FG-561 Pro review by Fretlight Guitar

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  • Features: 9
  • Sound: 8
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 9
  • Reliability & Durability: 9
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 8.8 Superb
  • Users' score: 7 (6 votes)
Fretlight Guitar: FG-561 Pro

Price paid: $ 900

Purchased from: fretlight.com

Features — 9
2013 Fretlight FG-561 Pro (Pacific Blue). Double-cut ash body - Very light (12 lbs) and comfortable. Very comfortable easy access to the high frets. The tummy-cut adds to the comfort. I would have preferred that it also have a forearm cut, but that's a personal preference. The forearm cut tends to detract from the appearance of a figured top guitar, so I can see why some would prefer to leave it flat. Birds Eye Maple figured top - Initially, I thought that bird's eye maple was an odd choice for a figured top, but it's actually quite beautiful. Stratabond neck w/ double truss rods - This neck was a very pleasant surprise. I initially feared that it was just a marketing gimmick, but it really is awesome. The laminated stratabond birch is incredibly smooth, allowing much faster movement up and down the neck. It's C-shaped back is just a tiny bit thicker than a standard American Fender Strat, making it extremely comfortable for me. I have somewhat large meaty hands, which has made it hard to find an ideal guitar neck. Also, unexpectedly, the layers in the stratabond neck are very attractive, adding to the beauty of the guitar rather than detracting it. Locking tuners - nice chrome locking tuners (locks on back). Easy to fine-tune. Once I gave the strings a good stretch, it stays in tune extremely well. I almost never have to re-tune. 22 frets - Stainless steel frets. I'm not sure of the exact height, but they are very comfortable, easy to fret with light pressure. Fretlight fingerboard - This is why I bought the guitar. The fretlight LED fingerboard is amazing. It looks like any ebony fretboard. You'd have to be looking from a couple inches away before noticing any differences. It's extremely smooth, but it feels like a normal wood fretboard that had been finished to perfect smoothness. The LEDs are completely invisible until lit, and can't be felt at all. With the exception of the telltale binding, you would never know that it had the fretlight system until they started lighting up. The true value of this guitar is in the fretlight system. I use it with both the Fretlight software and Guitar Pro 6 to learn new songs at 3-4 times as fast as I do with a normal guitar. Also, the ability to display any scale in any position or the entire fingerboard is an amazing learning tool. I've spent untold days memorizing scales at each position, vertically on 1 string, an diagonally across, but until now, I've never been able to get over the hump of full fretboard mobility. I can light up any scale and just improvise over it, or run scales and drills. The best thing is that it accelerates the learning process. After playing/practicing a scale/mode long enough with the lights enabled, I find that I can finally apply that full-fretboard understanding without the LEDs. Fixed bridge - Fairly standard well made fixed bridge. Strings are run through the body. 2 Chrome Fralin P-92 humbuckers Chrome volume, tone and Blender controls - Standard volume and tone controls. Instead of a 3-way pickup selector, there is a blender control that gradually fades between the two pickups, allowing you to dial in exactly he the blend of neck and bridge pickups to get the tone you want. It won't get the some of the more extreme ends of the spectrum, but you can really nail down exactly what you want within it's range. It seems to have a bit more range on the warmer end, but you can still get a very nice bright tone as well.

Sound — 8
I mostly play rock/blues sometimes with a little jazz influence. It's dead-quiet when not playing and has a very clean full sound with the tone control all the way up. It can reach an extremely warm sound with the tone turned down and the blender pushed towards the neck pickup, but still has a very bright tone when set fully on the next pickup. I half-expected that I would only want to play this guitar when using the fretlight system to learn, and then switch to one of my higher end guitars to play. Instead, I haven't taken out any of my other guitars since the 561 arrived. That's not to say that it sounds better than all of my other guitars. Don't expect this guitar to sound better than your high end Les Paul or Fender Custom Shop Strat, but in my opinion it sounds better than just about anything else I've played in it's price range.

Action, Fit & Finish — 9
I was amazed at how well this guitar was set up. Since it was shipped to my home, I was completely expecting it to be all screwed up requiring hours of adjustments to get things just the way I want them. Instead, all I had to do was tune it up. I didn't need to adjust the bridge or truss rods at all. The action was nice and low, with a clean tone - absolutely no fret buzz - and the intonation was dead on. No flaws in the finish or hardware. The only real problem I had was a perfectly normal issue - initially it didn't stay in tune well until I gave the strings a serious stretch. Birds eye maple wouldn't have been my first choice, but the pacific blue stain with transparent finish really does look nice. I don't think it's possible to get perfectly balanced birds eye maple, even by bookmatching two pieces, so I don't think they even attempted to do so. It's not like a flame or quilt top where you want it to be mirrored. The "eye" patterns in the maple give it a very distinct/unique appearance.

