Han Beyli had a vision for the perfect instrument on which to play his ear-grabbing original music, a blend of jazz, funk, singer-songwriter, and Mugham—an ancient Azerbaijani improvisational form of art that involves music performance and poetry. Designed by Ukranian luthier Stas Pokotylo, the 6-string that Beyli calls Almita (tiny soul) features a fretted fingerboard for the B, E, A, and Dstrings, and a fretless fingerboard for the G and C strings. The idea occurred to Beyli several years ago when a friend gifted him an Ibanez 6-string Ashula hybrid, which had a fretless fingerboard for the B and E strings and a fretted fingerboard for the A-through-C strings.
It’s been a long road for Beyli, who was born and raised in the now war-torn eastern Ukranian city of Kharkiv, to parents of Azerbaijani descent. He started on guitar at age 7 and picked up the bass at 14, inspired by his brother, a drummer who invited Han to play in his band a year later. He also studied with a Mugham master, learning the intricacies of the highly improvisational Azerbaijani folk music. Citing the influences of John Patitucci, Richard Bona, and Bass Extremists Victor Wooten and Steve Bailey, Beyli moved to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music in 2015, graduating in 2019. While there he got to play with such heavies as Jack DeJohnette, John Medeski, and David Fiuczynski’s Screamming Headless Toros He is presently based in Miami, Florida.
Beyli’s first bass by Pokotylo was a headless 6-string of the same fretted/fretless hybrid design, which by comparison was lighter, easier to travel with, and brighter-sounding due to its rosewood fingerboard. But with his current Almita, which has a headstock, Han has found the sound he has long been searching for. He relates, “A key is the warmth, sustain, and tone of the ebony fingerboard.”
As you might imagine, a bass that goes from fretted to fretless poses some challenges. One is that when you play a fretted board you place your fretting finger in-between the frets, but with a fretless you play closer to or on the fret line. Pokotylo’s solution was to offset the fret lines below the frets on the G and C strings, so they appear a little bit before the frets on the strings above. Another issue that Pokotylo brilliantly resolved was that the fretless portion of the fingerboard needed to be raised to be even with the fret height on the fretted portion of the fingerboard, not the board itself. Raves Han, “He made the transition to the raised portion so smooth that you don’t even notice it when playing.”
Beyli, whose next solo record is going to come out later this year, followed by a European tour in 2023, can’t stop singing the praises of the instrument. “You end up trusting your intonation more on the fretless strings because you have fretted-note pitches to play against. Particularly when you play notoriously difficult intervals like 5ths and 6ths, and of course chords. And you won’t believe how much better you play when you trust yourself.” He continues, “Overall I think every bass player should try this design. The inspiration it offers is endless. You can find your voice on it and it can go places!”
Stas Pokotylo: Here