"When it comes to playing fretless guitar I am a rank beginner, and I’m
still figuring it out,” says Guthrie Govan.
“But I think the first thing you should do
when you start playing fretless is to stop
being afraid of it. Instead of telling yourself
that you’re trying to do a really difficult
thing, start by thinking of the instrument
as a normal guitar, and don’t even look
at it too much. You’ll find your fingers do
know—to some extent—where the notes
are, and the less you worry, the quicker
you’ll get natural-sounding results.”
Know What Not to Do
“Part of the next stage of familiarizing
yourself with the instrument is to learn
what you shouldn’t do. Some of the things
that work really well on a regular electric
guitar—such as vibrato and bending—are
not going to work in the ways that you are
accustomed to, so you’ll have to rethink
the ways in which you get those sounds.
It’s the same with chords. There are some
chord voicings that will never work, no
matter how hard you try.”
“The louder you play, the more difficult it is
to play in tune. If you are in your bedroom
or home studio, or if you have headphones
on, you can play with a lot of confidence
with regards to the precise pitch of the
notes. But as soon as you crank things up,
say, to gig volume, that changes. The best
analogy I can think of is that the needle on
the tuner seems to get wider. It will still be
easy enough to hear if you are a semitone
out, but you could feasibly be ten cents out
and not really appreciate it, because everything
you are hearing is fuzzy and ill defined.
“One liberating thing about pitch and
playing fretless, however, is that sometimes
if you are aiming for a note while zipping
wildly from one end of the fretboard to the
other, on a fretted guitar if you miss that
note by a fret or two it will be obvious,
but with a fretless it’s not a mistake, yet.
There’s still a chance that you can swoop
into the correct pitch, and no one but you
will know that anything went wrong.”
Know Your Motivation
“It is very, very helpful if you enter the
world of fretless guitar playing with some
idea of why you’re doing it. What kinds of
noises are you hoping to get out of a fretless
that you can’t out of a fretted guitar?
Of course, that’s a good question to continually
ask oneself in regard to why one is
playing any instrument.”
The sometimes implausibly modest Guthrie Govan
plays mind-blowing fretted and fretless guitar
with the Aristocrats, as well as serving in Steven
Wilson’s current recording and touring band.
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