Although fretless instruments aren’t uncommon in the world of music, a fretless guitar isn’t something you often hear about.
Fretless guitars lack the frets that one would traditionally see on a guitar. This offers several advantages to a guitarist. In fact, pro players like Pat Metheny and Ron Thal use them.
Today, we’re going to tell you all about fretless guitars, pros and cons, and tips to play like a rockstar!
What is a Fretless Guitar?
Fretless guitars are just that, guitars without frets. In order to truly understand what a fretless guitar is, it’s first important to understand the purpose of the fret. The fret segments the neck of the guitar into multiple sections. The frets serve as the tension point to alter the guitar’s sound. They also serve as a guide for musicians.
When there aren’t any frets, there’s no interruption in the string from the bridge, up the neck of the guitar. The lack of frets creates a unique, warm, but less amplified sound that works across all types of music.
Unfretted guitars, while rare, are incredibly rewarding instruments to learn to play. With that said, there are advantages, disadvantages, and tricks to playing a fretless guitar.
Advantages of Fretless Guitars
- Range of sound
- Creativity in playing
- Creates unique music
The fretless guitar’s most significant advantage is the range of sound it can produce. Without frets to space the strings, the guitar can produce sounds outside of the Western music scale. While traditional and beautiful in their own respect, fretted guitars have limitations imposed upon them by the frets. The freedom of a fretless guitar is especially useful for those interested in Eastern music. It can also produce more exotic sounds that are difficult to reproduce on a traditional guitar.
Playing a guitar without frets also offers players a chance to perfect their craft, as the removal of frets forces students to rely on their own skill, technique, and ear while playing. It also offers players fluidity and a truly unique sound. Slide guitar, a method of guitar playing that relies on a cylinder slide across the strings, produces the same “fretless sound.” This sound is warmer and more fluid, with almost no stop between pitches. This creates a genuinely full and aesthetically-pleasing sound.
Learning to play unfretted guitars is a gratifying endeavor. It’s especially exciting to many who have mastered the traditional guitar. Fretless instruments add a new layer of difficulty and greater freedom of sound that many avid musicians enjoy immensely.
You might also be interested in: The Best Songs to Learn on Guitar (& More Easy Guitar Songs!)
Disadvantages of Fretless Guitars
- Small following
- Difficult to come by
- Requires extensive training and practice
While playing a fretless guitar offers musicians more flexibility and a more comprehensive range of potential musical options, there are also disadvantages to consider. The following remains relatively small. Much of its underground popularity is rooted in the difficulty that accompanies the instrument. Fretless guitars are difficult to come by and challenging to truly master.
Because it lacks the typical guidance of a fret, the unfretted guitar requires a great deal of training to truly master. Ear training is required for all players to denote the differences in sound between the notes. While this can definitely be accomplished by working with a professional guitar teacher and practicing a lot, it is not a particularly easy skill to master and leaves some students feeling frustrated.
Additionally, these guitars are far less common than the traditional “fretted” guitar. Few outfitters ship fretless versions of their more popular items. While the fretless bass has gained popularity and many outfitters send them as part of their regular inventory, this simply is not the case with fretless guitars. In many cases, a consumer must purchase a “fretted” guitar and have a luthier remove the frets. A small grouping of luthiers specialize in fretless instruments, but they come at a premium.
Tips and Tricks for Playing a Fretless Guitar
- Markings for where frets would be
- Avoid bending strings
- Practice, practice, practice
When buying your guitar without frets, you can request that the luthier make markings where the fret usually is. These painted (or notched) “frets” allow users to use the marking as a guide while learning unfretted techniques. As you practice and your skill progresses, markings can be removed, or a new neck can be used.
The unfretted guitar enables easier slide mechanisms instead of bending strings to achieve sounds. Avoid bending strings as it can damage the fretboard. Instead, focus on learning slide techniques.
Before heading into the world playing a fretless guitar, it’s essential to train the ear and fingers to play an unfretted guitar. Intonation exercises and pitch exercises are necessary. While unfretted instruments allow for more fluidity, they also enable the users to make more significant, noticeable mistakes.
Interested in improving your guitar playing skills? Take private lessons that can be customized just for you!