History – The 1960’s
The first person to use a modern fretless bass guitar was the Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman. In 1961 he removed the frets from a 1959 Dallas Tuxedo bass (an inexpensive English bass) because they buzzed really badly. He intended to replace them but then liked the fretless sound and kept it that way. He used it with his first band, the Cliftons and it made an appearance on every Rolling Stones album from 1963 to 1977.
Track from 1965 “Stainless Steel Gamelan” by John Cale & Sterling Morrison: (Cembalet / fretless guitar)
6th June – John Lennon (with the Beatles) appears on the Kenny Everett radio show. Recorded at Abbey Road studios, this was broadcast by BBC Radio One on 9th June between 10.00am and Midday.
The entire, uncut interview appeared on a 1986 album called “The Golden Beatles”
Kenny: “What kind of guitar is that? It’s very strange looking.”
John: “A fretless guitar.”
For a long time we thought this was just one of John’s smart arse quips until we purchased a rare copy of the Japanese album:
The Golden Beatles (vinyl album)
All over the 13m45s interview John is doodling away, no question it is anything but a fretless guitar. It sounds very much like he had just started playing it that day.
More on John Lennon’s Fretless:
In an interesting addendum to this information Mark Moffat contacted us with this snippet:
I came across your site while searching for info on a Hohner Black Widow Fretless six string guitar which I restrung and set up for Apple corps in 1973 along with numerous other guitars (Rocky, Lennon’s Epiphone, rosewood tele, the original Ric twelve).
I worked at a store and repair shop in Denmark St in Soho, London, called Top Gear which was pretty much guitar central during the “golden era”.
All of the guitars that came in to be cleaned & set up were George Harrison’s with the exception of John Lennon’s Epiphone casino which, given the condition of all the instruments (bad – rusty strings, oxidized frets etc.) had been stored in the same place for some time.
I can confirm that there was a Hohner Black Widow Fretless among the guitars that came from Apple to be worked on.- Mark Moffat – 20/December/2011
The Late Sixties
Jimi Hendrix’s fretless – by Dave Peckels:
In the late 1960’s, my Dad, Ted Peckels, manufactured electric guitars in Riverside, CA. He produced some of the Black Widow’s for Acoustic there, and also made guitars with the St. George and Hohner names. (Mostly fretless basses for Hohner) He died several years back, but a story he often told was about a fretless guitar that was built especially for Jimi Hendrix.
According to the story, Hendrix really liked the guitar. It was probably an Acoustic or my Dad’s own brand, Bartell. At some point, it was stolen and Hendrix ordered another one. It was in the process of being built when Hendrix died. I always wondered what happened to that second one, but maybe it was the one that ended up in the Guitar Center with the name scratched off!
Another contributor Dave writes:
I was in Ace Music in Santa Monica in the late 60’s when I saw an “Acoustic Black Widow” fretless guitar. I think the black widows were made in Japan back then. As I recall it had a “mother of bowling ball” fretboard. It was designed by Harvey Gerst I think.History 1900-1959 History 1970’s