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  1. #1

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    So, one of the things I've noticed after beginning back up into jazz guitar, after having spent most of my adult (non-teenage) years at the keyboard: there's a big obstacle in producing solid tones on my current "cheap but cheerful" Ibanez AF-55.

    Namely, taming any tendency to unconsciously produce any vibrato in the fretting hand.

    What exactly do the frets have to offer a guitarist with a decent ear and some amount of discipline?

    I don't believe they're "training wheels," really: the nearest guess is that producing chords which use most of the strings is likely improbable without frets. There's no way a single finger acting in a barre chord can produce that amount of consistency, even on a flat, wide fretboard like a nylon classical guitar.

    That's all I have for a question, but am I off my nut, or just plain stupid or inexperienced?

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    Hello Jack, forgive me but I am a little confused. You seem to be asking why we Need frets, but at the same time you answer the question by mentioning that large chords would be as good as impossible to play without them, please could you elaborate a little more on what it is you are asking. Quite some years ago I attended a clinic with John Etheridge where one segment included him playing a piece of music he wrote and played on a fretless guitar. He said afterwards though he did find the fretless guitar to be of limited use, but it was fun to watch.

  4. #3

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    Frets provide an expanded "in tune" landing area for fingers to successfully combine certain interval combinations. On a fretless guitar these would range from challenging to near
    impossible to don't even bother trying. Beyond that though, lies some less covered expressive
    musical terrain to explore.

  5. #4

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    Hey Jack, found this of John playing his fretless guitar, hope you enjoy it.


    https://au.audionetwork.com/browse/m...ai-dreams_5765

  6. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Luddite
    Hello Jack, forgive me but I am a little confused. You seem to be asking why we Need frets, but at the same time you answer the question by mentioning that large chords would be as good as impossible to play without them, please could you elaborate a little more on what it is you are asking.
    You're very much right: really thinking more out loud that, "Yes, that's probably why we've got the frets. Because nobody's fretting hand's index finger is really perfectly straight or as sharp as metal."

    I wasn't intending to answer my own question definitively: it was just a guess, really.

    Just because, was my initial thought, someone like Jaco used a fretless bass guitar, doesn't or didn't necessarily imply to me that pure, spot-on intonation were impossible.

    Obviously, there are cellists and fiddlers and bassists who manage OK.

    However, like I suspected, these other string slingers don't have to cover the whole breadth of the fingerboard.

    Quote Originally Posted by bako
    Frets provide an expanded "in tune" landing area for fingers to successfully combine certain interval combinations. On a fretless guitar these would range from challenging to near impossible to don't even bother trying.


    Right. I'm not sure I understand completely, but it's worth thinking about, at least for me.

    I would like to hear some more details about this notion, but I don't know enough to ask the right questions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Luddite
    Hey Jack, found this of John playing his fretless guitar, hope you enjoy it.


    Yes, indeed.

    It's not in my bag of stuff: probably been thirty years at least since I picked up a slide and used it on a guitar, but it does resonate with equally contemporary music such as that created by Derek Trucks.

    I know it's not jazz, and I'm pretty old-school bebop on keys and, to some extent, on guitar.

    But I appreciate listening to this.




  7. #6

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    The board is longer than a violin, we have two more strings, we require elaborate melodies, and we play complex chords with more than 3 voices....

  8. #7

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    I’m unaware of any fretless instrument on which full chords are played except a Chapman stick - and there are so few fine stick players that you can count them on the fingers of one foot. Double stops are common in the violin family, and the occasional triple stop is heard. But I don’t see how the vast majority of us could possibly play the guitar as a guitar without frets. I’ve always hated the arbitrary distinction between lead and rhythm guitar playing. But a fretless guitar seems like a lead instrument (at most) to me.

  9. #8
    I'm going to say that makes perfect sense: yeah, with a shapely curved fingerboard as on a 'cello or a bull fiddle, double or even triple stops is about as far as one can get.

    I suspect one could arpeggiate extremely quickly, and get some of the same effect as a beefier chord, as in the Bach-Busoni D minor chaconne for LH at the keyboard, but it's not ideal.

