Fretted and fretless basses sound completely different from each other. While factory-made fretless basses have no fret slots, you can remove the frets of a fretted bass to obtain the fretless sound and feel. Removing the frets from a bass is a rather simple procedure, but it is important you don't damage the fretboard. Once frets are removed, you can simply fill the slots, sand and treat the neck and have that fretless sound.
Things You'll Need
- Screwdriver or Allen wrench
- Veneer or wood filler
- Lemon oil or varnish
Remove the neck from the bass body if you have a bolt-on neck. Unscrew the four or more bolts that connect the bass body and the neck. Set the the bolts aside for reassembly after you have completed the task. If the bass is a neck-through model, cover the body with a cloth or rag to protect it from the work you will be doing.
Remove the frets from the neck, paying careful attention to avoid chipping the neck itself. Heat up each fret using a soldering iron to melt the glue that holds the fret in its slot. When the fret is heated up, either grab it with a pair of pliers or use a small chisel and hammer to lift each fret and remove with pliers. Be very careful as the tang of the fret may chip the fretboard.
Select a veneer of whatever type of wood you want to fill the fret slots with. Many bassists use ash to complement darker fret boards. Cut the veneer using scissors and fill each slot with one piece of the very thin wood. Fill the slots with wood filler if you don't have any veneer. Be generous with the wood filler and make sure to fill in any chips in the wood that occurred during fret removal.
Sand down the fretboard with fine grit sandpaper. This will remove any excess veneer and smooth out any of the wood filler on the fret board. Using fine grit sandpaper will prevent any wood damage to the fretboard and make the surface even to enhance playability. Remember to sand the sides of the fretboard as well to remove any excess wood sticking out.
Apply lemon oil or varnish to the fret board after it has been de-fretted. This will protect the fretboard and moisten the wood after sanding. Apply the oil liberally with a cloth and go over the surface again with a clean cloth to remove any excess oil. Apply varnish with a paint brush to protect the fretboard's finish if you plan on using steel or nickel-plated strings, as they will damage an untreated fretboard.
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