Ned Evett: Interview : Chicago:
by Dave Dalka
photo/picture by Dave Dalka
I recently had the pleasure
of catching up with Ned Evett, a unique musician and the inventor of
the glass fretboard fretless guitar. During Ned Evett's opening set
for fellow guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani, he pleased and intrigued the
vast majority hard-to-impress crowd of hardcore Satriani fans. I look
forward to being invited to see Ned play a longer set someday soon as
his style is extremely unique. He is a quite interesting, creative and
charming individual who is not afraid to deviate from defined musical
norms and use non-traditional influences to mold his guitar playing
and song writing. His new album "Circus Liquor" will be released
in January of 2003 on Empty Beach Records.
Music Frisk's Dave
Dalka: When did you
first get the idea to start playing your guitar without frets?
Evett: In about 1986. I had a full ride scholarship
as a classical guitar player that I walked away from, but I needed a
project to do one semester and I had an idea for the fretless guitar,
but I didn't have enough money to actually have it professionally done.
It's at that point I realized that there is just no gear. If you wanted
to this you can't just walk into a store, or anywhere, and buy one of
these guitars. I dropped the idea and then about four years later I
was in a Reggae band, because I had moved on from doing the college
thing, had joined the circus and had gone on the road and I just took
a pair of pliers and I took an old Strat that I had and I turned that
sucker into a fretless guitar. Since it was a Reggae band, it was easy
to just step on stage with it like the second night that I had it. The
music is fairly static and it is repeating for measures and measures
and measures. It's a great groove, so it's conducive to doing nice,
short solos in that context. So I had a good solid year of just getting
down on stage in front of people. Learning by doing is always good too.
So it's never been an ivory tower lab experiment for me, it's always
been an in the field, having it up in real time for me.
Most people struggle to master an instrument on its own, but yet you
were able to take it to a further level. What made you decide to do
That's a great question. I think part of it has to do with the era during
which I took up guitar, which is the mid-80's. There was a technical
renaissance at the point, so many guys like Stanley Jordan, Joe Satriani,
Allan Holdsworth, they all reached this explosion of techniques. When
you are a young guitarist and you are bombarded by these techniques,
you have a choice: you can ape one of them decently well or you can
ingest the sum total of their approaches and then try to do your own
thing. I always felt a lot of people of in my generation missed that
point entirely and would go just for the ape and assume 'Well, someday
I'll get recognition from copying Yngwie Malmsteen or whoever cause
I can do him so well.' That's never going to work now. I think that
probably had a lot to do with it. Plus I'm just driven, I guess, naturally
driven and pretty restless.
I understand you make these in a small shop because of a friend of yours
that does glass, other than this friend what led to the usage of glass?
Total necessity! I had wood fingerboards and metal fingerboards, but
they are both prone to wearing out and you have to take them in and
have them re-planed and re-surfaced. It's expensive and it's a pain
in the ass and I got tired of it. I said I wish there was a substance
that would not wear out and it turned out to be glass. It never occurred
to me because glass is so breakable, but when you stick it on the fingerboard
it's very stable, it's cheap, which is key. If you break a fingerboard
it costs you four or five bucks to get another one. It just turned out
to be the best material for me. That's because I play an insane amount
on it. For somebody who plays just a little bit of fretless guitar,
a wood fingerboard or metal fingerboard is perfectly adequate because
they are never going to wear though it in the time that I would wear
the part of you that is the musician and there is the part of you now
that is the inventor and businessman that makes these. Which one is
Oh, the artist by far, the artist! Particularly because I began trying
to make gear available because there was no gear, there was a vacuum.
So, just through trying to push the envelope…
One couldn't exist without the other?
Right, exactly. I have a very easy relationship with the business side
of things with the internet. We sell exclusively on the internet. So,
I'm not sitting in a guitar store twelve hours a day selling my guitars.
Often times my company, the guitar company side of me and the artist
side are transparent to each other, people often don't associate one
with the other and that's the way that I like it. I don't want to be
known as a person who sells fretless guitars that would not be as choice
of a gig.
