I wonder if learning bass with a fretless is doable, because most of the music I play is Jazz. I have no prior experience in fretless instruments, I have played jazz guitar for 3 years, and want to switch to bass.

Sorry for my bad English, thank you!

  • We don't do gear recommendations on this site, so it may be advisable to just pose the first part of the question. – Tim Aug 10 at 6:49

It makes sense that once you've found your way round a fretted bass, playing on a similar scale fretless will be easier. But - violinists, cellists, double bass players, all start off with fretless, don't they?

Playing in tune is not easy on any fretless instrument, so it won't be as easy as on a fretted, but if you're willing to listen more carefully than someone playing a fretted bass needs to (!), then it's quite doable. There will be markers, but you'll have to decide whether they are at the exact spot you press for a note, or whether they're effectively in the middle of the 'fret', just as they would be on a fretted instrument. Little stick-on marks will help initially.

EDIT: Just realised that actually, apart from markers on and above 12th fret, the lower ones are pretty useless, as the parallax produced by the position of the bass' neck, and your eyes, means that they won't give a true positioning, as they can't be seen accurately to line up with anything tangible. This leads me to recommend a lined fingerboard for a beginner.

  • Hi, thank you for the response, but I think fret marks should be the spot to press, right? otherwise open strings would not have correct notes. Do I have misunderstanding here? – anlunx Aug 10 at 7:00
  • On my fretless basses, the markers are where they would be on a fretted neck - the middle of each marked fret. That's Steinberger and Bass Collection. Not to say that all fretless are thus. De-fretted basses obviously will have markers the same too ! Open strings are standard. – Tim Aug 10 at 7:06
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    You don'y LOOK at the markers while playing. – Laurence Payne Aug 10 at 11:42
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    @LaurencePayne - Most bass players (and guitarists) will look at markers periodically while playing. It helps keep them playing the correct notes...And beginners certainly rely on them. – Tim Aug 10 at 11:46
  • looking is not a great way to learn, most instructors will try to keep their students from doing this, The classical guitar does not have markers. For a true beginner tape is sometimes placed on a couple positions as a handicap then removed. Not all teachers use this method. – ggcg Aug 10 at 12:22

Yes, it's possible. In fact I think it's helpful for developing a good technique right from the start, because fretless will punish a bad hand position more obviously than fretted does.

I myself started out with classical guitar, and then got a fretted and fretless bass in short sequence and learned them both simultaneously, focusing much more on the fretless because it was so much more fun.

More of a matter of opinion are lines: I would always recommend basses without lines, to avoid transferring the 12-edo fixed-grid rut and instead focus on proper intervallic intonation, like the classical string instruments do. But this depends on the style of music your heading for; Jazz and Funk (genres I personally dislike) are heavily rooted in this grid, so for you a bass with lines might make more sense.

  • Even with lines (mine don't have them), a good player would use ears rather than eyes as an aid to playing in tune. – Tim Aug 10 at 12:06

I would say it is preferable. It may take a while to tune your ear but once you have that there will be no stopping you. To some degree the fretted instruments provide a minor handicap. As always, I'd recommend taking lessons rather than trying to self teach on a fretless instrument. Just out curiosity are you leaning towards the upright or fretless electric? I play guitar and for about a decade in my "youth" studied classical bass (and Jazz too). The fretless nature of the instrument was not a problem.

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