#1
Hi,

I am a long-time bass player (~35 years) who has never played fretless, and I am going to buy one. Although I've never played one (other than a few minutes here and there at the local music store), I am aware of the differences in technique etc. I am also very much aware of general bass setup since I do my own, and I know the differences in string types, gauge, fretboard woods etc.

I'm looking for some guidance after the purchase. For example:

- I prefer stainless round wound strings, but I am aware they can destroy the fingerboard especially on some woods like Rosewood, but Ebony is better and this is probably what I will look for (also more expensive). Question: Can I still get a nice clean, punchy sound with flat wounds? I want to gain the advantage of expression with the fretless but don't want to lose the tone of round wounds. In other words, should I go for a more inexpensive rose wood fingerboard with flats, or more expensive ebony with rounds?

- Setup: Anything special to consider with a fretless? String height/action? Neck relief? I would think action should naturally be lower.

- Anything else other than different technique I should consider?

Thanks
#2
There are a few myths regarding fretless fingerboards, and there are some truths. The traditional fingerboard for a fretless instrument - not just an electric bass - is ebony. Ebony is hard, dense, and has very little grain, so it is much smoother. Some people have warned that you should never slap a fretless bass with an ebony fingerboard, because the wood is so hard that the strings might knock chips out of it; particularly at the very end of the fingerboard near the body of the bass. I don't know of anyone who has damaged a bass this way, though.

Rosewood fingerboards are rumored to be too soft for fretless bass use, but a lot of companies make them. Jaco famously used a stock Fender Jazz bass, from which he pulled the frets with a pair of needle-nosed pliers. Jaco filled the fret slots with plastic wood (or some such material) and then coated the fingerboard with several coats of epoxy from a boat shop. This gave him a much harder and smoother finish, which makes doing sliding notes easier.

You might get a slight increase in "punch" with an ebony or a maple fretless fingerboard, but not much more than you would get with a rosewood fingerboard. And if you go the "Jaco Route" and coat your fingerboard with epoxy, then you will have something with zero grain, so any punch you would get from a harder and denser wood will be there.

I would go with an ebony fretboard, but finding a fretless electric bass with an ebony fretboard at a reasonable price might be a challenge. If you find a fretless bass that you like, and it has a rosewood or a maple fingerboard, then by all means go for it.

Most makers of fretless basses warn users not to use roundwound strings because they will dig into the fretboard. I have not found this to be the case, and every manufacturer of electric fretless basses knows that almost all of the customers will use roundwound strings, if for no other reason than because Jaco used them (Rotosounds, to be precise). So go ahead and use roundwounds, unless you like the sound that you get from flatwounds.

Your action should be set lower, since you are no longer clearing frets. How low is up to you. Just make it at least high enough so that the strings do not buzz on the fingerboard.

While it is unlikely to happen, you should keep in mind that the nut slots in a fretted bass are designed to clear the frets. As a result, if you create your fretless bass by pulling the frets off of a fretted bass - as Jaco did - then you might find that the strings ride too high in the nut. If this is the case, leave the slot cutting to a professional. It is too easy to screw it up; particularly since most of the nuts these days are made of plastic, which is easy to destroy with a good file.
"Maybe this world is another planet's hell?" - Aldous Huxley
#3
Ebony is really expensive. I may have to replace the fretboard on my upright in a few years and I'm looking at 600 bucks (and this is a "good" deal).

My Fretless stingray was owned by someone who used rounds and its Pau Ferro fretboard had visible marks in the fretboard from the strings. So yes, I've seen that in real life. Flats are like rounds, different manufacturers' strings have different qualities. I have a set of Thomasik on my fretless Stingray right now and they are very full sounding. A lot of the sound quality also has to do with the pickups and your technique as well.
#4
Fatal & Anarkee

Thanks for the guidance! I will probably look for a fretless with Rosewood and take my chances with the round wounds. I typically play Fenders but have always wanted a Stingray, so that will be the first one I try out.
#5
^^^
My .02 would be to go entry level, $200-$300 to start. A lot of players don't take to fretless, so best not to be out of too much coin if it sits in the closet, or gets sold.

