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A fretless guitar is a guitar without frets, such that fingering its strings at particular positions on the string is done by pressing the string against its fingerboard. A "fretboard" in fact is just a fingerboard with inlaid frets, hence the principles for fingering the fretless is almost the same as the fretted, but with three exceptions 1) the position where the finger marks the string is not as exact as in fretted instruments, requiring greater finger position, and 2) the resonance of strings is different and may require more apt plucking or modified amplification (pickups) to achieve desired volume, and 3) the smooth form of the fingerboard allows for slides between notes which are natural and not notched to particular notes.
It operates in the same manner as most other stringed instruments and traditional guitars, but does not have any frets to act as the lower end point (node) of the vibrating string. On a fretless guitar, the vibrating string length runs from the bridge, where the strings are attached, all the way up to the point where the fingertip presses the string down on the fingerboard.
Fretless guitars are fairly uncommon in most forms of western music and generally limited to the electrified instruments due to decreased acoustic volume and sustain in fretless instruments. However, the fretless bass guitar has gained fairly widespread popularity and many models of bass guitar can be found in fretless varieties. Fretless electric bass is particularly popular among jazz, funk and R&B players due to the similarity in feel and sound to the acoustic double bass.
Advantages and disadvantages
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Fretless guitars are not constrained with particular musical tunings, tuning systems or temperaments, as is the case with fretted instruments. This facilitates the playing of music in other than 12-tone scales; these scales are typically found in non-Western or experimental music. Fretless guitars produce a different sound than their fretted counterparts as well, because the fingertip is relatively soft (compared to a fret) and absorbs energy from the vibrating string much more quickly. The result is that the pizzicato on a fretless guitar has a more dampened sound. One can finger notes with one's nail like an Indian sarod player. This will sustain and brighten the sound. One can also combine bottleneck slide guitar with fretless fingered guitar playing to add an additional range of tonal possibilities that allows for more melodic and harmonic/chordal possibilities than some of the constraints common to traditional standard and open tuning slide guitar techniques.
Some players seem to choose the fretless guitar mainly for its ability to get in more direct contact with the note played (since finger tip and not the fret decides the string length). However, playing a fretless instrument generally requires specific training and practice beyond that of a fretted instrument. Finger positioning on fretless instruments are different than on their fretted counterparts, with the finger required to be placed precisely where the fret would be instead of anywhere between two frets. As a result they demand more precision from the fretting hand for exact positioning and shifts, and more ear training to discern the minute differences in intonation that fretless instruments permit. Many fretless guitars and basses have lines in place of frets and side position markers (dots or lines), indicating half-tone increments to allow for an easier transition, but the playing style remains distinct.
Acoustic fretless guitars produce less volume than the fretted guitars, which is usually addressed by the use of pickups and amplification.
On fretless basses the fingerboard is usually made of a hard wood, such as ebony. To reduce fingerboard wear from round-wound strings a coat of epoxy may be applied. Other strings, such as flat-wound, ground wound or nylon tape-wound strings, can also be used to reduce fingerboard wear.
The oud, often considered as an ancestor of the guitar, is a fretless instrument.
Fretless guitars are typically modified versions of factory-made traditionally "fretted" guitars, the frets being removed by the player or a professional luthier. There are also professional builders specialising in custom-made fretless guitars.
Fretless bass guitars are much more common than fretless guitars, and there are many manufacturers offering these as standard models.
In no particular order:
- John Cale used a fretless guitar on the 1965 album Stainless Gamelan - a very early recording of fretless guitar.
- Frank Zappa used fretless guitars on a few albums in the early and mid 1970s.
- Adrian Belew has used fretless guitars on a few recordings in the '80s.
- Ned Evett plays a variety of fretless guitars, typically with a glass fingerboard.
- David Fiuczynski plays fretless guitar extensively in his instrumental project KiF.
- John Frusciante used a fretless Stratocaster on the recording of Blood Sugar Sex Magik (most notably on the guitar solo of Mellowship Slinky in B Major); he now uses custom made fretless guitars with glass fingerboards.
- Nigel Gavin regularly uses a Godin Glissentar in live performance and for several pieces on his albums Thrum and Visitation.
- Guthrie Govan plays a Vigier fretless guitar.
- Chuck Hammer layers multiple tracks of fretless guitars on film scores.
- Aziz Ibrahim plays Godin and Vigier fretless guitars.
- Benn Jordan, a.k.a. The Flashbulb, plays a fretless guitar on the track Steel for Pappa from the album Soundtrack to a Vacant Life.
- Pat Metheny plays a fretless classical guitar on the title track of the album Imaginary Day.
- Issei Noro has used fretless guitar from professional debut year in 1979, the user of the most famous Japanese guitarist, and most user are using.
