In addition to their sleek elegant design, fretless basses give you much more freedom, as they allow you to make sweet slide transitions and explore notes outside of the traditional Western Standard range.
More than that, playing a fretless bass can help you greatly improve your skills – just look at some bass greats like Pino Palladino and Jaco Pastorius.
If you have decided to enter the world of fretless bass or you just want to upgrade your fretless bass to a new one, you’re faced with plenty of products coming from different manufacturers at different price ranges.
To help you make your choice, I'll go through some highly-capable fretless basses.
7 Best Fretless Basses to Raise Your Scales to the Next Level
Here are my picks for the best fretless bass guitars that are liked by most bassists. I made sure to include products from various price ranges, so amateurs and professionals alike can find a suitable option for themselves.
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This Tony Franklin signature precision bass from Fender plays like a dream. It's arguably one of the best options in its price range. One look at it and you’ll instantly see the fabulous build quality.
Being a Precision Bass, it doesn't feature the classic split single-coil P-Bass pickups which are the most common. It instead comes with an American series P-bass pickup at the neck, along with a Tony Franklin signature jazz bass pickup. They give the guitar its signature punchy, deep tone.
It also sports the standard “modern C” profile maple neck with an unfinished ebony fretboard. Keep in mind that as it's not a beginners' bass, the fret lines aren't marked, despite it being a fretless model.
All in all, the Tony Franklin signature model is a great choice if you’re ready to invest in a premium product as you don’t want to sacrifice sound or playability.
The Squier Classic Vibe 60’s fretless bass is a tributary model celebrating a decade since it was first produced. Combining the smooth playability which made it so popular among bassists initially with a tonal versatility, this bass guitar is of a quality that belies its affordable price.
The powerful tone of this fretless bass is largely down to its Fender-designed, dual alnico single-coil pickups. I’m a big fan of Fender’s range of bass guitar pickups, and these particular ones produce a full-bodied warm tone which has an overall jazz bass feel.
There’s no shortage of comfort and playability with the Squier Classic Vibe 60’s bass, either. The neck profile is C-shaped and slim in dimensions, making it perfect for slides, riffs and moving freely around the fretboard. The fret lines are clearly marked so you’ll have no problem being accurate with your finger placement.
The 60’s feel of this fretless bass comes from a combination of the vintage styled, nickel plated hardware and headstock markings. Add in a retro tint-gloss finish on the neck, and you get a fretless bass with an authentic 1960’s aura. All of the design has been handled by Fender, so you can be sure that the Classic Vibe has been made with due care and attention to detail.
For unrivaled smoothness and comfort, look no further than the Fender Player Fretless Jazz bass. This instrument is truly a joy to play, thanks to its modern C-shaped neck profile and a fingerboard which boasts a 9.5 inch radius.
In terms of tone, this fretless bass provides everything you’d expect from a Fender Jazz model. It produces great clarity across the frequency spectrum, clear articulation in the higher octaves and a warm, powerful rumble down at the bass end.
The installation of high quality dual-single coil pickups really adds to the overall punch of the sound. It’s the kind of fretless bass that sounds perfect without the need for compression or pre-amps - simply plug into your amplifier and enjoy the array of tonal capabilities this beautiful fretless bass has to offer.
Stylistically, the Fender Player Jazz Bass is kitted out with a four-saddle bridge which has modern slotted saddles installed, ensuring that the bass has no issues holding tuning. The finishing touch is Fender’s trademark “F” stamped neck plate which is a signature emblem displaying the models quality.
ESP LTD’s B-204SM is a premium quality fretless bass which boasts a stunning natural look and tonal warmth which is perfect for multiple genres. With a satin-finished maple top and ash body, this bass looks just as good as it sounds.
The neck is composed of five-piece maple and jatoba, a perfect combination of materials which makes it possible to play this fretless bass for long periods of time without hand fatigue setting in.
The fingerboard is made from roasted jatoba and allows your fretting hand to effortlessly glide through the notes. The ESP LTD B-204SM produces a soil, well-balanced response across the frets, with a particularly warm mid-tone output perfect for smooth, jazzy styles of playing.
Two humbucker pickups are installed in this fretless bass, and an active EQ is also built-in to give you control over your tonal output. The finishing touches are added by the classy black nickel hardware.
With the Ibanez SRF700 we have officially reached the “professional instruments” territory. This fretless bass looks as elegant as it sounds, with a beautiful matte sunburst finish and an abundance of impressive features.
It sports piezo pickups (connected to Bartolini MK-1 pickups) that sound surprisingly good, especially considering the bad rep piezos have gotten for their overstated mids.
When it comes to tone, the SRF700 doesn’t disappoint. The five-piece maple/bubinga thru-neck allows great sustain and impressive tone, while the six knobs give you the opportunity to tweak all the details you need to create the original sound you’re aiming for.
If you’re looking to make a long-term investment in a great instrument, you can’t go wrong with this Ibanez.
If you’re a professional musician that puts quality over price, you’re exactly who Fender had in mind when creating this instrument. Fender paid tribute to one of the most influential bassists of all time with this fretless bass.
It sports some of the most recognizable features of his original Jazz Bass – signature 3-color sunburst, Jaco Tribute neck plate, and the Jazz Bass single-coil pickups. It is even devoid of a pickguard – just like his original model.
The combination of premium tonewood (select alder) and pickups results in a heavenly smooth sound that can be both subtle and punchy when needed. Just like the Squier Precision Bass, the Jaco Pastorius model also has inlaid fret lines to help you orientate up and down the fretboard.
This whole instrument feels extremely well-made and plays perfectly. If you’re a professional looking for a high-end fretless bass, this would be my recommendation.
The fourth entry on my list is an entry-level fretless bass that is perfect if you’re just learning to play this instrument and you’re not sure whether you’re going to like it.
It comes at a very reasonable price, so even if you end up disliking the idea of a fretless bass – you won’t have wasted a fortune on an instrument you’ll never play again.
But, don’t get fooled by its price tag – play with it enough, tweak some settings, and you’ll find that this instrument is capable of producing a solid tone. It combines J-style and P-style pickups fitted on a Basswood neck, and tops it off with a rosewood neck that allows for easy transitions.
This bass doesn’t impress with tone quality like some other entries on the list, but it can give you a great picture of how it feels to play a fretless bass at a decent price.
The Final Word
I hope my list helps you find the right fretless bass to suit your playing style and level of experience.
The world of fretless basses is full of exciting opportunities for experimenting with unique sounds. Whether you’re just getting into fretless basses or looking to upgrade your old one, the tone quality and playability are the most important factors that should affect your decision. If possible, try them all out and choose the ones that make it easy to find those sweet spots on the neck without even looking.
Remember, because of the absence of frets, these basses sound much smoother and warmer than a regular bass. So, don’t try comparing fretless basses to your regular bass – rather compare fretless basses to each other.