Best fretless basses 2024: get more vibrato and texture from your bass guitar

If you’re looking to spice up the low end with a little more vibrato and texture, then you can do this by adding one of the best fretless basses to your arsenal. As somewhat implied by the name, a fretless bass has no frets, allowing you to get a very different tone to that of a regular bass, and more like that of an upright bass.

The best fretless basses will require a slightly different technique – after all, your notes aren’t intonated by frets, it’s all down to you and your fingers. Many have lines on the fingerboard so if you’re used to a traditional fretted bass, then you’ll still know where you are. Having no frets allows you to glide between notes, creating a completely unique sound, and add tons of vibrato. 

There’s a lot of variation when it comes to the best fretless basses. Some are classic-style electric basses, with the same sorts of pickup configurations as regular basses, whereas others might aim for more of an organic, acoustic tone. The latter is a great choice if you’re after the sound of a double bass, but want something a little more practical. 

From budget models to pro-level instruments, we’ve picked out what we reckon are the best fretless basses on the market right now. 

Best fretless basses: the quick list

Tired of the endless scroll? Here you'll find our top picks of the best fretless basses you can buy today, with links to read more if you want to.

The best fretless basses 2023

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Here you'll writeups and reviews of the best fretless basses you can buy today. Our products are chosen by actual musicians, so you can rely on our recommendations.

Best fretless overall

Best fretless basses: Fender Tony Franklin Fretless Precision Bass

(Image credit: Fender)

1. Fender Tony Franklin Fretless Precision Bass

A signature Fender from one of the fretless bass’s biggest advocates

Specifications

Type: Electric
Body: Select alder
Neck: Maple
Fingerboard: Ebony
Pickups: Tony Franklin American Split Single-Coil Precision Bass, DiMarzio Model J DP123
Lines?: No
Scale length: 34”

Reasons to buy

+
Premium instrument
+
Amazing, detailed pickups
+
Looks amazing

Reasons to avoid

-
Lines might help

You might not necessarily have heard of Tony Franklin, but you’ve probably heard some songs that he’s played on. Having played with the likes of Kate Bush, David Gilmour, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jimmy Page, Roy Harper and loads more, it’s fair to say he knows a thing or two about playing bass. Lovingly referred to as ‘the Fretless Monster’, Franklin has his own signature fretless Fender P-Bass that’s fully kitted out. 

Featuring the supremely versatile PJ configuration, these specially voiced pickups have been designed for Franklin and the fretless bass. It can dish out everything from boomy, low-end thump to punchy mids and detailed treble frequencies – these pickups really can do a lot.

You’ve got some great vintage-style hardware on board as well, including a Bass X-Tender drop key which can instantly take you to Drop-D tuning at the flick of a switch. Whilst there are no lines on the beautiful ebony fingerboard, there are side dot markers if you need them.

Best value for money

Best fretless basses: Sire MArcus Miller V7 Fretless

(Image credit: Sire)

2. Sire Marcus Miller V7 Fretless

Some of the best value for money basses on the market

Specifications

Type: Electric
Body: Alder
Neck: Maple
Fingerboard: Ebony
Pickups: Marcus Super-J Revolution Set
Lines?: Yes
Scale length: 34”

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable, but quality
+
Active and passive modes
+
Rolled edge fingerboard

Reasons to avoid

-
That headstock shape isn’t for everyone

There really is something about the nuance and detail that J-style bass pickups give that works so well with a fretless bass. Working incredibly closely with bass legend Marcus Miller, Sire has produced in the V7 a really well-made bass that combines vintage and modern features.

The pickups have lots of nice, rounded bottom end, as well as a defined mid and higher range, and lots of note definition. There’s a three-band EQ on board too, which is helpful for fine-tuning your tone. 

You’ve then got the option of running it in either active or passive mode. The ebony fingerboard feels great under the fingers, and the rolled edges further maximize comfort. This is a great all-rounder in terms of quality, tone, and price – definitely one of the best fretless basses on offer. 

Best semi-acoustic

Best fretless basses: Ibanez SRH-500F

(Image credit: Ibanez)

3. Ibanez SRH500F

A unique semi-acoustic fretless bass that’s sure to turn some heads

Specifications

Type: Semi-hollow, semi-acoustic
Body: Spruce top, mahogany back & sides
Neck: 5-piece jatoba/walnut
Fingerboard: Panga panga
Pickups: AeroSilk piezo
Lines?: Yes
Scale length: 34”

Reasons to buy

+
Practical alternative to a double bass
+
Individual trim pots for gain
+
Look at it!

Reasons to avoid

-
Not particularly versatile

This is a really cool option, and will certainly help you stand out. The Ibanez SRH500F has many of the benefits of an electric bass – the playability, weight, and functionality, but with a really nice acoustic-style tone. This makes it perfect for those that want a double-bass kind of sound, without having to relearn a whole new style of playing!

