Unveiling the Best Fretless Bass Guitars: Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

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Last updatedLast updated: May 01, 2024
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There’s a certain allure to the smooth, singing tone of the best fretless bass guitars that captivates audiences and musicians alike.

The absence of frets enables the player to glide seamlessly from one note to another, creating a fluidity of distinct and versatile sound. Ideal for jazz, blues, and even rock music, these guitars unlock a new level of expressive potential. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting your musical journey, our list of the top fretless bass guitars will help you hit all the right notes.


Fender Jaco Pastorius Jazz BassEditor’s Choice



  • Body: Alder
  • Neck: Special “C” Shape, Maple
  • Fingerboard: Urethane-coated, Slab Cut Pau Ferro
  • Pickups: Two Custom ’60s Single-Coil Jazz Bass Pickups
  • Bridge: American Vintage Bass
  • Controls: Volume 1. (Neck Pickup), Volume 2. (Bridge Pickup), Master Tone
  • Hardware: Nickel/Chrome

A tribute to a legend, the Fender Jaco Pastorius Jazz Bass faithfully replicates the bass maestro’s own converted Jazz Bass. Featuring a fretless fretboard and a distinctive sunburst finish, this bass is a true workhorse, combining timeless aesthetics with advanced performance capabilities.

Performance-wise, the Jaco Pastorius Jazz Bass stands out with its warm, rich tonality. It is capable of delivering deep low-end growls or clear, punchy high-end tones, offering a tonal versatility that suits various music genres. Its dual American Vintage Jazz Bass single-coil pickups provide a rich, full-bodied sound, while the slim “C”-shaped maple neck enhances playability.

While perfect for jazz as the name suggests, its versatility also makes it a good fit for other genres, from blues to rock, making it ideal for musicians with a broad repertoire. Its absence of frets requires a degree of precision, making it a fantastic instrument for seasoned players wanting to further their expressive potential.

The blend of vintage and modern features sets it apart from the competition. While its design pays tribute to Pastorius’ classic Jazz Bass, it also incorporates modern enhancements such as the gloss urethane finish for durability and the 4-saddle American Vintage bridge for stable tuning and intonation.

While the Jaco Pastorius Jazz Bass is a top-of-the-line instrument, beginners may initially find the fretless design challenging. But for those who are willing to master the fretless bass, the expressive tonal possibilities it offers are well worth the effort.

What stands out?

  • Warm, rich tonality
  • Versatile sound suitable for various genres
  • Blend of vintage and modern features
  • High-quality construction and components

What cons did we manage to find?

  • Fretless design can be challenging for beginners


Ibanez SRH500FBest for Performance



  • Body: Semi-hollow, Spruce top with Okoume back and sides
  • Neck: 5-piece Jatoba/Walnut, SRH4 shape
  • Fingerboard: Bound Panga Panga with white dot inlay
  • Pickups: AeroSilk Piezo system
  • Bridge: Custom bridge for AeroSilk Piezo system
  • Controls: AeroSilk Piezo system w/Active tone control
  • Hardware: Black matte

The Warwick Corvette $$ 4-String Fretless Bass is a statement piece for the stage, exuding style, and a powerful sound. The beautiful, contoured double-cutaway body is made from Swamp Ash, while the fretless Tigerstripe Ebony fingerboard gives it a distinct, sophisticated look.

Performance-wise, the Warwick Corvette $$ shines with its versatility. The two passive MEC MM-style humbucking pickups give this bass a powerful, growling sound, while the active 2-band electronics allow for nuanced tonal adjustments. It delivers a wide range of sounds, from warm and mellow to crisp and aggressive, making it a reliable performance partner for any gig.

Its balance of sound, playability, and aesthetics makes it a fantastic choice for intermediate and advanced players looking to bring a new sonic dimension to their performances. Its ergonomic design also makes it suitable for long playing sessions, making it an excellent choice for touring musicians.

The Corvette $$ distinguishes itself with its superior craftsmanship and high-quality electronics, reflecting Warwick’s reputation for building high-performance instruments. The natural oil finish looks stunning and offers a comfortable, smooth playing experience.

