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5. Fretless basses, electric uprights and exotics

The fretless bass

Franz Bassguitars Sirius 5

These basses don't have any frets on the fingerboard, just like orchestral string instruments. Achieving accurate intonation on a fretless bass requires practice and a good ear, because the tuning has to be adjusted constantly during playing. On a fretted bass, the frets provide an accurate grid for the twelve notes of an octave. In contrast, the tuning can be adjusted continuously on a fretless instrument, and even slight deviations can lead to bad intonation.

Fretless basses have a characteristic "singing" tone, which is especially suited to ballads. For an example of a fantastic fretless tone, listen to Pino Palladino's bass on some Paul Young tracks from the 80's. Fretless basses are less suitable for beginners, due to the aforementioned intonation difficulties.

The electric upright bass

NS Design NXT5 E-Kontrabass

Another non-standard form of electric bass is the electric upright. It can be thought of as a hybrid between a double bass and an electric bass. Like a double bass, the instrument is positioned upright between the legs of the player and is played standing up or in a seated position. It is, however, made of solid wood and must be amplified electronically.

This type of bass is rarely used in rock music, which may be due to the fact that it confines the player to a fixed position on stage. It does, however, see widespread use in jazz and jazz rock, and has been introduced to a large audience by bassists like Eberhard Weber.

As early as in the 1950's, the German company Framus made an electronically amplified double bass. The first manufacturer to enjoy continued success with their electric uprights was Clevinger.

Headless?

Steinberger XS-1FPA

Have you ever seen a bass without a head? Headless basses were all the rage in the 1980's. As the name suggests, they don't have a head and the neck seems to be cut off at the nut. A headless bass looks diminutive and weighs less than a standard model. While headless basses were very popular in the 80's, their design is now sometimes looked down upon and ridiculed by some musicians.

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