Reliability & Durability — 9
So far this guitar has stood up extremely well. I'm fairly careful with my guitars, though, so I haven't really put it through much abuse. The hardware is very solid. Some of the pots have a weird difference in resistance towards the far ends of it's range, but otherwise they feel like they will last. I always replace my strap buttons with locking buttons, so I can't comment on those other than to say they looked like any other buttons and were installed well. The finish seems very durable so far, but as I mentioned earlier, I tend to be very careful with my guitars, so it hasn't really been tested yet.

Overall Impression — 9
I have been playing on and off for 20 years. Much more off than on. I played consistently for 4 years or so as a teenager, but afterwards it's been something that I have to put aside for years at a time and only get the chance to come back to it occasionally. As a result, I've picked up a lot of knowledge over the years, but could never get past many important barriers (e.g. being able to utilize the entire fretboard in any direction for a given scale). I tend to be very picky about what guitars I purchase. My others include a Gibson Custom Shop CS-336, a Gibson Standard Les Paul Limited Edition, and a Limited Charvel San Dimas Wildcard. I'm used to playing some fairly high end guitars, and the concept of buying a Fretlight over the internet without playing it first (a lot) was really tough for me to get past. I found a nearby shop that had an FG-521 (strat style) model, and I at least had a chance to play before placing the order. (Note that the 521 played nearly as well as the 561, and has an identical neck and bridge). It was only after extended discussions with the Fretlight team that I was willing to give it a try. The great thing is that they have a generous return policy, so if it showed up and I was disappointed, I could just return it. There turned out to be no need! I'd also point out that the team at Fretlight is awesome. I was a serious p.i.t.a. sending them questions and concerns for weeks trying to decide whether or not I wanted to risk buying a guitar I hadn't put my hands on first. They were incredibly helpful, very patient and completely straightforward. They have an awesome team there. I mostly play classic rock/blues, sometimes with a little jazz influence, and it's been great for that. I would absolutely buy another of the same model if something happened to this one. I'm anxiously waiting for them to release a Fretlight Bass as well. I can certainly see using this guitar for a gig. The fretlight learning system is certainly the best thing about this guitar - and the primary reason that I purchased it, but it turned out to be an awesome guitar in it's own right. I would put it up against any other guitar in it's price range even without the fretlight features. The fretlight player software could use some UX improvements, but it still serves it's purpose very well. The loop controls are a bit awkward, and take some time to get used to, but it's fine once you get learn the tricks. Guitar Pro 6 also has a fretlight ready version that makes this pretty much the ultimate tool for learning songs. Ultimate-Guitar.com has endless Guitar Pro scores that you can download for free and learn on a fretlight several times faster that using a standard guitar and looking back and forth between the tabs/sheet music and the guitar itself. The LEDs give you visual feedback that helps you make sure that your timing is perfect. I do wish it had an all-in-one service that includes the GP6 style score with loop controls, the lessons and high quality backing tracks from the fretlight DVDs all put together into one. Also, it would also be awesome if it had a built in digital output on the same cable so you use your computer to drive the fretlight LEDs and learn songs, while simultaneously playing back and using the computer as a DAW. I manage that now using a separate analog -> digital conversion cable, but It would be more convenient if it were just one cable.

