Roadhouse boogie, amped-up folk-blues, and swampy ballads on—get this—fretless electric, flattop, and resonator guitars.

Ned Evett
Ragin Krill

Once in a great while, a guitarist finds a way to add a new twist to an old story. Such is the case with Ned Evett, who plays roadhouse boogie, amped-up folk-blues, and swampy ballads on—get this—fretless electric, flattop, and resonator guitars.

On Treehouse, Evett’s new opus, we’re treated to 14 superb originals featuring his raspy vocals, cinematic lyrics, and cleverly layered guitar parts that blend elements of Delta blues, Indian sarod, and Southern rock with the keening slide tones of early-’70s George Harrison and Badfinger. It’s an improbable mix, yet so cool.

Evett’s custom guitars feature mirror-glass fingerboards, a design he evolved while living in the Bay Area. (Most of his guitars have a dead-flat fingerboard, although he has a Danelectro with a radiused playing surface.) The glass enhances sustain and lends a unique, singing clarity to his riffs, chords, and solos. Sometimes Evett stops the strings with his fingertips, but when he wants a note to have more bite, he’ll press it down with a fingernail. Together with his formidable fingerpicking chops, this flesh-or-nail “fretting” technique provides Evett with a wide range of organic tones. One moment he’ll be soaring like a violin, and then he’ll grab a low note and make it growl, not unlike a fretless bassist.

The mighty Adrian Belew produced Treehouse in his Nashville-area studio, helping Evett by selecting the songs and guiding the album’s sonic direction. But other than playing percussion on one track and adding sparse rhythm guitar to another, Belew stands aside to let Evett handle the 6-string duties.

With his fretless instruments, Evett manages to capture the melismatic beauty of slide guitar, yet is able to finger chords, intervals, and complex lead lines like a standard guitarist. It’s an amazing amalgam of two worlds that are normally segregated, and Evett moves between them effortlessly. The album is beautifully mixed—a great headphone experience—and offers enough sonic nooks and crannies to keep you coming back for yet another listen.

Must-hear track: “Sayonara Serenade”

The emotional wallop of the acoustic guitar sometimes flies under the radar. Even if you mostly play electric, here are some things to consider about unplugging.

I have a love-hate relationship with acoustic guitars. My infatuation with the 6-string really blasted off with the Ventures. That’s the sound I wanted, and the way to get it was powered by electricity. Before I’d even held a guitar, I knew I wanted a Mosrite, which I was sure was made of fiberglass like the surfboards the Beach Boys, Surfaris, and the Challengers rode in their off time. Bristling with space-age switchgear and chrome-plated hardware, those solidbody hotrod guitars were the fighter jets of my musical dreams. I didn’t even know what those old-timey round-hole guitars were called. As the singing cowboys Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey strummed off into the sunset, the pace of technology pushed the look and sound of the electric guitar (and bass) into the limelight and into my heart. Imagine my disappointment when I had to begin my guitar tutelage on a rented Gibson “student” acoustic. At least it sort of looked like the ones the Beatles occasionally played. Even so, I couldn’t wait to trade it in.

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