Have you ever wondered what the difference was between playing a fretless guitar and a traditional fretted guitar is? There are certain advantages and disadvantages to a fretless guitar but in order to understand these differences we need to understand what a fretless guitar actually is.
A fretless guitar is essentially played the same way as a normal guitar. However, because it is fretless you have the freedom explore a wider variety of playing styles which open up a whole new world of creative possibilities.
The fret marks the sections along the neck of the guitar as a visual clue for players to adhere to the standard scales in classical western music. Frets also provide tension points that alter the sound you make on the guitar.
Here is a list of the advantages and disadvantages of a fretless guitar:
A fretless guitar offers a softer, warmer sound compared to a traditional guitar. Although an unfitted guitar is uncommon, it is mostly used by bass guitarists because it has a similar sound and feel to an acoustic double bass.
Without frets, the guitarist is free to produce sounds that are outside the usual scales. Unlike fretted guitars which are limited to such scales, the fretless guitar makes it easier to play non-standard notations which enables more exotic sounds and fluidity.
Great for Masters
For the more experienced players that may have mastered the traditional guitar, the fretless guitar provides a fresh and rewarding challenge for those who wish to truly perfect their guitar playing. Relying on skill and ear experienced players can challenge themselves in new ways allowing, them more freedom of sound and artistic license.
When either buying or having a fretless guitar made, you can request that markings are put where the frets were. This can help as a visual guideline for those new to a fretless guitar until they get the hang of things, and can later if they choose, have them removed.
Because the fingerboard is smooth, sliding techniques come more naturally and produce a better, smoother sound. This is because the vibrating string can run unhindered from the bridge to where the string is attached.
The versatility of the fretless guitar allows you to cover up a string that is flat or sharp in mid-song by playing the note either slightly sharper or flatter to make it sound in tune. This takes a lot of pressure off during performances and gigs and gives the player more breathing room to adjust their playing without sounding off-key.
The removal of frets forces players to rely on skill, technique, and ear to play correctly. Because it offers no guidelines, as a beginner, learning to play on a fretless guitar can be frustrating at times.
You need to have an experienced ear and a solid technique in order to find the correct notes which, on a fretless guitar, requires fingering precision. Therefore, as a beginner, starting out on a fretless guitar is not recommended.
Because un-fretted guitars are so difficult to learn they are not as popular as traditional guitars. As a result, they can be more difficult to get your hands on. Sometimes players would have to acquire a traditional fretted guitar and then have the frets removed by a professional - usually at extra expense.
On a fretless guitar, it is highly recommended that the sliding technique is used while playing. This is because you need to avoid bending the strings too much. You would need to adjust how you play the strings in order to protect the fretboard. Because the fretboard is no longer protected by the frets, if you bend the strings like a traditional guitar you can damage it. Therefore, as a result, you may be forced to use the sliding technique more often... whether you want to or not.
More Range Equals More Mistakes
Making a mistake on a fretless guitar is significantly more noticeable than a mistake on a traditional guitar. Unguided by frets, it’s easy to get lost and play the wrong notes by a larger margin that you would normally on a fretted guitar.
Though the softer sound can be an advantage, it can also be a disadvantage. A warmer and better quality sound are useless if your audience cannot hear it. If you plan on playing in a band, unless you get an electric-acoustic or electric guitar that you can plug into an amp into, the band is very likely to drown out your sound. Amps and electric guitars can then also work out to be more costly than the acoustic version.
Although there are seemingly more advantages than disadvantages to a fretless guitar, the disadvantages are definitely something that needs to be considered. Beginners especially are recommended to start off with a fretted guitar and then go from there when they have more experience.
The fact is that a fretless guitar is difficult to master. Its wide range and rich sound are sure to keep any experienced player motivated enough. After all, this versatile instrument that allows you play any style your heart desires.
About the Author: Joseph Evans
My name is Joseph Evans and I am a guitar playing, freelance writing, online teaching music lover based in Seattle, WA. Growing up in a musical family naturally lead to obtaining my Bachelor of Music (BM) in Composition & Music Theory degree, after which I taught and traveled my way across Europe for 7 years before returning back home to settle in beautiful Seattle. On a typical day, you would find me playing my guitar, pottering around in the vegetable garden, going on long hikes, reading and/or writing.