Bassists | Give Fretless a Shot

Bassists | Give Fretless a Shot!

If you’re a bassist, and you’ve never tried fretless, then that’s something you definitely need to put on your ‘bucket list’, or better yet, your ‘to do right now’ list.

If you have an old bass lying around catching dust; one that you rarely if ever play anymore, you can give it (and your playing) some new life by converting it to a fretless bass. We’ve written a manual on the process, and you can find it here:

Or you can have someone do it for you… or you can even buy a factory-built fretless bass. The idea of converting your old bass, though, will save you a chunk of change, and renew that old instrument at the same time. And you’ll have the satisfaction of having done it all by yourself!

As for the benefits of fretless bass, there is an expressiveness and ‘feel’ to fretless that you just cannot get from a bass with those pesky little metal ‘speed bumps’ across the fingerboard. Not to mention that lovely mellow buzz, or ‘mwah’ as some refer to it, of the strings against the fingerboard as they vibrate. Once you start playing fretless bass, you’ll discover a whole new palette of tones and effects available to you. Lovely vibratos and glissandos are possible on fretless that are not possible on a fretted bass. When soloing, you will even find the ability to play microtonally a real boost to the expressiveness you can achieve. Them ol’ ‘blue notes’ are yours for the playing! Play large-interval slides without any ‘fret clicks’ as you slide your finger up or down the board!

If you’re thinking to convert a bass to fretless, there are a couple of things to consider. For one, a bolt-on Fender-type neck that doesn’t have an angled-back headstock is easiest to convert. The reasons for this are that you can remove the neck from the body to work on it, and that there will be no little ‘hump’ where the headstock/neck joint terminates (about the third fret or so). This ‘hump’ always creates some extra work to sand the fingerboard level and flat once the frets are out and the slots are filled. But it’s not an insurmountable issue; it just takes some careful work and some ‘elbow grease’.

Free Bass Defret Instructions

Another thing you’ll want if you like that Jaco Pastorius type fretless tone is a bridge-position pickup, such as on a Fender ‘Jazz Bass’. Jaco got that killer punchy tone by using only the bridge pickup in his J-Bass. Nothing wrong with the tone of a fretless ‘Precision’ bass, though…but it just won’t have that percussive attack and midrangey punch. Fretless P-Basses sound lovely on legato passages, and have a very nice quality all their own. Best is a bass that has pickups in both positions, so you can “have your cake & eat it, too”, tonally speaking. Yet one more thing to think about is whether you want the fret-lines visible or not, once the conversion process is finished. If you’ve never played fretless bass before (trust me on this), you’re going to want to be able to see those lines for a visible reference.

If you choose carefully, you can pick a slot-filler material that’s just enough different from the fingerboard color that you can see it as you play, but it’s not so visible from 20 feet away. For instance, use Walnut veneer strips to fill the slots in a Rosewood fingerboard. The colors aren’t so closely alike that the player can’t see them, but they do tend to disappear from a short distance away.

Doing a fretless conversion is within easy reach of anyone with any kind of woodworking skill! And, if you should get in a little trouble with your project, you can give us a shout here, and we’ll talk you through it. How’s that for a deal?

Remove Frets | Bass Guitar

I’ve been playing fretless for so long now that I find myself, when playing a fretted bass, trying to do vibratos the same way I do on a fretless, then getting all flustered when it doesn’t work….then I remember I’m playing a fretted bass. My fingering technique on fretted bass is horrible! I get a lot of fret buzzes because I might not press the string down hard enough onto the fret, and I hate not being able to glissando from one note to another with hearing those frets ‘clacking’.

I’m so accustomed to playing fretless, and so frustrated with the limitations of fretted bass, that I have this almost irrepressible urge to immediately de-fret any bass I buy. It eats at me for weeks, until I either give in to the temptation, or finally convince myself that I need to keep at least one fretted bass around for those rare occasions when I might want to ‘spank the plank’ a little bit and get funky. The end result is usually that I de-fret the darned thing eventually, truth be told.

If you’re a bassist who likes to get melodic from time to time, and play an occasional solo, you’ll find that a fretless is the way to go for that. And if you’re just required in a given song to hold down the tonic and thud away, you can still do that without even sounding like you’re on a fretless…as long as your intonation is really good.

C’mon… go for it! You know you want to!

Bass Defret book