#1
The fretless bass is well established and there are countless players who are known for almost exclusively playing them (Jaco Pastorious, Les Claypool, etc.)

I have seen a few examples of people playing fretless guitars, mostly as a gimmick on a multiple neck guitars. When I searched on google I found examples of a few 'songs' that certain people (such as Zappa) used them on; but very few examples of people who play a fretless guitar as their main instrument.

(The clarify when I say fretless guitar I mean a normal six string guitar that doesn't have frets as opposed to a lap steel guitar or some exotic instrument)

My question then is this... Why haven't fretless guitars really taken off? (please give me examples if I'm wrong about that). I'd also be keen to hear from anyone who owns/has played one and how they compare to playing a normal guitar with a slide.
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Last edited by Matriani at Sep 2, 2015,
#2
Because they are difficult to play and not many people make them

much harder than a regular guitar with a slide, there are no frets for feel/reference
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#4
Quote by Jehannum
You could cheat and have lines printed on the fretboard.


The fretless guitars I've seen have "fret" inlays.
I reckon one of those things would be fun with an e-bow, or a Gizmotron.
#5
I find playing a normal guitar with frets challenging enough. Violin, cello and upright bass players get by without frets but then again I never wanted to play those.
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#6
There's very little demand for them. I know Vigier makes fret less guitars.Maybe one day they'll become more mainstream kind of like seven string guitars did.
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#7
Ive played a guitar with the frets manually removed its actually not all that different from playing a regular guitar. there were marks were the frets were removed for reference but you fret in almost exactly the same place as normal to avoid being sharp and I dont think it would take too long to learn to play in tune. I also play upright bass so I guess take that for what its worth.
#8
Fretless guitars don't really lend themselves to the modern idiom of guitar playing.
Neither would a violin, standup bass, viola, cello, etc.

Try bending on a violin sometime.

This may change with something like gorilla glass fretboards, but for now, there's not much advantage to owning a fretless.
#9
Quote by dspellman
Fretless guitars don't really lend themselves to the modern idiom of guitar playing.
Neither would a violin, standup bass, viola, cello, etc.

Try bending on a violin sometime.

This may change with something like gorilla glass fretboards, but for now, there's not much advantage to owning a fretless.


Vigier actually make theres with metal fretboards for reasons mentioned above. Its not something I would use all the time but I would love to get my hands on one. Or maybe modify a used guitar because I agree its not practical with wood. I probably wouldnt do a ton of bending just because of the luxury of getting about the same sound from sliding but fretting straight on wood with round wound strings seems like it would wear it away pretty fast.
#10
Steve Vai played a fretless on one of G3 concerts. It had inlays at the fret positions... I don't think I would be interested in playing something like this ever.. I hardly play normal guitar
#11
I've got an interest in both violin and guitar, and I'm quite interested in bridging the gap. I find violin playing position strains my wrist, the horizontal method of holding a guitar is much more sensible, but doesn't allow for bowing so easily.

I'd be very interested in a four string fretless guitar tuned to GDAE, you could go even further and radius it for bowing.
#12
Vigier's Surfreter is made with a delta metal fingerboard. Delta metal is a proprietary brass alloy. The late, great Shawn Lane used to play one a lot during his jazz fusion years.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrN-UQ_1c6w&sns=em

There are a few other companies making fretless axes- Agile had one for a while- and they're trying out other materials like high-strength glasses, carbon fiber and other man-made resins, etc. that said fretless basses seem to use wooden fingerboards with no issues. My Washburn fretless is 20+ years old.

As a former cellist I can say there isn't much point- or difficulty- in bending on those instruments. The same effect you'd get from bending you can achieve by sliding vertically.

As for playing a violin, there are some folk fiddlers who held the violin like a miniature upright bass, braced on a thigh. Others have held them along their forearm and braced against their bicep, waist high.
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Last edited by dannyalcatraz at Sep 2, 2015,
#13
If I had to guess why fretless guitars haven't taken off I'd say it's because guitars have traditionally always been fretted, while the upright bass is not fretted and a fretless bass guitar makes much more sense.
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#14
Quote by dragonzrmetal
I've got an interest in both violin and guitar, and I'm quite interested in bridging the gap. I find violin playing position strains my wrist, the horizontal method of holding a guitar is much more sensible, but doesn't allow for bowing so easily.

I'd be very interested in a four string fretless guitar tuned to GDAE, you could go even further and radius it for bowing.


Folks already bow some violins in a horizontal hold, but I think the bowing action suffers.
Certainly you can tune your guitar to fifths (that would extend its range). It's been done.

Rondo Music (www.rondomuslc.com) has some very inexpensive fretless guitars ($109-139) in the Hadean brand...

#15
Fretless...with a tremolo?

Unusual, to say the least.
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#16
When you play open chord shapes I don't think it would work very well, like with an open A major my fingers are never in line
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#17
Chording takes MUCH more precision than most players can muster- even those who regularly play fretless instruments.

Experience playing an instrument in the violin or violin octet family helps, but you don't usually play more than 2 notes simultaneously on those due to the curvature of the fingerboards.

Ouds, on the other hand, probably provide a good training ground for fretless guitar.

And then, of course, there's Godin's 11-string Glissentar, a fretless hybrid of the Oud and the 12-string guitar.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

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Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!
#18
Quote by mockbel
Steve Vai played a fretless on one of G3 concerts. It had inlays at the fret positions... I don't think I would be interested in playing something like this ever.. I hardly play normal guitar


I've seen this - he plays a 3 neck guitar (12 string, 6 string and fretless) but he barely plays the fretless and IMO it's more of a show off novelty thing rather than offering anything musically.