34 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Yes, you can read books, make your own charts, etc., but this is a much faster and more natural approach. FWIW, I own many 'regular' guitars.
    Looks like a great learning tool, but that's it, sounds like crap.
    It is a great learning tool, but how could you possibly know how it sounds without having played it or heard it in person? The audio in the demo video is impacted more by the musician, amp, effects, recording tools, sample rate, bit depth, compression and your own speakers than the guitar itself. I can take any off the rack low end p.o.s. guitar and make it sound amazing, and then take a '59 Gibson LP and make it sound like crap. This guitar sounds great relative to competitors in a similar price range. I'd put it on par with mexican strats in terms of overall sound quality (albeit a different range of tone entirely). Sure, it doesn't sound nearly as good as my Gibson CS-336 or my Gibson Les Paul Standard, but those guitars also 3 times the price of the fretlight. It's not quite as good as my old Gibson Les Paul Studio, but it's not that far off. It's certainly better than most crap you'll pull off a rack at your local big-box music store.
    This is a really cool idea, it just sounds like ass. Also I felt that the demo guy was selling me life insurance or fake necklaces on late night TV.
    They sound better than most of these kids have said. My favorite guitar is a 1974 Electra MPC X-320. I've had it since I bought it new. Names mean nothing or where they are made. I may be an old hippy but I have played everything from a Steinberger to a Gibson Gold Top 50th Special and the Electra is still better. I have over 45 guitars and know the habits of each one. I have been taking the Fretlight bodies, putting a real hand made neck on them and selling for half of what you pay for a cheap junk Mexican Fender or beginner Gibson. And by setting the intonation. Putting on new strings and filing and polishing the frets and making sure the pickups are adjusted correctly with copper tape and metallic in all the right places, I get a perfect guitar not only for a beginner but for somebody who really knows what they are talking about. Kids, it will take years before you will really know what you are talking about. Boblewis said it best and didn't even realize it. It's not WHAT your playing but if it is setup correctly and YOU know what you are doing. I hope someone gets something out of this because it would be hard for me to go around to all you know it alls and show how to set your guitar up. I can hear Stevie Ray and Hendrix laughing their butts off right now. By kids and keep practicing!
    It's probably not as good as your Electra but my 1984 Ibanez Roadstar II (bought new) is still one of my favourite guitars to play even if I have to tune it more often than I like. Mind you I put Seymour Duncans in it shortly after buying it. : What impresses me most is that after 31 years the pots are still not noisy.
    Is playing from paper/ a screen really hard enough to justify the cost of this?
    1. What cost? The 511 is $299 - about the same price as any entry level guitar, but it plays a hell of a lot better and has the led system. The 521 is $599 - about the same price as a Mexican Strat, and plays just as well. Personally, I went with the 561, but I'm willing to spend more to get a better looking guitar with the P92s and a few extra bells & whistles. If Fretlight sold their guitars at big-box stores, they'd drive the prices down on every entry level and intermediate guitar out there. 2. It's not that reading from paper or a screen is hard (I still do that), it's that the fretlight system is faster, easier, and more natural. It took me years of on-and-off-again playing to learn the scales at each position, but I was never able to visualize the entire fretboard. I would play in 1 position and shift to another, but I couldn't visualize playing across them. The FL system solved that for me.
    I have a 421 from a few years back (I got a great deal) and it's not a good guitar. Certainly not compared to my less-expensive ones like my Ibanez and Squiers. So I haven't used it much. I'm tempted by the bass but what if it's another dud.
    Over the years, I have spent hundreds, if not thousands, on music books, as well as videos, DVDs, CDs, along with time on the internet. I have probably also spent years of my life translating that info in my mind, and then transferring it onto the guitar neck. $300 seems like a bargain in money and time savings. And it's not like you're cheating or something. You still have to play the thing and put in the hours. This just makes that time more constructive.
    Guy in the demo was a bit of a doucher. Guitar seems like a party trick; nothing more. It sounds absolutely terrible with any amount of gain, but I suppose if you're a beginner intent on learning scales, you might consider it. I'd personally get a guitar that sounds better and learn scales from paper.
    He's playing through a Mesa. I've heard it's quite tricky to get a good sound out of them (but once you do they're amazing). The guitar has Fralin pickups. I have 3 Fralin sc's in my custom T-style guitar(it's my avatar) and they sound phenomenal. So I doubt the guitar sounds ordinary because of them.
    Just watched the video...Wait...a "bassy" neck pickup?! What is this nonsense? Also, it sounds like shit. Total shit.
    Yeah y'know...like neck p'ups are meant to? (in comparison to bridge anyway)
    Ok, here's my concern. IF you learn to play by string at the fretboard, isn't it going to seriously affect your ability to progress into more complex techniques? Sorta like the guy who learns to type by staring at the keyboard and 20 years later can type just fine, but only if staring at the keyboard? Even if the letters are worn off the keys?
