Progressive Rock Artist seeks Audience

Month: May 2005

Thomastik Strings

I read on unfretted.com that the choice of strings really makes a difference to the fit and handling of a fretless classical guitar. One guy recommend Thomastik-Infield KR116 strings, but mentioned the caveat that they were about three times the price of regular nylon strings, but in his opinion, they were worth it.

I tried purchasing some at Ed Roman’s (ok, he may or may not be an arsehole but he has an unbeatable range of stock) but they didn’t have them in stock and the price they quoted was ~$40! Ouch.

Fortunately, I discovered an online resource that had them for $19. Check out Elderly Instruments. I ordered a couple of sets and they arrived three days later. Thanks!

Ok, basically as soon as I opened the packet I could see why they cost more than regular ones. You can smell the quality. And it’s not just the smell. It’s the little things. For a start, they have the perfect length. You don’t need to trim them. All six are ball-terminated, and have blue fabric binding at each end. At the ball end, this is just sufficient to cover the length of the string that passes through the holes in the bridge. At the other end, it forms a nice grippy section of string that makes winding and securing the string to the tuning pegs a breeze.

The next thing I noticed is how thin the treble strings were. I thought I’d ordered a completely wrong set, but no, this is correct. They are just much thinner than regular nylon.  The bass strings are “flat-wound” which much reduces the “rasp” of finger movement during slides. Surprisingly, the treble strings are “tape-wound” which actually makes the finger movement sound louder than regular nylon.

The sound of an open string is much brighter than regular nylon. I have to say that these strings most of all remind me of violin strings.

Working without a Fret

I’ve had a spare guitar knocking around the place for several years. It’s a Yamaha APX-10N nylon-string classical with under-saddle pickups. It’s been pretty decent but since bringing it across the Pacific, I think the climate change from muggy Auckland to dry Las Vegas has put a little out of sorts. I tried tweaking the truss rod but I couldn’t seem to bring it back to life. I haven’t been playing it much at all – it’s been hanging on the wall as a dust-gathering ornament.

Well, the other day I took it down and pulled the frets from the fingerboard, effectively turning into a fretless guitar. I followed some online advice and used a soldering iron to heat up the individual frets prior to levering them up using a pair of flush-cutting nipper pliers. The frets came out relatively easily, with only very minor chipping of the ebony fretboard. At this point I could have just left the fret slots as-is, but being a perfectionist I wanted to try filling them with a lighter-coloured wood. Using a craft knife, I cut slivers from pine shims and wedged/tapped/forced them into the slots, welding them in place with liberal application of crazy glue.

After trimming the excess with the craft knife, I used successive sandings with 180, 240, and 320 sandpaper to eliminate the bumbs, strip off the spots of over-flowed crazy glues, and liberate a large amount of dense, dark brown wood dust. The end result is rather effective:

I’ve put a standard set of nylon strings on it, and tuned it in fourths: EADGDF. Playing it takes some getting used to. Standard barre chords are out of the question, but that really isn’t a desired function of a fretless guitar. Think slurred melodic phrases and eastern-style riffs. I’ll post some samples here in a bit – when I’ve practiced some more.

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