Somewhere along the way, Joe Satriani got interested in your guitars,
purchased one and now you are here touring with him. Please share that
It's a great story. San Francisco, this would have been 1996, when I
was getting the glass fretless guitar business off the ground. Through
a personal connection, I knew Joe and he had a JS model sitting in the
closet that he never played. I can't remember what the reason was, something
wrong with it, it just never played right. I customized a guitar for
him, which presented some technical challenges and I gave him the guitar.
I wound up moving away from San Francisco at the point, but always have
kept in touch with him. When I put out my first record, "An Introduction
to Fretless Guitar" I of course sent that to him. Joe is the kind
of guy that gives you feedback if you like something. If you don't hear
back from him, it's because, ya know, it's that kind of a critique,
which I think is awesome, because you should figure out your own issues.
So to wrap that story up, I kept in touch with him and when I was on
tour in Europe this summer, they were also on tour; I did the opening
spots in the UK with them that was four dates. Then I got asked back
for this run. How much he plays that guitar, I don't know, but he has
many guitars in his collection.
Who are some of the guitarists that influenced you the most as you developed?
It's a pretty narrow field for me. Doug Marsh from Built to Spill, who
I also have a side project with and I'm on a Built to Spill record,
they are on Warner Brothers, like and indie rock band. Joe (Satriani)
had a big influence on me. The elements of my style which are jazz rock,
I got directly from Joe. When Joe came out, he had a lot of magazine
space in the guitar magazines explaining his approach. His approach
is heavily influenced by jazz and jazz theory, so I really intersect
with him at that point and I derive a lot of my thinking from that.
But I'm as much of a song writer as I am an instrumental guitar player.
In a lot of ways, if I'm looking for inspiration, often times I'll get
it from a Nick Drake or Richard Thompson rather than listening to a
John Scofield record or something like that. Michael Hedges was a big
influence as well.
Of the music that is out there is the world today, what are some things
that you just enjoy listening to?
I love Indian music. I have an incredible 4-CD set from Nimbus Records
called The Raga Guide. I listen to Ravi Shankar, I listen to Norah Jones,
who is Ravi Shankar's daughter, she's on Blue Note, and she is amazing.
I listen to my little bother Joe Evett, who is an artist back home.
Built to Spill, which I mentioned and Radiohead.
You mention back at home. You are the first person I've ever met from
Idaho. How was getting recognition and exposure living in such a remote
It didn't really happen for me there. I moved to California for that
in the early 90's and then I recently relocated for family reasons;
I had a child I didn't want to raise my child in LA. Now I have the
best of both worlds, I have a good list of contacts and action outside
Boise. I am able to continue to ply my trade without having to live
in a music town.
What other things do you like to do when you aren't making or playing
I sculpt a bit and I raise a two year old child. Not a wide range of
hobbies, I work out to stay in shape.
There's this festival in France every other year for Fretless guitar
players, tell me a little bit about that whole enterprise?
It's incredible! I had no idea it existed and I got an e-mail from the
promoter. At first I almost didn't believe him; I was like, "Really?"
It's not just fretless guitarists; it is sarod, fretless bass, so the
fretless thing can mean a few different things. It's evolved now into
more of a guitar thing. Initially it was not. It's in Mende, France,
which is sort of the south-central France and it has the most incredible
food and the most beautiful scenery you will ever see. I think the next
one is this February, the La Nuit De La Fretless festival. Because it's
a major festival with the fretless guitar thing, I won't do it very
often; I'll rotate in every few years. But it's an incredible gathering
of people that do what I do.
Is there anything about Ned Evett that the world should know that they
At this point, I'm really comfortable when people encounter me at a
show. I do what I do, I write songs and I play a freaky guitar. It's
rare you are missing part of the equation because that's pretty much
what I do. I'm comfortable with that. Some artists, a lot of guitar
players, feel pigeonholed, it's like "I play guitar, but nobody
knows that I write songs!" Or nobody knows I do this, I paint,
I sculpt, etc. I feel it's important to unify your musical abilities,
to synthesize, to not just do the lowest common denominator. Honestly,
it took me a lot longer to develop my song writing and singing than
my guitar playing. I was reasonably proficient at a reasonably young
age at guitar. A lot of people squish down the things they want to do
in favor of something else for various reasons. It's been a hard road,
it's not easy, but I feel great about the combination.
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