flyer logo grok

Can improvisational freedom be reached by conventional musical means? Drummer Etienne Nillesen and guitarist Melle Weijters have found an unparalleled answer to this question by redefining their roles and redesigning their instruments. These acoustic visionaries draw their audiences into profound conversations characterised by equality, eloquence, and ecstasy.



Grok (pronounced  [ɡɹ̩kʰ]) is a word coined by Robert A. Heinlein for his 1961 science-fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, where it is defined as follows:

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience.

prepared drums  – Etienne Nillesen
10-string fretless guitar – Melle Weijters


Mel’s Gibson

Since 2009 I own this beautiful 1917 the Gibson harpguitar. Initially, I borrowed this instrument for the recording of When the Caged bird Sings’ but afterwards I couldn’t do anything else than just buy it.

Here’s an excerpt from our CD.

‘When the caged bird sings’ is an anthology of poems by the 19th century Afro-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), selected and set to music by vocalist Roderik Povel.

There are many stories to be told about harp guitars in general (here), Gibson harp guitars (here) and my instrument in particular. There is a very amazing picture gallery which shows Gibson harp guitars in the hands of their original owners, go take a look!

Every time I look at those images, I ask myself the following questions: would it be possible to recognize my very own guitar? Can I trace back (parts of) its history? What did it sound like in those days and how did it survive in such a great shape for almost a century?

One day, I was at the Amsterdam Public Library browsing the guitar history books. First, I opened up ‘Acoustic guitars and other fretted instruments: a photographic history’ by George Gruhn & Walter Carter. Quickly, I scanned the pages. And yes, there were harp guitars, but no, it was not mine. A reviewer wrote: ‘The chapter ends with two pages on the harp-guitar, again probably a true reflection of their (lack of) general importance.

And then, there was this book: ‘the Chinery Collection – 150 years of American Guitars’. Easily found the pages on the harp guitars and there she was, in full glory… I recognised every scratch and every dint, no doubt about it, I found her!

So know I knew the guitar was part of the Chinery Collection. But who was Mr. Chinery and how did the guitar end up in my hands? Many questions remain unanswered at this point, but there are some clues on this page at harpguitars.net. An interview with Scott Chinery in his guitar room – including a glance of my guitar – can be seen here.

Rubber Duck

why would a conservatory trained jazz guitarist…

…lose his frets?

The fretless guitar was not a subject at my conservatory. It started as an experiment in the first year after my final exam (2005). Somewhere around my 25th birthday I picked up my pimped Hohner G3T Licensed by Steinberger Headless Fretless at my customizer.

In August 2006 ‘Fret de la Tourette’ performed at the Dutch Fretless Guitar Festival in the Hague. Embraced with the energy of bashing drums and stomping bass lines, ‘Rubber Duck’ floated on the waves of the fretless sea.

This tune was my compositional contribution to CNQ‘s album ‘Making Choices’. In this period my first electric guitar, a Maya Strat copy, brutally lost her frets. Since that moment, she has never seen a stage, recording session or rehearsal room; a ‘personal affair’ we might say…

In this piece, a melody consisting of sixteen dotted quarter notes beat against a six bar bebop comping pattern (see leadsheet). Soloing in 4 builds up from muted trumpet through aggressive alto saxophone into destructive guitar. Picture me having a fight with my Rubber Duck in a bathtub…


fret 1 |fret|
verb ( fretted , fretting )
1 [ intrans. ] be constantly or visibly worried or anxious : she fretted about the cost of groceries | [with clause ] I fretted that my fingers were so skinny.
• [ trans. ] cause (someone) worry or distress.

2 [ trans. ] gradually wear away (something) by rubbing or gnawing : the bay’s black waves fret the seafront.
• form (a channel or passage) by rubbing or wearing away.

• [ intrans. ] flow or move in small waves : soft clay that fretted between his toes.

noun [in sing. ] chiefly Brit.
a state of anxiety or worry.

ORIGIN Old English fretan [devour, consume,] of Germanic origin; related to Dutch vreten and German fressen, and ultimately to FOR- and EAT .

fret 2
1 Art & Architecture: a repeating ornamental design of interlaced vertical and horizontal lines, such as the Greek key pattern.
2 Heraldry: a device of narrow diagonal bands interlaced through a diamond.
verb ( fretted , fretting ) [ trans. ] [usu. as adj. ] ( fretted)
decorate with fretwork : intricately carved and fretted balustrades.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French frete ‘trelliswork’ and freter (verb), of unknown origin.


fret 3
each of a sequence of bars or ridges on the fingerboard of some stringed musical instruments (such as the guitar), used for fixing the positions of the fingers to produce the desired notes.


verb ( fretted , fretting ) [ trans. ] [often as adj. ] ( fretted)
1 provide (a stringed instrument) with frets.
2 play (a note) while pressing the string down against a fret : fretted notes.

fretless adjective

ORIGIN early 16th cent.: of unknown origin.