FretLight : Learn Guitar the Modern Way

Neal November 1, 2010 14

The FretLight Guitar from Optek Music Systems is a product that is trying to drive the instrument into the 21st century through utilising software based technology to make learning the guitar more fun and intuitive.  These specially designed guitars use LEDs in the fretboard to show you exactly which notes you should be playing! Left Handed models are available and this week we’re looking at the FG-421…

The idea behind the FretLight system is a simple one.  Instead of reading the information you need from a book or screen and then conveying that data onto your guitar’s fretboard, the guitar will light up the information for you, on the neck where you need it.

The guitar connects to your computer and is powered via USB – once connected specially designed software will communicate information between guitar and computer.  This might include lighting up a song note-by-note, displaying chord or scale shapes, or demonstrating one of the many inbuilt lessons.  The guitar also functions normally and can be plugged into an amp.

Currently the only model available lefty is the FG-421 which is your standard tobacco sunburst Strat type guitar.  The price of the FG-421 is $369.99 with the option of installing a N-Tune Classic Series tuner for $49.99 extra.

FretLight FG-421 Left Handed Guitar Lefty

Learning Chords

The FretLight guitar is going to be a wicked tool for learning new chord shapes, particularly for beginners.  One problem associated with learning guitar left handed is that chord charts are laid out for a right handed player.

FretLight Guitar Showing a D-Major Chord

With the FretLight, if you want to know the fingering for a D Major chord you don’t have to worry about any of these issues, it’s right there on the fretboard ready to go!  Any petty issues linked with learning left handed are effectively eliminated through learning with the FretLight guitar.  So for any of you new left handed players who are having difficulties flipping chord charts, this could be the answer to all your problems!

Learning Scales

Another area in which the FretLight guitar is going to excel is in learning new scales.  If you want to add the Dorian scale to your repertoire you don’t need to spend days or weeks slowly memorising the shapes of the scale.  The FretLight guitar will show you the complete scale covering the entire neck instantly, making it really easy to see how each shape interconnects.  The image below shows the A Dorian scale covering the entire neck.

FretLight Guitar Showing A-Dorian Scale

This feature appeals to me as I think it could be used to great effect to come up with some really interesting, exotic licks that would otherwise take a long time to map out.

Learning Songs

Using the supplied software you can also use the FretLight guitar to learn songs in real-time.  Having never tried the guitar I couldn’t possibly comment on the effectiveness of this feature but in all honestly I would imagine it being fairly tricky.  I think that by far and away the major attraction of this guitar is its ability to quickly and effectively teach new chord and scale shapes and expand your musical creativity.  I’d need to try out the songs feature for myself, but it seems a little too guitar hero to me.  Who knows though, it could be fantastic!

International Players

Obviously you can tell that I love the idea behind the guitar and its creative possibilities – so why don’t I have one?  The simple answer is that there is not a single store in Europe that sells them.

FretLight will ship internationally from their U.S store but to ship to me in the UK they would like $180 – i.e half the value of the guitar.  Now, I regularly import guitars from the States so I was utterly shocked when I saw the price of shipping on this $370 guitar.  To put things in perspective, I paid $99 to ship a $2000 MusicMan on a faster shipping service than they offer.  Keep in mind that import taxes are based on the shipping cost as well as the item value.  After shipping, import taxes and other fees it would cost well over twice the initial cost of the guitar.  As a European player it is a given that I must pay extra for US products, but this just isn’t realistic.

Once again us European players lose out unfortunately.  It’s a real shame as I’ve been longing to take a crack at one of these for years.   I do love my gadgets! :)

If you live across the pond, try one out and let us know what you think! ;)

For more information:
FretLight Guitar Website

14 Comments »

  1. Kieran November 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm - Reply

    I remember reading about these a few years ago. I wanted to try one to try and work on my scales better but I couldnt find any lefty's here in London. I still wouldn't mind trying one, is that $180 shipping next day? I assume it isn't seeing as you weren't impressed with it!

    • Neal November 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm - Reply

      For $180 you'd expect next day delivery wouldn't you! I asked on the live help on the website and it's actually 5-7 days to the UK. :o

      • Kieran November 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm - Reply

        Wow, yeah I see what you mean! That's pretty much the worst shipping quote I've ever seen LOL. I mean, MAYBE I'd pay $180 for 24 hour shipping but for 5-7 days on such a cheap guitar that's a total joke. Either their website must be broke or their courier is totally ripping them off.

        Let us know if they ever sort that out, or maybe we can order 2 to save on shipping haha! Even 2 for $180 is a bit pricey though lol

  2. mark m November 18, 2010 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    Thought you might like to know…..I've just seen a couple of these in black for sale on eBay through the european distributer based in Luxemberg. £390 with £25 shipping to the UK. They have one or two left and that's the only black stock available. The US only do the sunburst version. After seeing your comments above regarding the crazy shipping from the US thought this might be of interest.

    • Neal November 18, 2010 at 5:10 pm - Reply

      Thanks Mark, I saw that yeah. They had them listed for £380 last week, wonder why they put the price up. (http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Computer-Guitar-Fretlight-FG421-LEFT-HANDED-USB-Soft-/110611974682?pt=UK_Musical_Instruments_Guitars_CV&hash=item19c0fcca1a#ht_1532wt_1139). There was a used lefty on eBay last week, it was a left handed body with a righty neck on it, went for £260 so they seem to hold their value fairly well.

      Either way, it's still cheaper to import one. When I spoke to Fretlight about their shipping rate they offered me a coupon for 10% off, plus they have it in a nice sunburst finish. Seems like they charge so much for international shipping so that they don't take business from the international dealers. We can't really complain at the end of the day, almost any USA made guitar ends up costing near twice as much by the time it hits Europe.

      • Mark M November 18, 2010 at 7:12 pm - Reply

        Hi Neal,
        He only had a small number of left-handed versions and they're shifting quickly so I guess he added a little "lefty tax!"
        I've checked out some reviews and they these guitars come out quite well. Although, I've dabbled for many years I've just started up again around 18 months ago (after not playing for a while) and the aspect that really appeals to me is the way it can help with improvisation or highlighting all the scaleboxes across the whole neck helping you to master scales quickly in all directions within different music styles. Although I'm currently waiting for one of Rob Chapman's lefty ML2s I'm quite tempted to get one of these. Will keep you posted :)

        • Neal November 18, 2010 at 7:38 pm - Reply

          Absolutely, I'd love to try one out just to have it map out scales over the entire neck. £400 is pushing it for me though. I downloaded the "new" software last week to have a look and it still looks like a 1990's piece of shareware software, it's horrible. I still reckon they have a long way to go to perfect the product. I can see Line6 doing something like this before long, and doing it better…

          Dude, get on the LeftyFretz forum so we can chat about ML2s! I need help deciding what to do with mine, it's doing my head in! :)

          • Mark M November 18, 2010 at 8:06 pm -

            Will check out the software too and go from there. Cheers

            Regarding the ML2, yeah, will get on the forum and we can catch up on this one. Not sure wthat to do with mine either. So many options! Need to nip out now but will try and get on there tomorrow and we can compare ideas :)
            Cheers

          • mark December 9, 2010 at 6:28 pm -

            Just wanted to add to my previous comments. I've recently seen one of these Fretlight strat guitars and must say I wasn't impressed at all. The concept of the LED fingerboard sounds great but the quality of the guitar itself is very poor. More like a £49.99 starter guitar with the added lights. Could be useful for kids starting out but that's about it (just my opinion). Just thought it would be useful to know if anyone is thinking of forking out for one expecting a decent quality instrument .

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