Fretless Guitar Technique

Fretless 6-String Guitar Technique – Tim Donahue

Table of Contents

Foreword from Unfretted

Intrduction – Tim Donahue

I. Guitar Setup

II. Tuning

III. Sustain / Vibrato

IVa. Scales

IVb. Scales with Slides

V. Arpeggios

VI. Intervals

VII. Chords

VIII. Musical Examples

Appendix. Notational Symbols

Foreword from Unfretted

When Tim Donahue dropped us a line about a fretless guitar technique book we were amazed such a document existed. Tim explained that this was written back in 1986 to accompany the Selva Guitar company’s licensed TD design of the first production fretless guitar; the Selva Tim Donahue Model.

In fretless guitar terms 1986 is not thirty years ago, its archaelogical! So when the original document arrived through the post we had to decide how to make it available to everyone.

Tim’s original idea was to photocopy and distribute for the cost of copying and postage, or alternatively scan and PDF for file download. Finally we decided to scan and publish on the website, hoping this would be more accessible for everyone.

But what about the book? Well we don’t think anyone will be dissapointed, with everything from how to set up a fretless guitar, lots of practical exercises, and plenty of personal tips from Tim. It will certainly keep you busy for quite some time. We have tried to keep everything as close to the original as possible. and welcome any discussion on the Forum.


Introduction by Tim Donahue

Let me first congratulate you on your interest in playing fretless 6-string guitar, it is an instrument that has yet to be stylized upon and explored, so therefore, a lot of doors remain, to be opened, this makes fretless 6-string guitar playing exciting and challenging.

This book is set up as a starter program designed to get the beginning fretless guitar player’s ears and fingers in tune with each other and a basic knowledge of music theory and the guitar fingerboard will be required to fully understand this book’s contents. Having completed this book, the student will have only touched the surface of the study of fretless guitar, more of which will be discussed in later books.

Fretless guitar is unique in that it is, of course, a guitar and yet it is quite similiar to the stringed instrument family of the cello and violin. But unlike a fretted guitar, the fretless guitar requires strict ear training before it can be played. Anything playable on regular guitar can be played on the fretless. How it will sound, of course, is a different matter. So naturally, a few common studies reserved for fretted guitar are contained in this book, some techniques borrowed from the classical world are also included, but note that classical technique is not adhered to exclusively as I feel that “anything goes” in trying to play any musical instrument. It follows that some special techniques, common to neither fretted guitar nor the violin family will be discussed.

When I first constructed and began playing fretless guitar 10 years ago, without teachers, so I had to rely on my interest and plain old gut feeling to keep pushing and someday realize this instrument’s full potential. The quest never ends, but through this short book, I hope to be able to show you some of the facts and techniques I have uncovered in order to save you, the student, time in your study of fretless guitar.

Most important of all – throughout one’s study, always keep in mind that the uniqueness of an instrument or the peculiarity in the way one plays does not in itself make for good music. Playing a fretless guitar will never make anyone musically superior just because they play it. For some, however, it can help to bring out easier the music you wish to express.

Tim Donahue, 1986

Guitar setup