Frettless

Ask Katy

This question is for John if you could pass it along. Hey John I read the article in Bass Player magazine that you were on the cover of. The article was explaining the difference between a fretted and frettless bass but I don't quite understand what it was telling us. Is it the difference in sound? The bass guitar is my favorite instrument to listened to so I was hoping you could put it to terms for me. Thanks for all the great music you guys bring out to us fans. Oh by the way you look great on the magazine. Thanks, Teresa

"All orchestra instruments are unfretted. The violin, viola, cello and double bass. I guess the guitar was the first instrument to have frets, but I'm not certain. Then at some point in the nineteen-fifties, Leo Fender (again I'm guessing) decided to produce an electric bass guitar that you could hold- and put frets on it. Up until that point, any music you might have heard with bass on it, big band jazz, blues, symphonies etc., the bass you hear would have been an upright double bass, without frets.

Basically, having frets makes the instrument a whole lot easier to play. The frets 'pinpoint' the note for you. A player has to be a lot more precise with his fingering on an unfretted instrument. As for sound differences, an unfretted bass has a more elastic sound, the notes tend to wind into one another. The consensus is that Jaco Pastorious is the greatest of the fretless bass players (check out his work with Weather Report or on Joni Mitchell's 'Hejira'). I was a fan of Mick Karn's work with Japan (esp. 'Quiet Life',and 'Gentleman Take Polaroids') and he inspired me to play fretless now and again. You can hear me playing fretless bass on "Lonely In Your Nightmare" from RIO and "The Seventh Stranger" off SEVEN AND THE RAGGED TIGER.

I played fretless live on the reunion tour when we played "Tiger Tiger," but honestly, it's not my favourite way of playing. Other than achieving a particular stylistic effect, I would rather play fretted. JT"

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