    Now I know, and that's half the battle.

    I just have to have to transcribe more Jimmy Raney and make the frets work for me.

    True story, after work sometime last week I stopped into a bar and tried to put every one of Jim Hall's very wide voicings when he was comping behind Bill on "My Funny Valentine," put into some reasonable positions on the neck of the guitar. You know, using "chord diagram" blank diagrams, with pencil, and most importantly, eraser.

    /* edit to add attachment, and, yes it took me about two hours to do it by hand with a "beginner's classical guitar" fretboard diagram. even with Steve Khan's "transcription," which I don't think is 100% accurate.*/Talk to me about frets - Why do we need them?-0ef23f335b35380aedfd315ea917ddde-gif
    Last edited by jack-e; 07-31-2021 at 02:51 AM.

  10. #9

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    I think part of the answer is that frets allow people to start, and continue, playing the guitar with a lot fewer hours of rote physical practice than is typically needed to master the violin or ‘cello. Add in things like complex chords and this is even more true.

  11. #10

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    It's not feasible to play the majority of guitar music without frets. Think of all the chords which would be horribly out of tune. Any chord which has more than 2 closed notes is extremely hard to play with each note in tune. 95% of guitar music wouldn't be possible. Listen to how pitchy upright bassists are. And that's only playing 1 note at a time.
    Last edited by Clint 55; 07-31-2021 at 03:51 AM.

  12. #11

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    Just to add another thought:
    A guitar isn't bowed like traditional string instruments. I think when you're bowing a note you generally want to add vibrato to it, where on guitar there's not really a need for it because of the decay.

    Paul

  13. #12

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    You need to start classical strings before age 6 or you aren’t going to be in a position to play in good youth orchestras etc apparently.

    but I’m always told the main problem is actually the bowing….

    I think basic chords would be practical - obviously string players do play double and triple stops (although getting these in tune isnt the easiest thing in the world.) but things like guide tones and shells, I can’t see why that wouldn’t be possible?

  14. #13

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    Plucked stringed instruments are fretted; bowed stringed instruments are not. It was always thus.

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Litterick
    Plucked stringed instruments are fretted; bowed stringed instruments are not. It was always thus.
    There are some exceptions, e.g. the oud is fretless and plucked, while the viola da gamba is fretted and bowed.

  16. #15

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    Compare the wrinkles of Keef to those of Izhak Perlman. That’s because guitarists fret more.

    I’ll be here all week.

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by Webby
    I think when you're bowing a note you generally want to add vibrato to it.
    I’ve long believed that vibrato is a very effective way for vocalists and violinists / cellists / etc to correct for imperfect intonation. True vibrato (as opposed to tremolo) is cyclic pitch alteration. When done perfectly and as embellishment (eg by Nancy Wilson and Itzhak Perlman), the actual pitch of the note is perfectly centered in the vibrato envelope. But many (or even most) who add vibrato at every opportunity unconsciously use it as a crutch, knowing that the proper pitch is somewhere in there. And among less than highly skilled players of other instruments on which chops control intonation to some degree (reeds, flute, etc), the amount of vibrato used often seems inversely correlated with accuracy on notes played without it.

  18. #17

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    I believe that the question has been answered. A competent fretless guitarist can play single notes and double stops ably.

    Three-note chords and beyond, meh.

  19. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by nevershouldhavesoldit
    I’ve long believed that vibrato is a very effective way for vocalists and violinists / cellists / etc to correct for imperfect intonation.
    Exactly my thinking.

    Similar crutches exist for at least a few kinds of other instruments. Sustain pedal on the modern piano.

    The expression pedal on Hammond organ.

    Probably a lot of the "crushes" bebop-style drummers do on the trap drums/cymbal.

    And vocalists, but I try to avoid accompanying singers when possible, and the really good ones have their own crew.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by grahambop
    There are some exceptions, e.g. the oud is fretless and plucked, while the viola da gamba is fretted and bowed.
    Exactly, Litterick is oversimplifying…

    Looking at the guitar‘s history, it developed from the fretless oud at a time where there were hardly any keyboard instruments. If you wanted to play harmony you had to find a solution to the intonation issue. Hence the frets, which were at first just bits of string tied around the neck.

