybody sounds like Jaco on a fretless" worry is silly. Everyone has their own touch, choice of effects, coated or uncoated fretboards, string choices, etc. that will keep one as un-Jaco like as one wants to be.

"When people hear good music, it makes them homesick for something they never had, and never will have."

Edgar Watson Howe

"Don't play what's there. Play what's not there" Miles Davis

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Penguinsarebirds,

I just noticed your request for recommended fretless basses...If you'd like to go middle to high end...

 

I've played a Pedulla MVP coated board/"Hexabuzz" for 10 years and it's a fantastic fretless. Light yet snappy maple, a versatile preamp that works well in the studio as well as live.

 

I also really like Foderas but you'd have to "sell your car" most likely...

 

Gary Willis' Ibanez 5 string model is also a good instrument and runs about $500-600 used. Hope that helps.

 

Of course there's always the fretless Jazz Bass which would be cost effective and great sounding. My rosewood board Jazz has almost an upright timbre. Good luckl

"When people hear good music, it makes them homesick for something they never had, and never will have."

Edgar Watson Howe

"Don't play what's there. Play what's not there" Miles Davis

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Yes! Fretless is king! My first bass was a fretless (it started out fretted) and it is a great little bass. I sanded down the board and coated it with polyurethane, as to harden it. It still has raises in the wood from where the frets were, so it gets a nice overtone on slides and the such. I also play rounds (like Jaco), so it's a little punchy for a fretless. I think that depending on the music you play (or not, however you look at it), a fretless is a great thing to add to your collection. Definitely go for it, man.
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Two fretless basses that were well reviewed in Bass Player mag were the

Yamaha BBN4F and the Fender Jazz Bass Standard. Both are not that expensive

and have fret line markings.

 

This Yamaha model is discontinued I think, so if you do a bit of shopping

around, you could probably get it at a good price.

 

I sometimes think about getting a fretless because of the great sound,

but frankly I'm afraid that I'll never be able to play it in tune.

 

Maybe one day.....

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I enjoy my fretless Music Man Stingray5 immensely. It's got a pau ferro board (no coating, no lines) and I use D'Addario Half Wound strings (kind of a compromise between rounds and flats -- smooth on the outside, bumpy on the inside!). I don't get that "Jaco" sound, but I can get tones from time to time that sound Tony Levin-ish (he plays MM basses). I love this bass.

 

When I got it over 10 yrs ago, I paid a little over $1000 including case. I think they can be had used for more reasonable prices on-line -- lined or not, 4- or 5-string. I've also heard some positive comments about MM fretless Sterlings and MM fretless models with the piezo pick-up option.

 

I don't think I've ever played a lined fretless. I enjoyed learning fretless w/ no lines, but I might have had quicker success w/ intonation had I started w/ a lined fretless. I have no regrets, though.

 

Another possible source for a good fretless at a reasonable price would be Carvin. Greenboy, wherefore art thou?!

spreadluv

 

Fanboy? Why, yes! Nordstrand Pickups and Guitars.

Messiaen knew how to parlay the funk.

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I prefer no lines as well. Since good intonation requires listening, and the notes will not be in the same place depending on the key (an F# in the key of F# major is NOT the same as an F# in the key of G major!!!), lines have a greater chance of screwing up your intonation than helping it.

 

Play along with records, carefully listening to your pitch...practice playing a scale after hitting and sustaining a chord on piano or keyboard....or tape yourself playing a scale on fretted bass, and then play along with it on fretless (you won't be in PERFECT tune since it's a fretted bass...but it'll teach you to check your intonation at all times.

 

The most important thing is to listen...even the world's best players need to constantly listen to their intonation to make sure they're in tune. It takes PRACTICE!!!

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I agree--I've played both, & I prefer line-free. This is not a general value-judgment, but it's what I personally prefer. (It's definitely not "real men don't use lines" nonsense; too many top-shelf players use lined basses for that to hold any water.) And frankly, either way you've got a lot of work (fun work, fortunately) ahead of you learning to get the intonation right. Prepare to spend 99% of your practice energy on that for a while.

 

On intonation, do a search; davebrownbass gave a brilliant lesson not too long ago on tunings & intonation. :thu:

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lines are unnecesary. almost all fretless will have position markers to let you know where you are. and as i've preached here before, it's all about scale. get the same scale instrument as the one you're already playing. if you have good form (you can make notes with no fret buzz) you'll be surprised how easy it is to play a fretless. i had been playing about three years when i first picked up a fretless and was rather impressed with myself at how seamlessly i made the transition.

 

and dcr, wichita? you don't find that weird?

Eeeeeehhhhhhhhh.
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Bastid--thanks for the best laugh I've had all day! Yep, I find it pretty weird. As they say, rotflmao. :D:D:D

 

Mind you, I don't get to have my car ripped off, get beaten up or mugged, wait in long traffic lines, or have to prove that I've lost more than several thousand dollars in property before the police will respond...so yeah, pretty weird. :P

 

Sorry for the hijack...

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Originally posted by bass_lover:

Hey Ben,

 

Why would an F# or other note be played on a different spot on the

fretboard, depending on the key?

Would it follow that your open G string could be out of tune, depending on

the key you're playing in?

 

Please explain.... you lost me.

 

Thanks,

bass_lover

Bach made the "tempered scale" famous - that's what a piano is based on... F# is always the same F#. We are so accustomed to tempered scales that it doesn't bother most of us. Someone who is very "in tune" with intonation can tell the difference. To sensitive ears, there is some variation in the true frequency of F# in the middle of a scale versus F# as the root of a scale.

 

About fretlines - Washburn makes some fretless basses with lines that are only under the lowest (4th or 5th) string. A short line that gives a good reference, but would not be visible unless someone is looking for it. I haven't played one of these yet 'cause none of my local Washburn dealers sell their US made basses.

- Matt W.
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I prefer lined fretless basses just for the point of reference when sight reading. Lines definately don't make up for using your ears and listening to yourself and those around you.

 

Good example: Last night we started our second set and I grabbed my fretless for the first 3 songs. The guitar player just made sure he was in tune with himself as opposed to a tuner.. and because of this he was about a 1/4 step flat for the first 3 songs. Damn guitar players...

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I recently borrowed a fretless for a gig and fell in love w/ it. I had never played one before, but with a few days of practice (and a chorus pedal!) I got through okay.

 

My friend suggested that I buy a fretless neck for my backup bass (MIM J-Bass). Any comments on replacement necks? Especially going from fretted to fretless? Or, should I just splurge and get a "real" fretless?

 

Yes Tom, saw 'em the other day, they're still on the line. ;)

Ah, nice marmot.
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Converting your MIM could be great. Check out Warmoth, who have a ton of fretless necks, in a wide range of wood combinations, that will just drop right into a Fender. You might also want to upgrade your bridge while you're at it, since sustain is especially important in a fretless (at least imho).
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Fretless is great. I picked it up after a year of playing fretted. I hate lined fretboards. When you play a fretted base, you play between the frets and on the dots (when there is a dot), right? I found switching to playing on the line was a pain, so I refuse to buy a lined fretless. I found the transition to not be a problem and have come to love fretless. In fact, I rarely play fretted anymore. Carvin is great for fretless. You could find a used one (try ebay) or ask the factory if they have some that have been returned (if you don;t want to pay for a new one).
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