Shiny and smooth. Fingers going over the surface, moving effortlessly as if skating on ice. The strings are like the lines on a running track, guiding one through the run. An ice skater or a runner may face obstacles but a guitarist has it differently. A guitarist on a fretless guitar, that is.
“Playing on the typical guitar is like walking on this earth. Playing on the fretless? You are no more walking, you are floating in the air”. And with that, the look on Rosli Mansor’s face reflects the joyful reveling of his relationship with the fretless guitar.
A middle-eastern stringed instrument, with a pear-shaped body and fretless neck first captured Rosli’s attention. The oud and its wondrous sound made Rosli wanting to learn to play the instrument. After much researching, Rosli came across the fretless version of the guitar and was hooked to the concept immediately. What he did next was to use his old nylon guitar and turned it into a fretless version, followed by his Yamaha electric guitar. The latter made its debut appearance during Rosli’s workshop segment during Fretboard Frenzy: Rise of the Stringers held in March 2008.
Rosli explained, “Normal guitars have several raised metal strips on its neck and these strips helps a player to find the pitch. A guitar without these raised metal strips is a fretless guitar and going fretless allows you to achieve microtones, tones that can’t be achieved so easily with frets. (The microtones) engulf you and put you in a mood to be in step and attuned to the instrument. It also means you can modulate anytime, anywhere”. Then how does one play the fretless guitar? “Playing the fretless guitar is similar to doing slides on your normal guitar. Instead of selecting the notes that are segregated by the frets, you use your aural, visual and touch sensors to find the note by tuning as you play. It is like bringing the pitch to you and with practice you will eventually get the pitch you want”.
The time spent on understanding the fretless resulted in the new song from Rosli’s upcoming second album ‘Ego or Truth (New Born)’ that featured his fretless guitar. “‘Ego or Truth (New Born)’ symbolises my journey into the new and unknown. After (my first instrumental rock album) Dragged, the realisation of how hard it is to be an instrumentalist struck me fully. It is hard…and there are lots of ‘thorns’ clinging on me. Thorns that attempt to slow me down on this journey”, revealed Rosli. “I developed a passion for fretless and slowly it became another strong conviction in my life to continue contributing to the local music scene despite the challenges”.
He added, “(New Born)…That is exactly how I feel using the fretless guitar, like the remaining survivors of a battle, looking for a new ground to start afresh”. And Rosli hopes to one day tread on that new ground with his dream companion: a customised double-neck guitar with one fretless neck.