I have to admit to a tinge of sadness as I report that both of the LED learning sleeve for guitar projects we featured back in April have so far failed to appear. Development of each is said to be continuing but Tabber withdrew its presence on Kickstarter after only two weeks to regroup and improve the product and the LED Sleeve didn't make its funding target. Fortunately, there is an existing system called Fretlight that uses lights embedded in the neck to show would-be players exactly when and where to place fingers on a fingerboard. The recent addition of the rather attractive FG-461 PRO electric guitar to the range offered the perfect opportunity to take a closer look.
While guitar slingers like Clapton, Page, and Beck (or more recently Satriani, Vai and Gilbert) make playing the six-stringed electric saxophone look so easy and natural, it isn't. All that virtuoso excellence is the result of countless hours spent nailing chops, learning scales and perfecting technique. Many who try to emulate their guitar heroes will look to books, videos and computer software for help but there's nothing quite like having someone around to show you exactly what needs to go where and when.
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Unfortunately professional tuition can be expensive and at the end of an always-too-short lesson students are left to their own devices and likely have to return to reading tab or score from a book, translating it to positioning on the neck, and then endlessly repeating the piece while gradually increasing to the correct tempo. Video lessons and software learning packages offer a touch more interactivity but students will still need to alternate focus from the screen to instrument and back again, which can be somewhat distracting.
The Fretlight learning method developed by Rusty Shaffer has LED lights positioned at the frets along a guitar's neck which work alongside video and software tuition to allow players to pick up new skills (or brush up on existing ones) up ten times faster than with familiar learning techniques such as books, DVDs or online instruction. Unlike the Kickstarter projects mentioned above (where a thin LED-packing sleeve would be positioned under the strings of just about any guitar), the Fretlight system is built into a line-up of five state-of-the-art electric guitars inspired by classic Fender body shapes.
Each model features a thin LED circuit layer topped by an advanced polymer fingerboard that allows the lights to show through only when lit. There's a light strip at the nut to indicate open string prompts and an LED under each string at 21 of the 22 fret positions along the neck. The lights are triggered in response to video-based lessons and/or software on a computer, which walk students through phrasing, progressions, scales, full songs and more by indicating where a string needs to be pressed down and when.
Each purchase comes with a 10 foot (3 meter) guitar-to-USB cable and the Fretlight Studio software for Mac/PC that includes over 100 text-based lessons, and allows players to jam along to a number of included backing tracks. Students can even sync the lighting system with whatever an instructor is playing in a growing line of Hal Leonard Fretlight Ready video lessons. The catalog for the latter currently includes tutorials on how to play like Clapton, Billy F Gibbons (ZZ Top), Bob Seger, Lennon and McCartney, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Leslie West (Mountain), BB King and more. Each video lesson package carries a suggested retail price of between US$18.99 and $23.99.
The newest addition to the Fretlight family is the 12-pound (5.4-kg) FG-461 PRO, which features an ash body with gorgeous birds-eye maple on top and is finished in either blue or natural. There's a Stratabond C-shaped, 25.5-inch neck with a two-way truss rod, a fixed bridge at one end of the instrument and locking tuners at the other, and super quiet Lindy Fralin Single Coil P-92 pickups inbetween. In addition to the volume and tone knobs, and instead of the familiar three- or -five-way selector switch, the PRO features a blender knob that's said to allow users to dial in exactly how much influence each of the two pickups has on the tone produced.
Entry level Fretlight guitars are priced at $399.99, there's a Strat-like model for $499.99, a Tele shape at $599.99, a beautiful Jazzmaster version for $699.99 and the Pro model detailed above will cost you $1199.99.