A fretless guitar is similar in most aspects to a normal guitar, with one important modification: It has an entirely smooth, flat neck. This creates a distinctive glissando sound. Playing a fretless guitar requires greater left-hand accuracy as there are no frets to guide note-placement. To get the best out of your fretless guitar, correct set-up is essential. The set-up processes and techniques are similar to that of fretted guitars, but the adjustment parameters required to optimise the fretless guitar sound differ.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
Things you need
- String winder (optional)
- Hex key
- Phillips screwdriver
Place the guitar on a flat surface. With the first finger of your left hand, press the top E string down in the position where fret one would be. With the first finger of your right hand, press the same string down in the position where the last fret would be. Observe the line of the string in between your two fingers. The presence of a gradient in the string indicates that the neck is not perfectly straight. Neck angle is more important on fretted guitars because the strings sit closer to the fretboard. A bowed neck can lead to an irritating buzz.
Loosen the strings to a point where they don't apply any pressure on the headstock. To correct the neck angle, you need to adjust the truss rod. For accurate truss rod adjustment, the strings must be loose.
Identify the nut end of the truss. The truss rod nut is either at the top of the neck or the bottom, depending on make and model. If at the bottom, the truss rod nut will protrude from under the edge of the fretboard. If at the top, it will typically be covered by a shield. If there is bell-shaped shield on the headstock, unscrew it with a Phillips screwdriver.
Insert a hex key into the truss rod nut. If the string sloped downward between your left hand and right hand, the neck is back-bowed. If it sloped upward, it is front-bowed. Tighten the truss rod to correct a back-bowed neck and loosen it to correct a front bow. If adjusting at the top, turn clockwise to tighten. If adjusting at the bottom, turn counter-clockwise to tighten. Turn the hex key by a quarter of a revolution, then tune the strings and retest the neck angle. If necessary, repeat the process.
Adjust the "action" by raising or lowering the bridge. The string height, or action, influences the playability of the guitar. If it is too high, forming a note requires more work. If it is too low, the strings will be buzz against the neck of the guitar. The method of bridge adjustment varies according to make and model of guitar, but typically calls for a thumbscrew or hex key adjustment of the two nuts either side of the bridge. For example, Tune-o-matic style bridges have two cog-style screws that control bridge height. Tighten to raise, loosen to lower the height.
Tips and warnings
- A little buzzing is fine; it adds character and sustain to the note and is actually a defining characteristic of the fretless sound.
- Fretless guitars can afford to have slightly lower action than typical guitars because there are no frets to rattle against.
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