The Role of Fretless Guitar in Ambient Music

Fretless Guitar has become an excellent tool for use in ambient music with its capability to use microtones, long slides and modulated drones. With the advent of guitar synthesisers, MIDI control and modellers, the fretless guitar can emulate many sounds, making it an excellent instrument for the creation of ambient music.

Ambient Music grew out of the use of synthesisers in the 1970’s and creates a mood or atmosphere, often there is no beat, structured composition or melody.

Brian Eno (credited with creating the term) once said “Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

Fretless Guitarists creating Ambient Music

Many fretless guitarists have vary varied styles and while we try to weed out those playing Ambient Music you might also find they have interests in other genres like Jazz, Metal or Classical. The you might find that one man’s Ambient is another Man’s Jazz. So apologies in advance if we have pigeon-holed you accidentally or deliberately. As always, a website is always a work in progress, and any help with content or pictures is much appreciated.

Eric Jackson

NYC based Eric Jackson released his album “Dust” in early 2016
In his own words:

Remove meter, melody, arrangement, composition and all structural elements: The dust left over in the form of a single chord, justly tuned, is what Dust: One explores.

As my first solo musical release in over 3 years, I wanted my return to ambient, experimental expression to go back to the basics in the form of what I refer to as a “compound drone.” Made up of a justly intonated four-note chord with slight static to add an extra dimension, the only “movement” comes from the filters and modulations the notes have been fed through.

The sound and overall feel of the chord directly influenced what effects I decided to run, and how they should affect the sound. I searched for a way to convey the overall feeling and emotion in a stable environment of the harmonic relationships among these four notes, and the result is a 15-minute exploration of this chord. – Eric Jackson

Dust front cover

http://ericjackson.bandcamp.com/album/dust-one

Eric Jackson (webpage)

Frédéric L’Epée

Frédéric describes himself as a composer of Contemporary Music but he does have some nice Ambient work and tunes his guitar very differently.

In his own words:
“I use a custom made electric fretless guitar tuned now in D-E-G-A-C-D, (from bass to treble) all wound strings. It is the tuning of a Chinese traditional instrument, the Gu Qin. Previously, with my ancient band Philharmonie, the guitar was tuned in usual guitar intervals, but beginning with C#.” 

- Frédéric

Frédéric L’Epée on Soundcloud

Frédéric L’Epée (webpage)

Greg Segal

Greg Segal
Photo by Chrissy Barr

Greg’s work is peppered with fretless guitar and is very Science Fiction influenced.

In his own words:
“I’ve owned my fretless since ’85. It’s made by the Acoustic company. I bought it used at a shop in Reseda, California, where it sat for a few years before I bought it. When they first got it in, they wanted something like $1400 for it. I would have bought it immediately but couldn’t afford to. So people would come in, pick it up, play it for a while and pass when they discovered they’d really have to approach it like a new instrument. When I picked it up for $175 they were glad to see it go. I wouldn’t be without it. If it got trampled by an elephant tomorrow I’d have to get another fretless.” – Greg

Phantom Airship – Greg’s webpage.

Jahloon

Jahloon 2nd Austrian Festival

Played guitar from age 14 and finally took up fretless guitar in 2003. He describes his pieces as “Raw Ambient Soundscapes” because many are not that relaxing, often painting a dystopian future melding sound effects and modelled guitar sounds.

This track was recorded for the “Village of the Unfretted” double CD, this is the complete 2014 version.

Jahloon’s website

Kevin Kastning

Kevin Kastning with the 36-string Kevin Kastning Signature Double Contraguitar by Emerald Guitars.

Kevin Kastning 36 string
Photo by Julian Blair

Born in 1961 in Wichita, Kansas, USA, his instruments include: 36 string Double Contra-guitar, 30 string Contra-Soprano Guitar, 16 and 17 string Contra-guitars, 12 string guitar, 6 string guitar, Fretless Guitar, 12 string extended Baritone Guitar, 6 string Bass Baritone Guitar, 12-string Alto-guitar, Mandolin, Piano, Bass. Well known as an Ambient Music performer he used Fretless Guitar on the Kasting/Siegfried album “Scalar Fields” (2005)

kevinkastning.com (website)

Luca Formentini

Luca Formentini

Italian Fretless guitarist with Unguitar.com website. This Italian fretless guitarist just oozes style, as does his “Unguitar” website. His album “Subterraneans” is Ambient with the biggest capital A we have got.

Stephen James Taylor

Stephen James Taylor - fretless

Even though you might not have heard of Stephen James Taylor, I can guarantee you will have heard his music. He is a Los Angeles-based composer best known for his film and TV scores with 4 Emmy nominations, 2 Annie nominations and a DVD-X Award on “Best Original Score” to date.

He played two tracks on the “Fretless Guitar Masters” CD “For Belinda” and “Mountains of Man” if you know these from a film or documentary, let us know.

In the video, Stephen James Taylor performs at Kulak’s Woodshed in North Hollywood, California, USA, December 2014. Performed on a custom made 31 tone per octave baritone guitar made by Halo Guitars. The extended tonal palette allows for new ways of creating musical tension and release.

 

Stephen James Taylor (Wikipedia)

Conclusions

First off apologies to any Ambient Fretless Guitarists I have not included, send me info, pics and links and you can be added to this page.

Certainly the Fretless Guitar linked to a synthesiser is a far more expressive instrument than a keyboard, take a look at David Verhaus’ Kaleidophon, not quite a fretless guitar, but the principle remains very similar. Fretless Guitar just seems to lend itself very well to Ambient Music.

 

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