If fretted guitar is from 3rd dimension I believe fretless guitar is from 4rd dimension. When you take out frets from the guitar it is becoming a different instrument. It provides different opportunities and makes the musicians journey more exciting.
For some of the readers it may sound strange, why removing frets from the guitar? Unfretted instruments provide endless sound. We can play microtones, make different articulations and ornamentation. You may still play chords with fretless guitar but with limited number of notes. But this helps musicians to be more creative.
Fretless guitar can be used in contemporary, ethnic, rock, pop, ambiance music. While fretless classical guitar provides smooth sound, fretless electric guitar sounds more dynamic. In my album “Denizin Ötesinde” I used fretless classical guitar to create smooth atmosphere. One of the disadvantage of fretless classical guitar is difficulty of having nice acoustic sound on the stage as you have in the studio environment. It is a demanding instrument. Therefore most of the fretless players prefer electric one on the stage.
Cultural back ground of the musician impacts the way of playing fretless guitar. As I grove up in Turkey my ears got used to hear microtones and Turkish ornamentation. I enjoy to play these sounds which I cannot play with fretted guitar. However I just used microtones just in song “Bayram Peşrev” in my album. Mainly I used ornamentation and merge them into my compositions. Please remember that eastern music is based on modal music and we call it “Makam” in Turkey. There are 53 microtones in one scale but we just use 7 of them. Therefore there are 7 notes in makams as in western music. For the ones who are interested in theory of makams you can visit my article on my webpage.
When I listen some of the Polish folkloric songs which is played by violin I also hear microtones. If you want you can imitate this music with your fretless guitar and create a different approach to this music. Even you can get elements from this music and create contemporary music compositions. It is important not to play fretless guitar as fretted guitar. This doesn’t make sense in my opinion. The idea should be creating sounds different than normal guitar. Therefore it is important to listen different music styles and be open for challenges. You can even get ideas from Indian and African ethnic musics.
Fretless guitar brings some difficulties such as intonation. There are some exercises to be in tune. I would advise you:
1. Play with songs and practice with tuner.
2. Turn off the lights and play the guitar in darkness. Or close your eyes.
3. Play a note on the guitar and compare it with an open string. For example if you play G on the B string then play open string G simultaneously and check if you they sound the same.
4. Vibratos are helpful to find right note but be careful not or execrate.
Another difficulty is playing chords. Generally fretless guitar allows you to play max. 3 notes as chords. So you need to play the most important notes of the chord you want to play. Experiment with chord inversions and create new positions. It is difficult to be exactly in tune while playing chords. It needs practicing and time.
If you want to have a frettles guitar, your luthier can help you. Simply you can buy a fretted classical guitar and your luthier can remove them out. It is advised to change finger board with Ebony. If your luthier chooses the guitar while buying the guitar this will also help you to have a better fretless guitar. String height from the finger board effects the sound such as sustain. You can play around with the height and find the sound good for you.
Recording fretless classical guitar is easy. I use just one microphone and in some cases I record line in as I did in my song “Aysuda” and “Aktur”. You can both record line in and microphone and then mix them as you want.
Fretless guitar can help you to be more creative and have fun. Journeys in different dimensions are always fun J