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LESSONS INDEX

Fretless bass
by Toni Moretti
tonimore@inwind.it

Hi everybody,

This time I'd like to talk about the fretless bass.

First of all, what is a fretless? It's an electric bass, with the frets taken away. It was invented by Jaco Pastorius who, takin' away the frets of his Fender Jazz, could in this way obtain a sound that even more so permitted him to stand out for his enormous technical and expressive skills.

A further evolution of this instrument is the introduction of tonal chambers in the body with a piezo pick up at the bridge (Furlanetto, Manne, …).

This type of instrument permits more shades of a traditional bass, such as glissato, vibrato and that typical fretless bass sound that has made it a soloist instrument, taking it away from the role of mere accompaniment like it had been used to until its arrival on the musical scene.

If we play near the bridge we obtain a very nasal sound (Jaco), and if we play near the neck (expecially with the right thumb resting on the fretboard when it meets the neck) we'll have a bigger sound (double bass).

But there's a problem: intonation!

This instrument doesn't have any frets and it has the fingerboard as smooth as a double bass, or a violin, and so the intonation is obtained playin' exactly on the spot where the frets should be. If you slightly move from that spot you can say goodby to intonation!

Many fretless models show on the fretboard a line where the frets are supposed to be, so to visually help the musician, but it only needs very little to sound out of tune, and so we have to help ourselves with our ear. As a suggestion I can say that it's better to practice a fretless always over a recorded track, or a CD, or anything that can tell you whether you aare playin' in tune. Playin' by yourself it'll seem to you that you're on tune, but try over a CD…!

As I was sayin', it was first played by Jaco Pastorius in the '70-'80. Of historic value his collaboration with Weather Report (I invite you to buy all their CD's); his CD's "Jaco Pastorius", "Invitation", "Word of Mouth"; in trio with Pat Metheny in "Bright Size Life", live with Joni Mitchell in "Shadows and Light".

Jaco Pastorius: "Jaco Pastorius", "Invitation", "Word of Mouth"

The fretless was then found in the hands of jazz-fusion bassist, such as Alain Caron of Uzeb, Jimmy Haslip of Yellow Jackets, Marcus Miller…(I won't make a list, because it would be incomplete and it would certainly lack your favourite…).

Lately I have the impression that the fretless is a bit out of fashion, and it's been played less.

Among the musicians who have developed a fretless tecnique is Michael Manring, for the frequent use of harmonics, tapping and chords ("Drastic Measures" as an example).

Personally the greatest is Alain Caron who, other than playin' perfectly the 6 string fretless can play at the same level the fretted 6 string bass and the double bass.

I suggest you his CD's as a soloist "Play", "Le Band", "Rhythm and Jazz" and with Uzeb "Noisy Nights", "Uzeb Club" or their live record. The former CD's are good but they sound …(forgive me) too ‘80's!

As a conclusion, for anyone who intend to start playin' the fretless, I suggest to play over "A Remark You Made", written by Zawinul for Jaco and recorded with Weather Report in "Heavy Weather" and present in the live "8:30". Technically it's not difficult, but it's one of the masterpiece for fretless bass, and it can help you with the intonation. I guaranteed you' will like it.

See you next time, Toni.

Audio File 1 (MP3) (until bar #5)
Audio File 2 (MP3)
(from bar #6)






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LESSONS (electric bass): Riffs for Bass: a collection of bass riffs of historical importance (Toni Moretti)







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