In a nutshell, it's an eleven string, fretless, acoustic/electric instrument, strung with nylon strings and tuned to standard guitar tuning. More than ever before, musicians are mixing sounds and musical styles from all over the world. This often involves the mixing of Eastern and Western music, such as using a Sitar in a western musical setting or using western instruments to imitate the sounds in eastern music. The Glissentar was inspired by a similar desire to mix elements of East and West, but in this case, in the instrument itself. The Western part of the equation is easy to recognize as a variation on the guitar. All of the instruments basic dimensions, scale length, body size, depth, fingerboard radius, and string height, are fairly standard for acoustic/electric guitars. The Eastern influence in the Glissentar comes from the Oud, an ancestor of the Mandolin that dates back to the seventh century. The Oud is also an eleven-string fretless instrument and is still in use today primarily in Armenia and Egypt. Adapting to this new instrument is actually a great deal easier than it appears. The shape and scale of the neck and the easily visible side position markers help to give the Glissentar a very familiar feel. The Glissentar opens the door to microtonal playing as well as some incredible and unique new sounds for adventurous guitar players.
Godin A11 Glissentar
Review - JB
Cost: USA $1035, UK £866, including Gig Bag, 2 sets strings.
The Glissentar is a fretless string instrument, the same scale and size as a conventional guitar.
In a similar vein to an Oud, it has eleven strings, comprising a single bass string and five courses of nylon strings tuned in unison.
String spacing, fingerboard curvature and bridge are similar to a normal guitar and of course everything can be tuned to regular guitar pitch.
The headstock is very striking, black facia with white nylon winding posts driven by Godin custom chrome winders. Nothing looks quite like it, and the rest of the instrument is no disappointment.
Glissentar Headstock & 11 winders
The fingerboard is ebony on a rock maple neck, which is very comfortable. The nut width is one and three quarter inches and the fingerboard radius is sixteen inches.
The soundboard is beautifully uncomplicated, in solid cedar with a semi gloss finish, a nice balance to match to the fretless neck.
Positioning of the controls is perfect for fast access during playing, The pick up being an LR Baggs Ribbon Transducer located in the bridge. The pre-amp is a custom built LR Baggs (c) 2000 featuring Volume, Mid, Treble and Bass controls.
Our testing was done using a Schertler "David" Acoustic Amplifier, the range of control over the sound given only three eq sliders is quite amazing. A lovely amount of cut on the treble though to a very vibrant prescence was available with this control wound fully up.
The middle and bass sliders allow very dynamic control of the sound projection without us having to touch the amplifier.
EQ controls - perfectly accessible
Feel / Look
While you might imagine the nylon strung Glissentar would demand or even expect a more gentle playing style, when you hang this guitar around your neck the temptation is just to let rip. The balance and feel is just right. You could say classical sound with electric feel.
The body of the guitar is made of silver leaf maple, the construction is double chambered and therefore not as heavy as it looks.
One thing we really like is the thickness of the body itself, just a tad more than a standard solidbody guitar.
Action / Fingerboard
Straight out of the box the action is very good, with a slight toe-in. You do get an allen key supplied to adjust the action and we used this to bring the neck dead straight.
The fingerboard was very precisely engineered, no bumps or buzzes. We could drop the height of the strings in the nut if really pressed, but it isn't neccessary. By tensioning the neck further you can bring the action down to the point where you get that warm semi-buzz on the lower strings. We adjusted it to just above that point were the sound was clean. This left us with a very low fast action, perfect for fretless playing.
Neck Joint - work of art
Traditional Oud players are used to a wide string spacing at the bridge, to facilitate their style of string plucking. This string spread would be impractical to emulate on a guitar based instrument.
Take a closer look at the 5th and 4th string courses. Because of the vibrating width of the string, these have to be spaced a little wider than the top three courses.
This extra spacing allows for some very interesting playing technique. The strings can be held individually technically splitting the string course. So it is possible to let one half of the string course ring open, and stop the other half at a different note.
The Battery Compartment
Just a quick thank you to Godin for incorporating a practical battery compartment, no screws, no battery clips, you just flick it out and push the new battery in. Simple.
Well there's nothing like a live performance to test an instrument out so its down to a local jam venue. This place hosts banjo, mandolin, guitar and the odd bouzouki player.
There's a fair bit of traditional playing so its an interesting test of the water.
Well the glissentar certainly does turn heads, and as the Oud isn't seen much around here it takes a little time to explain the principles.
Well it certainly opened up a new aspect of the instrument, it adapts particularly well to English folk music, the lute like sounds fit really nicely into a small ensemble. We tried some alternate tunings for Irish jigs DADEAE for one of the local experts and personally I preferred the sound of the Glissentar to his conventional steel strung 12 string. The Glissentar coped well with the altered tunings, once tuned it was nice and stable, and quick to return to standard tuning without needing any attention for the rest of the night.
Up until this point I had the Glissentar pigeon holed as either an avant garde instrument, or one specifically used in Turkish and Arabic music to access specific scales, makams and microtones. However, it does remarkably well in the role of Cittern, Bouzouki, Lute or any traditional double strung instrument. What's more, when you tap into this idea it becomes very addictive and very hard to stop playing in that particular style.
If you already play fretless guitar, the Glissentar is going to be a tempting addition to your collection.
Godin have created a very different instrument in the Glissentar, while it remains basically a guitar, you have this overlay of eleven strings that lifts it to a completely new level. There is nothing else like it, when the history of music in the 21st century is written, this will be a landmark.
Artists playing the Glissentar:
Ratko Zjaca / Fareed Haque / Elliott Sharp / Michael Vick
Vince Millett / John Howarth / Wayne Wesley Johnson / Jahloon
Adrian Ouarar / Trey Gunn / Carljohan Grimmark
More on the Glissentar:
A technical look at string output and sustain
Michael Vick's comments on the Glissentar (recommended)
Adrian Ouarar comments on Glissentar Strings
Godin Guitars - Glissentar page
Where to buy Glissentar strings
My style consists of lots of slides and slide vibratos, and slides on the round wound strings can be a bit screechy. I hit this problem using the Godin Multiac Nylon Classical and cured it using some flatwound nylon strings. I recently restrung the Glissentar with Thomastic Infeld KR116 Classic S series, rope core flat wound nylon strings and the improvement in playability is dramatic.
Review - JB
(updated Nov 2008)