Price paid: $ 429
Purchased from: www.Fretlight.com
Features: The Fretlight Guitar is a new brand that is bringing out some game changing devices with the idea to help the newer guitar player. The goal of the company is to provide a guitar that doesn't just teach you and a guitar that doesn't just play. It does both and more so, does both well. I was able to get my hands on the FG-421 for a month and ran it through a gamut of tests including: Standard at home guitar playability, full band playing, and utilizing the Guitar Pro 6 "Fretlight Ready" Software.
The Specs of this guitar are:
- Body: Alder
- Finish: Tobacco Sunburst
- Neck: Maple
- Neck profile: Modern C Shape
- Fretboard radius: 12 inches
- Scale length: 25-1/2"
- Nut width: 1 5/8 inches
- Hardware: Chrome
- Tuners: Direct Drive Sealed Tuning Machines
- Bridge: Chrome Fixed Bridge with Fully Adjustable Saddles
- Pickguard: White Pearloid
- Pickups: 1 Humbucker, 2 Single Coils
- Pickup switch: 5-way
- Two-way adjustable Truss Rod
- LED lit fretboard on all 21 frets
- 1/4" output for guitar audio-to-amp, din-to-USB connector for Fretlight Data
For the majority of this guitar it is what you would come to expect from an entry level guitar. In my opinion the features are all better than comparable price range guitars though. Even in the short month I had it, everything worked well, the guitar stayed in tune surprisingly well and I was pleased with the action and playability.
This review is going to be a little different in the fact that this guitar has two main purposes, one as a learning tool and one as an instrument you can actually play. I will do my best to explain both ends of this. Feel free to comment or Private Message me if you have any questions. After being an Ultimate-Guitar.com member for 8+ years and writing a boatload of reviews I appreciate all of the comments if they are pertaining to the matter at hand.
We will get right into the technology aspects of this guitar. This guitar interacts with Guitar Pro software and has the ability to light up the notes of the song on the fretboard. Being connected to the beauty of Ultimate-Guitar.com you are able to download your favorite tabs to your computer, fire up Guitar Pro, plug your guitar into your computer and there you go. It is really that easy. Being a blues rock player I don't play anything that fast, a couple runs here and there but no crazy metal. Thus my first thought was to download "Through The Fire And Flames" by Dragonforce and see how quickly the fretboard lit up. Well to say the least it was like the 4th of July on the guitar. It was visually stunning. It could have been a laser light show. My next thought was that I never want to learn that song and playing note for note on that would not be easy at that speed. Luckily, you are easily able to adjust how quickly it plays back the song on the Fretlight. My main criticism of this is that it is difficult to play along to a song while it is lighting up because if you are playing it correctly your fingers cover the light from the fretboard and it consequently gets turned into a game of Whack-A-Mole. Obviously you can follow along on the computer like a conventional tab to avoid this but that is my one criticism.
Where I found the technology extremely useful was in learning scales. Pre-loaded on the Guitar Pro software are a plethora of different scales where you can tell it what scale to light up, what key, and even if you only want it displayed between certain frets. That was such great feature. It was so easy to learn new scales this way up and down the fretboard, something about having it lit up and just jumping around made it easy to develop some new licks and learn some new patterns. For me, this was the hands down best feature of the technology. I know that a lot of players are consistently trying to improve their chops on guitar, mainly their solo licks, and this feature was really great. I can't tell you how fantastic it was just have something looped in the background and play along on any scale you desired. The nice fact was that you could piece runs together very well and after playing with the scales lit up for a couple of minutes they were ingrained in my head permanently. // 8
Sound: So the first thing to know about the Fretlight Guitar brand is that they are guitars that can teach you how to play. Having been playing for quite some time and looking back at how I got my start (looking at tabs on Ultimate-guitar.com, trying to learn how to play "Time Of Your Life" and "Stairway To Heaven") something like this could have been extremely helpful. I just explained part of the technology which is really great but now let's dabble into the important stuff. How does this thing sound?
For me, sound is always the most important thing. I love playing straight into an amp and hearing the intricacies of an amp and a guitar. I equally enjoy plugging into a boatload of pedals and altering the tone that way. In other words, I am always searching for a tone that can really deliver and leave me smiling. With that being said I can be extremely critical of things that I do not think sound good. Now in this lovely world we all have our own opinions and what sounds good to me may just as easy be a sound you hate. That's the beauty of music, it is all rated by the eye of the beholder, however, I am writing this review so stick with me as I will rate it through my eyes.
