How to build a fretless bass

Posted on July 8, 2009
Filed Under all/alles/todo, DIY stuff, gear | 4 Comments

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Hello fellows, here´s another small howto for those of you who like to modd a real instrument:
A friend of mine recently gave me this old electric bass guitar, that he had bought a while ago on a flea market around here; It´s not really a great quality instrument, it was all dirty and dusty, and because I already own a quite good bass guitar I decided to give it a try and do something I always wanted to do since I saw Jaco Pastorious talking about this in an interview somewhere; there he explained how he had modified his Fender Jazz Bass with a butter knife, so he could play it almost like an upright bass; Not only does it sound very smooth and different than a normal bass guitar, you can also play smooth glissanos sliding between the tones on the fingerboard; Take a look at Jaco playing with Weather Report the tune “Portrait of Tracy” at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1976 here

So here we go:
All you need is a bass guitar :-), some basic tools like a phillips screwdriver and a wrench, an old knife, sandpaper (200), wood glue, some cotton fabric and (salad) oil…

Step 1: Remove the strings, the pickguard, the pickups and the bridge. Actually you only need to remove the strings to go on, but I recommend removing all these parts as you might damage some parts during the removal, or they might get dirty while doing the smoothing or working with wood glue;

Step 2: Remove all the frets using an old knife. This was actually Jacos idea, not mine. Be VERY carefull not to stick the knife into your palm, your leg, or your girlfriend… always pull the knife away from your body; You need some force, but don´t be too brutal and don´t ruin your fingerboard. When the frets come off take the wrench and get them straight out of the fingerboard.

removing the frets

remove the frets (2)

Step 3: Sand your new fretless fingerboard, so it becomes smooth again. after sanding the top of the fingerboard try to sand every fretline, so all the dirt, glue and whatever is in there comes out. Use a fine sandpaper, I used a fine one with grain 200 I think… dont take of too much of the fingerboard though, just the top;

sanding the frets

Step 4: Use some wood glue (I used Ponal, just because I had some at home), and start filling the empty spaces where the frets used to sit in. take the backside of the knife to push the glue down so the whole space gets filled up, and wipe the rest away; I did two sets of glue, because it shrinks a little while drying. To speed up the drying process I used a hairdryer (lucky me, my girl has a good one) – don´t turn it too hot, just medium heat;

glue the fretlines

Step 5: When the glue is completely dry, sand the fingerboard again. you should get rid of all glue that is not inside the fretlines, so the fretboard gets smooth as hell – you want to play your bass for hours every day, so check twice that no glue is left over.

sand it again

Step 6: Oil the fingerboard. I used standard sunflower salad oil, and it works fine, but I guess every oil will do the job. Use some old t-shirt or any other cotton piece, and oil at least two times.

finished, oiled fingerboard

Step 7: Finally, when the fingerboard has soaked in all the oil, clean up the bass, put the pickups, the bridge, the pickguard and the knobs back on and put some new strings on your bass. Tune it, check the action (I like a low action, just high enough so the strings don´t rattle on the fingerboard), and enjoy your new fretless bass!

finished fretless bass

Comments

4 Responses to “How to build a fretless bass”

  1. Thurman on July 9th, 2009 7:02 pm

    yay, thanks for sharing!

    btw, i like your sidebar

  2. Fretless Conversion- Could It Be THIS Easy?? Light? Muttley? Anyone? - Home Recording forums on January 23rd, 2011 4:13 am

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  3. try2hack on February 5th, 2011 2:31 pm

    good job man

  4. markus on June 24th, 2015 12:57 pm

    sehr geiler bericht. kann man die rillen auch mit silikon oder acryl füllen. der bericht ist ja schon ein paar jährchen alt -> gibts langzeiterfahrung?

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