Reviving a somewhat older thread here...
Where do you think fretless guitar sits in the musical World? Is it an oddity pursued by a minority? Or does it have a valid place and a valid voice?
While I think the "fretless guitar" has both clear assets and clear disadvantages as an instrument - all instruments are this way.
If slide-style guitar playing of all types are valid—and they are—so it fretless.
However, it might be realistic that fretless will remain a minority, even within the world of guitar.
In a sense, “fretless guitar” it is potentially a different instrument than a guitar.
Of course, for now, we think of it as a fretless variation of what we think of as guitar. It may be worth considering that things may evolve and change, in that regard, in time.
I personally suspect that the significant rise in popularity of the guitar and electric bass guitar in the west--in fairly recent history (less than the last 100 years)--is related to the fact that these instruments ARE fretted.
In the big picture of history, it wasn’t that long ago that Leo Fender brought the very notion of a fretted/electric bass into mainstream availability for musicians, for instance.
In the west, it’s become relatively common for the average person to have the ability to play some amount of recognizable music on fretted instruments, within a relatively short amount of practice time, using a fretted guitar and/or bass--and of note, without first having to delve into the “classical music” school, necessarily, anymore. There are other musical outlets and approaches viewed as valid, including “teach yourself.”
The other most common instrument that average people seem to have basic familiarity with is piano—another instrument we can think of as “fretted” for practical purposes.
Guitar and piano are also though of as chordal instruments. By comparison, violin, an instrument commonly studied, is ususally abandoned, and fretless---it’s not the kind of instrument you can play “a little” of or play “infrequently.” It more or less requires regular upkeep due to the demands of skill with fretless intonation, etc.
This is where fretless guitar becomes different. The fretless ‘variant’ becomes more difficult—on the spot intonation requirements, not impossible, but harder to play chordally, tilts further toward playing melodically/single note, and not something one can easily keep up with casual or infrequent playing.
Since the bass guitar is predominantly played as a single note instrument, it’s not, per say, as common to see people adapting to fretless bass compared to fretted, but it’s certainly more common than fretless guitar currently is.
Fretless, melodic, plucked string instruments—such as the sarod and the oud—are established in music that is ‘modal’ rather than chordal, keep in mind. They are certainly more common in their established music tradition than the fretless guitar or even fretless bass guitar. Whether this is due to their having a longer tradition than fretless guitar(s), or their being in a context of “modal” music is debatable, but either way, they are far more established than fretless guitars, at this point in time, and it makes some sense.
The amount of people who are--for a somewhat comparable example—comfortable playing slide guitar, seems to me to be a minority and percentage. Slide guitar doesn’t even necessitate a completely different instrument, as does a fretless guitar. However, It would make sense for dedicated slide guitarist to play fretless instruments. Nevertheless, outside of overhand slide (lap slide, lap steel, etc), how often do you see players playing slide guitar with an unfretted guitar? I was listening to Ry Cooder and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s collaborative record recently, and Ry is playing acoustic slide guitar—and you frequently hear the sound of his slide knocking against the fretted neck of his guitar, for instance...
It makes a certain kind of sense for fretless guitar to be played with ‘alternate’ or ‘open’ tunings as SOME slide guitarists do, in order to play chords or various intervals more easily – though plenty of slide guitarists keep their guitar tuned in ‘standard’ guitar tuning with slide, too...I am so used to guitar tunings, trying to adapt to another tuning is very unusual on an instrument with more than 3 or 4 strings/courses, so I stick to standard tuning and focus on the music, the notes, the feeling of my playing (and intonation).
When i talk about fretless guitar to Guitarists, they say that it's too difficult for them, and even if they try, they don't have any 'famous' guitarist to refer. [..] I'm really convinced that many musicians would love to play this instrument if they first break their image that it is only for geek musicians
With fretted guitar, there is the ability to play chords, which is one of its selling points—you can potentially play along to songs on guitar, early on (not just the melodies),, which attracts many people to the instrument.
Coming from fretted guitar, as most do, the player has likely learned how to play chords, if not exclusively. I see plenty of videos online, and plenty of players in person, where people have played for years, and can play all sorts of chord things, even in a band, but are horrible at playing melodic single-note lines. For me, learning both went hand in hand, but it was not that way for everyone.
While some develop the ability to play many chords with good intonation on fretless guitar, the fretless aspect more or less makes an instrument primarily a melodic and single note instrument, and secondarily choral. I think these are some of the most significant reasons I even read of people trying fretless and saying they can’t, or it is not for them.
Sometimes it's sad being a lefty...