Playing a game of follow the lights on a guitar neck is a great way to learn chords, scales and songs quickly without your eyes wandering from fretting hands to instruction book or online video and back again. There are dedicated instruments available with LEDs pre-installed in the neck, but if you already have an axe then learning sleeves offer up a decent alternative. The slickest sleeve we've seen so far is the FretX system, but it only covers the first four frets. The Fret Zeppelin sleeve goes right up the fifteenth, opening up LED-guided learning to much more than the basics.
The Fret Zeppelin sleeve is designed to slide under the strings of most full-sized electric or acoustic guitars, with a control box prototype currently mounted to the back of the host guitar but likely heading for between the tuning pegs at the rear of the headstock in the production version. The adhesive-backed LED strip is reckoned to be less than half the height of a standard fret, so it will feel raised against the fingerboard but shouldn't dampen strings or interfere with playing too much.
Finger position for single notes or full chords is marked by an illuminated LED. The system connects wirelessly to a mobile device running an iOS/Android companion app (currently Bluetooth, but the design team is looking into Wi-Fi), allowing new students to follow the full color spectrum lights to learn basic chords and scales, with the designers saying that newbies should be able to play an entire song on the first try.
Correctly played notes are detected and registered by the smart device's microphone, with the app then triggering the LEDs on the sleeve to move onto the next stage. And so it goes on. If you get lost or need some extra visual help, finger positions are shown within the app. Lead guitar parts, key changes and improvisation techniques are available for more advanced players.
The color, intensity and effect patterns of all 144 LEDs along the neck can be tweaked via the app, meaning that the Fret Zeppelin could run a funky light show during a performance. The creators also promise long battery life, though no specifics are given, and MIDI file compatibility.
The Fret Zeppelin has been 5 years in development, and is now at the pre-production prototype stage. To make the jump onto the necks of student guitars, the project has launched on Kickstarter. Pledges start at US$199 (four times the starting pledge of the FretX), and if all goes to plan shipping is estimated to start in October this year.
Have a look at the pitch video below for an overview of the project.