History 1970’s

History – The 1970’s


Frank Zappa on Fretless

USA – Frank Zappa purchases a Acoustic Black Widow fretless. (info Jim Kimsey)

Excerpt from an interview with Steve Rosen – Guitar Player, Jan. 1977:

Frank Zappa: I do have a fretless guitar, and I’m pretty good on that. At one time Acoustic manufactured a fretless guitar, they made a prototype and tried to interest people in it, but nobody wanted it. So the prototype ended up at Guitar Center. I walked in there one day and asked them if they had anything new, and they said, “Have we got one for you!”

And they brought out this thing, and it was really neat, so I bought it for $75. The only restriction was they had to take a chisel and some black paint and scratch off the word “Acoustic” on the headpiece, because Acoustic didn’t want anybody to know that they had made such a grievous error as to make a fretless guitar. I’ve put a Barcus-Berry on that, too, and I send the magnetic pickup to the left and the Barcus on the right The thing that sounds like a sllde guitar on “The Torture Never Stops” (Zoot Allures) is actually a fretless. It’s also on “San Ber’dino” and “Can’t Afford No Shoes” (both from One Size Fits All). It’s different than a regular guitar; you don’t push the strings to bend them, you move them back and forth like violin-type vibrato, which is a funny movement to get.

Our contributor Dave comments:

No that was a production guitar, I worked at GC (the only one at that time) in Hollywood in 1973 and I remember having that / those guitars I’m pretty sure it was a guitar made for Acoustic by the Hohner Company..there was also a production run made in Japan I do not remember which ones were made first. The guitar was modelled on the “Esposito” guitar (the first prototype 335 style guitar) owned by Harvey Gerst (he played in a band called Sweetwater).

He was the mastermind behind the Acoustic company in the 60’s. The ones that they imported from Japan had wicked cool thin flat necks! and played like buttah!

Acoustic Company Fretless Guitar

Acoustic Company Fretless Guitar

This model was bought by Greg Segal in 1985, who bought it used at a shop in Reseda, California, where it sat for a few years before he bought it.


In 1972 Vasant Rai became a visiting professor of music at Columbia University in New York City. He subsequently founded the Alam School of Indian Classical Music in New York. During that time he glued a metal fingerboard on an acoustic guitar, which he then called the Sur-Guitar. Vasant Rai profile & Interview.


USA – Elliott Sharp defrets a $14 Norma, which still remains his favourite.

USA – Frank Zappa fretless track “Down in De Dew” released on a Guitar World cassette. Originally destined for a four album boxed set “Läther” which was later released in 1996 with a second re-issue in 2012.


Turkey – Erkan Oğur makes his first fretless guitar. Many sources cite Erkan as the creator of the Fretless Guitar, while we have seen many predecessors he was the first to use the fretless acoustic guitar in Turkey.

San Francisco – While on a two week tour of the United States, Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal is interviewed for the May 1977 edition of Guitar Player Magazine and mentions he has a fretless guitar, which doesn’t sound too good, just for experimentation. (see 1977) he later said he gave it away.


Sweden – Gunnar Backman enters the fretless scene when he rips the frets off his Hopf acoustic.

Guitar Player, May 1977 – Excerpt from the Terje Rypdal interview:

Q. Do you have any unusual guitars?

A. I have one without frets. It doesn’t sound too good though. It was just for experimentation, and I used it for some things with a bow. I also have a quarter-tone guitar which I tried but found it’s better to just bend to get microtones. For one thing the spacing between the frets gets pretty small.


France – Patrice Vigier makes his first fretless guitar, a classical model with a glass fingerboard.

USA – Philip Catherine plays fretless guitar on the track “Father Christmas” on the 1978 album “Splendid” (with Larry Coryell)

Info from John C McCain

USA 1978 / 79 – Guitarist Randy Roos and Steve Holland modify an SG guitar with a stainless steel fingerboard and infinite sustain device. The sustain device was patented by Steve Holland. They later modified a twin neck Ibanez to stainless steel fretless which Randy regularly gigged with and can be seen on the front cover of his album – Mistral.

lp vinyl Randy Roos Mistral

Album image and info; Kai Matthews

lp randy roos ibanez epiphone

This 1978 album’s liner notes (by Mike Gibbs, composer / arranger & Berklee prof who, BTW, arranged McLaughlin’s symphonic Mahavishnu LP) mentions the double neck as having the infinite sustainer. (Spoonfed records) Interestingly the album was pressed on clear vinyl and is well worth a listen, or purchase (if you can find one).


Yamaha SA1500 fretless guitar

Yamaha SA-1500 Fretless (lined fingerboard)

This fretless guitar (Yamaha SA-1500) was one of 12 prototypes (this one was offered to Lee Ritenour but he declined). The model never made it into production.

Information courtesy of Gary Bender.

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