Rounds on rosewood will certainly mark up the board a bit, but it's not going to happen overnight. Learn to use a "classical" (cello, double bass) vibrato instead of bending the string like a guitar. If it's the sound you want, chalk it up the cost of doing business. A FB dressing every several years is no big deal. Or, slap some tapes on it and don't worry 'bout it ever again!
#6
Quote by smtp4me
Fatal & Anarkee

Thanks for the guidance! I will probably look for a fretless with Rosewood and take my chances with the round wounds. I typically play Fenders but have always wanted a Stingray, so that will be the first one I try out.


Seeing as you've been playing for a while then I'm assuming you have a reasonable budget. The Ibanez Portamento is probably the best fretless I've played and comes with the addition of a piezo pickup and sidelines. It's a rosewood board but I can't recommend flats or tapewound strings enough, if you really want steels then find a decent set of groundwounds/pressurewounds and work them in on a fretted bass first (they can feel really sharp on the fingers at first so I assume they treat the fingerboard in the same way.)

Also, practise this exercise every day:

G|---4-1-------5-2-------6-3---|
D|--3---2-----4---3-----5---4--|
A|-2-----3---3-----4---4-----5-|
E|1-------4-2-------5-3-------6|


Harmonizing scales into 7 chords is also good, so is learning songs with lots of fifths and octaves in. This is how I learnt intonation.
#7
Would that all fretless basses could be Zon Hyperbasses:

"Maybe this world is another planet's hell?" - Aldous Huxley
#10
D'Addario and GHS and a few other brands make half round strings that sound and feel more like roundwounds but are far less harsh on your fretboard. It's my preference because I really dislike how flatwounds feel.
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#11
Quote by Offworld92
D'Addario and GHS and a few other brands make half round strings that sound and feel more like roundwounds but are far less harsh on your fretboard. It's my preference because I really dislike how flatwounds feel.


I must say that every set of "Groundwounds," as those "half-round" strings are called, felt very sticky - almost as if there was some sort of adhesive coating on them. I don't know why, but it was true with more than one brand of string. I do not recommend them as a result.
"Maybe this world is another planet's hell?" - Aldous Huxley
#12
No Frets means NO Frets!!!, I was very disappointed when I attempted to rub off what appeared to be painted on Frets only to find that they were some kind of plastic insert where the fret wire would be. What cheap skate at Fender came up with that RUINOUS idea. I like the REAL Fretless Bass in the photo above. Looks just like mine, but with out the UGLY Fret lines
Geoff
#13
I have had a BTB1006 that was converted to a Fretless, for over 9 years now. It has a Rosewood Board.

I am not concerned about the wear of the Elixers I used to have, but did convert over to Flat Wounds 4 years ago. The Rounds had way too much treble for what the Bass was going to be used for.

The mahogany core makes this a perfect thumper bass for the more traditional parts. I use it for blues.

Rosewood should not be a problem anyway, because it already endures the contact pressure behind the fret on a fretted instrument. There will be marks with what ever you use, even Ebony which will darken the tone of the instrument considerably.

I like the Epoxy work done by Thor, would probably have it done, but a 2 year wait is outrageous.
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#14
Quote by geoffroxx
No Frets means NO Frets!!!, I was very disappointed when I attempted to rub off what appeared to be painted on Frets only to find that they were some kind of plastic insert where the fret wire would be. What cheap skate at Fender came up with that RUINOUS idea. I like the REAL Fretless Bass in the photo above. Looks just like mine, but with out the UGLY Fret lines
Geoff


Really? You thought those lines were painted on?

