Fretless guitar

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Fretless bass guitar
Fretboard of a fretless bass; markers are inlaid into the side of the fingerboard, to aid the performer in finding the correct pitch.

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 precision, 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.

Fretless instruments

The oud, often considered as an ancestor of the guitar, is a fretless instrument, as is the violin family.

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

Fretless guitar

  • 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.
  • Rambo Amadeus Social satirist/Comedian and experimental jazz/rock musician, among other things, he is known for playing fretless guitar in his performances.
  • Adrian Belew used a fretless guitar extensively on King Crimson's 1984 album Three of a Perfect Pair.
  • Matt Bellamy of Muse now uses a custom Manson double neck with one neck fretless live for two songs.
  • John Cale used a fretless guitar on the 1965 album Stainless Gamelan - a very early recording of fretless guitar.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Frank Zappa used fretless guitars on a few albums in the early and mid 1970s.

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 the Netherlands, the Dutch Fretless Guitar Festival has taken place since 2008.

See also


  1. Bacon, Tony (2010). 60 Years of Fender. Backbeat Books. p. 50. ISBN 0-87930-966-0
  2. Trynka, Paul (1996). Rock Hardware. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 113. ISBN 0-87930-428-6
  3. 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
  5. Roberts, Jim (2001). 'How The Fender Bass Changed the World' or Jon Sievert interview with Bill Wyman, guitar player magazine December (1978)

External links