Fretless Guitar Hints and Tips

Hints and Tips for the Fretless Guitar

Hopefully these tips will help get you unfretted very quickly. Remember if you or your instrument come to any harm, we only made suggestions.

Unfretting

If you are keen on turning an existing instrument into a fretless one the unfretting part is quite simple. Most frets are tapped in, so tap them out with a hammer and punch, or far better, get a fret removal tool. Some manufacturer’s glue the frets so you may need to heat them first. If it gets real difficult Ned Evett used pliers on his Strat to remove the frets. Better still take the guitar to a repair shop. (They may look at you funny)

The fret gaps

Once you have unfretted the neck you may be worried about the existing gaps left by removing the fretwire. This should make no difference to the sound at all, so leave them alone. You may want to refret (heaven forbid) the guitar later. One quick note: If your neck is not reinforced with a truss rod or similar you will need to fill the frets with something like a superglue and wood dust mix. This will stop the neck bowing under the tension of the strings

Filling the fret gaps

OK so you really want to fill the gaps. Get a child’s wax crayon of a colour that matches the guitar. With the strings off or slackened rub the crayon over the fret gaps. The colour will lodge in the gaps. Polish the fretboard and Voila! you have all the frets marked in a friendly colour, ideal when trying to get that perfect pitch. (You could show off and colour the 3rd 5th 7th 9th 12th in an alternative colour scheme.)

Playing chords

Many people will tell you chords are a no no on a fretless guitar. Not so, you just have to realise that some chords work and some don’t. The difficult ones are where you would use two adjacant fingers to stop strings at the same fret. Oops, sounds a little out, try using a single finger across two strings. Big six string chords may be a little out of reach but you should be able to do 90% of what you need with a little change in style.

Nylon Strings

Our Godin Multiac Nylon SA came strung with standard Nylon classical strings. Sounded nice, just like it should. Trouble was the top three nylon strings would give you friction burns, no kidding, and the bottom three being wirewound would not only screech when sliding your fingers but also had a residual resistance to overcome before you could slide a note. A long search finally found a tapewound nylon set of strings. Absolute perfection. If you ever wanted to totally transform an instrument this was the way to do it. No more friction burns, all the strings are silky smooth allowing genuine expression. It improved the sound so much and made accurate intonation much easier. The strings are about three times the price of a nylon set but worth every penny. Contact the boss for details if your local shop does not stock these.

String Tension

Most fretless guitars seem to improve when the string pitch is tuned down. This slackening of the strings seems to give you more physical control over string dynamics. Standard tuning of E-A-D-G-B-E can be dropped to D-G-C-F-A-D with great effect.

Perfect Pitch

Suddenly without frets things can seem a little out of tune. When learning to hit notes you can always slide up to them and then hold a vibrato. This will improve your accuracy.

FG Pros & Cons FAQ – Fretless Guitar