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Going fretless


vesterberg

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Hi all!

This summer I realized a dream I have had for a long time, I bought a fretless, a beautiful burgundy red 4-string Warwick Corvette with fretlines. My regular bass is a 5-string Warwick Streamer LX and up until now I have played mostly rock, blues and funk in a rock cover group. I love the sound and expressiveness of this instrument.

 

I started with the basic tips I picked up from the net, playing scales with tuner, playing on my fingertips. I continued with playing songs I know since before and added a typical fretless song: "A Remark You made". What a song! I bought Brunels book in hope of getting some tips and instructions on how to make the most out of fretless, but was a bit disappointed. There is a video out there about playing fretless, but it cannot be viewed on VCRs from Europe.

 

I guess many of you play fretless and I thought you might want to share some of your tips or insights etc of playing fretless. Thanks!

/Anders

 

http://www.vesterberg.se

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Getting the most out of fretless? Well what's different, slides, tone, intonation? Developing slides, particularly a tone slide for example, that requires the hand position to move is a technique that requires quite a bit of practice. You could practice this for each finger going up and down a tone or one and a half tones. Making this musical is the goal. Also, working on tone/vibrato is worthwhile. Sometimes an excessive vibrato on a D or G string can be very effective, where the span of finger movement covers a quarter tone. General vibrato, like a cello player, should be developed over the whole neck. This is difficult to achieve when playing at speed and again requires practice.

 

Overall I find the fretless more lyrical and therefore my playing does border into the soloists repertoir. Whereas my fretted playing centres on groove.

 

This is just a personal view.

 

This is a start.

 

Davo

"We will make you bob your head whether you want to or not". - David Sisk
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Listen to singers, they generaly sing a note without vibrato, then add it as the note sustains.

 

Intonation is obviously a big area to focus on. Try to record yourself or get hold of a looping device - as well as playing along with CDs. I found that practising sight-reading on the fretless improved my intonation as it forced me to plap more in positions. Playing into a tuner is not too helpful - use your ears!

 

Play all day and concentrate on the fretless until you get the feel for it. Try to listen to some jazz double bass players.

 

I play fretless almost exclusively and enjoy playing it in unusual contexts for it (reggae, funk, rock etc.) Sometimes it's good to play a line exactly as you would on fretted and just sneak in a little slide or slur here or there.

 

These are the guys I listened to on fretless (mostly):

 

Mick Karn

Percy Jones

John Giblin

Jaco

Alphonso Johnson

Pino Palladino

Michael Manring

Fima Ephron

Steve Lawson

 

But I also lisetend to other electric bassists, double bassists and other instruments to find inspriration. Also worth checking out any music that makes great use of microtones e.g. Arabic and Indian music and blues, of course.

 

Also use your ears; practise melodies against an open string or another point of reference. Some people such as Steve Bailey teach people to focus on playing each interval: octave; third, fifth etc etc in tune.

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Just a little tip: On fretless I use more open strings than on fretted. Since my open strings are in tune, they re-ground my "center of intonation". Yea, I just made up that phrase; I'll bet there's a better way of expressing it.....But anyway, even if the open string is just a passing note, playing it alerts me if I'm creeping sharp or flat without me having to look at the side dot markers.

Things are just the way they are, and they're only going to get worse.

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As far as sliding goes, I used a metronome and slide to the beat of it. This means that I would start sliding (in tripolet time TRI-PO-LET) on the LET and hit my note on the TRI of the next beat. you can vary when you start but the main thing for me was slaming perfectly into the downbeat. jsut an idea.

 

and.. Paul K, thank you for mentioning that. I can definitally use that more often. to help get my center of intonation. ;)

 

Jonathan

 

 

 

 

 

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You can get the dvd copied into the right format...I've had it done the other way. Around here in the US there are many copy and electronic shops that offer the service..often these places are owned by Indians or Middle Easterners.

 

Look around, I'm sure you can find someone who can duplicate the dvd into the right format.

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If you have an octave pedal, they can be great fun with a fretless - instant 1980s! Think Pino with Paul Young and Tony Levin with Peter Gabriel.

 

But get comfy with the basics first.

 

(Great fun!)

The bass player's job is to make the drummer sound good - Jack Bruce
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Thanks Davo-London, Phil W, Paul K, Jonathan-dnkritr, Jeremy C and Lenny B for your suggestions. This is truly a great and inspiring forum. And thanks Phil W for links to previous threads and listening suggestions. I will check them out.

