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Fretless Questions: Tony Franklin
FB: How long have you been playing fretless bass?
Tony Franklin: I’ve played music all my life. When I picked up the bass (fretted) at age eleven, I had a good grounding in music and had also been playing gigs on and off for about 5 years. When I got that bass I knew it was “the instrument I’d been waiting for”. I can still see moment in my mind. I’ll never forget it. I was playing gigs on it a few days later. I picked up the fretless when I was eighteen…
FB: What influenced you to play fretless?
Tony Franklin: After hearing Jaco Pastorius (on record). He expanded the possibilities of bass playing and the bass players’ role to a whole new level.
FB: Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?
Tony Franklin: My Mother showed me the name of the strings and maybe a few other basics on that first day, and the rest of it just came from playing and listening.
FB: Who are your main fretless bass influences or favorite players?
Tony Franklin: Jaco, Paul McCartney, John Deacon (Queen). Funnily enough I’ve never really listened to many bass players. I’ve more been into the song and the composition. I see the bass as having an important role within the song, but it is not more important than the song itself. There are a few exceptions… as in the next question… Favorite – can you guess? Jaco! He had such a unique sense of melody, impeccable timing, and great compositional skills. Most of his melodies would have translated to just about any instrument which is the sign of a good melody. He chose to express them on the fretless bass, which is our blessing. In the process he made us aware of the fretless bass like never before.
FB: Do you play upright, electric, or both? Which do you prefer?
Tony Franklin: I play them all though I prefer the electric. Mainly because I’m primarily a rock bassist, though I play other styles also. I’ve always felt the most freedom on the electric. I have occasionally done some orchestral works on the upright, though not so much recently.
FB: What was your very first fretless bass? Do you still own it? Have you had or played others?
Tony Franklin: Yes I still own it, play it and consider it to be my main bass. It’s a Fender P-bass with the additional (DiMarzio) J-Bass bridge pick up. I’m not a big collector of instruments. I have what works for me.
I’ve tried and owned a few different fretless basses, which have reflected different eras of my playing. I did all the first Firm album on the P-Bass. I then acquired a MusicMan Stingray fretless for the Firm tour. It was a great live bass. I then bought a JayDee Supernatural Roadie II fretless, which I used on most of the 2nd Firm album and the second tour. This also was used on all the Blue Murder stuff, live and studio. I recently gave that bass to a friend/collector. I hadn’t used it for ten years, and felt like the bass would be more appreciated in a new home. It’s alongside some classic basses! I went back to the P-Bass ten years ago and that will be my bass for good now. I have a back up that Fender made. It’s a copy of the main P-Bass. It’s a great bass though it doesn’t have the same magic as my main one. Maybe in 10 years it’ll have a few more stories to tell! I use the back up though, as the new material I’m doing (with my own band) has quite a few different tunings, so I need to have the ability to switch around.
FB: What types of strings and fingerboards do you prefer?
Tony Franklin: DR Strings – Sunbeams. Ebony fingerboard on the new P-Bass and Rosewood with a special “diamond” type finish on the old P-Bass. I don’t know about the specifics of the finish, but I experimented for quite a while to get the “right” finish.
FB: What playing styles do you use?
Tony Franklin: I mostly use the pick or the finger style. I occasionally use the thumb (slap) style, though not too often. I used that more in the big bass solo days, i.e. the 80’s! For me personally, I use the slap style as more of an effect, like a footswitch that I could turn on to achieve a certain sound. There are certain rhythmical patterns that I can create using the slap style, that cannot be done with the other styles. So the slap style has it’s place for me occasionally.
I probably go about half and half between the pick and finger style. I like both. I like the rhythmical attack and punch of the pick. I like the versatility and expressiveness of the fingers. Players must remember that a wide variety of tones can be achieved by plucking the strings in different places, especially with the finger style. To some this will be obvious, but it’s surprising how many players overlook this valuable tool, especially on the fretless.
For instance, plucking the strings near to the bridge, creates a tight, punchy sound. Plucking more over the fingerboard will create a wide, singing fretless tone. This effect is more noticable with the finger style. Generally when using finger-style, I pluck the strings somewhere between the P-Bass pick up (the stock pick up) and the fingerboard. This creates a big sound with lots of low end, but it still has plenty of attack. Sometimes I’ll pluck right over the pick up. It can vary, even within a song. I honestly don’t think about it too much at the time. It’s really about playing whatever the musical moment needs.
To me this is one of the great things about music, at least in it’s purest and highest form. It is ever evolving and changing. I don’t like to get stuck in the “this is how the song goes” frame of mind. Because the song may have different ideas!
FB: What bands or projects feature you playing fretless bass?
Tony Franklin: It’s probably best to go to my website for that! I’ve played fretless on virtually all the projects I’ve worked on.
FB: Do you have a favorite song you played fretless bass on or some notable songs or experiences?
Tony Franklin: I think it’s “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” from the first Firm album.
FB: What would you say is unique about your fretless style?
Tony Franklin: Maybe I’m not the right person to answer this! What I hear from most people (about my playing) is that I put the fretless bass in a rock context in a unique way. I really don’t think about it much. I play fretless bass and I play rock music. It makes perfect sense to me to bring the two together. However I do know that a lot of players cannot get the attack or the aggression out of a fretless bass. I’ve never seen the fretless bass as an obstacle in rock music. For the most part, rock music needs to be played aggressively, with attitude. Thinking about it, some instruments, just don’t lend themselves to that rock attitude, like the oboe, the bagpipes, the triangle etc etc… and maybe the fretless has more associations with jazz or smoother music. I don’t see it like that. The fretless is a beautifully expressive instrument, and it ROCKS!!
FB: Are you still actively playing fretless bass?
Tony Franklin: You better believe it! I just completed my own album which was played completely on the fretless. The album is all songs with one bass instrumental. I’m putting a band together right now and want to get out there and play! I put (fairly) regular updates on my website…www.tonyfranklin.com
FB: Do you have any basic advice for bass players looking to take up fretless or those who are currently playing?
Tony Franklin: As I mentioned earlier, learn your skills and then play from the heart. I have some lessons on my site. You have to be patient. I had played the fretted bass for 7 years before graduating to the fretless, and then it was another three years before I made the full transition to fretless. It makes you a better all round player, because you HAVE to listen. You’d be surprised how many musicians are only listening to themselves!! The bass especially, is an instrument where you can play very little and be great! It’s all about the context and the song. We have to play what is appropriate for the situation. I cannot stand listening to bass players or any player who plays a lot of notes “just because he can!”. Sharing music should not be a selfish thing. I usually only play music for myself when I’m by myself. Otherwise I’m in front of an audience who wants to be entertained, and be provided with an escape from their everyday lives. That’s a priviledge (for me) as far as I’m concerned. Everyone has a choice about how they spend their time and their money. There are so many choices these days. People can see a movie, go for a dinner, play computer games, surf the Net… it’s endless. And some people come to see a band. So I believe it is our place as musicians to give the audience something special… something that may make a difference in their lives. I share all these things because I truly believe it takes much more than “excellent playing abilities” or “good networking skills” to become a successful musician. Only a handful of musicians actually “make it” or even do enough to “pay the bills” and make a living.
FB: Do you have websites or social media sites you would like to share?
Tony Franklin: I’m at www.tonyfranklin.com and there are plenty of links on there to some other cool sites! Peace and Music to All!.
From Wikipedia.com (full Wiki link):