Purchased from: Rondo Music
Features — 4
A Chinese made/assembled fretless guitar with basswood body and bolt on maple neck with two humbuckers and Floyd Rose parts licensed bridge. One volume one tone three way switch, Hadean is the lowest brand of the Rondo line, and as such I was weary of some of the parts. But as it was on sale I decided to order it to try out a fretless guitar. Plus the frets are usually the worst culprit and the hardest for me to deal with at my level of guitar tinkering. I got the blue one as it was the one on sale.
Sound — 4
The stock pickups are very low quality, ceramic humbuckers with the magnets attached below the coils. They sounded passible but not clear on a clean setting, but did not handle distortion at all at any level. I purchased set of clearance GFS Alnico pickups which greatly improved the sound, plus threw in a coil splitter for fun.
The advantage of this guitar is being able to play without frets, which has a sound of its own, very much more like a fretless bass on the wound strings or like a sarod on the plain strings. And although the there is much opportunity for glissando it is different from a slide guitar sound. Plus the possibility for microtonal playing is there, is one has is a desire to emulate a bit of Middle-Eastern and Asian traditions. The tremolo bridge at first seems like a poor idea for a fretless, and surely a fixed bridge would give more sustain, and would have been my first choice. But the tremolo give a change to do some vibrato bending flurries and allows sounds similar to Asian zithers such as the guzheng.
Action, Fit & Finish — 3
I got the blue, which is the model that was on sale. The color is much darker than the image on the site. It is more of a bottle blue than powder blue. There is a photo top of wood grain, which is kind of cheesy and common for the Hadean line, but it is not so noticeable through the darker color of the finish. I actually was liking the orange but I think the photo would have been more noticeable with it. There were some black marks in the finish on right edge of the guitar and the blue strip that is on the fingerboard was badly masked. The edges are not clean at all. This stuff doesn't matter to me. The headstock logo is so ugly, but as it is a decal I could rub it off with a tooth pick.
The real issue with this guitar is Floyd bridge, a bubbly chrome job which is so bad it makes the guitar unplayable. Out of the box the plain strings were rusty, and one of them snapped when I tried to stretch them out. Changing strings is probably the first thing to do but I just wanted to check it out a little. I put on some heavier plain strings but left the wound strings as they are half round and I didn't have replacements. After adjusting the trem claw I found the bridge would not stay in tune, after dropping it would stay flat and and after puling it would stay sharp. I did find a spot where it would go flat but it was never perfect. Also the nut would make creaking noises when pressing and pulling the bar. Either one would have to block this or get a replacement. I decided to replace as I liked the flurry possibility and didn't like the quick fix of blocking.
On inspection these are the issues of this bridge: the nut clamps didn't go across the strings but were aligned to them (and couldn't be turned around), the posts were not hourglass shaped but tapered on the top and flat on the bottom, impinging the free movement, and the worst of it - the knife edges were rounded off - a craptastic failure for a Licensed Floyd. I got an eBay Floyd Rose Special (grey market or counterfeit) and it works just fine. I had to redrill for the nut, something I wouldn't usually want to do but as there are no frets placement wasn't so critical. I also had to pull out the post inserts as the threads were different but figured a way to do it without cracking the wood. All this to say this DIY replacement is not too much of a challenge for novice guitar tinkerers.
Reliability & Durability — 5
This is a cheap fretless guitar. It will do what it is supposed to do with a necessary upgrade. I'm not concerned about the durability of it, it is for experimentation. But sure, gig with it. I mean, buskers use some of the crappiest stuff, work the harshest conditions, and still make their money. Pete Townsend would re-glue his smashed guitars. Johnny B. Goode kept his is a gunny sack. What's the problem. It'll be fine! Don't worry about it! Play it until it wears YOU out!
Overall Impression — 4
In the end this cost me around $200 for a playable fretless. I had hoped it would just be the price of the guitar, but it was not. Expect to upgrade the pickups and bridge or at least block it. But I do really like it and like playing it as it is with the upgrades, so I am happy in the end.
Just a few words on my impression of the fretless. As mentioned the sustain is much less and the tone is less bright. because there are no frets for the strings to vibrate against, so this might be something to consider when getting pickups replacements. A harder wood might be better for the body too, but this guitar is as it is. Notes high up on the finger board on the plain string have very little sustain, however taking a tip from sarod playing, using my finger nail lets the note ring out much more clearly and long. This is great for one string but is was hard for me to switch quickly with this technique. Also I like to keep my left finger nails short for fingerstyle playing facility. Maybe some kind of Tony Iommi thimbles would work here. I put half-round 11s with a plain G, but I think a wound G might be better as I think the thicker strings just will carry more vibration, and the wound strings sounds better to my ear.
I can slide my fingers anywhere I want them, like a slide does, but also play one finger at time like regular playing, also use taps, hammer ons and pull offs, which is something not possible with a slide. I can play this pretty easily as it is so similar to fretted guitar technique where as a slide always seemed a different beast to me and more of a challenge to master.
Playing in tune is not really that hard with some practice. There are dots on the side of the neck where the frets should be (not where the dots usually are in the middle of the fret space). Double stops are very possible, plus I can tune them to my ear and not by the fret. (Actually I found a low G and low B sound good with heavy distortion when they are properly tuned - something that never works on a fretted instrument!) No issue with power chords for days. What I don't have to deal with is fret noise in melody playing, which requires its own precision to avoid. So in a way I think it is easier without frets.
Chords, such as open chords, are also possible but much more challenging. I managed to play "Crazy Train" and it sounded fine, even the E and D chords on the verse. What is hard about chords is stacking fingers on the same spot, such as the E open chord. I couldn't get mine aligned well enough. I would have to play both strings with one finger. Which also means only two finger power chords too. Any jazz chords are right out! Basically it is more a melodic instrument, but I just want to mention the chords to say they are possible to a degree.
Why not fretless? Many concerns and criticisms are unfounded. No one criticizes a slide which doesn't make use the frets. Violin players do it in a much smaller space. It is a different instrument and very cool in it's own right. I think maybe it will start catching on as the legitimate instrument it is with possibilities not available on the fretted guitar.
Just a word about Rondo: Despite my low numbers for this guitar, I like Rondo and have bought many instruments from them. I like that they make available many different types of instruments at reasonable prices to check out. Who else offers a fretless guitar at this price? Hadean is their bottom line, so I was a bit wary, and this proved to be an accurate concern on this instrument. Maybe the next batch will have different hardware parts, but this one had some really bad pieces. But I am happy with the guitar after the extra work I put into it and happy Rondo offered such a unique instrument.