Jeremy C, that was a good idea to have the DVD copied into right format over there. I know some who live in the US that might help.

/Anders

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Hi Vesterberg,

Many DVD players sold in Sweden can play NTSC and the American region code discs. Many of the VCRs in Sweden can playback NTSC VHS tapes.

 

If you need help with American videos, I can convert NTSC-VHS to PAL-DVD or PAL-VHS.

 

If the original is actually a DVD and you can´t watch it with your present player, you can buy regionfree DVD players for around SEK 500. (for example at Netonnet.se)

What ever...
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If it is a DVD, it is also possible to unblock the region setting on your DVD player and set it to region free. There may be a simple handset hack available (code to punch in with the remote) - try searching on the web. Otherwise you can order a special chipped remote which resets the machine. I used a company called DVDchips

http://www.dvdchips.co.uk/

This is a UK company though, I think Sweden is the same region as the UK but you might want to check whether there are any Swedish companies offereing similar services.

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The video I was thinking of is Steve Bailey, Fretless Bass. and it is NTSC-VHS only. It costs $50 which is a bit expensive.

I think I will assimilate the tips here on Lowdown first.

 

Swed_bass, could you take it to DVD if I sent you the VHS-NTSC?

 

Swed_bass, I visited your site. The site of my band is http://www.soundrise.se. Were in the same business. How is business in Borås? Do you have a lot of gigs?

/Anders

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It's a good video, but it's not worth $50. I have a VHS copy of that but no video player right now and no plans to get another one. It plays in England so presumably it's good for Sweden. I could send it to you for free if it doesn't cost too much for postage.

The video is mostly about intonation and has lots of exercises and example pieces for playing intervals in tune. It's not essential viewing.

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Thanks Phil!

I will first read through the material from this forum and perhaps later go for the video.

 

A short question: What is the string height of your fretless compared to your fretted ones? I mean, are there perhaps special considerations concerning string height on a fretless?

/Anders

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Anders,

This has come up a lot on the forum. Generally a lower action (string height) creates more 'mwah' (I think - I haven't adjusted mine much for a long time). I prefer a higher action as I want to control the amount of 'mwah' when I use the fretless in untypical fretless contexts. I only have a fretless but I prefer slightly higher action than many people. Some time back many of us measured and posted in the actual actions that we were using. It might be worth searching the forum for 'mwah' and 'action'. I remember Steve Lawson posting something along the lines of set-up (i.e. action) being one of the primary factors in determining fretless tone.

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Anders,

Though I am supposed to be typing a report (I'll just have to type quicker) I searched for 'mwah' as I suggested to you and found four great threads, I've bumped one of them. All relate to string height, neck relief and left and right hand technique. If you read and practise based on all four threads, you'll learn more than from any vido that I know.

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Something that has helped me a lot with fretless is the computer and any free recording program. If I'm lazy and don't want to rip a CD, I'll use the Tascam Bass Trainer, jam along while recording on the PC, and play it back with hopefully good results. It's a great way to find any weak spots in my technique on the smooth 'board. :thu:
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Thanks again Phil for all help!

I will share this ... Some days ago I was playing my fretless together with my funky computer drummer (Slicy Drummer & Sonar, a surrogate but better than metronome) and let go of myself just playing and grooving and I was like electrified. I have been smiling for days now. Wow! I will really move forward in the fretless direction. If I was an enthusiastic bass player before, I am even more now.

/Anders

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I play fretless in a reggae band & a country band, amongst others. In the reggae context, I play pretty much the same way I play a fretted bass. Same for the C&W, except I find more places to slide around. There is a lot of really good advice here. My suggestion is to start by playing the fretless the same as your fretted bass & start sliding around after you're comfortable with it.
"Shoot low, most of 'em are ridin' ponies"
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There's a lot to be said for being able to play the fretless without slides or vibrato where necessary. The play fretless in reggae mostly the same way as Moe, but, to be honest, I can make it fit in most styles of music now (those who've heard me might beg to differ! ;) )

For many of those fairly new to fretless though; and even some of us more experienced types more often than we'd admit) it is important to be able to roll the fingertips (or slide the finger occasionally) in order to create the correct pitch. I used to practise by deliberately playing flat or sharp and then adjusting.

