Fretless Bass Guitars – All Your Questions Answered

If you’re a bass player, you’ve probably already stumbled upon a few different bassists throughout your musical journey that use a fretless bass.

You might be asking yourself, what precisely is a fretless bass? I’m hoping to shed some light on this subject and answer all the common questions surrounding the fretless bass.

What Is A Fretless Bass?

As the name suggests, it’s a bass guitar without frets. Having no frets results in a more smooth-sounding bass as well as smooth transitions from certain notes to other notes. This is not the case with a regular bass guitar, which has metal frets that allow the instrument to produce accurate pitches from the chromatic scale when fretted.

Fretless bass is really good for mastering this instrument by not relying on frets, but more on the instinct that you’ve developed over time. To play and be sure where the notes stand and have near-perfect precision, without the help of frets.

Fretless bass guitars have been a thing from around the 60s whereas artists like Jaco Pastorius, who removed the frets on his bass, as well as Bill Wyman from the Rolling Stones, made his own home-made fretless bass guitar.

What Are The Differences Compared To A Normal Bass?

When comparing a fretless bass to a normal bass guitar, it’s obvious that the difference between them is that there are no frets, which means that the fingerboard on which the frets are supposed to be is left blank. However, if you browse the internet for fretless bass guitars, you might see that some do have faint lines on their fingerboards as a small indicator where the frets should be, for more accuracy.

In theory and practice, playing fretless bass, compared to a normal bass, is almost the same. All you would need is to slightly adjust your playing style, and of course, the way you practice with it so that your playing can become more effortless.

Compared to the normal bass guitar, a fretless bass requires way more precision. This means that when you pin down a string, you have to be sure that the note you want is exactly where you have your finger pinned down.

As far as everything else, it’s basically the same, as there are no differences in the sound or the notes that you play. The only change that you may feel while playing fretless bass is that your finger movement will feel easier and more smooth, compared to that of a normal bass guitar. Without having any frets, your fingers are free to move around the neck more easily without feeling pressure or pain whatsoever. In regards to everything else, a fretless bass can be played in any way that you would play a normal bass guitar.

Why Use A Fretless Bass?

Playing the fretless bass will open you up to new horizons. The first change you will feel is your fingers sliding effortlessly along the neck.

Compared to a normal bass that has frets and the restrictions that come with them, a fretless bass can produce semitones that are usually found where the frets are supposed to be. This allows for new tones to be used in your arsenal.

Think of it like this, as any other fretless instrument like a violin or cello, you can produce vibrato notes. A fretless bass improves your skills as well as your sense of tuning and harmony. It just makes you a better bass player overall.

When you start playing fretless bass, using all the skills that you’ve acquired over the years, playing stuff like simple scales can really shape your ear training and the way you listen to certain notes. This will hone your skills over time, to make you a better bass player.

Is It Hard To Learn The Fretless Bass?

Assuming you already know how to play a conventional bass guitar, then the transition to a fretless bass shouldn’t be that challenging. It is, however, a whole different type of experience.

The general idea of a fretless bass is using your ears more. While playing it, your ears will develop to a whole different level as you will become a more proficient bass player.

A good thing that you can do that will help you in mastering the fretless bass, is when buying one you could choose a bass that has dots where the frets should be. This will in turn help you have more precision and not worry about not having frets. When you get to a certain point you can have those dots removed and continue on your journey.

The fretless bass just allows for more expressiveness to come out.

What Strings Should You Use?

When it comes to the type of strings that should be used on fretless bass, there are two types to choose from.

The Roundwound Strings

The roundwound strings are commonly used on conventional bass guitars. They give more of an aggressive feel to the bass sound, however, they are more damaging to a fretless bass as they can dent the fingerboard because they have a more rough surface. You can forget about sliding your fingers on them because it will absolutely damage them and leave you feeling sore.

The Flatwound Strings

The flatwound strings are the most commonly used strings for a fretless bass. They have a more smooth surface that will probably not damage the fingerboard of the fretless bass. These springs will allow more comfort on your fingers as well as giving you the chance to slide effortlessly along the neck. I would recommend these for a fretless bass.

What Are The Best Brands For Fretless Bass Guitars?

When it comes to brands that produce fretless bass guitars, there are a few worthy suggestions. I think the best overall option is the Ibanez. They produce a high-quality fretless bass guitar that is commonly used worldwide. If you have the budget to go even further, then I highly suggest trying out a Fender fretless bass guitar. They have really high-end products that make for a great bass-playing experience. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more affordable option, then I recommend looking into Squire because they have a really good fretless bass guitar that is widely used and comes with a decent price on it.

What Are Some Famous Fretless Bass Players?

  1. Les Claypool
  2. Sting
  3. Jaco Pastorius
  4. Bill Wyman
  5. Rick Danko
  6. Pino Palladino
  7. Jack Bruce
  8. Bernard Odum


I hope this article clears up a lot of questions that you might have about the fretless bass guitar. It is essentially not that different from a conventional bass guitar, except for the fact that it doesn’t have frets. However, you can find some that have dots on the fingerboard to help you with having more precision in your playing.

Fretless bass guitars have been a thing since around the 60s and are still known to be used today. When it comes to learning the fretless bass, while it may be different, it is not more challenging than learning a conventional bass, it’s just a matter of adjusting.

Milan Trajkovikj

Milan Trajkovikj

I’m the Deputy Editor for Musician Wave and a touring and recording bass guitarist. I love to share my passion for all things music. I’ve been playing music for over ten years and I love exploring it further through writing. You'll also find me on the Musician Wave YouTube channel.

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