While this bass is undeniably a top performer, its higher price point might deter some budget-conscious players. However, for those willing to invest, it promises a return in terms of sound quality, playability, and stage presence.

Why is it special?

  • Powerful, versatile sound
  • High-quality construction and components
  • Comfortable for long playing sessions
  • Aesthetically pleasing design

What are the flaws?

  • Higher price point might deter budget-conscious players


Warwick Corvette $$ 4-String Fretless BassBest for Beginners



  • Body: Ash with AAA Flamed Maple top
  • Neck: Ovangkol, neck-through
  • Fingerboard: Tigerstripe Ebony
  • Pickups: 2 Passive MEC MM-Style Humbuckers
  • Bridge: 2-piece Warwick Bridge
  • Controls: Volume/Balance/Double Tone selector
  • Hardware: Chrome

The Ibanez SRH500F is a perfect starting point for those venturing into the world of fretless bass guitars. It sports a sleek, slim body design made from mahogany and a comfortable Jatoba fretless fingerboard, making it lightweight and incredibly easy to play.

The SRH500F doesn’t compromise on sound, despite being beginner-friendly. Equipped with AeroSilk Piezo system, it offers a range of tonal possibilities, from warm lows to sparkling highs, with a unique resonance that gives your sound a distinctive flavor.

Its user-friendly features make it an excellent choice for beginners or players transitioning from fretted to fretless basses. The slim neck and lightweight design make it easy to handle, enabling new players to focus on mastering the technique required for fretless playing.

What makes the Ibanez SRH500F stand out is its remarkable balance of quality, playability, and affordability. It’s an entry-level instrument that delivers well beyond its price range, providing newcomers with a solid foundation to explore the fretless world.

As a beginner-friendly instrument, it may lack some advanced features in higher-end models. However, it offers great value for money, providing a high-quality introduction to fretless bass playing.

What are its best features?

  • Lightweight and user-friendly
  • Quality sound with a unique resonance
  • Great value for money
  • Perfect for beginners

What could be improved?

  • Lacks some advanced features found in higher-end models


Fender Tony Franklin Fretless Precision BassBest for Professionals



  • Body: Select Alder
  • Neck: Maple, Modern “C” Shape
  • Fingerboard: Ebony
  • Pickups: Tony Franklin Single-Coil Jazz Bass (Bridge), Tony Franklin American Split Single-Coil Precision Bass (Middle)
  • Bridge: 4-Saddle American Vintage Bass
  • Controls: Master Volume, Master Tone
  • Hardware: Nickel/Chrome

Designed in collaboration with renowned session artist Tony Franklin, the Fender Tony Franklin Fretless Precision Bass delivers a professional-quality sound and feel. It features an alder body, a modern “C”-shaped maple neck, and an ebony fretless fingerboard that facilitates smooth sliding and unique tonal expressions.

Performance-wise, the Tony Franklin Precision Bass offers a beautifully balanced, rich sound. Its Seymour Duncan® PB-1 split-coil and Tony Franklin signature Jazz Bass® single-coil pickups provide a diverse tonal palette, catering to demanding performances across genres.

Ideal for professionals and serious hobbyists, this bass offers a unique blend of Precision and Jazz bass characteristics, allowing for great versatility in various musical scenarios. The top-notch build quality and high-end electronics make it well-suited for studio recording as well as live performances.

The Fender Tony Franklin model sets itself apart with its unique pickup configuration, offering a tonal versatility that’s hard to beat. It incorporates the signature features preferred by Tony Franklin himself, reflecting meticulous attention to detail.

While this bass offers many excellent features, its fretless design might not be suitable for every player, especially those who prefer traditional fretted basses. However, this model is a top contender for those who appreciate the smooth, fluid sound of fretless bass.

What are its best features?

  • Professional-quality sound and feel
  • Unique pickup configuration
  • High-end components
  • Suitable for various musical scenarios

What could be improved?