It’s a semi-acoustic fretless bass that looks more like an electric. It’s sleek and ergonomic which not only makes it look amazing but comfortable too. It’s fitted with an AreoSilk piezo pickup underneath the bridge that gives you a detailed, airy sort of sound that you’d normally get with an upright bass. 

There are even trim pots on the back that allow you to adjust the gain setting of the piezo for each string, so you can really dial in your ideal tone. 

Best for gigging

Best fretless basses: Fender Player Jazz Bass Fretless

(Image credit: Fender)

4. Fender Player Jazz Bass Fretless

The standard by which other basses of a similar price point will be judged

Specifications

Type: Electric
Body: Alder
Neck: Maple
Fingerboard: Pau Ferro
Pickups: Fender Player Series single-coil Jazz Bass pickups
Lines?: Yes
Scale length: 34”

Reasons to buy

+
A proper Fender Jazz for under 1k
+
Plays nicely
+
It’s a classic

Reasons to avoid

-
Only two finish options

The Fender Player series represents a great blend of quality and affordability, plus it’s got the legendary logo on the headstock. The Jazz Bass has been the foundation for so many other basses, but here is the real thing. Building on the success of the previous Mexican Standard range, the Players are definitely a step up, with great build quality, incredible sounding pickups, and fantastic playability. 

This Fretless Jazz offers all the articulation, detail, and dynamic range that the bass is famed for, with the added smoothness of there being no frets. The pickups in this model are lovely and punchy – super tight in the bottom end and can cut through in the higher registers. Whether you’re playing clean or with a bit of grit, these pickups have all bases covered.

The modern 'C' neck profile is nice and thin, but still with enough meat to it to make it comfortable for any playing style, and the hardware is of a good standard, so tuning stability and intonation isn’t an issue. 

Best for versatility

Best fretless basses: Cort B4FL MHPZ

(Image credit: Cort)

5. Cort B4FL MHPZ

This fully spec’d fretless bass boasts the best of both electric and acoustic worlds

Specifications

Type: Semi-hollow, semi-acoustic
Body: Ovangkol top, mahogany back & sides
Neck: Hard maple
Fingerboard: Jatoba
Pickups: Pitman Power Bridge piezo, Bartolini MK-1
Lines?: Yes
Scale length: 34”

Reasons to buy

+
Versatile
+
Amazing pickups
+
Great value for money
+
Hipshot tuners

Reasons to avoid

-
Not everyone will need the two types of pickup

This might be one of the best fretless basses for players who need to cover a wide range of tones at a gig or recording session. It’s got both an electric guitar pickup and a piezo for more traditional upright bass tones.

This beautiful bass is fitted with a high-quality Bartolini MK-1 pickup. This has a really balanced tone, offering plenty of low-end punch, as well as clear mids and top end. It sounds great played through a clean amp, but will also distort nicely. It’s then got a Fishman Power Bridge piezo pickup that offers a more natural, acoustic sound, and you can blend the two pickups together for some really cool results. 

The Cort B4FL is built to a great standard and, aside from looking incredible, has a bunch of features that really should make it cost more than it does. As well as the high-end pickups, it’s got Hipshot Ultralite tuners, a beautifully crafted ovangkol body top with an F-hole, and a handy thumb rest. 

Best budget option

Best fretless basses: Squier Classic Vibe 60s Jazz Fretless

(Image credit: Squier)

6. Squier Classic Vibe 60s Jazz Fretless

The best fretless bass for players on a budget

Specifications

Type: Electric
Body: Poplar
Neck: Maple
Fingerboard: Indian Laurel
Pickups: Fender Designed Alnico Single-Coil
Lines?: Yes
Scale length: 34”

Reasons to buy

+
An affordable Jazz bass
+
Cool, vintage style and sound
+
Decent build quality

Reasons to avoid

-
Serious players might want some more refined and detailed pickups 

If you’re looking for a smooth playing, quality bass – without dropping too much cash – then the Squier Classic Vibe 60s Jazz is one of the best fretless basses you can get. 

Capturing the essence of many golden-era Fender guitars and basses, the Squier Classic Vibe series is a great way of getting vintage style specs on a new instrument, without having to pay vintage guitar prices. The Jazz Bass is great for so many different styles of music, from jazz to rock and more, and has a dynamic, detailed and punchy sound. 

In the sunburst finish, this is a great way of getting a Jaco Pastorius-style instrument, on a budget!

More options...

Best fretless basses: Ibanez SR370EF

(Image credit: Ibanez)

7. Ibanez SR370EF

An affordable, modern fretless bass with a ton of tonal options

Specifications

Type: Electric
Body: Maple
Neck: 5-piece maple/walnut
Fingerboard: Jatoba
Pickups: PowerSpan Dual Coil
Lines?: Yes
Scale length: 34”

Reasons to buy

+
Modern looks and feel 
+
Powerful, punchy pickups
+
Clever switching system

Reasons to avoid

-
Not for traditionalists 

Over the years, the Ibanez SR range has given players good quality, modern-sounding, and feeling instruments, regardless of budget. The SR370EF is no exception!

