As someone who doesn’t get the chance to play electric fretless basses often, I can’t imagine a better starting point than the 5-string SRF705 by Ibanez.
The first thing I noticed while unboxing this bad boy was how smooth everything felt. Not just the fretboard, but the 5-piece thru-neck, satin finish, flat wound strings, tuner function and even the tone/volume knobs all contribute to the silky feel of this bass. Being a fretless instrument, the seamless functionality and flow to its construction are incredibly important. Thankfully, the stock set up of the SRF705 was close to my preferences, and I found myself being able to play it effortlessly without the need to tweak or adjust anything.
One of the main distinguishing features of this bass is the piezo pickup installed at the bridge. Exclusive to Ibanez, the AeroSilk piezo allows the player to dial in a sound reminiscent of an acoustic upright. Individual string volume can even be adjusted via tiny screws on the back of the bass. Bartolini MK-1 neck and bridge pickups are also installed, along with a 2-band equalizer that allows the player to dial in the bass, treble, and volume of each pickup for custom tone shaping.
Remember you can blend in as much or as little of that piezo sound as needed. The piezo brings out a bit too much attack and string noise for my taste but it sounds better than most others, and I can imagine contexts where it may be useful. The extensive amount of tone control that was built into this bass is so helpful for playing in different genres of music especially if you don’t have the budget to buy a variety of basses.
The real reason I love the fretless bass, along with the smooth transitioning between notes is the unmistakeable “Mwah” sound. If you are familiar with Paul Simon’s Graceland album, it’s fairly audible in many of the songs and occurs from a combination of side-to-side vibrato and the muting effect of the finger pressing the string down. I was expecting the need to turn up the treble to achieve this sound but was pleasantly surprised to find it occurring with tone controls in the default position on both the Bartolini pickups as well as the piezo.
Other than the “Mwah” sound, the overall tone of this bass is excellent. I was particularly pleased with the resonance of the low B string which can sometimes sound dull or simply inaudible when played without amplification. The entire instrument vibrates heavily when the lower strings are played even at lower dynamic levels. This is likely due to the Maple/Bubinga neck that runs all the way through the bass. To preserve this sound and general feel of a fretless bass, make sure to use only flat wound strings. You may prefer round wounds, but they can leave marks on the fretboard leading to costly repairs. You can, however, change many of the characteristics of this bass such as the string height, individual string volume of the piezo, or the truss rod which is accessed very easily. The intonation of this type of instrument is, of course, mainly up to the player. Nevertheless, you can make saddle adjustments to change the length of each string.
The two and a half octave neck on the SRF705 has 30 fret markers. Don’t worry, though, as no one will see them except for you since they are only located on the B-string side of the neck. The Rosewood neck remains clean and uncluttered from top to bottom. This longer scale neck combined with the piezo pickup helps sell the upright sound even more as players can play notes that are unreachable on a standard electric bass. Sonically, you’ll still be able to tell the difference between this and a plugged-in upright, but they are definitely getting closer with this bass.
The electric fretless bass is an underutilized and almost forgotten instrument outside the realm of jazz and progressive metal. I found it very difficult to find samples and loops that feature it for my productions so learning to correctly play it seems like a worthwhile endeavor. Basses like this one make it, well, not “easy”, but at least more enjoyable to practice with proper technique and intonation.
I was able to try out and review this bass thanks to the folks at B&H who let me borrow it for a couple of weeks. They have a new Guitar/Bass Room next to their famous Microphone Room where customers can try out instruments like this one for themselves before buying.
More info: Ibanez SRF795 ($949.99 @ B&H)
Ibanez SRF705 Review
The real reason I love the fretless bass, along with the smooth transitioning between notes is the unmistakeable "Mwah" sound. If you are familiar with Paul Simon's Graceland album, it's fairly audible in many of the songs and occurs from a combination of side-to-side vibrato and the muting effect of the finger pressing the string down.