Bryan Beller

Bryan Beller

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Bryan Beller playing fretless bass in the studio

18 Fretless Questions: Bryan Beller

1. FB: At what age did you start playing fretless bass, and how long have you been playing?

Bryan Beller: I actually didn’t start playing fretless for real until I was 32, when Steve Vai called me for a gig with Holland’s Metropol Orchestra. He invited me to do it, and said that I needed a 5-string fretted and 5-string fretless bass to do it. Of course, I didn’t play fretless bass at the time – I didn’t even own one! But I wasn’t going to tell him that. So I got one in a hurry and practiced enough to do the gig. Then it just stuck after that.

2. FB: What influenced you to play fretless?

Bryan Beller: Well, aside from Steve Vai telling me it was a prerequisite for the gig, Jaco was a big influence on me. Really, it’s all about him for me when it comes to fretless. No other influence hit me as deeply.

3. FB: Are you self-taught or did you take lessons?
Bryan Beller: I took plenty of lessons as a kid, and attended Berklee College Of Music, so I’m definitely a “schooled” guy. I never took a specifically “fretless” lesson, though.

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Bryan Beller playing fretless bass in the studio

4. FB: Who are your main fretless bass influences?
Bryan Beller: Like I said, Jaco all the way. Maybe Patrick O’Hearn from Zappa’s ’77 band, but mostly Jaco.

5. FB: Who is your favorite fretless bass player and why?
Bryan Beller: Well, Jaco again, just because he created a sound with it. The punchy midrange, the percussive nature of what he did, the way harmonics sounded when he played them…I don’t sound like him, but he’s my favorite and I definitely was influenced by him, as have been many others.

6. FB: Do you play Stand-up, acoustic, electric, or all? Which do you prefer?
Bryan Beller: I played acoustic bass for a little while when I was a kid, from 10-13. Then I quit because I was tired of being a band geek. Man, I wish I hadn’t! But now I only play electric, fretted and fretless.

7. FB: What was your very first fretless bass? Do you still own it?
Bryan Beller: My one and only fretless is a Mike Lull Modern 5-string, which I still own.

8. FB: What is your favorite fretless bass you’ve ever played?
Bryan Beller: That same bass! Never picked up another one I dig as much. Though the Fender Tony Franklin signature model is a nice one as well.

9. FB: What fretless basses have you owned, which do you still own?
Bryan Beller: Just one (see above).

10. FB: What types of strings and fingerboard combinations do you like?
Bryan Beller: I like the ebony fingerboard with D’addario Half Round strings on them. It gives me the right balance of warmth and speaking tone.

11. FB: What playing styles do you use – finger, thumb, or pick (or other)? What do you like about those styles?
Bryan Beller: I’m not much of a pick guy. I’ll thumb-mute every once in a while, but really I’m mostly fingerstyle. It’s just the most expressive way for me to play. Especially on fretless, it’s not even close.

12. FB: What bands/projects have you played fretless bass in/on (list as many as you like)?
Bryan Beller:
Steve Vai
Mike Keneally
Dave Weiner (Vai’s second guitarist)
My own solo project (on my new album Thanks In Advance)
James LaBrie (lead singer for Dream Theater)
…and lots of other indie projects.

13. FB: What is your favorite song you played fretless bass on (studio or live)?
Bryan Beller: I’m very proud of what I did on Mike Keneally’s “Spoon Guy” and “Uglytown” from his Guitar Therapy Live CD. I was copping Doug Lunn’s parts, but somehow the bass came alive for me that night and I really felt comfortable on it, and was able to make it my own. Honestly, I’m also proud of the two tunes on Thanks In Advance on which I played fretless – “Casual Lie Day” and “Love Terror Adrenaline.”

14. FB: What is your favorite fretless bass riff you’ve written (if different from above)?
Bryan Beller: Frankly I don’t write riffs to be fretted or fretless, or anything that specific. I think it’s more crucial that whatever gets written serves the song as a whole. That said, “Casual Lie Day” has some stuff I’m proud of from a bassline compositional standpoint.

15. FB: What would you say is unique about your fretless style?
Bryan Beller: Really, nothing! I’m just standing on the shoulders of others.

16. FB: Are you still actively playing fretless bass?
Bryan Beller: Absolutely. It’s a part of my arsenal.

17. FB: Do you have any basic advice for bass players looking to take up fretless or those who are currently playing?
Bryan Beller: Just start playing one! There’s no “good” time to start, and it’s going to be awkward at first. Just keep going, keep practicing, and eventually it’ll become second nature.

18. FB: Do you have a web site address you would like to share?
Bryan Beller: Yes, please visit me at:


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