It's a manufacturing cost thing.
Last edited by OtamotPuhctek at Apr 30, 2015,
#15
stay away from ebony it is a dead wood and stains the fingers. it is not so much the type of wood you put on it but how that wood was picked out of the wood pile. what did the luthier builder now about that wood did he listen to it before he even began to shape it to a fingerboard. If you cant rely. there is a lot going on with that simple piece of wood was it to dry to much moister in it that much thought dont even go into your custom shops of fender and gibson hear is the US but you sure do pay the price. it may look pretty but how well does it really sound. i am well off so i am not trying to sell anything just letting you know my trade secrets i am old enough so i dont care anymore the young luthiers out there really need to learn it if we want the instruments to evlove even more. I see people are trying to sell fiberglass guitars and fiber with resin is a dead material although tough. fretless guitars are easier to make so the high price tag is not for that the first makers tried to make them seam exotic. i leave my fretboards without inlays most of the time unless I think of something really cool to make or i find that perfect piece of abalon. there is still 3 more years of info by the way my major is music theory with a minor in wood carpentry. on most basses that do have to fret lines or a silkscreen behind a polymer unless it was a bass somebody wanted to tear the frets out of or couldnt afford the refret job they sand down the binding material you see on the les pauls to fit into the scale marks. oh yeah by the way those lines have nothing to do with innotation that is part of the set up or when you change brand or string gauge. Most people walk around with electric fretted or fretless instruments which is most of the time sharp so in theory you are not hitting a single not right no matter how hard you think you can try. guitars and basses come in different scales most of them being 34" and then for smaller kids or people who just cant spread there fingers that far apart the 32 and 30 1/2 just the most common in this western civilization. I dont need lines because i never play with my bass facing me it is always to the crowd so those lines would be far the audience. Also fretless bass is more forgiven on the accuracy of your fingering because there is no fret to get in the way with out the frets you have the whole in between the so called lines because the width of what ever fret wire that would have been used. any where within those lines will be the same note ringing out. get yourself a good tuner that can read a guitar tuned to any tuning it will tell you when the not changes unless your innotation is off but that is a different lecture. if you dont learn anything musical at least take the time to read sheet music it will go farther than trying to memorize a bunch of scales i usually dont try to write a whole song on the fly they have tablets with scales programs on them even the jewish scales and all the way to the Hindis if you want to transcribe a song that was written for the sitar to guitar. if you are one of the many unlucky people that have to settle for factory style guitars at least make sure it has a thick fretboard wood can be sanded down a can be repaired very easily if one knows what the are doing dont just go sanding of fingerboards unless you know the curve it has which also has a lot to do with setup. any way i think i might be rambling by now just so much info to be put to the short time you are in the music store.
#16
purple heart wood and then sunken walnut which sounds good and is down right beautiful if you can cut it yourself a lot to do with wood quality is were it grew when it was alive not all rosewood is the same quality as the next piece from the same tree.
#17
also why i am at it the more you know of tuning go listen to black sabbath nativy in black a very bright cheerful song if you dont pay any mind to the lyrics. their songs were tuned all the way down to d i also think that was d standard i dont know the hertz off hand listen to it pay attention the the bass people all over the place think he is using a wah wah pedal but the is just the slack of the strings in d slapping against the frets no effect just a tube amp and lots of drivers if you are listening to the reunion recordings. So little advice dont try to go trying to chase somebodies elses sound make your own. learn the different tunings and the scales that go with them will make you look a least like a lower pro.
Sorry just full of advice today but for some reason found somebody that was charging for lessons that are way off just hurting the musician even more stumping his musical creativity.
i just could not believe all of the misinformation nowonder there are so many boy bands that are owned by tycoons today nobody is being taught right.
#18
if you let the amp do the work for you you wont have to worry bout the fingerboard or hurting yourself
#19
now for the strings round wound in my opinion will always be the best ones. you dont even have to buy expensive ones but do get stainless nothing else for fretless stainless usually has a lot of alloy in it to make it stronger but not the case for strings their strong worthiness comes for the piece of wire that is the core which is alway made of steel so your pickups can pick of the electromagnetism stainless just dont have the properties to do that real stainless any way. so on your string purchases pick out a company that used more alloy that steel mixture on the actual round wound part be it flats halves or grounds. the coated ones or deader those are more suited along with the flats on basses with active pickups so you can get that much needed punch back.