Fretless Guitar in Popular Music

Fretless Guitar in popular music

Why hasn’t fretless guitar surfaced in modern popular music? Perhaps I had better say what I mean by popular music or perhaps say the genres not included in that description, which would be Metal / World / Jazz / Indian / Turkish / Avant Garde / Microtonal / Ambient and anything else you would not catch your mother listening to (don’t worry, I’ll cover all these in later articles).

Perhaps for many of the reasons it is still a minority instrument, difficult to play. So why would you make it more difficult? Perhaps for the chance to intonate your music more accurately, perhaps to find that “Blue note’ the elusive tone that gives a viable edge to your music? Perhaps to make sounds that no one else has heard before, in a modern context?

Andy Summers fretless guitar

Andy Summers with custom made fretless Hamer

There have been a couple of examples, Andy Summers of the Police used a fretless on the track “Driven to Tears” in the 1980’s and at the Glastonbury (UK) Festival in 2010 Matthew Bellamy of Muse used a double-neck Fretless / Fretted playing the intro and outro of “Resistance” using an Ebow on the fretless neck. The guitar was made by Manson guitars and given the name Casinocaster.

muse_manson_casinocaster

Matthew Bellamy of Muse with his double neck guitar, top neck is fretless.

Additionally Chet Atkins had Gibson make him a Nylon strung Fretless Chet Atkins model. He used it on “Summertime” and can be seen on the DVD “Chet Atkins & Jerry Reid at the bottom line in NYC” (1992)

dvd_chet_atkins

Darby Slick, lead guitarist of “The Great Society” who wrote the classic “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love” took to the Fretless Guitar and made the album “King of the Fretless Guitar” (1998) which is a good middle of the road instrumental album.

Darby Slick fretless guitar

Darby Slick with fretless guitar

Ron Thal of Guns & Roses is a real pioneer of fretless guitar, Vigier Guitars made him a signature double neck guitar, pictured below, the first five sold will be signed by Ron himself, though I know he has two, Fredrick Phil has another, so there’s not many left!

Ron Thal Bumblefoot doubleneck
NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 18: Guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal performs (L) and Keith Keith Hejna perform at Big Kids Rock New York 2015: A Battle of the Bands to Benefit Little Kids Rock at Hard Rock Cafe, Times Square on June 18, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Little Kids Rock)

Bubbling under the mainstream gaze are several incredibly competent fretless guitarists…

Ned Evett’s albums are always a joy to listen to, you could almost call him a singer-songwriter, but there is more to Ned than that. He is a great musician and entertainer, always brilliant live and always creating individual songs with great lyrics.

Ned Evett at Riff's guitar school

Ned Evett lecturing at Riff’s Guitar School

Jack Mazzenga is carving a name for himself in guitar circles, with two fretless guitar albums to his name “Had to Say” and “Acoustic a la Mode”

Group pic

Jack Mezzzenga, his Fretless Guitars and other instruments, banjo and mandolin.

Conclusions

Fretless guitar is indeed, at this time (2015) a rare beast, but it is becoming more mainstream, the adventurous amongst us are taking a few tentative steps towards a freedom with no tuning boundaries, the new music is coming, time to get on-board. – Jahloon

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