This quick adjustment is something all fretless players do and you need to learn it early on; so playing the fretless at first just the same as the fretted, without slides, is not IMHO a good idea.

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Gary Willis calls this finger-rolling 'pivoting'. It works well in practice combined with some kind of reference pitch. It sounds more like a vibrato than a slide. Too much vibrato or sliding can make your audience 'sea-sick', so listen to singers and blues instrumentalists to hear how they use vibrato.
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Great point about too much sliding. Just because its there doesn't mean you have to do it all the time. Try to avoid sliding from note to note. That's also a good exercise for intonation. The "singer" thing is great advice, too.
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I once had a conversation with a pretty good player when I had juuuuuust started on the fretless bass and he asked me how my intonation was. It was not fabulous (even though mine had lines!) and he suggested an exercise where you sit in the dark (or just don't look or whatever) and practice sliding from one note to another for a few minutes straight. It's so simple but it can help train your ear and hands.

"My two Fender Basses, I just call them "Lesbos" because of the time they spend together in the closet."-Durockrolly

 

This has been a Maisie production. (Directed in part by Spiderman)

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I've been playing fretless for 25 years or so (and fretted for 38).

 

At times I have practiced

1) while watching my tuner

2) in the dark

3) by playing chords on the piano, holding down the sustain pedal and playing scales along with the chords

4) by playing scales in E A D or G while playing the open string in between each scale note.

 

However, the only thing that truly works is to play music and listen to yourself and the other players at the same time.

 

Sometimes you need patient bandmates, ;) but I haven't had any complaints in quite a while.

 

My action on fretless is higher than many other players: I don't want the "mwah" sound.

 

You can hear me play fretless in this sound clip.

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Here's a story.

 

Back about 12 years ago I ran a group (the only time I had that particular headache). We were a fusion/funk quartet named Vallejo after the City where you can catch the ferry to San Fransisco.

 

We went into a cheap studio to record a two track demo (the keyboardist and I were the co-composers). I couldn't afford to use my own engineer so I used the studio's own at a good rate.

 

Only problem was that his main experience was with electronic dance music. He did a surprisingly good job but one thing he said was telling. I was already playing my Wal fretless by then. We played a thumbed funk tune and a latin fingerstyle piece. While listening to the playback of the second tune he made the comment that: "Wow, that almost sounds like fretless bass!"

I'm guessing that his experience of 'fretless bass' was as a patch? name on a synth module and I guess I must have played a few bars that sounded like that! He had no idea that what I was playing was a fretless bass!

 

:D:D

 

On a side issue, anyone have any idea of a cheap way to get the DAT or reel to reel masters converted to CD? Also anybody found a succesful way to upload music from cassette tapes?

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Originally posted by Phil W:

On a side issue, anyone have any idea of a cheap way to get the DAT or reel to reel masters converted to CD? Also anybody found a succesful way to upload music from cassette tapes?

Hmmmm I have a sound engineer friend who might be able to help out on that one (or lend me the equipment) But he is not only typically unreliable, hes also been in and out of hospital lately. But ill try and get something sorted... im not sure on the DAT but he has loads of reel to reel's kicking about is spare room. Let me know if you get something sorted in the mean time, because it could take a little while.

 

For tape to CD I have plugged the output of my hifi into the line in of my PC before and recorded them in cool edit.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi again,

I have printed out and read through the threads about fretless. Great insights on how to bring out the mwah, as well as how to avoid the mwah. Thanks all!

 

I play in a cover group playing mostly rock, but also funk and blues with songs ranging from Judas Priest and AC/DC to Chuck Berry and the softest Eagles. We play at pubs, restaurants and parties.

 

I will try (for a while) to use my fretless exclusively with all of these kinds of songs in order to expose myself to the fretless as much as possible. It will be a challenge to shape the sound in different ways. There are live considerations also, for ex cutting through in the mix.

 

I realize that for some songs fretless is not ideal, for ex biting rock and impossible for slap (I will have to change for that). But on the other hand to have two basses and change between songs is not easy (i have tried that in another situation). So, I will try this to get the real live experience of fretless, because I really feel attracted to the fretless sound and the feeling of playing it.

 

This is a test and I might go back to my Warwick Streamer LX 5-string for rock in the long run.

 

Do you think it will work?

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