So frets do have their place!

June 29, 2021, 7:03 AM · I was watching Roman Kim Playing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik quartet on one violin and saw what I thought was a trick of the light.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsxY3WL1cP8

Freeze at 2.10 and you can see it's one of those fingerboards with stealth frets.

I always said they had their place for intense chord playing...

Replies (24)

Edited: June 29, 2021, 7:53 AM · They aren't really frets, but little hand-carved channels in the wood—almost like the slots for the fret tangs on an unfinished fretboard.
Honestly I think the only reason he did this is for notoriety.
June 29, 2021, 8:12 AM · I have nothing (in principle) against discreet visual clues so that instead of spending time finding an obscure high note I can better spend it making it beautiful..

June 29, 2021, 8:46 AM · Cotton, call them what you will. It is not fretless!
June 29, 2021, 9:25 AM · Roman Kim: a master of fireworks AND phrasing. I have been listening to his performances for a few years. It ranges from the straight-up classical to the exploration of the limits of human physical ability to play the violin.

If you haven't discovered this artist yet, start with a trip down his youtube rabbit hole. Lots of tasty musical mushrooms to consume and expand your mind.

June 29, 2021, 9:47 AM · A banjo with flush frets is sold as fretless so this violin is fretless.
June 29, 2021, 10:04 AM · Call it what you will, he has some kind of tactile guidance to play those complicated chords.
June 29, 2021, 10:04 AM · Call it what you will, he has some kind of tactile guidance to play those complicated chords.
June 29, 2021, 10:08 AM · Looks to me like it could just be a well-worn fingerboard.
Edited: June 29, 2021, 10:33 AM · You would not be able to feel those grooves. There is no protrusion, so it is fretless.


Roman Kim is a big Hendrix fan. Have you seen him biting his violin?

June 29, 2021, 12:50 PM · I've seen this fingerboard I believe. It is neither a well-worn fingerboard or grooves. It's raised tactile bumps - call them what you will. He is able to go beyond what is usually possible with this fingerboard otherwise he would not use it.
June 29, 2021, 1:30 PM · A bassist I know popped the frets in his Fender Mustang and filled in the notches with wood filler -- he did a very neat job of it. Very different sound of course.
June 29, 2021, 1:35 PM · You can see clearly in some other videos of Kim that his violin has raised frets. You can see wear on the fingerboard between the frets, just like on a guitar.
June 29, 2021, 1:52 PM · @Paul "A bassist I know popped the frets in his Fender Mustang and filled in the notches with wood filler -- he did a very neat job of it. Very different sound of course."

That's what Jaco Pastorius did. He needed 7 coats of marine epoxy on the fingerboard though, so the strings wouldn't shred the wood. Also he only practised on a fretted bass.

Edited: June 29, 2021, 1:57 PM · There's no practical way to carve raised frets into ebony like that, and in the end it would never be in tune because of the differences between strings. It would probably (definitely) chip with use, too.

I remember hearing in a documentary that he cut them himself... he is not a professional luthier, talented as he may be. They're little scores in the wood, cut carefully with a knife.

June 29, 2021, 7:36 PM · I am of the belief that he uses them for a reason, not simply for notoriety. It's worth noting that he has multiple violins, and they don't all have the grooves.
June 29, 2021, 8:33 PM · Well, I don't doubt it could be useful as a visual aid for those high notes. That said, this is **Roman Kim** we're talking about, who jumps to hit double stops so high that they are in the space between the bridge and fingerboard. I don't think he needs any help, haha!
June 29, 2021, 9:33 PM · There is also something he does with those weird prismatic glasses. I read somewhere that they make markings visible. Not sure if that is true or not.
Cotton. He may be such an accomplished violinist that he does not need frets or whatever for most things but he is doing chord work at another level in those pieces where he plays all the parts.
June 29, 2021, 11:39 PM · Cotton, he said in an interview that certain polyphonic things he plays would simply be impossible without the undulations.
June 30, 2021, 6:25 AM · I simply do not believe that they have any significant impact, or that Kim would not be able to play this arrangement without them. Same with the prism glasses... all they do is help him focus, in his own words.

As a performer you have to drum up some mystery, although to settle this debate I suppose we'll have to find him at a show and ask him in person.

June 30, 2021, 6:46 AM · Frankly I really don't care much. If I had a list of violinists I wanted to emulate, Kim would not be on it.
June 30, 2021, 10:44 AM · Frets or marks would have to be in equal-tempered tuning, like a Guitar.
June 30, 2021, 11:15 AM · Joel. Marks can be in equal temperament but you can still play other temperaments. With a bowed instrument you can even play outside equal temperament on frets themselves. I've tried it.
July 2, 2021, 2:57 AM · 4:05-4:10--there are indeed raised frets!
Edited: July 2, 2021, 7:28 PM · Thanks for posting the link! That's an amazing performance. Yes, in a couple of places, such as around 1:00 and just before 2:09, frets show up all the way up the fingerboard, the same colour as the fingerboard, but catching the light in a different way.

I would think that frets (in semitones) aid in the clarity of the sound, and make it easier to balance the different voices in the music. Also, with frets, once the instrument itself is tuned, it's not necessary to listen for tuning of individual notes; instead, the focus is on hand and finger positions, as in guitar and mandolin.

There is a video about stealth or "scalloped" frets, with detailed views at 2:51 to 2:54, and 5:08 to 5:15:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRN7c6dz9QY

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