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A Guide to Making the Switch Fretless Bass

Fretless Bass

Q: I’ve just removed the frets from my first bass, and this is my first experience with a fretless bass. What advice do you have to start out?

A: There are two areas of focus for making the switch. At a glance, these might seem to contradict each other, but one applies to practicing and one applies to performance.

Fretless Bass Practice:

  1. Try playing scales or melodic patterns slowly through a tuner. This can help you to get a feel for where your finger should really be for the note to be perfectly in tune.
  2. Pay close attention to your left hand technique. Now, more than ever, it is important for you to have good hand position and control over your finger spacing (one finger per fret is ideal)

Fretless Bass Performance (aka; in real life)

Don’t worry too much about being in tune perfectly, every second of the song.

Kai Eckhardt once told me that his intonation improved greatly when he realized that a fretless could be used more like a human voice (with inflection and variation of pitch). Once he “allowed” himself to slide in and out of notes a little bit, his intonation actually improved because he now heard the slight variations as inflection, rather than “just plain wrong”.

Clearly, you do want to control when you are in tune, but give yourself the freedom to be human as you develop. That release from anxiety will allow you to perform better and more freely.

I’d really like to hear from all of you too. Fretless peeps, what has helped you along in your quest for intonation bliss? Post your thoughts in the comments.

Photo by dimis dimopoulos.

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      Allen Sackett

      Allen Sackett

      I have an old Peavey Foundation with lines stained dark. They are slightly lighter than the black-stained rosewood fingerboard. From a distance the neck looks unlined, smooth, and clean – like an upright. It forced me to develop my ear better too. I now have an interest in getting a newer fretless model. I do I will go with an ebony fingerboard with side-dots-only, i.e., an elegant, smooth, uniform neck.