M.E.T.U 15th Classical Guitar Festival – Can Oral’s Presentation Text
1. What is Fretless Classical Guitar?
The fretless classical guitar is an instrument that provides much more freedom on the keyboard and the opportunity to touch every note by removing the frets from the classical guitar. Today, it has many uses in different countries, but its use as modal music is more common in Turkey and has aroused interest in modal music in the world.
The Fretless Classical Guitar is very similar to the classical guitar by some and to the oud by others. But it is structurally very different from the classical guitar. Features such as neck angle, brace system, string action, selected soundboard are unique to the fretless guitar itself. Oud is close to pear form. So the sound continues to circulate in the body as it goes out, but on a fretless guitar the sound should come out directly. We can say that it should have a more aggressive structure compared to the oud.
2. Historical Process of the Fretless Guitar
Fretless instruments have existed throughout history. The history of the lut, which we know to be the ancestor of all stringed instruments, dates back to Mesopotamia in the 2000s BC. However, the first commercial registration of the fretless guitar in western music as we know it is the Stainless Steel Gamelan piece by John Cale in 1965. During the 70s, the fretless guitar was used as an experimental music in western music.
Especially in Central Asian music, there was no fret and tampere system. The frets were added to the instrument later. For example, modern banjos had steel strings and frets, while primitive banjos had no frets and bowel strings. This also applies to the lute. Today, there are American performers who still use the primitive banjo.
There have been fretless guitars in history, but they were built just to resonate. Erkan Oğur is the name who incorporated this guitar into music and developed a style.
3. Musical and Cultural Value of the Fretless Classical Guitar
While classical Western music can be played as it is read, Turkish music cannot be played as it is read, it requires interpretation. The modal music on the fretless guitar reflects the music of Anatolian culture. All the folk music tradition of Anatolia, the feeling created by the geography that includes both the land and the sea, and even the call to prayer heard that everyone born and raised here has shaped Anatolian music. The fretless guitar is a combination of a western musical instrument and Anatolian tone. It is learned by practicing with the master-apprentice relationship.
It is necessary to add a comment here; there is also a similar situation exists in the master-apprentice relationship in flamenco. In order to perform flamenco, it is necessary to be in Spain and meet the culture. For fretless guitar music, it is necessary to be in Turkey and understand the Anatolian culture.
Although the master-apprentice relationship is a cultural richness, it loses its sustainability for today’s world and disappears just like literature with oral tradition. The same is true for flamenco music. The lack of literature prevents culture from being recorded and accessible to all. In this sense, there is a necessity to study musicology on this subject.
The fretless classical guitar, as we mentioned at the beginning, has an Anatolian timbre. An instrument suitable for use in all cultures emerged, as an Anatolian musical character was integrated into a Western musical instrument. This makes our musical character arouse curiosity in the world. In this sense, we can think that it enriches both our music and western music.
4. Fretless Guitar Performers
The world aside, even in Turkey, fretless guitar players have very different musical phrases. I would like to mention a few masters in order to explain the range of differentiation on this subject.
Upon my request, Erkan Oğur expressed his relationship and need with the fretless guitar as follows;
“It was an excitement stemming from the need I felt to be able to perform my own region, Anatolian music, maqam science, and contemporary maqam harmony guitar instrument. The light was already the music itself, it is the guiding light. A new instrument concern, invention, race, sale etc. I never had, never will; It is a gift for the most sharing. The important thing is to be able to perform beautiful music, aesthetics, expression and teaching.”
This approach already adequately describes his understanding of music. On the other hand, Erkan Oğur is one of the few jazz guitarists. In 1991, an article titled “Lonely as the Moon” was published in Guitar Player magazine. He still states that this title is at the center of his life. I think that the fretless guitar interpretations of an artist of this rank will give clear ideas about the range of the instrument.
Cenk Erdoğan is a musician who is always in search and always improving his music. He is a jazz composition graduate. He was in Spain to do the flamenco guitar justice and tried to understand the culture. In order to make music that expresses his own roots, he turned to Anatolian tone and progressed with the fretless guitar. As I mentioned before, the baritone was instrumental in the birth of the fretless guitar. When you listen to his compositions, it is possible to hear both his personal experiences and his knowledge of different cultures. Cenk Erdoğan describes Erkan Oğur as his master. He walked by his master and found his own music. He is an extremely valuable master who has guided the musicians who came after him.
Salih Korkut Peker
Salih Korkut Peker describes his relationship with the fretless guitar as follows;
‘’Like almost all of us, I got to know the fretless guitar thanks to Erkan Oğur. When I first started playing, I tried to discover the modal aspects of fretlessness with my own efforts. As I spent more time with the instrument, I discovered that the fretless guitar was not limited to meeting the need to play micro tone from the Middle East and Turkey. As it is both a fretless and a guitar, I realized that the guitar has delicious potential in the performance of all ethnic music and all major genres accepted in the world, accompanied by its structural and harmonic advantages. As Erkan Hoca said, the “infinite fret” guitar is a companion that can offer you not only the sounds in music theory, but also every sound you hear around you. You just have to be careful while walking on the road, that’s all.” It will not be difficult to predict his success in using the fretless guitar with his expressions that clearly explain his musical knowledge and his view of the instrument.
6. Bibliography and Acknowledgments
Dear Erkan Oğur, Cenk Erdoğan, Salih Korkut Peker, who shared his valuable information with me.
thank you very much.
Okudan, F. G. (2019). Local Imagination in the Global: Fretless Guitar in the Context of Globalization (Unpublished Master’s Thesis). Dokuz Eylul University Fine Arts Institute. Izmir
Arin, E. (2014). The fretless guitar as a model from the local to the global. Karabuk University Journal of Social Sciences Institute, 4 (1), 79-90. DOI: 10.14230/joiss65
Can Oral & Hazal Turgut Oral
Translation : Pınar Varlı