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Down Up Dick
09-10-2015, 03:51 AM
I wonder if there's ever been a fretless ukulele . . .

Violins don't have frets, and some string basses don't. I think there are guitars without frets. And there are lots of folk instruments without frets.

Trombones, though not usually string instruments, don't have markings or anything to tell one where his/her note is, one just has to "hear" where the note is.

When beginners on the above instruments are learning, I guess they just have to learn to hear where the notes are. But, once they learn, it might be easier and more convenient to be without frets.

Without frets we'd have no buzzing, and one could correct the tuning of notes on the fly. Perhaps all the added tricks like hammer ones and slides would be easy-peasy.

I was just sitting here in my morning fog, pouring coffee down, and the thought came to me. Somethin' to think about anyway . . .
:old:

Ukejenny
09-10-2015, 03:57 AM
The trombone positions have visual cues to help beginners get the positions correct. Fourth is your hand at the end of the bell, third is the slide brace even with the bell... stuff like that. There are only 7 positions, so it isn't that terribly hard. As for violins, many beginners and beyond use tape on the fingerboard until their ear/hand is trained to get the correct notes/intonation. I remember taking the tape off my violin and it seemed daunting! Intonation becomes a totally different animal when you don't have frets.

Jon Moody
09-10-2015, 04:28 AM
You could easily try and make a fretless ukulele. Grab some pliers and a healthy dose of patience and pull those frets. Biggest thing you'll probably notice is that it takes a lot more pressure to hold down the string and have it sound good. Without the fret to grab hold of that pitch, your finger becomes the one thing keeping you in tune. And if you don't have a solid hold on that note, it'll sound awful.

And yes, there is definitely buzzing on a fretless instrument, although it's a different kind. High/low spots on the fingerboard are main culprits of this kind of thing, which are harder to fix than a high/loose fret.

I think you'd find that it wouldn't sound really good in a chording environment. A violin plays single note lines, or double stops, at which point the fretless neck is fine. When you get to 3-4 note chord voicings is really where you start hearing how out of tune you are. Especially on the smaller scale of the ukulele, little movements will have big tonal shifts.

There are fretless guitars, and I've played with a couple of guys that use it. But when they do, it's a much different approach to the usual chording/solo line thing that guitarists are known for. Same with some of the fretless ethnic instruments. Oud players don't play 3-4 note chord voicings on it.

Down Up Dick
09-10-2015, 04:29 AM
Ukejenny, there are only a couple of indicators where the positions are on a trombone, and they aren't exact. One still has to hear the note. If he/she is off a little bit, he/she will be sharp or flat.

I didn't know about the violin tape. It seems like a good idea for a beginner, but someday it's gotta go. I think listening to one's self is very important. Maybe being fretless would help people learn that.
:old:

Down Up Dick
09-10-2015, 05:35 AM
Well, I don't know much about stringed instruments. It was just a thought I had--just musing. :old:

k0k0peli
09-14-2015, 12:15 AM
The fretless stringed instruments I've played have mostly been banjo-like; 5-string, and Cumbus. I've done fretless bass also. These all take different approaches, and all have pretty long scales versus 'ukes. IMHO fretless axes are not for chording but for single-string or double-stop or open / drone playing. I could maybe envisage a fretless baritone 'uke as a solo voice. Smaller 'ukes, nope.

The Big Kahuna
09-14-2015, 12:22 AM
The insanely talented Guthrie Govan, showing how it's done, on a fretless 6 string extra long scale ukulele.

Ignore the parts where they refer to it as a "guitar", whatever that is. They don't seem to know what they're talking about.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjEGtUXGWa0

AndrewKuker
09-14-2015, 01:12 AM
The insanely talented Guthrie Govan, showing how it's done, on a fretless 6 string extra long scale ukulele.

Ignore the parts where they refer to it as a "guitar", whatever that is. They don't seem to know what they're talking about.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjEGtUXGWa0

I try to see Guthrie live anytime possible. Insane musical (best 6 string extra long scale ukulele player IMO)

I got a fretless Kala Ubass and fender jazz too just to have that experience of being accountable. Must listen!

But with chording instruments it's just too hard. Fretless uke? I don't even need that humbling of an experience.

Nah, I guess it could be fun. Privately.

Booli
09-14-2015, 01:38 AM
I wonder if there's ever been a fretless ukulele . . .

I'm no luthier, nor will ever claim to be one, but I've always been an 'instrument hacker' and modified many of my instruments, far away from how they came in the box in order to suit my own purposes, and I've actually started building a fretless ukulele, which I wrote about over in this thread:

http://forum.ukuleleunderground.com/showthread.php?109537-Why-do-you-build-what-you-do-Question-to-beginner-builders-%29&p=1733347#post1733347

I have not been able to work on it since I posted over in that thread, but am planning to resume once time allows.

Down Up Dick
09-14-2015, 03:02 AM
On a violin, you don't press your finger down to the fret, you simply stop the string so that the bow can make the string vibrate. This makes it far easier to play quickly on the small scale and to be fairly accurate on the intonation. If you had to press the string all the way to the fretboard, all bets would be off.

There are fretless banjos (and I think I've seen fretless banjoleles for sale) but a fretless banjo typically has a much longer scale than even bari uke and is usually played just melody/drone—and has a more muted sound because of the damping effect of the fleshy contact point. Cello and string bass also have the benefit of a much longer scale (and, usually, a bow to drive the sound).