  • Fretless design might not be suitable for every player


ESP LTD B-204SM FLBest Value



  • Body: Ash with Spalted Maple top
  • Neck: 5-piece Maple/Jatoba, Extra Thin U shape
  • Fingerboard: Roasted Jatoba with dot inlays
  • Pickups: ESP Designed SB-4N (Neck), ESP Designed SB-4B (Bridge)
  • Bridge: LTD BB-604 with String Thru
  • Controls: Volume/Balance/ABQ-3 3-Band EQ
  • Hardware: Black Nickel

The ESP LTD B-204SM FL is a well-crafted bass offering a great variety of tonal options at a competitive price. Made from an Ash body with a Spalted Maple top, it boasts an aesthetically pleasing, natural look while its 3-piece maple neck and rosewood fretboard provide comfort and ease of play.

In terms of performance, the ESP LTD B-204SM FL impresses with its ESP-designed SB-4 pickups and active ABQ-3 three-band EQ, providing a wide range of sound from deep, rich lows to crisp, articulate highs.

Suitable for beginners to intermediate players, its excellent value for money, robust build, and easy playability make it an ideal choice for those wanting to experiment with a fretless bass without breaking the bank.

What sets it apart from its competitors is its Spalted Maple top, giving it a unique aesthetic appeal. Additionally, it doesn’t compromise on sound quality, offering an array of tonal options to suit various music genres.

Although the ESP LTD B-204SM FL has many strengths, advanced players might crave more in terms of sound customizability. However, considering its competitive price, it still stands as a great investment for those wanting a reliable, versatile bass.

What makes it special?

  • Great variety of tonal options
  • Aesthetically pleasing Spalted Maple top
  • Excellent value for money
  • Suitable for beginners to intermediate players

What cons did we find?

  • May lack advanced sound customization options for advanced players.

Things to Consider

Making the transition to a fretless bass guitar or purchasing one for the first time can be both exciting and somewhat daunting. Whether you’re a seasoned musician looking to expand your tonal palette or a beginner interested in a fretless bass’s unique expression, understanding what to look for can significantly improve your buying experience. This detailed guide will delve into the world of fretless bass guitars and what you need to consider before making your purchase.

Diving Deep into Fretless Bass Guitars

Before discussing the intricacies of fretless bass guitars, it’s important to understand the fundamental difference between a fretted and a fretless bass. A traditional fretted bass guitar has metal bars (frets) along the neck, marking specific notes. The musician presses the string down behind a fret to produce a specific note.

On the other hand, a fretless bass guitar features a smooth neck, more like that of a cello or violin. This lack of frets allows the player to glide seamlessly between notes, creating a “sliding” effect not possible with a fretted bass. This is known as ‘glissando’ or ‘portamento’ in musical terms. The ability to create these slides and ‘microtones’—notes in between the standard semi-tone steps—can lead to a broader, more expressive range of sounds.

Also, the fretless bass is renowned for its distinctive ‘mwah’ sound—a warm, resonant, and vocal-like tone that really sets it apart. Players of jazz, fusion, and progressive rock will particularly appreciate the creative opportunities that instruments like the Fender Jaco Pastorius Jazz Bass or the Warwick Corvette $$ 4-String Fretless Bass can offer.

Breaking Down the Types of Fretless Bass Guitars

Fretless bass guitars come in two main forms: lined and unlined, and understanding these types can help steer your purchase decision.

Lined fretless basses mimic the look of their fretted counterparts with visual markers (lines) on the fingerboard where frets would normally be. These lines are essential guides, helping players accurately position their fingers to hit the right notes. If you’re transitioning from a fretted bass, a lined fretless model like the Ibanez SRH500F might be more comfortable and familiar.

Conversely, unlined fretless basses offer no such visual aids. These require a more experienced ear and intimate knowledge of the fingerboard to play in tune. The payoff, however, is a more challenging and rewarding playing experience. The Fender Jaco Pastorius Jazz Bass is an example of an unlined fretless bass, providing a clean, minimalist aesthetic.

The Influence of Body Wood

The body wood of your bass guitar, often overlooked, is a significant contributor to the instrument’s overall sound. Different types of wood produce varying tonal qualities.

