I committed stringed-instrument heresy this morning!

Several years ago I bought an old beat-up 1/4 upright bass, just for fun. It sits in the corner of our living room looking spectacular, and once in a while I play some jazz on it.

Here’s me, probably getting ready to play some nice I-vi-ii-V patterns on it.

The fact of the matter is, I am an electric bassist, not an upright bassist, so I know nothing of playing one the correct way, and a real upright player would definitely see a terrible “electric bass” accent in my technique.

I don’t have the patience to really get the feel of the totally blank fretboard, so I did the unthinkable: this morning I got out my guitar supplies and an electric drill, went to an online fretboard calculator, measured everything out, and installed side dots on my instrument, just like you see on a guitar.

No real player of fine stringed instruments uses side dot markers (except perhaps as stickers when learning), but as it is a cheap beat up old instrument and it is my own, I had an epiphany and realized I could do whatever I wanted to it, including drill holes in it.

Here is the result:

And I am quite satisfied!

Musicians have been customizing their tools since the days when everyone had to make their own. That looks like decent craftsmanship in pursuit of a worthy goal. I see nothing there to label as heresy.

If this is the change that gets you to play it more often, it’s all to the good.

Ha! When I got to the part about the electric tools, I was sure you were going to add frets!

Well, I’ve got at least one foot firmly planted in the purist/snob camp, and I think it looks great! Not too obvious, and what’s there is elegant. Before I saw the photos, I thought you’d done something to the fingerboard, which I might not have liked, but on the side is fine. Are the dots some kind of inlay or paint?

It’s far from heresy. Lotta debate among upright bassists about dots. I have 3 on the side of the 7/8 I had built, and put 3 on my 3/4 ply w/ fingernail polish.

And folk like Edgar Meyer and Paul Kowert favor them. I think they qualify as “real players of fine instruments.”

I probably woulda suggested the whiteout/sticker route, but as you say, it is your axe. Slap it like an angry nun!

They are the same as side dots used in guitars: 2mm holes drilled about 5mm deep, with short bits of 2mm-diameter white plastic rod glued in place and then trimmed and finished.

Here’s the stuff from Stew Mac: Plastic Side Dot Material - StewMac

I had used bits of painter’s tape to get a feel for what it would be like and was so happy with the outcome that I decided to make it permanent.

After playing a few songs I noticed I really only use them as occasional references, like a pianist sneaking an occasional glance at black keys out of the corner of their eye, but for the most part my eyes are on the music and my fingers are playing the same patterns I play on the electric bass–definitely not classical technique.

One thing I didn’t realize until today was that as one gets farther down the fretboard, a fretted note on the mathematically correct position is quite sharp–clearly a result of the gigantic stretch of the strings at that point combined with the narrower margin for error after the 12th fret. Playing by ear on a blank fretboard, one never notices this because one just plays the “correct” note.

I suspect that after playing it for some time you would have gotten used to having a blank fingerboard.

I recall when I first started learning the violin, my teacher put tape markers on the keyboard to help. I kept them for a while but eventually they fell off and I didn’t need them any more. Kind of like training wheels I guess.

Either way, the dots look good the way you’ve done them.

What I wonder is in the long run how well they will actually work. Can you actually rely on them? I suspect you will still have to use your ear to get the exact right notes.

Eh. If you’d added frets, I’d see people freaking out. But just adding guides? Nah. Not unless it was some special antique bass.

Also, your title reminded me of this Adam Neely video. Hopefully you do better than he did.

I have had this instrument for 5 years and feel relatively comfortable, but I’d rather just not have to worry when looking for the right position to hit an E on the A string, for example.

I noted in a response above that they already revealed one shortcoming: precisely fretted notes get sharper as one gets closer to the bridge. This error is fine, and easy to account for.

Any other drift will be due to the bridge changing position–that’s easy enough to fiddle with or account for.

These aren’t meant for precision, rather for a quick reference. The ear is always the final judge of course.

@minor7flat5 I was sort of expecting frets as well. As a middling guitarist who also noodles on an acoustic/electric bass I, however, would never judge. It actually looks really cool btw.

One thing I learned from my Tony Franklin Fender fretless P-Bass: he had them add a marker at the first fret.

Most fretless basses have markers like guitars, at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th frets. That leaves a whole lot of space on the fretboard between the nut and the 3rd fret.
Adding a single dot at the first fret makes a surprising difference.

I mean, if Eddie Van Halen can do this to his guitars and become a legend, I think the lesson is that no instrument design should be sacrosanct.

And a whammy bar. I don’t know how you’d reach it but I’d like to hear what it does to the sound.


How about a B-bender rigged to the end pin?on an electric guitar, they’re rigged so that pushing down on the neck bends one string sharp. Just change where the lever and spring attaches.

I think you could also do frets like they do on an Oud. Tie gut strings around the neck tightly and slide them each to the correct, in tune position.

Yeah, I think ultimately guidelines are fine, but I don’t think you can fret a bowed string instrument and have it work out really.

Of course, you might end up inventing a new instrument.

Might as well see what happens.

Yeah - you probably could have done with fewer dots. The heel tells you where D or Eb is. I don’t spend much time past there. Maybe another one up at the harmonic.

I’m too ignorant to know whether the positions should be marked “mathematically” as opposed to where the notes sound on a particular bass w/ its particular strings/setup.

Oh, that is quite OK, I did the same to the Guarnieri violin from my mad* uncle and it looked cool.
* I mean he was mad at me afterwards…

No, don’t worry, I’ll find the way out on my own.

Let’s bump this over to Cafe Society.

Figured my butchery of a fine instrument was too mundane and pointless for a proper arts discussion forum :sunglasses:

That’s one thing great about fretless: it’s got a built-in whammy bar!