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Fretless Bass

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Fretless Bass

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 frets inlayed into it, 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

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.

Fretless instruments

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.

Famous users

In no particular order:

Fretless guitar

  • 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
  • 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.

Fretless bass


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.

See also

Guitar portal


External links

  • - 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

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