Neil Haverstick – Fretless (2010)

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by Mark Saleski

If you have a few hours to spare, and are looking for some cheap entertainment, search for one of those “Best Guitarists” lists on the Internet. Oh dear, the comments will absolutely slay you with their hilarity. Just about everybody can find a way to be offended that their “Best” has been slighted in one way or another — placement in the wrong spot on the list…”Clapton is better than Malmsteen?! R U Krazy?!!,” or by being left off altogether…”Where’s Slash?!”

After reading page upon page of this kind of thing, I decided to create my own list. The focus was on the idea that I can’t place guitarists on a “skilled” number line. It just doesn’t make sense to the way I perceive music. Is Marc Ribot “better” than Keith Richards? I’m sorry, but that’s the wrong question.

Had I known about guitarist Neil Haverstick at the time my list was created, there is no doubt he would have been on it. Face it, how many players do you know who can make their way comfortably through jazz, blues, and microtonal music?

Haverstick’s latest release, Fretless, adds a further element of shimmer by presenting compositions on the fretless guitar. As stated in the liner notes, “Playing fretless presents may challenges, but allows me to find new horizons as a composer, including many subtle microtonal shades of color, unavailable on a tempered instrument.” Yes, despite the fact that our 12-tone system of tuning is a relatively recent invention, it has become so accepted as “normal” to our way of hearing in the West that we perceive music constructed with alternate tunings as “odd” if not entirely “off.” This is really a shame, because octaves split into unfamiliar intervals can produce sounds that shimmer with surprising colors.

Many of the songs on Fretless waver between genres, always a good thing in my book. The opening “Project 9” mixes in scorching rock hooks with the decidedly Eastern vibe. “Thunderbird” similarly mashes up distorted guitar lines with a Native American drone.

While some selections appear to have a sort of ethnic stamp — “Mars Mamma” sounds African to my ears and “Iraq” manages to be both what you expect…and not — others, such as “Silver Woman” and “Didgeridon’t” (C’mon, you love that title!) seem to explore microtonality for its own sake. This is especially true on the former composition, with it’s extended and overlapped (and beautiful) scale work and crazy quilt of arpeggios. The latter song mimics the circular breathing technique used on the Australia wind instrument before morphing over into otherworldly soundscapes.

An interesting feature of Fretless is that all of the songs are quite long, with a minimum length of nearly 6 minutes, moving out to almost 13 for the set closer “Silver Woman.” The compositions reveal their charms slowly, holding back surprises for future listens. And on those 2nd, 3rd, and 10th listens, there will still be new things to be discovered…and you won’t be wondering, “Where’s Slash?!”

Neil Haverstick’s music can be purchased at Guitar 9 Records as well as at his own website.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at
Mark Saleski
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