Fretless guitar

A fretless bass ( fretless English = fretless ) is an electric bass guitar (or an acoustic bass) with a fretless fingerboard. The first fretless bass guitar model in series production came in 1966 in the United States to market.


In 1951 the American engineer and inventor Leo Fender invented the Fender Precision Bass modern electric bass with frets. Since then, in bands and recording studios, demand for bass players who played this electrically amplified "Horizontal Bass ," increased. Not a few bass players escaped orders because they had problems adjusting to an instrument with frets.

The exact origin of the fretless electric bass is unclear. Bill Wyman to become known as the bassist for the English rock band The Rolling Stones, can be regarded as one of the first fretless bass player. Wyman said in an interview from his first electric bass, in which he removed the frets in 1961 because they caused too much noise while playing:

The first fretless electric bass made ​​in series was offered by the U.S. company Ampeg: In the late 1940s, two bassists Everett Hull and Jess Oliver had in New York City founded the company Ampeg. The company introduced since the 1950s pickup systems for Double Bass and Electric Bass Amplifier ago. In 1962, a small -scale electric double bass had come to market with the Ampeg Baby Bass.

Ampeg learned about its customers from the trouble of double bassist with the electric bass with frets. The company's founders Hull and Oliver had the idea to create a bass guitar without frets. In 1966 designed Ampeg employee Dennis Kager, electrical engineer and guitarist, the bass guitar model AUB -1 ( Unfretted Ampeg bass). The model has like a double bass a peg box with screw and machine heads with wings behind standing to appeal bassist. This bass guitar with fretless fingerboard went into production in the same year and became a market success. For a period of almost four years of fretless Ampeg bass guitar the only one of its kind was the first competition was the model by the Fender company, which brought a fretless version of the Precision Bass on the market in 1970. Ironically, the Fender model had originally got its name because of the frets, which facilitated the precision of intonation. A fretless version of the Fender Jazz Bass, the second E -Bass model of the company, and fretless basses other manufacturers followed. Since the 1970s, the fretless electric bass has established itself as a popular alternative to electric bass with frets.

Nature and tone production

Through the fretless fingerboard instrument gets its characteristic sound, which may have similarities with the double bass. He is often referred to as " woody ", " growling " or " singing ". This is caused by the fact that the fretted string not as in the conventional electric bass has contact with the frets, but rests directly on the fretboard. Therefore, real glissandi are possible. But a much more important criterion is the ability of differentiated tone production, which is not given for an instrument with frets. Similar to the bass sounds can be played with vibrato. The sound can be shaped, the depth of expression of the tones are enriched.


The fretless bass requires a different style of play than the bass with frets. Since the frets missing, accurate intonation by the player is required, similar to the stringed instruments. This not only requires a good ear for the intricacies of a proper pitch, but also a precise security in meeting the tones, combined with a well-developed technique of gripping hand. The visual aids, markings on or at the side of the fingerboard, the fretless bass are only approximate guidance and do not replace a careful intonation. A clean intonation on fretless fingerboards is essential to avoid at mehrsaitigem game beat notes in the fretted tone and the overtones. One of the prerequisites for learning a clean intonation on the fretless is the training of the ear to notice your game errors immediately. In some teaching material for fretless bass is recommended as an exercise goal to acquire the "blind" playing on the instrument.

Prominent and influential fretless bassist

  • As most influential fretless bassist Jaco Pastorius of Americans can (1951-1987) apply, in 1969 or 1970, the fret Jazz Bass in the distant year of the fretboard of his Fender. From Pastorius is reported that he filled the joints thus produced in the fretboard with wood putty and the fingerboard then sealed with marine epoxy, a very hard boat varnish, which is otherwise used for the painting of hulls. In an interview Pastorius described himself deliberately as "the first fretless bass ":
  • Jack Bruce ( born 1943 ), known in the second half of the 1960s, as bassist for the English rock band Cream, exchanged a few years after the dissolution of this supergroup for fretless electric bass. Bruce had attended in his youth, higher education for cello and double bass, which he facilitated the change. The bassist said in an interview that he felt it when fretless game as " obvious plus to have played the double bass. " Jack Bruce plays for several years preferred the fretless electric bass guitar model from the German manufacturer Warwick Thumb Bass, at the design he was involved.
  • Another renowned fretless bass is the Welsh Italian origin Pino Palladino ( b. 1957 ), who plays fretless bass guitar since the age of 18 years. With 20 years Palladino played in various funk and soul bands. He became known in the 1980s as a studio musician for a number of prominent artists, including Paul Young ( on whose cover version of Marvin Gaye hits Wherever I Lay my he have 1983 bass lines contributed ), and Phil Collins, Pete Townshend and David Gilmour. Palladino plays including a fretless version of the bass guitar Music Man StingRay model.
  • The American Steve Bailey ( born 1960 ) is a virtuoso on the six string fretless bass guitar. He enriched his game by interval jumps with bottom chords, and harmonics and plays his instrument, among other things with distortion. Bailey, who also plays bass in addition to electric bass, was a sideman, among others, the British rock band Jethro Tull and the jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Together with his fellow bassist Victor Wooten Bailey created several music albums and instructional videos for bass.
  • The bassist for the English pop and New Wave band The Police, Sting ( born 1951 ), played at live performances of the group in the late 1970s and early 80s often his fretless bass, the model of the Japanese Ibanez Musician.


It is possible to subsequently remove the frets of a bass guitar with a pliers / to be removed and so to come to a fretless bass. The slots which leave the remote frets in the fretboard, should be properly filled with corresponding strips of wood, so there is no dirt accumulates in it. This action should be carried out by a luthier, but can also be done by good carpenters. However, it is not necessary to remove the frets to get a fretless bass. There are ready, brand new fretless instruments from different manufacturers in all price ranges and in different quality.