Microtonal Guitar


The Adjustable Microtonal Guitar has been designed by Tolgahan Cogulu in 2008. It was accepted and funded as a scientific research project at Istanbul Technical University Dr. Erol Ucer Center for Advanced Studies in Music under the supervision of Prof. Sehvar Besiroglu.

Microtonal guitar is secured by a patent. If you want to order a microtonal classic/electric/bass guitar or microtonal mandolin/baglama/bouzouki, please e-mail tolgahanus@yahoo.com

In designing his Adjustable Microtonal Guitar, Tolgahan Cogulu was inspired by Walter Vogts Fine-Tunable Precision Fretboard (1985), whose aim was to solve the intonation problems of the guitar. In the Adjustable Microtonal Guitar, all the frets on the fretboard are movable in the channels under each string. Besides, any number of frets can be inserted into or removed from the fretboard.

The objectives of designing the Adjustable Microtonal Guitar are as follows:
1) To play maqam-based music with the guitar.
2) To play microtonal music of the contemporary classical Western music repertoire.
3) To play pieces based on tunings other than the equal temperament system.






In the equal temperament system used in Western classical music, the octave is divided into 12 half tones. On conventional guitar fretboards, the frets are half tone apart. Similarly, piano keys are also a half step apart. In Western classical music theory, the term microtone is used for an interval less than a half tone. Microtonal Music refers to pieces that use microtones in contemporary Western classical music repertoire. For example, Mexican composer Julian Carrillo divided the octave into 96 tones and used them in some of his pieces.

In addition to this, the term Microtonal Music also encompasses music that use intervals other than the equally-tempered 12 notes of an octave. For example, pieces written in Pythagorean or just-intonation tunings are also categorized under microtonal music.

In Ottoman/Turkish art music theory, which is based on maqams, microtones are referred to as koma. In this system, a whole-tone is divided into 9 equal parts, and each part is called a koma.


To date, many guitarists/composers have tried various techniques to achieve microtones on classical guitar:

1) Fretless Guitar: Erkan Ogur has been playing fretless guitar since 1970s in order to play maqam-based music. In this instrument, there are no frets on the guitar fretboard. As in the oud, all microtones/komas can be played on the fretless guitar.

2) Fretlets: The fretlets are small frets that can be nailed onto any part of the classical guitar fretboard. Guitarists such as John Schneider, Lily Afshar, Onur Türkmen use fretlets on their guitars. These fretlets are stable and can not be moved from the spots where they are nailed. Tom Stone invented the Guitar with Interchangeable Fingerboards in the early 1970s. John Schneider has been playing this guitar for years and has adjusted fretlets on different fretboards for various pieces.

3) Vogt Guitar (The Fine-Tunable Precision Fretboard): In 1985, German luthier Walter Vogt (1935-1990) invented a guitar on which all the frets are movable for limited distances via the channels under the strings. Vogts goal was to solve the intonation problems of stable-fretted guitars. However, guitarists such as John Schneider and Wim Hoogewerf have been using this guitar to play microtonal music. After Walter Vogt, Luthier Herve Chouard has been making Vogt guitars (Fine-Tunable Guitar).

4) Execution of some techniques:
a) Bending: Microtones can be achieved by bending the strings with the left hand fingers. For example, Ricardo Moyano used bendings in his Aşık Veysel, Kara Toprak arrangement in order to obtain a microtone in Huseyni maqam.
b) Tuning of a string: Microtones can be achieved by tuning an open string for a specific microtone. All the frets on the re-tuned string will be different than the other strings and frets. For example, in Two Miniatures, a piece for two guitars by Tolga Tuzun, one of the guitars has been tuned a quarter tone higher than the other guitar.
c) Vibration of the left part of the fret: One of the left hand fingers presses on a fret and then, the right hand plays the string from the left side of the fret that was pressed. In this technique, the left part of the fret is vibrated and some microtones can be achieved. Ceyhun Saklar has used this technique in the introduction of his piece titled Imitations of Anatolia No.3.
d) Glissando with a Device: Electric guitar slides, pencils or even pestles can be used to achieve microtones on the classical guitar. These apparatus are touched gently on a string and allow to obtain microtones when glissandi are made. For example, Mustafa Tinc has used a pestle to play microtones in his piece for two guitars titled It Takes Two. Similar effect can be obtained by the left-hand fingers. This technique is generally called Surface Pizzicato.
e) Harmonics and Multiphonics: Many harmonics or overtones are not equal tempered sounds. For instance, the harmonic on the 4th fret or the multiphonic on the 6th fret are microtones.
f) Horizontal Vibrato: When a left-hand finger presses a fret and moves the fret to the left or right without releasing any pressure, microtones are achieved.


John Schneiders article Just Guitar
Microtonal guitar links
Microtonal music festival
Info about Erkan Ogur
Info about John Schneider
Book Links


Harry Partch, Genesis of Music, Madison, Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1974.
Stuart Isacoff, Temperament, Faber and Faber Pres, 2002.
John Schneider, The Contemporary Guitar, University of California Press, 1985.
John Schneider, Just Guitar, Guitar International No. 6, 2004: 42-50.
W. A. Mathieu, Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony from its Natural Origins to its Modern Expression, 1997.
Mark Lindley, Lutes, Viols and Temperaments: Cambridge University Press, 1984.



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