- Erkan Oğur (Turkish pioneer of the fretless guitar) makes nearly all his music with self-made fretless guitars.
- Hasan Cihat Örter composer and instrument is playing more than twenty.
- The Mysterious Triple-V (VVV) Multi-Instrumentalist and microtonalist, VVV has played fretless guitars since 1994 & founded the NYC International Fretless Guitar Festival in 2004 with support from Unfretted.com.
- Yannick Robert plays his Ibanez signature model on "Vaci Utca" and "Dix cordes de nuit".
- Karl Sanders plays a double necked guitar which has an 11-string fretless setup on the top neck, which he used on many of the tracks on Nile's album Ithyphallic.
- Elliott Sharp has occasionally used fretless guitars, such as on his 1996 album Sferics.
- Ron Thal (also known as Bumblefoot) has used fretless guitars extensively.
- Matt Bellamy of Muse now uses a custom Manson double neck with one neck fretless live for two songs.
- Rambo Amadeus Social satirist/Comedian and experimental jazz/rock musician, among other things, he is known for playing fretless guitar in his performances.
- Maartin Allcock Multi-stringed instrumentalist with Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull and Bully Wee Band. Session Work with Eddi Reader, Robert Plant & Beverley Craven and many others
- Steve Vai played a triple neck (12-string, 6-string and 6-string fretless) guitar during live shows many years ago.
- Franck Vigroux plays fretless guitar on Push the triangle's album "repush" and live acts.
- Vindsval of Blut Aus Nord used fretless guitars on the microtonal MoRT album and other albums.
- Jaco Pastorius (bassist for Weather Report) used a customized fretless Fender Jazz Bass.
- Bakithi Kumalo, South African bass player noted for his work with Paul Simon and others
- Dann Glenn (solo bassist/composer) has a signature model fretless bass by Hotwire Basses, and also plays Fender Jazz and LightWave fretless basses.
- Juan Alderete (bassist for The Mars Volta, and previously `) has constantly used fretless basses over his career including using a custom fretless Fender Jazz Bass as his main bass of the album Frances the Mute.
- Bill Wyman, (former bassist of The Rolling Stones), was the first bass player to use a self-made fretless Fender/electric bass that he created after stripping down a standard bass. He removed the frets from his second-hand bass because they were rattling. This can be heard on many of the early Rolling Stones records.
- Rick Danko (of The Band and later, Danko/Fjeld/Andersen) used a fretless bass starting around 1970, heard on the 1971 Cahoots studio album and the Rock of Ages album recorded live in 1971.
- Freebo (session musician known mostly for his work with Bonnie Raitt) has used a fretless bass live and on many recordings.
- Brent Liles (bassist for Social Distortion and Agent Orange)
- Jonas Hellborg (solo bassist) extensively used fretless bass both on his solo bass recordings and with other projects, currently has a signature bass co designed by him from Warwick.
- Pedro Aznar, bassist and composer who has played with Serú Girán and The Pat Metheny Group
- Laurence Cottle British session fretless/fretted bass player who has worked with such diverse artist as Sting, Cher, Eno, Eric Clapton and Black Sabbath
- John Myung of Dream Theater can be seen performing on a fretless six string in Metropolis 2000: Scenes from New York during the song Through Her Eyes.
- Steve Bailey, a session bassist, performs on the six string fretless bass guitar.
- Jack Bruce (of Cream) uses a fretless Warwick bass guitar.
- Tim Landers, session bassist, known for fretless work with Steve Smith & Vital Information and Billy Cobham and Glass Menagerie. He aided Mike Pedulla with the design of the Pedulla Buzz bass, which can be heard on Tori Amos, Marc Jordan, Stan Ridgeway and Al Stewart recordings . He's recently played a Lightwave Systems prototype fretless on the Crimson Jazz Trio recordings.
- Sean Malone (of Cynic, et al.), wrote an analytical teaching book on Jaco Pastorius' playing and also plays the Chapman Stick
- Gary Willis (of Tribal Tech), has a signature model fretless bass by Ibanez.
- Marnie Jaffe (of Live Skull) played a fretless bass in the band Live Skull.
- Steve DiGiorgio (one of the few fretless bassists in the metal scene) plays five- and six-string fretless Thor basses.
- Jeroen Paul Thesseling, plays progressive death metal and uses seven-string fretless Warwick basses.
- John Paul Jones (bassist for Led Zeppelin) plays fretless bass on several Led Zeppelin songs, most notably on "In My Time of Dying".
- Colin Edwin (of British progressive rock band Porcupine Tree).
- John Deacon (bassist of Queen) plays fretless bass on several Queen songs.
- Mick Karn (former bassist of Japan and avantgarde musician) used fretless bass guitar from the late 1970s up until his death in 2011. Karn mainly used Travis Bean during his early Japan years and Wal (bass) after 1981.
