18 Fretless Questions: Matt Bissonette
1. FB: At what age did you start playing fretless bass, and how long have you been playing?
Matt Bissonette: I started when I was 17.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. FB: Who are your main fretless bass influences?
Matt Bissonette: Jaco, Marco Mendozza, Bunny Brunel, Gary Willis.
5. FB: Who is your favorite fretless bass player and why?
Matt Bissonette: 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.
6. FB: Do you play Stand-up, acoustic, electric, or all? 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.
7. FB: What was your very first fretless bass? Do you still own it?
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.
8. FB: What is your favorite fretless bass you’ve ever played?
Matt Bissonette: 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.
9. FB: What fretless basses have you owned, which do you still own?
Matt Bissonette: I had a 5 string Yamaha, my 78 Jazz, and my Lakland 5 string.
10. FB: What types of strings and fingerboard combinations do you like?
Matt Bissonette: I use the Dean Markley round wounds.
11. FB: What playing styles do you use – finger, thumb, or pick (or other)? What do you like about those styles?
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.
12. FB: What bands/projects have you played fretless bass in/on (list as many as you like)?
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.
13. FB: What is your favorite song you played fretless bass on (studio or live)?
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?
14. FB: What is your favorite fretless bass riff you’ve written (if different from above)?
Matt Bissonette: I remember some things in college but never recorded them.
15. 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.
16. 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?”.
17. 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.
18. FB: Do you have a web site address you would like to share?
Matt Bissonette: My website is MattBissonette.com
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