David Krooshof

Making a bass fretless

I play guitar since I'm 13, and bass since I was 15. I bought Saskia Sleegers' bass right after she decided to become a house DJ and start a record label. That is the only bass I every owned, until recently.

A bass lies on a workbench. The frets are off, the gaps they left are filled with fine strips of wood. A hand comes into the frame, showing the 22 frets. They have been bent.

These are frets.

I wanted to play fretless. After all, that produces the real cool sounds, and offers intonation freedom. Earlier, I had removed the frets from a guitar. Don't do this if you aren't me. BAD IDEA. Sustain dies, chords are impossible to grab. But apart from the chords, I found out that I could play in key on that guitar. So then I really wanted to play fretless bass too.

(By the way, you can hear me play fretless acoustic guitar in the video on the direct color positives project page.)

So I ordered cheap but cool looking fretless bass. I upgraded it with Pelle Kuipers, and then I found out that I had a hard time playing in key, eventhough it should be easier on a bass than on a guitar and I did not have such problems on my double bass.

It was then that I found out that my new bass' neck was a fret and a half longer than the bass I essentially grew around. I decided there was no way I could get two bass guitars in my muscle memory.

Close up of the fretless neck. The gaps have been filled an the neck looks really smooth. It runs diagonally through the frame.

spoiler alert: this is the result

I did a little work for Frances Marie Uitti. I thought of it as a friends service, but she insited on paying. I decided to put this money to work. I put a search in Marktplaats, and after some time I got a notification: This is how I bought the exact bass I had played for decades. Even the serial numbers are close. The new one is about a month newer. I took this second one to Pelle, and withbhis help and guidance I took the frets off, filled the gaps with wood, repaired all the glitches and sanded the neck flat. I paid Pelle the money I got from Frances.

  • Each fret and the comb are cut loose from the fretboard before they are removed. Pelle is doing this with an exacto type knife.
  • Pelle bent over the bass, working on it.
  • The surface of the fretboard is rough after the removal of the frets. Each fret took some splinters with it. Next to the neck are the red pliers that we used to grap the frets off.
  • Cutting strips of fineer out of a thin sheet, to fill the gaps with, that used to accommodate the frets.
  • Overview over the bass. There’s white protective tape over the black paint.
  • Looking at the bass over the neck. Frets filled with fineer wood. There’s a block of light wood that will later be used to sand the neck. It is in the photo to help with contrast, to make the fineer easy to see.
  • Looking at the top of the neck. There is movement blur of my hand filing. Now the frets are gone, the strings need to sit lower.
  • Pelle being proud of our work. Contact him if you want a guitar or bass designed or customized by him. Highly recommended

Working on the bass with Pelle

So now I do have my fretless bass, that hangs from my shoulders in the same way and has all the note in the same places as my old bass, and therfore it totally works with my deeply engraved muscle memory.

I'm no Mick Karn, but I am practicing his lines to aquire the agility to be able play what I want to play.

  • Looking over the finished neck. The strings are shiny and the oiled wood is a deep dark brown.
  • The two black headstocks of the two basses are quite unique. In later editions of this bass, the changed it to a variant with two tuning knobs on each side, rather than a big inline design like these have. This bass (same factory, but branded differently) was used in several Duran Duran videoclips.
  • David standing in the workshop. Tools behind him. The workshop is in a Utrecht Werfkelder, and you can see the ceiling is curved like a tunnel. Daylight is coming in from the right. Happy David is happy with the finished bass.

Me being happy with my basses

At the time if working on this bass, I had no idea I would be in this works hours on end for a different project: to build a classic street camera into a Chinese cash box. When I picked up the bass, I did do an attempt to shoot video of bats for the Dark Trails series. I never processed it. I should check that footage again.