Are Fretless Basses Harder To Play?

Shunichi kouroki, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Fretless bass guitars are unique instruments. While they look like a regular bass, and they appear to be played in the same way, they can sound completely different from a regular bass guitar. If you want to achieve the sound of a fretless, nothing else can do it. This leads many bassists to wonder, “are fretless basses harder to play?”

Fretless basses are harder to play if you have poor fretting hand technique. Playing a fretless in tune is the most difficult aspect of the instrument, but if you have good technique, that is not an issue. With good technique, playing a fretless is very similar to playing a regular bass.

The fretless bass guitar is a unique sounding instrument. It is designed to sound more like an upright bass, and playing them takes some extra skill and accuracy. Many bassists feel that playing a fretless is harder than playing a regular bass. Let’s discuss whether or not fretless basses are harder to play and why.

Are Fretless Bass Guitars Harder To Play?

Fretless bass guitars have developed a bad reputation for being more difficult to play than regular fretted bass guitars. This is a problem because the fretless bass is a beautiful sounding instrument that is incredibly versatile, and many great players have been put off playing them by their reputation.

There is nothing that sounds like a fretless bass. They are built to emulate the sound of upright bass, but not even an upright sounds like an electric fretless. They are capable of a wide range of unique sounds and tones that no other instrument can produce.

To get the sound of a fretless, you need to play a fretless. This is why many bass players find themselves wondering if the fretless bass is as hard to play as they say, and many who have played them wonder why they had trouble with it.

Are Fretless Bass Guitars Harder To Play Than Regular Bass Guitars?

This statement is only true for those players who have only ever played a fretted bass and have developed their technique solely around the frets and for those players who have developed poor fretting hand techniques.

Playing a fretless bass is different from playing a regular fretted bass, it is still a bass. The notes are in the same places, and the fundamental playing techniques are the same. Players who have learned on a fretted bass may take some time to adapt, but with a bit of practice, it shouldn’t take too long to master.

The challenge lies with how accurate and technical a player has to be to draw good sounds and tones out of a fretless bass and to play it in tune.

Bass players who learn to play on a fretless do not have any issues playing the instrument; it is usually bassists who have learned to play on a fretless bass and have developed slight flaws in their playing technique.

Fretless basses do not have to be as difficult to play as they say they are. All it takes is some honing of your fretting hand techniques to be as accurate as possible and developing a slightly lighter touch when playing.

What Makes Playing A Fretless Bass More Challenging?

The biggest misconception about playing a fretless bass guitar is that the instrument is substantially more difficult to play than a regular bass guitar.

The truth of it is that fretless bass guitars are not harder to play than regular bass guitars, but they do require more effort and more focussed skill.

Playing a fretless feels more challenging for several reasons, but in reality, all of the perceived troubles with playing a fretless are really technique issues.

Some of the reasons why many bassists consider the fretless bass harder to play are:

  • The fretting hand must be more accurate.
  • There are no frets to keep you in the correct position.
  • Applying the correct pressure to avoid buzzing and dull notes.
  • Intonation issues.
  • Finding exactly where each note on the fingerboard is can be a challenge.

The biggest trouble with playing a fretless bass is that it will highlight any technique issues that you may have.

This is why most bass players who say that playing a fretless is harder than playing a regular bass are really just finding it difficult to adjust their playing technique to the requirements of a fretless.

But once any issues have been resolved, the fretless bass will become a versatile, sweet-sounding, easy to play instrument.

How To Make Playing A Fretless Bass Easier

While a fretless bass may feel harder to play at first, it does not have to remain difficult to play. There are some adjustments that can be easily made to make a fretless bass feel as easy to play as a regular basis and to unlock its full potential.

The biggest problem that bassists have when switching from fretted bass to a fretless bass is playing accurately and playing in tune.

To resolve this issue, it is a simple matter of switching back to the bass that you know and adjusting the position of your fretting hand fingers to be as close to the frets as possible when playing.

This is because, on a fretted bass, the notes are not where your fingers are but, they are where the frets are. This makes it passable to play inaccurately, as the fret will never move, so all the player has to do is press harder to play accurately, even if they play far from the fret.

Move your fingers closer to the frets, get into the habit of this, and then switch back to the fretless. You will find that playing in tune is no longer an issue because you have brought your fingers closer to where the notes are, and they are now easier to play accurately. It’s all about habit and muscle memory.

The next issue that many bassists encounter when playing a fretless is how hard to press down on the strings. If you press too hard, the bass will sound dull; if you do not press hard enough, the bass with sound buzzy.

This problem is solved by slowing down and taking your time to focus on the pressure that you are applying to the strings. Take your time to figure out the pressure that works for you, and you will be producing clear notes in no time.

Muscle memory is an underrated part of playing a fretted bass guitar. When playing, make a conscious effort to take mental stock of the note positions on the fingerboard. To learn where to find the notes, you have to make an effort to learn where the notes are.

The last problem to overcome is intonation issues. This is usually due to the fretless bass is not intonated properly.

When setting the intonation of a fretless bass, do not expect it to be the same as a fretted bass. Set the intonation against the exact note position, not where your finger would press on a fretted bass.

Remember, on a fretted bass, the note is where the fret is, but on a fretless, the note is where your finger is.

Follow these few steps, and you will discover that playing a fretless bass guitar will be much easier than you thought.


Playing a fretless bass guitar can be harder for those how only play fretted instruments and have developed flaws in their technique.

The fretless bass is not a harder instrument to play, but the player must be more accurate and slightly more technical to play the instrument well compared to a regular basis.

To play a fretless bass well and overcome its challenges, learn to play as accurately and as close to the note positions as possible, with an open-hand technique, rather than with a closed hand.

Make a conscious effort to develop muscle memory while playing, and keep the exact note placement in mind.

Try to not press too hard or too gently when playing, and use your ears to determine the correct note pressure by listening for the clearest note possible.

Playing a fretless does not have to be harder than playing a fretted bass; it just takes a little more technical accuracy.

Take your time to learn the instrument and what it requires, hone your technical abilities, and paying the fretless will be as natural and comfortable to you as playing a regular bass.

Rob Wreglesworth

Rob has come to terms with the fact he will probably never be a famous rock star....but that hasn't stopped him from writing and recording music in his home studio. Rob has over 15 years experience of recording music at home.

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