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Thread: Frets

  1. #1
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    Default Frets

    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 . . .

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    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.
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    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.
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    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.

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    Well, I don't know much about stringed instruments. It was just a thought I had--just musing.

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    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.

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    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.


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    Quote Originally Posted by The Big Kahuna View Post
    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.

    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.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Down Up Dick View Post
    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/...47#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.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by ubulele View Post
    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!

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