Bass frets – What do they do?
Fretting the finger board or to fret is the action of changing the tension on a string to produce a certain fixed sound. The bass frets are the means to create the music. Each fret corresponds to a certain pitch (or note). When the string is plucked on different frets the pitch is changed.
The default number of bass frets varies by make and model. Most Fender basses have 20 jumbo frets. Other basses on the market can go up to 21, 22 or 24 frets.
How many bass frets do I need?
For beginners, there is no issue starting with 20 frets. You can get a feel for the instrument and get accustomed to the size of the fingerboard. The more frets a bass has, the more variety you can have in your performance. More frets offer a large dynamic range and easier access to bass chords. Bass solos can also be less effortless to the player as there is more freedom of movement.
When comfortable with your instrument, it is up to the player to determine how many bass frets they need. The best advice as with many components on bass guitars is to try as many basses as possible. Play all types and all frets you can get your hands on.
Genres and fret numbers
There are some basses that suit a certain genre (like Metal for example) that will have a larger range of up to 22 or more bass frets. Whilst perfectly acceptable, it is worth bearing in mind that a bass guitars’ strong suit is its low dynamic range to fill the bottom end of the mix. Don’t let the number of frets determine your purchase in these instances.
Fretless basses (like the Ibanez SRF700) are a unique instrument to play. The learning curve of a fretless bass is staggering for beginners. Whilst not impossible, it is a lot of work and hard practice to do correctly.
Fretless basses rely on the player to accurately pitch their instrument to the right note without any physical markers to guide them. There can be aesthetic markers such as fret dot inlays or subtle lines on the fingerboard.
The skill and sound of a fretless bass is directly influenced by how accurately the player can fret the note. The small margins of error players have is also the charm of what gives a fretless bass its sound.
Bass fret buzz
Through the changing seasons of weather you can expect certain changes to the wood on your bass. Most notably, the neck will expand and contract in certain conditions. The most significant issue that arises from this is bass fret buzz. It can happen in the lower register but is more often found up past the 12th fret.
Plucking at a fret will not vibrate as expected and instead be caught on the fret board interrupting the vibrations. The way to fix this is by adjusting the saddle height and/or the bass neck.
The simplest way to have this problem resolves is to have your bass set up by a professional. Bass setups will make sure that the neck and the saddles are adjusted correctly.
Bass features guide
This guide for Bass frets is part of the Bass Feature series. In this series we dissect the parts of the bass guitar and explain in detail how each part works. When you know and understand how each part works in conjunction of the other, it opens up your imagination to “what if i change this variable”.
Next in this series is the the guide for Bass guitar strings – Construction, sound and genre.