Turning a fretted into a fretless.

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Turning a fretted into a fretless.

Postby Vics on Fri Dec 04, 2009 8:10 pm

Hi, gang. I've got a '73 Jazz bass that had a replacement neck installed around '85. The neck has since developed a few warps and is pretty much unfixable. It's got to be replaced but since I don't have the cash for a new neck with installation and setup I'm toying with the idea of turning it into a fretless.

(I'm pretty much an at home player anyway and gig on rare occasion with another bass).

I'm fairly handy with things and am confident that I can do this on my own. Other than knowing that the frets need to be carefully removed from the side that's about all I know. Not sure of what type of filler would be best.....once the strings are off and you start working should you loosen the trust rod? I did a Google search but really couldn't find what I was looking for, so any info would be much appreciated.

If successful I just plan on putting a set of flatwounds on it. If I botch it then it really won't be a huge deal anyway due to the necks current condition.

Thanks in advance.
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Re: Turning a fretted into a fretless.

Postby gypsy moth on Sat Dec 05, 2009 9:01 pm

I've not done it, but have asked the same question.

strips of wood, matching or not, would be preferable to goo. an alternative is to simply file and sand the frets flush with the wood - masking tape on the close surfaces would be a good thing.

there should be plenty of internet instructions/discussions on fret removal, covering issues like slicing any finish over the neck & frets, heat if there is glue, and adjusting the truss rod so the neck isn't compressing against the fret edges.
rumor is that overall it is a pretty simple task, and slarthering epoxy on afterwards should not be necessary.
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Re: Turning a fretted into a fretless.

Postby 1953Vintage on Tue Dec 08, 2009 2:01 pm

I've done this both ways and by far the best results occurred from using wood strips; maple, IIRC.

The epoxy material I used to fill the other neck shrunk over time, which created indentations, requiring more fill, then shrunk again... you get the picture.

The other crucial thing to consider is how you (properly) remove the old frets. Pros use heat to loosen each fret. Simply tearing/prying/insert-gerund-here them out can take pieces of the neck's surface with them, which will leave places that have to be filled no matter which fill method you use.

You'll also need to lower (file) the nut slots for each string, which, if you've never done this before, can be problematical for the E string end and (especially) the G string end, as you're filing so close to the ends of the nut. Leaving the nut slots at their current height will probably make the bass difficult to play, especially in the first two or three positions, so some filing will be needed.

And finally, the real issue to me is the condition of the neck when you begin. You said it has "developed a few warps," which suggests to me it's twisted (?). But no matter what you meant to say, these "warps" will remain and might, to some extent, be just as difficult to counteract without the frets as they are with the frets. In other words, a lack of frets might not save this neck. I've had a couple of Fenders that I've just had to write off, so to speak. Sad but true.

So, it's in for a penny, in for a pound. But what do I know; check with experts. This guy looks like one, judging by his work. He might tell you it's a no-brainer, in which case you'll be golden.

I know it appears you having nothing to lose trying something, anything, but what is your time worth? Been there, did that, spent oodles of time to no avail doing it; this is why I'm posing the question.

Best regards and good luck!
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Re: Turning a fretted into a fretless.

Postby moritz on Thu Dec 17, 2009 8:10 am

There's a pretty informative 10-part series on youtube about converting a fretted into a fretless bass.

See here: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p ... EB7CC0744C


And as 1953Vintage points out, the fact that the neck is warped with frets, doesn't necessarily mean it'll work fine without frets. The same twists will be present and may present the same issues on a fretless bass as they do on a fretted one. However, taking the frets off would give you the opportunity to do some fretboard levelling which, depending on how bad the neck is to begin with, may allow you to correct and compensate for those warps.
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Re: Turning a fretted into a fretless.

Postby 1953Vintage on Thu Dec 17, 2009 6:25 pm

However, taking the frets off would give you the opportunity to do some fretboard levelling which, depending on how bad the neck is to begin with, may allow you to correct and compensate for those warps.


Great points!!!!
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Re: Turning a fretted into a fretless.

Postby Vics on Sat Dec 19, 2009 2:18 pm

1953Vintage wrote:
However, taking the frets off would give you the opportunity to do some fretboard levelling which, depending on how bad the neck is to begin with, may allow you to correct and compensate for those warps.


Great points!!!!


Great point, yes indeed!! That's exactly what I was thinking about having done.

(Sorry I haven't been back sooner....been a bit preoccupied with a few other things).

I know of a great all around tech who could no doubt find and level the high points in the neck, then could refret the bass for me. The "trouble spot" is in the are where the neck and body meet. Gotta keep the action pretty high in order to eliminate some horrid fret rattle in that area. If this tech could take care of that high area this bass could be a real player. I'd love to be able to use it because it's got a kick and a half to it. So in time I'm going to take it in and see what can be done with it.

But lately I find my attention is turning to the "lower" end of the spectrum. I find I have a real need for a 5 string bass. Gonna take my Rickenbacker 330 6 string up to my local music store and sell it to get the cash for a 5 string. (Ric's sell VERY fast at this store).
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Re: Turning a fretted into a fretless.

Postby demonufo on Tue Dec 29, 2009 11:13 pm

Had a cheap Squier with fretting problems. Just ripped 'em out, filed out the holes, and put little maple fillets in. Sanded it flush, and now I can see where I need to be too.
It looks pretty silly I guess, but works quite nicely.
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