It’s fitted with powerful pickups that have a broad frequency range, meaning you get chunky, meaty lows and a detailed, clear, and punchy high end. As well as a three-band active EQ, it’s got a clever three-way switching system that gives you a variety of different tones; from single-coil to humbucker, as well as a Power Tap mode which gives you the best of both worlds. 

The neck profile is nice and thin and allows you to glide up and down it effortlessly. This with the fretless fingerboard means you can get some pretty wild slides going on!

Best fretless basses: Warwick Rockbass Streamer FL

(Image credit: Warwick)

8. Warwick Rockbass Streamer FL

A rock solid, double humbucker-equipped fretless beast

Specifications

Type: Electric
Body: Arched Carolina
Neck: 3-piece laminated maple neck with Ekanga veneer stripes
Fingerboard: Ebony
Pickups: Passive MEC vintage humbucker pickups
Lines?: No
Scale length: 34”

Reasons to buy

+
High quality
+
Looks and feels premium
+
Powerful pickups

Reasons to avoid

-
Not enough top end for some

Known for its powerful yet dynamic sound, Warwick makes some of the best basses in the world. Its Rockbass range offers so much of what players have fallen in love with over the years, at a more affordable price point. 

This fretless Streamer bass is fitted with two MEC vintage humbuckers which deliver a thick, rich, and powerful tone, perfect for so many different styles of music. They’re not quite as bright sounding as many other pickups, being more on the darker, more mellow side tonally. 

It’s a really well-made bass, with fantastic build quality and great hardware. Intonation and tuning stability is on point, and it’s an absolute dream to play.

Best fretless basses: Buying advice

Man plays fretless bass guitar

(Image credit: Getty Images/unomat)

What is the purpose of a fretless bass?

Firstly, let’s look at what makes a fretless bass different from a regular bass. Obviously, it’s the lack of frets, but that makes quite a big difference to the sound as well as the feel.

When you press down on a string on a regular, fretted bass, the note is intonated by a piece of metal – the string vibrates between the bridge and actual fret. On a fretless bass, the string is actually pushed down onto the fingerboard. The resulting sound is usually mellower and softer – not quite as punchy – essentially, much more like a double bass. This can work really well for a variety of types of music, and helps make the best fretless basses incredibly useful studio tools.

Is it harder to play fretless?

Whether you’re moving from a fretted bass, or you’re going straight to fretless as your first entry into the bass world, having a blank neck can be quite daunting – how do you know where all the notes are? Frets help divide the fingerboard into definitive notes that can be used to learn and progress. Even if you’ve been playing for years, it’s easy to lose track of where you are playing a fretless bass with no markers.

That’s why many of the best fretless basses have lined fingerboards. From a distance, it looks a lot like a fretted bass, but upon closer inspection, these are merely lines on the fingerboard, and no metal frets are present at all. These really help you keep track of where all the notes are, though of course, for some players these aren’t necessary.

What's the difference between an electric and acoustic fretless bass?

You’ll find that some of the best fretless basses are straight up, classic electric basses, albeit with no frets. The Fender Player Fretless Jazz bass for example is identical to its fretted counterpart, apart from the fingerboard. These types of instruments will suit players that just want a regular electric bass that has the ability to produce some cool, unique sounds.

Others are designed to produce a woodier, more organic and acoustic tone. Some fretless basses will have a piezo pickup on board that helps make them sound more like an acoustic instrument, i.e. a double bass. If you’re playing in a jazz trio and gigging a lot, then lugging an upright bass around from venue to venue might not be practical, but finding a nice fretless bass with a good piezo might give you a sound that’s close enough. 

What is the difference between a 4 string and 5-string fretless bass?

All the options here are four-string basses; however, should you need an extended frequency range, some of them are available as five-string versions. Having an even lower bottom string gives you scope to play different music and can open up alternative styles of playing. This can be especially useful if you’re going for a double-bass sort of sound. 

How we choose the best fretless basses

Here at Guitar World, our team of writers are also real-life musicians, so we've got plenty of first-hand experience when it comes to fretless basses. We've rigorously tested a myriad of different fretless bass guitars in a variety of situations to ensure that we can provide you with practical and reliable reviews and recommendations.

When selecting the best fretless basses, we'll look at playability, the sound of the pickups, the quality of the hardware, and of course the price to make a decision. It's only by meticulously assessing these factors that a particular product will make the cut for one of our guides, and we'd never pick something we wouldn't use ourselves.

Whether you're buying your first fretless bass or you're looking to add to your existing arsenal, we've covered a range of instruments from budget options to more boutique offerings. This ensures that regardless of your ability or experience, any one of these instruments will offer a fantastic playing feel.

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