Fretless Guitar, Sound and Colour – Daley Yakoweshen

This article is written by Daley Yakoweshen and proposes using colours on the fingerboard to indicate different pitches of sound. The image below shows a theoretical guitar in NST (New Standard Tuning) which was developed by Robert Fripp. The lower strings are tuned in fifths, the final high string a minor third: C G D A E G

Concept Guitar

Hello Fellow musicians my name is Daley Yakoweshen,

An idea has been floating around the musical community regarding transposing the 12 common tones in western music up by 40 or so octaves, until the resulting sound frequency parallels the wave frequencies of visible light.
This idea might sound odd, and the uses for such a comparison might not be immediately obvious. However, when one compares the high frequency notes to the visible light spectrum, each note lies on a colour of light. The colour that each note lands on can be used to identify that note.

* Note: F#/Gb lands on the visible light spectrum twice, once as shown above, and once as a dark purple, almost black. The deep reddish/brown is easier to distinguish from other notes, than blackish/purple.

Even now, the uses of coloured notes by themselves isn’t obvious, but like any artistic expression, creative people find ways to express many things through mixed ideas. Sometimes, fused artistic methods are more expressive than the sum of their creative parts, so to speak, and what more expressive instrument can there be but a fretless instrument?

What if some person were to take the above spectrum of notes, and apply them underneath each string of the fretless guitar? I made this mocked-up version of the finished guitar for you to get a better idea of what I mean:

This illustrates a guitar tuned in Robert Fripp’s New Standard Tuning C G D A E G

What new musical possibilities would the theoretical fusion of sound and colour produce? Certainly, there is a brave new world of ideas to be pioneered in this respect and I personally feel, and hope you will agree with me, that the following idea alone will take a long time to fully realize.

Sound from images

Using the coloured notes system to describe images in a subjective and objective way simultaneously. As an example, consider this image:

Woods 1

It’s an Aerial view of forested hills near the Saskatchewan / Alberta Border in Canada. Maybe when you try to think of music that describes this picture something comes to mind. Personally, I get Ennio Morricone’s “The Ecstasy of Gold” (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly) for reasons I could explain but won’t. Whatever music comes to mind for you, I’m almost certain that it isn’t that track. Because we have these different ideas about what this picture “Sounds” like, if I play “The Ecstasy of Gold” for you, however loud I turn it up, you probably won’t picture these woods. We need a semi-objective way to describe what we see through music. If we were to take the 12-note coloured notes system and apply it to this picture, and then reconvert it back to a photograph, it would probably look more like this:

Woods re-imagined

This image doesn’t look very pleasant, at least not in my eyes. Whether we agree that this image is pretty or not, it doesn’t appear much like the original photograph. The notes that describe this photo would include Bb/A#, C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E, A, and F#/Gb. Not surprisingly, this isn’t a recognised musical scale, that I could find.

I’m unsatisfied with this interpretation of the original photo, because there is actually very little expression and feeling conveyed in it. One solution includes Timbre, and Fretless Guitar.

Imagined images

Look back at the original photograph and try to imagine a song that moves through the image from left to right. We’ve got light, soft blues in the upper middle that are probably derived from C#, but also notes in between the half-steps, above and below C#, which is where the fretless guitar comes in. But, if you look at the chart of musical notes colour scale, you don’t see a pitch that matches the colour we have in the natural image. What to do? A relatively objective solution might involve the timbre of the tone representing a colour. Please remember that this idea of how to describe this image is my own, and your own methods might differ, but when I look at this image, referencing timbres against the colours in our colour scale, I see/hear gentle washes close to C#, (The smoky teal patches of sky) with a dark bassline centering around B. (The evergreen trees) I feel like the burst of yellow sun is section of brass close to A#. I feel like the blueish purple line of sky that fades across the top of the sky is some sort of bright, near sine-wave droning tone, close to D# and E. Lastly the orange trees and clouds suggest pitches close to A and G# played in some sort of snappy rhythm.

Apparently, these notes match up to the Ichikosucho musical scale starting on E. Again, I remind you that no matter how hard I try, this is still a largely subjective analysis of this photo. Even though basic colours are objective under this system, it’s up to the player to choose how they will convey the timbre they see in the image. Remember that our eyes perceive colours that don’t exist in the light spectrum, because all the colours we perceive are mixtures of Red, Green and Blue, picked-up by red, green, and blue “cones & rods” in our eyes. Colours like pink might be perceived musically by some as very bright timber G and G# notes, for example, as pink is just a pale red. Goodness knows how we might perceive the “colour” of white.

I understand that perceiving photographs or other images in this fashion probably won’t sound pleasant in terms of the ratios between the notes being played, depending on how accurately a player tries to pitch notes to colors, but this is a highly experimental idea, and might ultimately come to nothing. I expect that any music created from this idea will require a very entertaining rhythmic structure.

Any ideas or comments about how one might make a fingerboard as the one that appears in the photoshopped picture above are welcome. Also, any other ways this idea might be utilized for the creation to become creative would be highly appreciated.

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2 thoughts on “Fretless Guitar, Sound and Colour – Daley Yakoweshen

  1. I think the best way to make this fingerboard a reality would be to use glass and print the colour bands on the underside of the glass. It might be a good idea to backlight the glass with an LED strip.

    1. I agree with you Jeff, I think that’s probably the best way to accomplish something like this. Additionally, I think a white underlay, beneath the fret markers and color strips, would increase the visibility, potentially without the use of LED back-lighting.

      Honestly, I love the idea of back-lighting, but I doubt if I’ve the skill to implement something like that! It would be gorgeous, though!

      We’ll see how things turn out. I’ve got an older guitar that is currently decommissioned, so to speak. I’ll probably be removing the fret-board sometime this summer, and after taking measurements and mocking up the design on paper, start consulting local companies, and possibly companies on-line that ship custom glass, on the cost and so on.

      Thanks again!

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