Who needs frets anyway? Fretless bass guitars have grown a huge amount in popularity in recent years, but they have always been an option for bassists. It is no secret that they require more skill than a fretted bass, but they also offer more flexibility and a lot of benefits. In this article, we explore those benefits as well as looking into the best fretless bass guitars and offering a review of some of the top models currently on the market. As with any musical instrument, an element of design and personal preference will come into it. That said, the models of fretless guitars mentioned here are all very good options for those who are looking into the possibility of buying a fretless bass.
Benefits of a Fretless Bass
For those who aren’t sure, let’s look at some of the benefits of a fretless bass. Considering most bass guitars come with frets, why would somebody look to buy a guitar without?
- Tone. The tone of a fretless bass compared to a fretted bass is very different, and preferable in some scenarios. Due to the fact that they are intoned by our fingers rather than the metal of a fret, there is less attack and ‘pluck’ sound. Some people find that the rich, low-end sound of a fretless bass can be preferable for certain genres and styles.
- Flexibility. The fact that you aren’t restricted exactly by the frets means that you can play slide (glissando) notes a lot more accurately and easily with a smoother sound. The more talented bassists among us can even adjust to microtones and their bass going out of tune mid song!
- Musical challenge. The musicianship required to play without the frets gives us a new challenge and can provide an exciting new way to play your bass. Most do still have fret markers, so you won’t get totally lost on the fretboard, but it is still more difficult than playing with frets.
When choosing a model, it can be tempting to go for the cheapest fretless bass, especially if you’re not sure about wanting to play the instrument, but good quality hardware is really important. That said, there is value for money to be had, and some of the reasonably priced models are good quality.
Top Fretless Bass Models and Brands
Squier by Fender Vintage Modified Precision Bass, Fretless
One of the models that offers both a huge amount of quality and value for money is the Squier by Fender vintage modified precision bass. A precision bass is a name that most musicians know, and is one of the most popular designs of bass guitar ever. Fender offer a precision bass, but their more affordable range “Squier” also offer the same model. Basically, like the Squier guitars, this uses cheaper parts and doesn’t come with the prestige of a ‘Fender’ name, but it is still exceptional quality. The Squier Precision bass is one of the best reviewed fretless bass guitars we’ve come across.
This modded precision bass has the amazing single-coil pickup we’ve got used to from the Precision design. It also has an exceptional tone and a high-quality fingerboard with fret lines to help you navigate. A robust maple neck, tortoiseshell pickguard and all the other excellent features synonymous with Precision basses.
It isn’t hard to find huge amounts of five-star reviews for this product online. Some describe it as a ‘starter bass’ and while it is true that this makes a great fretless bass for beginners, I would go further than that, this is a bass guitar that can hold its own at a relatively high level and is good for recordings and performances as well as just learning how to play. If you’re taking your first dip into playing Fretless, this could be the bass for you. For the price tag, finding a better option will be a huge struggle.
Fender Standard Jazz Electric Bass Guitar
Another iconic bass which has been converted to a fretless model. Fender jazz bass guitars have been used in multiple genres by many famous bass players for decades since launched in the 1960s. Don’t let the name fool you, this isn’t just for jazz guitarists and its sound is great for rock music, pop music, and just about any other genre you can imagine. Preferred for its rich tone, the C shaped neck popular among bass guitars and an exceptional build quality. The extremely well-built pau ferro Fingerboard is inlaid with fret markers so it is simpler to know where you are on the fretboard. Whilst suitable for beginners, this is by no means a beginners bass guitar, and when it comes to fretless bass guitars it is hard to find a richer sound and better build quality than the Fender Jazz fretless bass.
In terms of cost, this is far from the cheapest fretless bass guitar, and this means it is a popular choice with professional musicians and those with some experience playing bass. It is important to remember though that a well looked after bass is an investment, and a look at eBay or online retailers will show how well they can hold their value.
Ultimately, the Fender Standard Jazz electric bass is not easy on the pocket, but will do a wonderful job whether you are just starting to learn or if you are playing high profile gigs.
ESP B-205SMFL NS
ESP may not be quite as well know in terms of a brand name, but not all the bass guitars we’ve reviewed are made by Fender. ESP bass guitars are popular though and have a huge amount of artists who use their products. The ESP B-205SMFL NS is a guitar which has been described as ‘expressive’ and the tonality of the strings make them popular for bassists who want to stand out. It is easy to stereotype ESP guitars as they have a big following in genres like metal and heavy rock music, but make no mistake, these are used in a lot of genres.
The brand describes the tone as having ‘sonic versatility’ and because it is a fretless bass I would definitely go along with that. Whether you want to sit in the back of a mix and drive a song along or want to stand out with bass solos, this is a good choice. The ash and maple design and the gorgeous Satin finish also go to make this one of the nicest looking bass guitars on the market.
A quick look at some other online reviews shows that people are very complimentary about the ESP. In spite of being half the price of some of its competitors, one reviewer has described this as ‘the best bass I’ve ever owned’. As there is so much personal preference when it comes to choosing an instrument, it is hard to rank the bass guitars, but this is certainly good enough to play gigs and make some high-quality recordings. ESP have come along way in their short history, considering they only started in 1975. This very well received bass is testament to a brand going places.
Squier by Fender Vintage SS Modified Special Jaguar Bass
Squier and Fender really do dominate our list. The Vintage Modified Jaguar bass is a thing of beauty, and is included in our reviews due to its immense value for money. It isn’t up there with the Fender models in terms of tone, but it certainly packs a punch, and for beginners, this is such an excellent option.
Though this isn’t necessarily better than the other models we’ve reviewed, the price tag gives it an immense appeal. If you’re looking for one of the cheapest fretless bass guitars then this is likely to be one of the choices you are recommended, and other online reviews discuss how well made this is when you take into account the relatively modest price. Instruments are never cheap but in the scheme of things, this Jaguar design of Fretless bass is pretty light on the pocket.
There are certain brands we’ve grown to trust and as you can tell from looking at our reviews, Fender and their cheaper brand Squier undoubtedly have more on the market than other brands, but there are good quality alternatives too.
Factors you consider when choosing your bass guitar will probably include price, style of play and of course the tone and quality of the guitar. The four options mentioned all have something a little different, and certainly vary in price. Whether you are looking for a fretless bass under $200 or your budget is closer to $1000 there is something out there for you to ensure you can add a good quality guitar to your musical arsenal.