Brown Fretted/less Bass

Catches with the eye, keeps with the feel
Catches with the eye, keeps with the feel

The Brown’s Guitar Factory Fretted/less bass leaves an immediate impression.

Yes, its Purpleheart body wings are attractive, as are its ebony-veneered maple headstock with abalone/mother-of-pearl, engraved/inked logo, and its graphite-reinforced through-body maple neck.

But most eyecatching amongst its features is the two-octave fingerboard. And not simply because it’s ebony, but more because it’s fretted… er… fretless. Well, it’s both…

Builder John Brown’s offset, contoured body shape is reminiscent of the Guild Pilot and the Fender Jazz. Played standing or sitting, the instrument has a balanced feel. The slim neck is very comfortable; if you play with a light touch, the Fretted/less feels and plays like a dream. If you tend to dig in, the instrument will respond predictably, and you may induce some buzzing and rattling (as on any bass with the action set as our test model).

Brown uses a phenolic material to raise the fingerboard on the fretless area that keeps the surface under your fingertips consistent as you transition from the fretted to fretless sections. And it lends a very liquid playing feel.

Brown holds a patent on his fretted/fretless fingerboard and offers many configurations; if his standard fretted/less neck isn’t what you’re looking for, he’ll build you a four-, five-, or six-string bass with no frets under the first two/three strings along the entire length of the fingerboard. They also offer a variety of wood options for the neck and body.

Our test bass bass sported EMG double-coil pickups that sounded great, aided by the active 18-volt preamp with three-band EQ, sweepable mid control, and variable high/mid switch. A Granulite nut and Schaller tuners are standard.

If you’re a slapper, this bass sounds wonderfully deep and percussive. If you like to solo, it’s a wonderful tool to explore vocal-like melodies. And yes, the Fretted/less may be perceived as more suited for the jazzer, progressive rocker, or experimental bassist who spends a lot of time dancing around the upper registers. But overall, it’s simply a versatile, nice-looking, wonderful-playing instrument from a little guitar company in Minne-Sooota!

Brown’s Guitar Factory Fretted/Less
Type of Bass Fretted/fretless neck-through electric solidbody.
Features Maple neck through purpleheart body, two-octave ebony fingerboard, fretted to the 12th position w/second octave fretless except for the 23rd/24th degrees, active EMG pickups, Granulite nut, Schaller tuners.
Price $6,000 retail.
Contact Brown’s Guitar Factory, 7482 Concord Boulevard, Inver Grove Heights, MN 55076. Phone (651) 455-6379, Available via

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’04 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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