Historically, learning how to play guitar meant spending an hour a week in a musty rehearsal room with a teacher forcing you to learn the circle of fifths, or blindly fumbling around on the instrument on your own with some tab and figuring it out as you went along.
These days, of course, there’s plenty of options out there, from YouTube videos to online lessons to apps and gadgets that promise to lead you to the holy land of shred in no time at all. But statistics show that even with the incredible number of new players picking up the instrument each year, as much as 90 percent of them, often in frustration, lay it back down within the first few months. Which begs the question – what’s missing from the world of guitar instruction?
Enter Fret Zealot, which might just have the answer. Unlike other learn-at-home options, Fret Zealot doesn’t just put the learning tools in front of you on a screen – it puts them right on the guitar itself, making the whole process feel more hands-on, intuitive and, most of all, fun.
The crux of the Fret Zealot is a 14-fret LED strip that adheres to your guitar’s fingerboard. How does it work? There’s a USB rechargeable battery pack that plugs into the strip and clips onto the guitar’s headstock via an included modified capo, for those that are wondering. But the important thing is the whole thing takes just minutes to set up. And don’t worry – the strip, which uses industry-standard 3M 468MP double-sided tape, won’t damage your axe.
And if you’re concerned that the LEDs might hinder playability, Fret Zealot has you covered. The actual strips are half the height of most frets, and the lower side of the neck is kept clear so you can slide your hand up and down the neck freely.
From there, you simply download the Fret Zealot app (available for iOS and Android) to your phone and pair it to the LED strip via Bluetooth. On our test guitar the app quickly recognized and connected with the strip, and we were up and running in no time.
And that’s where the fun begins. Open up the app and you’ll find that the Fret Zealot method is grouped into three main categories: Courses, Play and Learn. The offerings contained within are, to say the least, staggering in both number and variety. We’re talking (big breath): 3,000 video lessons; 100 courses; a curated marketplace of instructors; every chord, arpeggio, scale and key you can imagine (and many you can’t); 57 tunings; a metronome, a tuner and a whopping 80,000 song tracks, for starters.
But in addition to the sheer breadth of material on offer, the beauty of the Fret Zealot is how nicely it translates learning to the fretboard. Pick a chord – say, a standard first position C – and the corresponding frets light up on the fingerboard to show you exactly where to put your fingers: Pink for pinky; yellow for ring; green for middle; and blue for pointer. Just lay your fingers down on the correct colors and, voila – you’re playing a C. This system makes any chord simple to both envision and sound, whether it’s a Gm7 or a D#13/9 – no black-and-white chord charts required.
The same goes for scales, with your fretboard lighting up to show you where to find every note in a particular scale type, anywhere on the fretboard. You can also choose vertical mode, which will show you all the notes in, say, the Am scale in a particular fret position (5th, 7th, 10th, etc), or horizontal mode, which lights up all the notes in that scale all the way up a single string. You may not be a scale master, but almost from the get-go you’ll be running your fingers around the fretboard as if you are. And the immediate hand-eye connection that is forged from this helps to bridge what we experience as the “theory gap” – you can see the shapes and patterns in a way that is more instinctual and less academic.
All that said, if we had to wager a guess we’d surmise that the majority of users will likely spend most of their time diving deep in the song list in the Play section – we know we did.
The amount of songs on offer – did we mention it’s more than 80,000? – is insane. As for the variety of artists? You can dig into extensive catalog offerings from Air Supply to Aerosmith to Al Di Meola, or Andres Segovia to Antonio Carlos Jobim to Avenged Sevenfold with just a simple scroll of your finger and still have…well, 25 letters left in the alphabet to get through!
The songs themselves are laid out in an easy-to-follow scrolling tab, which also lights up the corresponding frets on the guitar as the song plays. Furthermore, you can select which part of the song you want to follow tab for (rhythm, lead, electric or acoustic guitar, etc) and break the song down into parts – we went for a classic, separating out Joe Walsh and Don Felder’s iconic lines in the Eagles’ Hotel California and learning them one part at a time.
You can also slow down the speed for learning purposes, and a particularly cool feature is something called AI Mode, wherein the tab – and the LEDs on the guitar – only move on to the next note or chord in the song when you successfully sound the one you’re supposed to be playing.
The Fret Zealot is aimed at players at all levels, and indeed, there’s something for everyone here. But in addition to being a learning tool, the company is also looking to help musicians. The Fret Zealot team is working with small and mid-size artists to help them connect and interact with players who are trying to learn their music, and in return they get a revenue share and are assured that their content has the appropriate licensing fees paid.
Oh yeah, there’s one thing we forgot. In addition to the Courses, Play and Learn categories, the Fret Zealot offers one more section: Fun. Which is exactly what it is. When you’re done learning, practicing and jamming out, you can head to this section and light up the fretboard with all sorts of wacky, dazzling LED patterns. Options include sparkler, rainbow, random and our personal favorite, lightning bolt.
Which means that, beyond being the ultimate learning tool, the Fret Zealot might also function quite nicely as an onstage performance-enhancer. And why not? The Fret Zealot’s functionality, and possibilities, seem positively endless.
For more information, head to Fret Zealot.