Alder, used in the Fender Tony Franklin Fretless Precision Bass, is known for its balanced, clear tone with solid lows, mids, and highs. It’s a versatile wood, suitable for many different genres.

Ash, often found in the ESP LTD B-204SM FL, is tonally similar to alder but usually brings a slightly brighter, punchier sound. It’s excellent for players looking for a bit more edge in their tone.

Other common body woods include mahogany, which delivers a rich, warm tone with pronounced mids and is excellent for blues and rock. Maple provides a bright, focused tone, perfect for cutting through the mix in a band setting. An example is the Warwick Corvette $$ 4-String Fretless Bass, whose swamp ash body, maple neck, and fingerboard produce a harmonious blend of warmth and brightness.

Considering Scale Length and Number of Strings

The scale length of a bass guitar is the distance between the bridge and the nut. It impacts both the tone and playability of the instrument. Shorter-scale basses tend to have a warmer tone and are easier to play, especially for beginners or players with smaller hands. Longer-scale basses, meanwhile, produce a brighter tone and offer more room on the fretboard for advanced techniques.

Bass guitars typically come with four strings, but five-string and six-string models are also available. A five-string bass adds a lower B string, expanding the instrument’s lower range, while a six-string bass adds both a lower B and a higher C, offering a greater pitch range. The choice will largely depend on your musical needs and preferences.

Evaluating Hardware and Electronics

Lastly, it’s important to consider the hardware and electronics of your fretless bass guitar. The type and quality of the pickups can drastically affect the instrument’s sound. Like those in the Fender Jaco Pastorius Jazz Bass, single-coil pickups produce a bright, clear tone. On the other hand, humbuckers, like those found in the Warwick Corvette $$ 4-String Fretless Bass, deliver a warmer, fuller sound with less hum and noise.

The quality of the tuning machines, bridge, and control knobs are also vital to the instrument’s overall performance and durability. These components can affect the bass’s tuning stability, intonation, and tone control.



A fretless bass guitar offers a unique tonal character and allows a wider range of expressive capabilities. With no frets to dictate pitch precisely, players can achieve a smooth, gliding sound known as “mwah”, and can also micro-adjust pitch on-the-fly, similar to a string player in an orchestra. This can be used to infuse music with personality and emotional depth that’s harder to achieve with fretted instruments.

Playing a fretless bass does present more challenges than a fretted one. The lack of frets requires a higher degree of precision, as you need to place your fingers directly on the exact spots where the frets would be to hit the correct pitch. However, with practice and a good understanding of music theory, these challenges can be overcome, and the resulting expressiveness can be well worth the effort.

Typically, fretless basses don’t buzz in the way that fretted basses can because there are no frets to create the buzzing noise. However, if the action is too low or the strings are not sufficiently pressed against the fingerboard, a fretless bass could produce a type of buzz or rattling sound. Regular maintenance and proper technique can minimize this.

Jaco Pastorius, a jazz bassist known for his intricate solos and harmonic sensibilities, is widely credited with popularizing the fretless bass. He introduced the broader music world to the fretless bass’s unique sound and expressive capabilities during the 70s and 80s, inspiring countless bassists in the years since.

Final Thoughts

After a detailed exploration and evaluation of some of the best fretless bass guitars available on the market, it’s clear that these instruments bring a unique sonic character and expressive capability that sets them apart from their fretted counterparts. Our Editor’s Choice, the Fender Jaco Pastorius Jazz Bass, stands out due to its impeccable design, faithful recreation of the original Jaco Pastorius instrument, and stunning performance in terms of tone and playability. It beautifully captures the “mwah” sound that makes fretless basses so sought-after by musicians looking to push their creative boundaries.

However, all the bass guitars we’ve discussed, including the Ibanez SRH500F with its lightweight and elegant design and the Warwick Corvette $$ 4-String Fretless Bass known for its robust build and versatile tonal options, offer something unique to cater to different players’ preferences. In conclusion, when it comes to choosing the best fretless bass guitars, it’s about identifying what suits your musical style, technical abilities, and personal aesthetics the most. Each of these basses is well-equipped to guide you on a wonderful fretless journey, pushing the boundaries of your musical expression.

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