This is the story of a guitar without frets.
It was in July 1982 that I first heard of Bond instruments, when on-tour Talking Head Jerry Harrison casually mentioned to me over lunch that he'd tried a "fretless" guitar the previous evening. It was, apparently, called a Bond Superglide, designed and built in Britain.
"The whole fingerboard is like a staircase," Jerry told me. I must admit I couldn't work out what on earth he was on about. But I let him carry on between mouthfuls of sukiyaki. He hadn't played it through an amp, but it had obviously intrigued him. "For some players it would be really ideal," he reckoned, "it has the potential to be very fast... it has a very smooth quality."
And that was about all I could find out at the time — no-one else seemed to know a thing about it, and much less cared.
Until I caught up with Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics for this month's cover story, that is. Another casual mention of a British "fretless" guitar, and suddenly things began to fall into place.
This time the Bond is for real — and it turned out after further questioning of Dave that Eurythmics' UK manager, Kenny Smith, is involved with the Bond guitar company. Initially we were hurled all kinds of possibilities for the Bond guitar: fingerboards, memories, plastics and all.
But eventually a clear picture emerged. I discovered that Bond is a partnership between inventor Andrew Bond and businessman Ian Flooks, who happens to have access to people like Harrison through his Wasted Talent agency. Ian tells me there's been a Bond guitar company since about 1972, though only involved in research and development until very recently.
Andrew Bond's fingerboard is actually something like a staircase on its side. Hold a normal guitar up and look at the neck from the side and you'd see the frets sticking up all the way along. Hold up a Bond neck and you'll see a one-piece construction looking like a saw-blade, perhaps — a step and a gentle incline between each "fret" position. Look a little closer at the photos of the Bond on the cover and on this page and you'll begin to get the idea.
What's the advantage of the Bond "fretless" fingerboard? Ian Flooks from the company suggests that it's easier and faster to play, has a better action, and gives an increased sustain and sharper attack over a conventional fretboard. Jerry Harrison had mentioned another advantage when he said that one would "never need a fret job". But the more immediate gain for the guitarist would seem to be in speed and accuracy. Dave Stewart told me: "The guitar's light yet solid. You can slide up and down the fretboard almost like a violin. It's something like playing bottleneck with your fingers."
For the last couple of years, John Turnbull of Ian Dury's Blockheads has had one of about 12 "working prototypes", and he told me that it took him about a week to adjust to the different feel of the Bond's "pitchboard", as they like to call their new fingerboard. John was full of praise, and it didn't seem to be only because he was in Flooks' office at the time. "You can play, say, C major 7 and go right the way up to the octave really quick and easy — also you can play rock things in F and G and it doesn't hurt! And there's no dead spots."
John's Bond is an early wooden-bodied and metal-necked version. For the production models being launched at this month's Frankfurt trade show, not only have Bond introduced a solid carbon fibre body (à la Steinberger but, say Bond, lighter), they've also included a control system called "Elastomeric". I think this is a flash term for "touch sensitive".
Instead of conventional pots with knobs on the top, the Bond now has touch switching with LEDs lor coding and digital displays of control values.
There arc three main output controls, the usual volume, plus active bass and active treble. These are colour-coded for rapid identification. Touch one switch and the chosen parameter goes up a notch, another turns it down. The value of these three controls is displayed in a little "prism" between the neck and middle pickup — in other words you look down and instantly see the value of the setting of each of the volume, bass and treble controls. Touch switches also select seven-way pickup combinations and in- or out-of-phase options.
Ian Flooks from Bond told One Two that the company has spent about a quarter of a million pounds on the project so far, and have had a purpose-built 10,000-square-feet factory put up just outside Inverness (thanks to Government schemes, it seems). Could this be the start of a serious, mass-produced British guitar fur the 1980s? Bond obviously think so.
To close, your first question. How much? We'd heard that the Bond, made of carbon fibre and with its unique fingerboard and touch switching, might well go for around 400 quid. Ian Flooks mumbled something about cases and VAT when we mentioned this figure, but said, "I doubt we'll be too far off that."
We'll have an early review of the Bond in One Two just as soon as production models are rolling off the line in Inverness after the launch at Frankfurt. Then we'll see how it shapes up in real life: we have thought up some particularly excruciating tortures, Mister Bond.
Here at One Two, our curiosity is aroused. "It looks great, too," Dave Stewart told us, "black, with all these numbers flashing on it." But how will it sound? Keep in touch.