All things on balance, fretless uke is a bad idea. It might work okay at baritone scale, but I wouldn't rush to buy one.

As for listening to yourself, that's one big advantage of uke: you don't have to. When people don't even properly tune their ukes, I certainly don't want to hear them play fretless. I once played fiddle duets with a guy who couldn't really tell a flatted note from a natural one—it was excruciating. But he played guitar like a dream.

ubulele, we disagree again. I think listening to one's self and to others is one of the most important aspects of playing an instrument solo or with others. It's very difficult for some to learn, but it
makes one a much better player--even on a Uke.

Sometimes I fret correctly, strum magnificently and still sound like a car crash! Stuff happens . . . Listen! :old:

maxmax
09-14-2015, 03:53 AM
I play and own several fretless banjos. Love playing them, so much fun and you can use your imagination to come up with lot's of cool little things! Sometimes when I've only played fretless banjo for an extended period of time, I get a strong feeling of claustrophobia when returning to a fretted instrument.

But as others have mentioned, holding chords is not a great idea. You can get away with two finger chords, but three finger chords are very difficult. Wouldn't even dream of trying a four finger chord. You need to constantly re-tune to different tunings, in order to utilize the open strings as much as possible, if you are playing with other people. I use several different tunings, not just for different keys, but also different tunings that lend themselves to a particular melody within the same keys. Capos are also a no-go.

When playing steel strung fretless, you really need to fret the strings with your nails of the fretting hand if you want a crisp note that's not much quieter than an open string. It's not as necessary with nylon/nylgut/gut strings, but it still produces a clearer note even with those strings. I would suspect a fretless ukulele to be very quiet if not perfectly fretted with the nail, which in turn makes for an uneven sound compared to the much louder open strings.

I'm sure you could use some open tuning on a fretless ukulele and have lot's of fun, but the way of playing would be quite different and I wouldn't bother with it, if you are planing on playing with other people and moving to different keys.

Just my thoughts...
Max

Booli
09-14-2015, 04:14 AM
When playing steel strung fretless, you really need to fret the strings with your nails of the fretting hand if you want a crisp note that's not much quieter than an open string.

There's a Greek instrument called a Cretan Lyre, that's like a small 3-string violin, that has a pear-shaped bowl back, and the way it is 'fretted' is by using the top of your fingernail, but UNDER the string, as in closer to the floor, i.e., the string rests against your fingernail, which is more beside the string than between the string and the fingerboard. I tried to see how that would feel on an old, cheap violin, and it was just weird to me.

I clip my nails on my fretting hand very short, otherwise they interfere with cleanly fretting the notes, whereas on my other hand, I keep my nails grown out to about 2.5mm past the fingertip, which give me much better articulation control for the way I prefer to play. I hate playing with finger pads, and steel strings are a total no-go for me, as they completely shred the nails on my right hand.

Maybe on a fretless nylon instrument you could but a strip of felt across the nut to help deaden the strings a bit, and that would even out the volume between open and fretted strings?

The Big Kahuna
09-14-2015, 04:40 AM
I'd say you'd pretty much have to start with a radiused fingerboard, rip the frets out and glue some different coloured veneer in their place (I used to own an Aria fretless bass many years ago that had veneer where the frets would be. Great for knowing where to put your fingers). If you're replacing the frets with veneer, it shouldn't be too difficult to radius the fingerboard a little bit yourself. After that, it pretty much goes without saying that you'd want to varnish/lacquer the crap out of the fingerboard. I've played a Vigier with an aluminium fretless fingerboard about 30 years ago, and I wouldn't have liked to try it on a fingerboard with a lot of friction. Also, I'd have thought a 19" scale length would be the minimum that this would be worth trying it on.

Down Up Dick
09-14-2015, 08:02 AM
My tenor Banjolele is tuned to 5ths. I like it a lot for picking, but I'm just getting into it.

I guess we agree on the "listening" thang, so all is still well. :old:

Down Up Dick
09-14-2015, 08:44 AM
You needn't have fretted . . . (Ha?). :old:

k0k0peli
09-14-2015, 09:03 AM
If the place doesn't burn down, and maybe even then, one of my construction fantasies is kludging-up a fretless tenor or concert resonator 'uke to be steel-strung open linear for guitar-compatible blues and played with a slide and steel fingerpicks. Won't have to worry much about chording that.

maxmax
09-14-2015, 10:26 AM
Maybe on a fretless nylon instrument you could but a strip of felt across the nut to help deaden the strings a bit, and that would even out the volume between open and fretted strings?
Probably a good idea. The only problem I see is that ukuleles are already fairly quiet by nature. And when it comes to banjos, no banjo is loud enough! Fiddles and dreadnoughts are loud, we need to be louder! :D I'm mostly kidding, but not completely.

Regarding fretting with the nails, it really isn't as difficult as it sounds. Just takes a little getting used to. Some notes will of course be duller than others, but if you are playing up to speed there is already so much going on that it doesn't stick out too much.


Sounds like a marketing opportunity, since a fretless capo would just have to supply it's own "zero-fret": a tongue of the proper height positioned in front of the capo clamp and slid under the strings.
If you build one, you will make dozens of dollars I swear! Ha, but no you are right, I'm sure it's very doable, just no one has made one yet (what I know of).