The fretless electric bass is a transcendently expressive instrument all to itself. It’s also a bastard instrument: born from the electric guitar (not the double bass) in the 1930’s it was only later ‘defretted’ for the first time in 1961 by Rolling Stone legend Bill Wyman who merely yanked the frets out on his existing bass.
The first time the bass truly moved me was seeing Charlie Haden live. Sharing the stage with Pat Metheny during the Song X tour, Haden’s acoustic double bass was amplified so loud that his melodic genius occupied the same space as the wailing guitar. This sheer volume ironically allowed him to pull forth the instrument’s subtle texture without actually pulling forth the strings in that agressive manner of other upright bassists – in essence it was an electrified, not solely acoustic sound.
Admittedly my early bass playing is more Peter Hook than Haden… But while working on 1616 I yanked the frets out of my fender like the rite of passage of pulling out wisdom teeth in the effort to get at that perfect acoustic/electric ‘bastard’ sound. And as we say our sad goodbyes to the great Charile Haden, I hope I can at least pay forth a glimmer of homage to his melodic and textural exuberance in my upcoming bossa nova tunes…
Rest In Peace Charlie Haden (August 6, 1937 – July 11, 2014).