Fretless Questions, player bio, photos, videos, music, and more
Fretless Questions: Matt Bissonette
FB: How long have you been playing fretless bass?
Matt Bissonette: I started when I was 17.
FB: What influenced you to play fretless?
Matt Bissonette: I got to North Texas State University in 1979, I heard Gary Willis playing in a club and freaked out. I hounded him for days and had him build me a fretless. He was shaving necks down and pretty much making fretless basses out of regular basses. Of course growing up listening to Jaco put a huge bug in my ear.
FB: Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?
Matt Bissonette: I took a few lessons throughout my life. I never really focused on it like I should have, I play a lot of acoustic bass so that really helps my intonation.
FB: Who are your main fretless bass influences or favorite players?
Matt Bissonette: Jaco, Marco Mendozza, Bunny Brunel, Gary Willis. Favorite – hands down Gary Willis, he plays solos like a guitar player which is what he started as. You don’t even think of it as a fretless cause it’s NEVER out of tune, he just entered a whole new world, one that I can’t even get a ticket into.
FB: Do you play upright, electric, or both? Which do you prefer?
Matt Bissonette: I try and play them all whenever I can. I think a regular fretted bass is my favorite since you don’t have to struggle with intonation.
FB: What was your very first fretless bass? Do you still own it? Have you had or played others?
Matt Bissonette: I had a 1978 Jazz that Gary made into a fretless, I used it with Maynard Ferguson in the early eighties, I don’t remember where it ended up but it was a good bass. A foveate – probably my Lakland 5 string. I have a few Bongo basses, I want to eventually wanna get one of them converted over to a fretless someday. I also had a 5 string Yamaha.
FB: What types of strings and fingerboards do you prefer?
Matt Bissonette: I use the Dean Markley round wounds.
FB: What playing styles do you use?
Matt Bissonette: I try and use mostly my fingers with a fretless, I can make it sound bad enough without using my thumb, sometimes I’ll use a pick for a Tony Levin sound.
FB: What bands or projects feature you playing fretless bass?
Matt Bissonette: I used it in and out of different bands. I used it with David Lee Roth, Joe Satriani, Maynard Ferguson, a lot of big band stuff here in LA, and basically bring it with me to every session.
FB: Do you have a favorite song you played fretless bass on or some notable songs or experiences?
Matt Bissonette: I liked it on a song called “All Around The World” on my solo bass record. Most of the stuff that I really like I never hear again after I leave the studio. Maybe it’s better that way?
FB: What would you say is unique about your fretless style?
Matt Bissonette: I’m consistently more out of tune than anyone, I pride myself on that. No, I don’t know if I’ve ever come up with anything unique on the fretless. When I’m really honest, and I think I can say this with a lot of certainty, we’re all chasing Jaco’s vision. I would have never come with a sound like that. If I was on a deserted island with just a bass I would probably eat it.
FB: Are you still actively playing fretless bass?
Matt Bissonette: Yeah I still take it to every session. Just waiting to hear a producer wonder out loud, “What about fretless?”.
FB: Do you have any basic advice for bass players looking to take up fretless or those who are currently playing?
Matt Bissonette: I would say that the best bass players I know can play all the styles, one helps the other. The fretless is a beautiful sounding instrument that takes a lot of work to play it well. Looking back I wish I had spent more time honing in on it, but then again there’s a lot more in life than playing bass.