    Thanks Bob for this post. I was looking at a mint 421 older model with Shelby upgraded pickups on Reverb, but bailed out at the very last second. Online purchase, I have no warranty and the reviews were simply awful on defects ect, from diodes, to plastic led strips coming unglued, truss rods messed up, and once this happens to the neck, it is pretty much unrepairable-so that unhinged me.  If you love guitar and have a few bucks, this guitar looks like alot of fun and with Guitar Pro, more so. True you won't be pulling it out EVERY day to study-but you can gig with it and while other guitars may lure you into their zone, this seems like a fun guitar to play-and they certainly won't be out there by the millions with this limited edition. I have some thinking to do-and congrats on one of the very few to make a statement on this instrument. Thank you Google which led me to this page.  
    hank lederman
    Anyone ever think of puting hotter used pickups in it...for gods fn sake. People like me should play with themselves or what. HELL BENT HANK, FABRICATOR, JOURNEY MAN, CHOPMASTER, OPININATED AHOLE, FIRST TIME COMMENTATOR. OH YE OF SATANS AISAN SLAB WOOD REJOICE...I HAVE SPOKEN. * * PS. F.O.A.D. L.O.L. * *
    My 561 arrived without any evidence of physical damage, but with what had to be the worst setup imaginable. Huge front-bow'd neck with terrible action; fret-ends that would tear the flesh off your hand; took me a full day to fix it up, yielding excellent action all over the neck ...then to find that the cable jack doesn't retain the plug! .. certainly fixable and i'll handle that soon.. The birds-eye is beautiful. We'll soon hear how it's handled by my Peavey1000 and my Line6 amp's .. The P-92's are 'different' in the sense that the poles are offset: as though one half of the 6 are moved to the opposite side.. This results in a 'staggering', where the bridge pickup is maximally toward the bridge only for the 1st 3 strings .. Opposite case for the neck one, where only the low 3 strings are close to the neck.. I dunno why this is the case..
    I really liked the Fretlight concept. I bought an FG 421, Strat copy, about three years ago. From the beginning it would not stay in tune. Since I have other "real" guitars I decided to keep it as a learning tool only. BIG MISTAKE. I lost interest in it because it sounded and played terrible compared to my 86 strat. I found the diodes difficult to see when holding the guitar in playing position. I found a good local luthier and after he proved himself with other guitars, I gave him the Fretlight to see if he could make a decent guitar out of it. I was prepared to change the tuners and put a EMG loaded pick guard on it in hopes of making it playable. After adjusting the truss rod, leveling the frets and doing a total set-up on the guitar it still would not stay in tune. He then discovered that the plastic electronic fingerboard was separating from the neck base on both sides. This GUITAR IS GARBAGE! I spoke with Greg at Fretlight and even thought he sounded genuinely interested in helping me... The bottom line is that it is out of warranty and It will cost me $200 to fix the neck on my own with no guarantee that the fingerboard will not break in the process. That does not include the $300.00 it will cost for new tuners and the EMG plus the cost at the guitar shop of installation of the upgrades and a new set-up. Greg is willing to "try" to fix the neck and my only cost is shipping it to Fretlight. They will "try" to repair it and pay the shipping back to me. Greg spoke to my Luthier and doesn't think the repair is going to be successful… His best advice is to buy a new one. RIGHT… Waste more money at Fretlight!!! I am retreating to my original position. I will use it as a learning tool for chords and scales. It is useless as a playable guitar and therefore it's ability to teach songs and work with GP 6 is hobbled. I would not buy a guitar from Fretlight without a lifetime warranty… They have design flaws and are made cheaply… THEY WILL NOT LAST!!!
    I also purchased an FG 421 on Fretlight's Ebay store about three years ago. It's obviously where they often dump the "blems" as my luither echoes the crappy quality and raw frets/separating fretboard out of the box! It took a $160 fretdress to get this thing playable past the 12th fret! Fretlight just needs to license their deal and let the real guitar manufacturers get it done right!
    I also purchased an FG 421 on Fretlight's Ebay store about three years ago. It's obviously where they often dump the "blems" as my luither echoes the crappy quality and raw frets/separating fretboard out of the box! It took a $160 fretdress to get this thing playable past the 12th fret! Fretlight just needs to license their deal and let the real guitar manufacturers get it done right!
    Just got off the phone with Fretlight: I prepared a $550 order of items to buy from these people. Spoke with "Rusty" in sales. I found him to have an very unique concept of how to talk to new customers. I explained I was the owner of Guitar Pro 6. I explained that as a programmer when I buy equipment for my computer it comes with the software to make my hardware work. so I didn't see the point in paying for $36 for their software upgrade for Guitar Pro 6 and felt it should be added free. I got snapped at. I told him he was going to loose a $550 order over the $36 item and I got snapped at again. I wished him a good day and appologized for wasting his time. I got severly snapped at. I don't buy upgrades for each software package I own. Can you imaginbe buying upgrades for each MS Word, Excel, VisualStudio, SQL or Photoshop every time I buy a printer, new mouse, keyboard or video card. I'm not going to start that trend. I had been given hope of working something out when I spoke with a lady there through Christmas who said Greg would work something out but with how rude and unfriendly "Rusty" was, I'll just go add another guitar to my collection of 5 guitars and 3 amps. I've been playing for 20+ years. I don't need it, it just would have been a convienence and I had $1000 buring a holer in my pocket! Too bad I couldn't throw it at them
    Next time use email. You'll get a polite response from Greg Tarmann. I've never communicated with anyone other than Gregg in the past 7 years. I always thought he was the only one at the company doing everything. :
    I also have tuning problems with my 421. And the pickups sound awful. I thought I could put up with the bad sound for practicing but I can't.