Since the guitar first made its way into this world, there has been a market for helping musicians conquer it.
First, we had books and real-life teachers, then as the internet opened up access to endless amounts of information; we had an abundance of websites, videos and virtual teachers at our fingertips.
While mobile apps have become a useful tool for musicians, many have craved something that connects that app to their physical guitar. Now Fret Zealot has come along to bridge that gap between virtual teaching and a physical aid that can be attached to any guitar, acoustic or electric, expensive or cheap.
Being a drummer that has always wanted to progress on guitar but found it very difficult, MI Focus editor Laura Barnes was the ideal candidate to test out this new guitar teaching tool…
Ok, let’s start with the basic outline as to why I’m not that great on guitar: I’m a drummer that’s used to hitting a relatively small number of things and do not have anywhere near the dexterity and grace needed to play guitar well. I’m also left handed and have struggled to decide over the years as to whether playing left or right handed is more comfortable (I play drums right handed). Also, I have stupidly delicate, blister-prone hands with fingernails that bend and break at the mere thought of having to do some actual work.
I’m probably not cut out for serious guitar playing, but that doesn’t stop me hoping that I’ll crack it one day, and the Fret Zealot may be the thing that helps me get there.
What’s in the box?
The Fret Zealot comes in a nice neat package and includes everything you need to get set up, plus a few extras.
The product itself is an LED strip that sticks on to your fret board so its lights can indicate where you need to put your fingers to create chords. Along with the strip you’re given the control module, audio cable that links them both up, a capo that mounts your controller to your guitar, and a cable for charging.
As well at the essentials, users also get given a few picks to get them started on their guitar-mastering journey, and a phone stand, which comes in very hand when using the Fret Zealot app.
The companion app is free to download and essential to using the LED strip. Basically, if you’re one of the few people out there who doesn’t have a mobile phone you’re not going to be able to use the Fret Zealot.
The set up
Set up is pretty easy, although possibly a little time consuming depending on your guitar. You need to remove your strings from the guitar’s fret board to get the Fret Zealot on. So it may take a bit of time unwinding strings, cleaning your guitar (as dust and grime won’t do you any favours when sticking the LED strip on), placing the strip, re-winding your strings etc. It’s not a massive job, but you’ll want to do it right.
The strip is easy enough to stick on. It has an adhesive back and so far, hasn’t moved out of place after putting it through its paces. Once attached to the guitar, you use the capo to attach the control module to your guitar head. You may have to fiddle about with positioning to get the short audio cable connected up. It took me a little more manoeuvring that it may take others as I was attaching the Fret Zealot to a left-handed guitar, and so doing everything in reverse.
Although the included instructions are very clear, the Fret Zealot team also have some handy videos on YouTube to help you set up your guitar, which I found useful when trying to reverse the instructions for where the stick the strip.
Once your Fret Zealot is on the guitar and turned on, it’s time to open up the app. From there you can select left or right handed, tune your guitar and start the LED-learning journey.
The app has a simple and clear UI and I found it very easy to navigate to the sections I needed. The strip features various coloured LED lights. Each finger is assigned a colour, and white means play an open string, while red means don’t play. It takes a little while to remember which colour means which finger, but there is a hand you can click on at any time on the screen which brings up the code for you. Once you’ve got that in the bag, it becomes very easy to position your fingers in the correct way.
As well as showing you chords and scales, the app lets you search for songs to learn. This function lets you slide across the tabs of the song and see where the notes and chords land on your guitar. This is a great touch that helps you memorise where you next need to place your hand. You can even play the song on the app and just sit and watch your guitar as the Fret Zealot lights up each chord pattern throughout the song. I found this very useful for getting a feel for the song and what parts I would have to work harder on.
If you’re looking for some human guidance, the app also has a section where you can watch tutorial videos.
As well as a teaching aid, the Fret Zealot team has also spotted the opportunity for a little bit of fun. The app has a section that lets you pick patterns and randomising displays for the LED strip. This takes the Fret Zealot from and learning tool, to a stage gimmick. Those who are partial to a bit of theatrics can attached the strip to their performance guitar, set it the desired light show and wow the crowd.
How does it feel?
While it’s clear that as a learning aid, the Fret Zealot has a lot to offer, it’s not going to stick around if it feels like it’s invading the musician’s performance. No one wants to have to adjust their natural playing style because there’s something in the way.
Luckily, the LED strip is low-profile, and manages to be compact enough to keep out of the way. However, I did encounter one small issue. When putting the strip on, I noticed that it became a tight squeeze at the very end, around the 14th fret. At the time, I did my best to stick it down, but it was ever so slightly stuck over the fret. It wasn’t until I was running through scales and actually used the higher frets that I noticed a few notes were being muted due to hitting the raised strip.
Although a bit fiddly, I did eventually manage to move the strip slightly to stop the muting, but it’s worth really taking a look before you stick the LED strip down and re-string the guitar that the higher frets aren’t being obstructed in any way.
Overall, the Fret Zealot is a great guitar learning tool. A big kudos goes to the app for being so easy to use and full of content. I believe this really does make a difference to those who want to keep persisting on their guitar-mastering journey.
I will certainly be keeping the Fret Zealot on my acoustic guitar for the foreseeable future.
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