    BTW vibrato may just be a solution to the issue that on a fretted instrument you can’t do microtonal intonation, like you need for Arabic music, or the Blues. And of course it’s an means of expression that guitar players with .013 strings rob themselves of.


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  21. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by docsteve
    BTW vibrato may just be a solution to the issue that on a fretted instrument you can’t do microtonal intonation, like you need for Arabic music, or the Blues.
    Of course, there are better solutions for this issue. First (and best, for me) is an instrument that was designed and built for the music to be played, e.g.

    Talk to me about frets - Why do we need them?-eastwood_microtonal-jpg Talk to me about frets - Why do we need them?-fourvalve-jpg

    But beyond that, it's a compromise to play music from one tonal system on an instrument designed for another. A scalloped fretboard allows fine control over pitch through pressure on the strings - push harder and the string bends into the valley, raising the pitch. Of course, this would enable a dramatic vibrato too. As for the blues, you can get a pretty fine vibrato on 13s with the right technique (although it's easier on a 24 3/4" scale than on a 25 1/2"). Holding the finger steady and rocking the hand back and forth isn't as effective on heavy strings as rotating the hand back and forth around the contact point (a la B B King) or pushing the finger in and out to bend the string just enough to do the job.

    I grew up back when there were no "light gauge strings" until you figured out that you could use banjo strings (a 5 string banjo has a scale length of at least 25"). I used Guild EA610 "light gauge" on my 345 and 175 from the time they came out in the early 1960s until they were D/Ced many years later, and I think they were 13s. Thankfully, I wasn't born before frets were invented!

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by Donplaysguitar
    The board is longer than a violin, we have two more strings, we require elaborate melodies, and we play complex chords with more than 3 voices....
    I learned music on the violin and I agree with your take here; I.e. I didn't need frets on the violin but I find them very useful, if not necessary for playing guitar, especially chords (e.g. positioning grip playing where one doesn't need to note the chord name but just the relative position of a chord progression like a II\V\I).

    I did fine that playing violin helped develop my ear, which is a value one gets from learning a fretless string instrument.

  23. #22

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    Speaking as a cellist who has spent much time working on chords on this 4 string fretless instrument tuned in 5ths:

    If you are serious about fretless chordal playing, then I would suggest playing through your a bunch of chord vocabulary on a fretted guitar. Look at all of the angles and consider if your fingers have any freedom of movement to adjust up or down. If yes, then these are likely candidates for successful fretless guitar rendering in tune with practice.
    A workaround is to not play all the notes simultaneously.

  24. #23

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    Frets are useful. I don't see the point of doing away with them unless you want to play the notes in between. On purpose, that is :-)

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by jack-e
    Exactly my thinking.

    Similar crutches exist for at least a few kinds of other instruments. Sustain pedal on the modern piano.

    The expression pedal on Hammond organ.
    Overdrive pedals, fuzz pedals, distortion pedals...

  26. #25
    Talk to me about frets - Why do we need them?-boss-ds-1-jpg

    Quote Originally Posted by bako
    If you are serious about fretless chordal playing, then I would suggest playing through your a bunch of chord vocabulary on a fretted guitar. Look at all of the angles and consider if your fingers have any freedom of movement to adjust up or down. If yes, then these are likely candidates for successful fretless guitar rendering in tune with practice.
    A workaround is to not play all the notes simultaneously.


    I am serious. In fact, that's what I was getting around to by alluding to the Brahms-Bach arrangements: it's not perfect, but if one arpeggiates very quickly, it creates a kind of illusion of a unison chord, made in real time.

    I'm just a humble caveman, and a mere keyboardist who only has been taught to scorn and despise you fretboard technicians since humble days, and now I wish to rejoin that humble tribe.

    Now I'm enjoying the fingerboard again, for maybe the third or fourth time. I find it more "connecting" to the lines I want to carve out, but, obviously, more difficult in some or even many ways. Very different instrument in approach than working the keyboard and the pedals, but I find it rewarding as a musician.