Guitarists typically refer to finger positions as “frets.” For example, you can refer to the lowest G on a guitar as “the third fret of the E string.” What’s the analogous terminology for a fretless instrument? I feel silly referring to “frets” on my fretless bass. I presume that violinists and other fiddlers have a term for this, but I have no experience with those instruments or their language.


On a fretless bass, you'd refer to "frets" as that is the reference frame there. Violinists have "positions" which basically only reference the index finger location (as you are playing on just one string usually with one finger per note) and are mostly numbered by whole notes. So if you are playing in third position on the G string, your fingers might reach 1-C 2-D 3-E 4-F# and it's called "third position" regardless which of these notes you are playing as long as the finger assignment holds. If your first fingers are crammed in 1-G# 2-A ... instead of 1-A ... as in first position, it might be called "half position" as a special case.


I believe you need to specifically say the note. Saying the fret on a fretless doesn't have much meaning due to the requirement of needing to know exactly where your finger needs to be to give you that note.

Putting your finger where you would normally position it on the third fret could yield a flatter note than what you wanted. This is why it takes much more precision to play a fretless guitar/bass.

If you wanted to play a G on the E string. You would put your finger almost between the 3rd and 4th "fret" because on the fretted neck, the string against the fret is what dictates the sound you get. Depending on the bass set up too, you may very well end up inside the imaginary 4th fret in order to get the correct note.

Here is when I would say the note versus fret number which can be mixed and matched depending on whom I am talking to.

  • The note when talking to a person who knows the notes. For instance "First G on E"
  • The note when the fretboard is completely bare (no markings/inlays)
  • "Fret" when talking to a person who only knows frets/numbers and not notes.
  • "Fret" when referring to a neck that has all of the markings (lines or inlays).

EDIT based on your question update:

This very well may play into fretless basses/guitars with markings -- having looked to see how violin handles tablature, it appears as though they put stripes (also called frets) on the actual fretboard to indicate finger position. If there are markings, then it looks like it is proper to say the mark's name or "fret".

  • I realize that the finger positions for correct intonation may vary between fretboards and fingerboards. I’m looking for the name of “where I put my finger to play G on the E string,” not “where the 3rd fret would go if this were a fretted bass.” – Bradd Szonye Dec 8 '14 at 23:42
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    @BraddSzonye I get that. It was more of a reason why I say "need to specifically say the note". "Fret" may be just fine if it can be used analogously. – TyCobb Dec 8 '14 at 23:45
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    The stripes on violins are very much for beginners. They are coloured sticky tape, and it's soon removed for good. – slim Dec 9 '14 at 9:06

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