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Ron Thal

Unfretted Interview

We tracked down highly respected fretless guitarist
Ron Thal for this short and slightly off-beat chat.

Our interviewer (Jeff) cracks off...

Jeff: Welcome Ron and thanks for the interview.

Ron: That's fine, THANK YOU for having me as part of the website.

Jeff: That's a pleasure, but down to business. Just what kick started you on the fretless guitar?

Ron: Patrice Vigier gave me one.

Jeff: Patrice Vigier gives you a lot of credit for the development of the Vigier Surfretter, how did this come about and what did you contribute?

Ron: Well, he gave me one.

Jeff: Don't rub it in Ron, I had to pay for mine. If you had not discovered the fretless guitar, what do you think you would be doing or playing now?

Ron: Well, I would be doing an interview for FRETTED.com - maybe in a parallel universe, like the one where Evil Spock had a beard (that beard was pure Evil) you would have a website called FRETTED.com and we're doing an interview for it. I can say with the utmost assurance that had I not discovered fretless guitar, what I would be playing now is a guitar with frets.

The practical stuff...

Jeff: Have you tried any other fretless guitars, any comments on them?

Ron: Others aren't worth mentioning - Vigier's are the absolute best - the metal fingerboard, graphite neck - the absolute best. http://www.vigierguitars.com/GCatalog/Gve6f.htm

Jeff: What strings do you use on the Surfretter? (Flat or wound? Gauge? Manufacturer?)

Ron: Ernie Ball 12 gauge with a wound G. http://www.ernieball.com/products_strings_nickel.php

Jeff: What picks do you use? (material / thickness etc.)

Ron: "Cool Picks" Juratex medium-gauge http://www.coolmusicinc.com/JT.htm

Jeff: What amplifier do you use?

Ron: I use a Line6 Vetta2 - a great-sounding and versatile amp!

Jeff: Any favourite pedals / effects?

Ron: Mostly just a wah pedal, sometimes some reverse fx... I don't use many fx - I don't use a whammy pedal - all the weird sounds are all-natural...

Jeff: That's pretty amazing when you hear stuff like Ray Gun. Any tips for anyone learning the fretless guitar?

Ron: First, don't bend the strings. Slide up to any pitch you'd bend to on a fretted guitar. Second, try a back-and-forth motion string vibrato, like a violin, instead of up-and-down like a fretted guitar. Third, put your fingers where the frets would be on a fretted neck - not behind the frets (where you'd press the strings against the frets on a fretted neck. Fourth, be patient. It could take time for you to develop good intonation and staying in tune. Don't be too critical if it doesn't sound perfect the first time you play. :)

Jeff: Any advice on care for the fingernails? How do you look after yours?

Ron: Let 'em grow till they snap. Like magic, they grow again...


Jeff: Often we feel there is a little Hendrix influence in your music, is he a big inspiration?

Ron: Yes, but I'd have to say Eddie Van Halen had the most profound influence, guitar-wise. Musically, the Beatles.

Jeff: Do you have any other favourite fretless guitarists?

Ron: Yes, and they're all on your website :) They all kick ass... James Went, from Wales, UK is doing some very cool stuff too!

Jeff: If you had to invite three famous people to dinner (living or dead) who would they be?

Ron: hmmmmmm... well, dead people won't eat much, so the bill will be small, but live people would be handy to have around in case anyone needs the Heimlich maneuver. OK, I'll choose 1 live, 1dead, 1 not-applicable. First, Jesus - we can take a picture together and tell people it's a Before-and-After advertisement photo for some diet pill. Secondly, these guys...

Then I'd have Jesus resurrect the spirit of Eng. So Eng would be alive, Chang would be dead, and Jesus, well, if we counted him as being alive it would be a serious Biblical moment, if we counted him as dead, what does THAT say? So Jesus would be the non-applicable-status dinner guest.

The marooned on a desert island questions...

Jeff: You get to take just one single to a desert island, which would it be?

Ron: One single what? Single person? Single thought? Sometimes I just don't understand you.

Jeff: OK then, you get to take just one album / CD to the desert island, which would it be?

Ron: I wouldn't. There's no CD player there, or *electricity* thank you.

Jeff: Clean forgot about that, lets try earlier technology. You get to take a book to the desert island, which would it be?

Ron: A blank notebook. And a pen. No - TWO pens.

Jeff: Finally, if you could take one luxury item to the desert island, (you already have a guitar) what would it be?

Ron: A motorboat filled with food and fuel.

Jeff: Nice call, you've done this before, I can tell.

The humour quotient...

Jeff: Put in a room, alone with a tea cosy, how long would it be before you put it on your head?

Ron: I've averaged it out to anywhere from 6 to 23 seconds.

Jeff: We know humour is a large part of your work, but who do you find funny?

Ron: I don't hear humour in my work. I find South Park, Family Guy, Aqua Teen Hunger Force and the Simpsons funny.

Jeff: Does the humour take a lot of work or does it just bubble over?

Ron: I still don't know what you're talking about. What's this about bubbles?

Other Projects...

Jeff: I think we all know someone touched by MS, and we know you do a lot of work in this field, can you tell us a little bit about your involvement?

Ron: My best friend Ralph Rosa was diagnosed in 1997. He started a nonprofit organization where we organize shows (mostly dinner/comedy shows) and donate all the money to MS research. http://www.msrf.org/

What’s next...

Jeff: What about the next project, music wise?

Ron: Wellllllllll, I've done enough producing for now - time to do a new album. There are some other things going on that I shouldn't mention until they definitely happen :P

Jeff: If you could do a career swap what would you do instead of music?

Ron: Carpentry, definitely. I love doing demolition, framing and drywall, electrical...

Jeff: If you moved out of the US, which country would you like to settle in, and why?

Ron: I don't think I've seen enough of the world yet to make that decision. I like England, but the driving-on-the-opposite-side-of-the-road might be catastrophic. 

Jeff: You can always catch taxis, but remember they boil pizza there!

Ron: Maybe the Netherlands then? I like chicken sate, and you can find it everywhere in the Netherlands. I hear good things about Australia. Maybe Uruguay - I supposedly have family there I've never met. I guess other questions come to mind - when you say *settle* somewhere, do you mean becoming a citizen and buying a house, or would I be washing ashore and setting up camp on somebody's front lawn until I find an unoccupied plot of land where I can start a small town? This will greatly affect my decision. Gonna stick with New Jersey for now - good pizza there.

Jeff: Well I guess the pizza rules. I might just join you for one.

Ron: Anytime....

16 AUG 2004