I guess playing chords is a major reason why people don't use them all the time as I imagine it's pretty difficult to get the all your fingers spot on and it would shound awful if a couple of notes were off.

I may still invest in one if I can get it cheap enough. Even if I don't play it live I think that it would help improve my accuracy when switching back to a normal guitar
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#19
Quote by dannyalcatraz
Fretless...with a tremolo?

Unusual, to say the least.


Available with or without.

It didn't strike me as unusual (we are talking fretless, here), and I immediately envisioned the usual soaring harmonics, etc., though I don't envision owning one any time soon. At least it's out there. Gibson *just* introduced a 25.5" scale Les Paul -- I figure it would be well into the next century before THEY get a fretless out.
#20
Quote by dspellman
Gibson *just* introduced a 25.5" scale Les Paul
Can you provide any evidence for this wild statement?
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#21
#22
That Gibson sounds pretty neat. Shame they don't do a 24 fret version though
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#23
Quote by Matriani
That Gibson sounds pretty neat. Shame they don't do a 24 fret version though


For under a grand, you can order a semi-custom Agile with a 25.5", 27", 28.65" scale with 24 frets, stainless frets, a shaved neck heel, neck-through construction, a tummy cut, an ebony fretboard, real MOP/abalone inlays, no inlays, choice of finishes, etc.

This one is 27", 24 frets, no inlays, jumbo frets, ebony fretboard, yada yada.
Sadly, I don't even consider Gibson any more when it comes to LP style guitars. With Trussart, Carvin, Agile and even PRS around, there's just no point.

#24
That guitar looks pretty sweet (not a fan of no inlays though).

Unfortunately I am a bit of a sucker when it comes to big brands and probably do put too much emphasis on what it says on the head stock rather than how it plays/sounds.
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#26
If only...it wasn't a Gibson.
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Log off and play yer guitar!

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#27
Quote by Matriani
The fretless bass is well established and there are countless players who are known for almost exclusively playing them (Jaco Pastorious, Les Claypool, etc.)

I have seen a few examples of people playing fretless guitars, mostly as a gimmick on a multiple neck guitars. When I searched on google I found examples of a few 'songs' that certain people (such as Zappa) used them on; but very few examples of people who play a fretless guitar as their main instrument.

(The clarify when I say fretless guitar I mean a normal six string guitar that doesn't have frets as opposed to a lap steel guitar or some exotic instrument)

My question then is this... Why haven't fretless guitars really taken off? (please give me examples if I'm wrong about that). I'd also be keen to hear from anyone who owns/has played one and how they compare to playing a normal guitar with a slide.


In a word, intonation.

It is not easy to play in tune. You really have to listen well while playing and quickly make adjustments for intonation. That is for one note. Playing chords can get very difficult. Not that it cannot be done, but it will be a LOT harder than with a fretted guitar.

My 2 cents
#28
I play fretted, fretless as well as upright bass.

I find the human ear is much more sensitive to intonation with higher notes when I play these basses. I would hate to try fretless on a guitar which is (about) an octave higher than a bass. Let alone going up on the higher frets on the high E string. Fretlines help, but only so much. The contact point of the finger to the fingerboard defines the note's pitch. So you would want the part of the "fretted" finger to contact the fingerboard just behind the fretline. (This can depend on how the fretlines were placed. Every instrument I've seen put the fretline exactly where the pitch would be correct). You can image that finger pressure can effect intonation since the finger pad moves with pressure.

If I cannot hear my notes clearly and have a stable note reference (like a keyboard) when playing with a band, I will play the fretted bass. Even if you are perfectly in tune on the fretless guitar but the rhythm guitarist isn't, 9/10 you will get the "stare of justice" .

I'm not trying to discourage you from trying fretless guitar, just telling you why I think it really hasn't become mainstream. I think for lead guitar it can be pretty effective.
#29
Quote by dspellman
Folks already bow some violins in a horizontal hold, but I think the bowing action suffers.
Certainly you can tune your guitar to fifths (that would extend its range). It's been done.

Rondo Music (www.rondomuslc.com) has some very inexpensive fretless guitars ($109-139) in the Hadean brand...


Thanks for the heads up at that price it would be worth it to experiment with a fretless guitar.
#30
Quote by sonicnuance
In a word, intonation.

It is not easy to play in tune. You really have to listen well while playing and quickly make adjustments for intonation. That is for one note. Playing chords can get very difficult. Not that it cannot be done, but it will be a LOT harder than with a fretted guitar.

My 2 cents


As someone with a Vigier Surfretter: i definitely agree.

Fretless guitars are certainly a lot of fun, but they're quite hard to play and even if you have the intonation right, is still sounds a bit, well, 'different' from a regular fretted guitar. That's not to say it doesn't sound good or doesn't serve a purpose, but not every song is suited for a fretless guitar.

That being said, having a fretless is great fun and if you already have a number of fretted instruments they can be a good choice if you want to add some variation to your collection. There's some nice video's from people like Ron Thal and Guthrie Govan that can give you a good idea of what you can do with a fretless.
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#31
Quote by Bonsaischaap
As someone with a Vigier Surfretter: i definitely agree.

As someone who wants a Vigier Surfreter, color me envious.

There's some nice video's from people like Ron Thal and Guthrie Govan that can give you a good idea of what you can do with a fretless.


Shawn Lane is my personal favorite fretless guitarist. I believe Vai has done some fretless work, too.
Sturgeon's 2nd Law, a.k.a. Sturgeon's Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”

Why, yes, I am a lawyer- thanks for asking!

Log off and play yer guitar!

Strap on, tune up, rock out!