As this is a Stratocaster shaped guitar I instantly though a great comparison would by my Fender American Stratocaster, the only difference being is that the Fretlight is a HSS (Humbucker/Single-Coil/Single-Coil). None the less, let's get started. First go around I plugged the Fretlight into my Fender 65' Deluxe Reverb RI. Sounded great. The pickups were sparkly and clean, a good honest tone came out of them. The neck pickup has always been my favorite location on a Stratocaster and this delivered just as well as my Fender American. One thing I am always weary about is pickups on beginner/entry level guitars. In my humble opinion they are generally all extremely muddy but these cut through the mix just fine. The Humbucker in the Bridge position really screamed. Rock n' Roll 101 tone instantly! Extremely easy to achieve. After going directly back and forth with the Fretlight and the American Standard I noticed that the Fretlight pickups seemed to be hotter in all positions. This could have very easily been related to pickup height but I performed no adjustments on it as I literally wanted to see how it played out of the box. Overall pickups sounded good out of a clean amp. Thanks to the HSS setup you can get some really good out of phase tones depending on your pickup selection.
Next I wanted to take it to band practice and see how it would hold up in a "live" situation. I am in a cover band and we play music from the 1950's all the way to the current Top 40. To say the least I need my sound to be extremely versatile, when you go from "Sweet Child" to "Sweet Caroline" you need something that can hold its own. Once again though, I was impressed by the FG-421 as it handled all the changes perfectly. My Practice setup was: FG-421 Dunlop Wah Big Muff Russian Fuzz Fulltone Fulldrive 2 TS 808 Ibanez AD99 Delay Holy Grail Reverb Tuner Marshall 2061x 4x12 cabinet. That setup with the normal guitars I use gets me all the tones I need and want. The Fretlight was actually really nice because I was able to just use the pickup selector to achieve my tones, clean was a breeze in the neck/middle position, rock n' roll was a flip down to the bridge. Are these my favorite pickups of all time? No. Will I be buying these and putting them in my Les Paul? No. But they sounded great for the price point. It would be pointless to compare this to my Les Paul which is more than 4 times the price of this; it is not aimed at that. This guitar is aimed at beginners and intermediates but the beauty is you can play it for a lot longer than you are in that class. As you progress the guitar will still be able to produce the sound you want. For my two cents, out of the beginner/entry guitars I have played in this price range this one was the best. I went through the stage of buying 5 guitars throughout my first 4 years because things kept changing, I started to be able to hear better etc. This is definitely a lot cheaper than those 5 guitars combined and I could have just had this from the get go, saved myself a lot of time, a lot of money, and probably be a lot farther along in my playing. // 8
Action, Fit & Finish: I literally opened this out of the box and the finish looked great. A bright new shiny guitar, something I am not used to but it looked fantastic. I think the finish suited the guitar well; you don't need a crazy finish/paint job on a guitar in this price range. But for what it is worth I would say it is a comparable finish to other guitars in the market. Nothing was wrong but nothing blew me away. The chrome parts on this guitar were actually extremely nice and very functional. Everything was put together well and everything flowed from one part of the guitar to the other. The fretboard is the interesting part because it has an LED lighting system on top of it. When I first got the guitar and played it I thought it felt horrible, and then I shortly realized that the frets just needed some breaking in, once the frets broke in the guitar played much better and felt like a normal fretboard. It will be different to you at first, more so in looks than anything else but you can get used to it really quickly and nothing about it interferes with your playing. It doesn't necessarily feel normal but it also doesn't feel bad. I wish words could describe this better but it is something you will have to pickup and hold for yourself.
As this guitar does have the ability to plug into your computer they put the plug in on the bottom of the guitar below where the guitar cable would come out. It is flush to the body so it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb and his hidden pretty well. Overall out of the box this thing came out great, nice finish, great hardware, and a nice fit to the overall guitar. In regards to weight it feels great. Feels sturdy and seems to be assembled and built really well. Doesn't feel like a cheap flimsy beginners guitar. // 7
Reliability & Durability: Time will tell with this but the fact that it held up to a month of playing, moving around, a live setting, and spending its time in a horrible guitar environment with fairly large heat and humidity changes it did really well. I really don't see much going wrong with this at all. The guitar is a guitar and the computer is the computer. They are pretty much separate entities except this guitar plugs into the computer lights up, teaches you some neat stuff and then you just unplug it. All the jacks, tuners, and all other hardware that one would fiddle with felt really durable and strong. I know my first guitar I had I was terrified to tune the string as I feared the tuning peg would snap off and create some form of massive bodily injury. Not the case here, everything is solid. // 7
Overall Impression: I am really pleased and impressed with this guitar for two reasons. The first being that this is a well built guitar, the second for the technology aspect of it. I think it is really inspiring that companies are still finding ways to push the envelope and help new generations of guitar players out. This guitar is not something that plays itself. The emphasis here is on helping you learn how to play, how to advance quicker, how to learn scales faster, and how to become a better guitar player. There is no cheating, there is no gimmick. There is nothing fishy about this. To me any company with a money back guarantee is a company I respect. They take it one step further, they have a money back guarantee plus they cover the cost of your shipping. Anyone else think of another company that does that? I can't. It just shows they are confident in their product and they are confident that this works, it does. If you have any questions about this feel free to message me but I also encourage you to check out their website for a full list of products, some of their video demonstrations, and more at: http://www.fretlight.com/. // 9
- Jesse Kleinow "thejester" (c) 2011