- Tony Levin was made famous because of the fretless bass parts on Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" and on a large amount of his solo album work. Like Sean Malone, Levin also plays the Chapman Stick.
- Tony Franklin has been instrumental in bringing the fretless bass to heavy music recordings. Franklin is generally associated with the fretless Fender Precision Bass; he has a signature model. During the 80's he was also seen with Jaydee basses.
- Pino Palladino, a session bassist, has developed a fretless bass method. The bulk of Pino's fretless work was played with a pre Ernie Ball Music Man StingRay.
- Percy Jones bass player with Brand X and Tunnels. Percy initially played a fretless Fender Precision Bass then a Wal (bass) and finally an Ibanez EDA905. Jones started playing fretless bass in 1971
- Bunny Brunel had used a fretless bass on many recordings since the 1970s, usually a signature Carvin BB75 (bass).
- Victor Wooten uses a custom five-string fretless bass on several of his own songs as well as several Bela Fleck and the Flecktones songs.
- Sting (bassist and leader of The Police) used a variety of fretless basses with The Police
- Jandek, outsider musician, has recorded entire albums of only vocals and fretless electric bass.
- Jeff Ament, (bassist of Pearl Jam) uses fretless basses on some Pearl Jam songs as well his other projects. Jeff is normally seen play Wal (bass) basses when using a fretless.
- Paul Simonon from The Clash used a fretless Fender Precision Bass in 1981, during the period of their Sandinista! album.
- Mo Foster is a highly regarded UK session bassist whose 'voice' is a fretless Fender Jazz bass.
- Stomu Takeishi is a Japanese jazz bassist.
- Geddy Lee, of the Canadian rock trio Rush has played fretless bass on and off since the 1970s. He used a Fender Jaco Pastorius tribute bass to play the bass line for the instrumental Malignant Narcissism from 2007's Snakes & Arrows.
- Les Claypool (of Primus and his many other side projects) uses a variety of fretless basses, most commonly an upright 5 string, and more famously his Carl Thompson (luthier) 4 string fretlesses and 6 string fretless Rainbow Bass.
- Colin Moulding, bass player with XTC uses fretless bass to achieve their distinctive sound. Almost all songs on the XTC album English Settlement use fretless bass.
- Martin Mendez, bassist for Opeth used a fretless bass on Still Life.
- David Gilmour, Pink Floyd guitarist, plays a fretless bass on Hey You. And their bassist and songwriter Roger Waters plays fretless bass on the track "A Pillow of Winds" from the 1971 Meddle album.
- Michel Hatzigeorgiou, Aka Moon is a Belgian bassist.
- Michael Manring, solo bassist, plays Zon Hyperbass (TM) fretless basses for his experimental virtuoso music.
- Stu Hamm, studio/solo bassist, can be seen playing a fretless on the song Rubina on Joe Satriani's Live in San Francisco DVD.
- Tom Jenkinson, also known as Squarepusher, sometimes performs using fretless bass.
- Morty Black, former bass player for TNT has used fretless bass on songs such as Forever Shine On and Without Your Love.
- Kristoffer Gildenlöw, former bass player for Pain of Salvation has extensively used fretless bass by ESP in many album recordings, such as BE and One Hour by the Concrete Lake.
- Paul Webb (bassist for Talk Talk)
- John Taylor, bass player with Duran Duran occasionally uses fretless bass, having used one notably on the Duran Duran song "Lonely In Your Nightmare" from their hit album "Rio" and also on the song "Tiger Tiger" from their third album "Seven And The Ragged Tiger".
Festivals featuring live fretless guitar music have been held for several years both in the US and in Europe. In New York, the first NYC Fretless Guitar Festival was held in 2005. In Holland, the Dutch Fretless Guitar Festival has taken place since 2008.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fretless guitars.|
- Roberts, Jim (2001). 'How The Fender Bass Changed the World' or Jon Sievert interview with Bill Wyman, guitar player magazine December (1978)
- Bacon, Tony (2010). 60 Years of Fender. Backbeat Books. p. 50. ISBN 0-87930-966-0
- Trynka, Paul (1996). Rock Hardware. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 113. ISBN 0-87930-428-6
- Bacon, Tony; Moorhouse, Barry. (2008). The bass book: a complete illustrated history of bass guitars. Hal Leonard Corporation, second edition. p. 96. ISBN 0-87930-924-5
- Unfretted.com - fretless guitar resource: history, news, reviews, tips, FAQs, MP3s, lists, dictionary, etc.
- NYC Fretless Guitar Festival - The New York Fretless Guitar Festival features the best fretless players from around the world.
- Ned Evett The home of the glass guitarist.
- "Iki keklik" by Erkan Ogur
- A beautiful Erkan Ogur piece
- Turkish fretless guitar virtuoso Erkan Ogur in concert