You can`t have your cake and play it too!
Guitars just keep on getting more and more strange! But in an effort to fill your heads with “outside the box” inspiration here’s a bit of interesting mind-food for those of you feeling hungry, famished or just plain inquisitive. Hopefully it’s becoming quite obvious during the course of reading this blog that the world of the guitar is a vast miasma of potential, possibilities, ideas, inspiration, and much much more! Don’t fret – all will become clear!
The primary metric used to describe a guitar neck is the scale, which is the overall length of the strings from the nut to the bridge with the frets being placed proportionally according to the scale length so the smaller the scale, the tighter the spacing of the frets. There are also several sizes of fret wire available and traditional players often prefer thinner frets, and shredders liking thick frets. Thin frets are considered better for playing chords, while thick frets allow lead guitarists to bend notes with less effort. I use jumbo frets myself on a Strat plus and Ive got no complaints. IF you are trying out an electric for the first time spend some time talking to your dealer and trying out a range of instruments with differing fretwire and neck combinations – for example there are C necks, U necks, and V necks.
There are five principle types of frets:
1. Perpendicular frets:
A fret is a raised portion on the neck of a stringed instrument, that extends generally across the full width of the neck perpendicular to the strings of the instrument. On most modern western instruments, frets are metal strips inserted into the fingerboard.
2. Scalloped fretboard:
Scalloping involves the wood between the frets being scooped out. This allows a lighter touch for a more precise playing while executing bends or vibratos. Some people presume that scalloped frets are a gimmick simply to improve speed but this is in fact a myth. It has some popularity with musicians playing heavy metal music, although the concept can also be seen in more ancient instruments such as the sitar. The famous Ibanez JEM series guitars, designed and played by Steve Vai, come standard with the last 4 frets scalloped.
Yngwie Malmstein became notable in the mid-1980s for his technical fluency and neo-classical metal compositions, often incorporating high speed picking with harmonic minor scales, diminished scales and sweep picked arpeggios across his scalloped neck Yngwie Malmstein custom stratocaster.
3. Retractable frets: In a retractable fret system, the frets on the fingerboard are designed to withdraw into the fingerboard and flush with the surface. This produces a smooth fingerboard surface like that of a fretless instrument, and allows the instrument to played as such. This lends versatility by allowing players to switch between fretted and fretless characteristics on the same instrument.
4. Slanted frets:
Most frets are perpendicular to the instrument’s neck. Though slanted frets might be more ergonomic, few luthiers offer slanted or fanned frets; Rickenbacker offered them in the late 60’s, and Novax Guitars offers such guitars today.
The appearance of angled frets on these modern instruments belies the antiquity of this technique. Fanned frets first appeared on the 16th century Orpharion, a variant of the cittern, tuned like a lute.
The Charlie Hunter 8-string guitar is a result of the collaborative design efforts of Charlie Hunter and Ralph Novak of Novax guitars. Charlie and Ralph perfected this 8-string guitar by investing years of careful analysis of numerous prototypes. This unique instrument allows you to drive the rhythm section with solid, deep bass while comping or soloing rich guitar riffs at the same time, live. Both registers have clarity and tone unmatched by conventionally fretted instruments thanks to the Fanned-Fret® system.
Now, you can explore new musical horizons offered only by the Charlie Hunter 8-string. Be careful though – dont bite off more than you can chew!
5. Partial or semi fretted:
The Malagasy kabosy and the Afghan Rubab. Semi-fretted versions of guitars and other fretted string instruments, however, are usually one-off, custom adaptations made for players who want to combine elements of both types of sound. One arrangement is for the frets to extend only part of the way along the neck so that the higher notes can be played with the smooth expression possible with a fretless fingerboard.
Ryszard Latecki’s Latar, pictured above and which you can read more about here at www.unfretted.com, is a partially fretted instrument to allow for “glissandos, quartertone differences in the soundpitch and a clear, profound tone of low sounds. In fretless guitars, on the other hand, it’s impossible to obtain a clear tone and strong dynamics of higher (violin) sounds.”
Obviously, playing a fretless, unmarked instrument requires serious dedication and attention to detail and a degree of aural accuracy when it comes voicing chords -indeed, some traditional chord shapes just will not be possible to accurately voice.
If you`re keen to give a fretless instrument guitar a go then look out for Canadian manufacturer Godin’s two hybrid guitar models as below:
1. Multiac Nylon Fretless SA
The Multiac Fretless is an instrument like no other. Nylon strings work beautifully with a fretless fingerboard producing a singing tone that has a lot in common with that of a fretless bass. The Multiac Fretless is also deceptively easy to play due to the nylon strings, which respond well to a light touch, and are slightly more forgiving—than steel strings—for intonation. This combination of nylon strings on a fretless guitar represents a powerful musical tool on its own. The added possibilities provided by the Multiac’s on-board synth access truly put it over the top. For example, bowed instrument, brass, and woodwind sounds can be played with exceptional nuance.
2. Glissantar A11
An eleven string, fretless, acoustic/electric instrument, strung with nylon strings and tuned to standard guitar tuning. The Glissentar was inspired by a similar desire to mix elements of East and West, but in this case, in the instrument itself. The Western part of the equation is easy to recognize as a variation on the guitar. All of the instruments basic dimensions, scale length, body size, depth, fingerboard radius, and string height, are fairly standard for acoustic/electric guitars. The Eastern influence in the Glissentar comes from the Oud, an ancestor of the Mandolin that dates back to the seventh century. The Oud is also an eleven-string fretless instrument and is still in use today primarily in Armenia and Egypt. Adapting to this new instrument is actually a great deal easier than it appears. The shape and scale of the neck and the easily visible side position markers help to give the Glissentar a very familiar feel. The Glissentar opens the door to microtonal playing as well as some incredible and unique new sounds for adventurous guitar players.
I hope you don’t feel so hungry after all that crazy guitar food!
the cake comes courtesy of How Sweet Bakery.