History 1900 – 1959

History 1900 – 1959


Around the turn of the twentieth century Ball Beavon of, Bishopsgate, London, sold a 7 string fretless banjo made by Matthews and Houghten of Birmingham.


The Larson brothers – Manufacturers of Guitars, Mandolins and Harp guitars produced what looks very much like an acoustic doubleneck, fretted and unfretted. This unique Maurer model (made by the Larson Brothers) is actually a harp guitar with the sympathetic bass strings spaced so that all strings pass over the fingerboard and thus become playable.

Maurer Harp GuitarMaurer Harp Guitar

August Larson held five patents one of which detailed the playable fretless neck.

Source: The Larson’s Creations – Robert Carl Hartman, publisher: Centerstream, dist: Hal Leonard Corporation.


Zeynelavidin develops the Cümbüş, a twelve string banjo like fretless instrument tuned in six identical two string courses. When the Turkish ruler, Mustafa Kemel Atatürk, declared everyone should take a surname, his family adopted the name of the instrument. His name became Zeynel Avidin Cümbüş. (Cümbüş is pronounced Joom-Bush and in Turkish means fun and revelry.) There is a simple single bolt on neck mechanism, enabling different neck lengths to be quickly fitted. The fingerboard seems to be formica.

12 string Cümbüş standard neck12 string Cümbüş (standard neck)

The Cümbüş was a relatively cheap instrument and was readily adopted by the poor and ethnic minorities. This gave rise to the quote: “You only play the Cümbüş if you are a chain-smoking alcoholic loser from a despised ethnic minority with a long string of petty criminal convictions.” (source- Jack Campin)


Harry Partch developed guitars to use with his 11-limit just intonation scale, Partch experimented with microtonal fret positions from 1934-1942, but eventually he decided on fretless necks with amplification to make up for lack of resonance. These described versions were completed in 1945 at the University of Wisconsin.

harry partch guitars fretless

Picture from Genesis of a Music – Harry Partch
(1949 – first edition only)

The Adapted Guitar I (right in photo) has a smooth fingerboard with polished-down pinheads and other engravings to help the player locate ratios. The guitar uses a pickup for the strings and an additional custom microphone to amplify tapping effects.

The guitar can use 3 strings tuned to 8/5 1/1 5/4 (low to high) or 6 strings in double pairs of the same ratios.

The Adapted Guitar II (left in photo) is a 10 string guitar which can be tuned to either major or minor sets of ratios. The nut is raised high so that a metal rod can be used to stop the strings, or used lightly for gliding effects. The triangle patterns identify places to stop the strings, and they use a colour scheme to show tonal relationships. This guitar also used an electronic pickup (not pictured).

Source: Genesis of a Music – Harry Partch (1949)

Note: These guitars were modified further by Partch in later years, Adapted Guitar I was eventually replaced with a different design in 1952. It is this modified design that is pictured in the 1974 second edition of the book, in which both guitars are designed to be played hawaiian style.

These final versions are used today along with Partch’s other surviving instruments in Dean Drummond’s Newband.

History 3000 BC to 1900 AD History 1960’s