If you're ready to get rocking, Fret Zealot is a great option, and cheaper than a month of lessons with a professional guitar tutor.
How’s your guitar playing? Still stuck on your first chord? Forming a band? Perhaps you’re doing session work. Whatever your situation, Fret Zealot—a strip of adhesive LEDs that sits on the guitar’s neck with an accompanying mobile app—is a great way to learn, improve, and polish your skills on a guitar, electric or acoustic.
Here’s what I found when I tried out Fret Zealot – and at the end of this review, we’ve got one to giveaway!
What Is Fret Zealot?
Learning guitar can be tricky. But it’s a lot easier than it used to be. Once upon a time, learning your favorite songs was a case of playing a vinyl LP or single over and over again, trying to catch the tune by ear. You might have bought some piano music to help.
Later, books featuring tablature became available, showing not just chords, but the exact position of the notes for playing lead. With the birth of the internet, this type of guide become commonplace, with an entire section of the web given over to tablature sites.
In recent years, various tools have been released to aid with learning guitar. One popular option is the Rocksmith 2014 videogame; but Fret Zealot takes things to a whole new level.
The main component of a Fret Zealot kit (a successful Kickstarter project with units available from $200) is a Bluetooth-connected LED array that sits over the first 15 frets of your guitar—acoustic, or electric. With LEDs for each string at each fret position, these light up when it is time to play a note or chord. There’s even a row of LEDs for the headstock, for playing open strings.
A Fret Zealot device connected to your guitar alone won’t teach you much, however. A mobile app (paired over Bluetooth, and available for Android and iOS) provides a number of songs, as well as resources and practice tools, such as notes and scales. There’s also a tuner built-in, to aid in your learning.
What’s in the Fret Zealot Box?
Unpacking the box reveals an interesting collection of accessories. Beyond the Fret Zealot LED strip itself, you’ll find a battery pack and cable, a USB charging cable, and a capo-like grip, with two wing nuts. There’s also a trio of plectrums/picks, and a stand for your smartphone or tablet.
You’ll also find a quick start guide in the box, to help you get started.
Everything comes in dust proof plastic bags, sensibly organized. There’s also an instruction guide, which is complimented by the FAQ at fretzealot.com/faq.
Installing Fret Zealot on Your Guitar
To use Fret Zealot, you’ll need to take the time to first charge the battery via USB cable. This should take about a couple of hours. Next, take the Fret Zealot out of the box and lay it on the guitar neck, under your strings.
Don’t apply it yet!
It’s wise to get an idea of how it will look, and how it will fit. The great thing is, it almost certainly will fit. This exercise is really to establish where you’ll clip the battery. This comes with two small wing nuts to attach the battery to a capo-like clip, which should be placed on the headstock. With standard guitar designs this shouldn’t be a problem; however, if you have a non-standard design, finding where you’ll mount the battery now will save some problems later.
Next, it’s time to slacken off and unwind your strings. This is necessary for the correct application of the Fret Zealot, which has an adhesive surface on the reverse.
I own a pair of guitars: one 12-string Ibanez acoustic, and a Gibson Les Paul Junior. Due to the number of strings involved, I opted to use the Les Paul with Fret Zealot. After removing the strings (only from the headstock; they can stay in the bridge), give your guitar neck a wipe. This will help to ensure the adhesive substance on the Fret Zealot retains application.
It took me a few goes to get application right; the strip that connects each finger of the Fret Zealot needs to be folded back along the neck of the guitar. This strip, or “spine” already has the adhesive applied, but getting the positioning right for a clean fold will make things more comfortable. Once you have the fingers in place, lined up correctly for each string, you can fold back the spine and apply it to the next.
Installing Fret Zealot is that easy.
Fret Zealot will work with all full-sized guitars, but not with ¾ guitars, or ukuleles, or other small stringed instruments. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lefty, either; Fret Zealot can be installed on left-handed guitars, too. The only difference is that the spine will be along the bottom, rather than the top of the neck.
Note that the adhesive is harmless to your guitar. It’s described in the Fret Zealot FAQ as “similar to how sticky notes work […] will not damage your guitar should you decide to remove Fret Zealot.”
If you’re having difficulty installing the Fret Zealot, the mobile app includes a video demonstrating application.
Get the App and Pair
With the Fret Zealot attached to your guitar neck, it’s time to pair the app. You’ll find one for iOS or Android in the corresponding app store; the app works on iOS 9 or later, or Android 4.4 and up.
Pairing occurs via Bluetooth, so ensure this is enabled on your device first. Switch on the Fret Zealot using the battery back switch, and wait a moment; detection should be swift, and your Fret Zealot detected by the app.
After selection, you’ll be ready to start using Fret Zealot via the app. Here, you’ll find lessons, scales, chord guides, and access to a library of songs to learn. Left-handed players should ensure they tap the corresponding toggle. While a wide-ranging selection of tracks are available, there seems to be a bit of a problem with database optimization; it tends to hang from time to time, and restarting the app is the only way to fix this.
Learning a Song with Fret Zealot
Nevertheless, learning a new song with Fret Zealot is an effective way to get to grips with the notes you need to play. While the app presents the tablature version, the guitar will light up at every fret and string you need to play. Meanwhile, the app can play the notes along with you, although note that this seems to be a synthesized approach, without any of the distortion or overdrive that you might be using.
As such, it can be advantageous to simply play along with a clean channel on your amp until you’re more familiar with the song.
This is where things can seem unfamiliar. Playing along with a song at 1/5th of its actual speed can seem disconcerting. The secret here is to remember that it’s all about the fingering, learning the positions, getting the fretting right; developing the muscle memory for a song.
As someone who has always attempted to learn songs at normal speed, this approach took a bit of getting used to. However, once you’ve got to grips with a song (or passage), you can speed learning up to half speed, or even, when you’re ready, full speed.
One other thing to note when using the Fret Zealot is the fact that there are two fingers of LEDs at the first fret. Of these, the first is to signify open strings, while the second indicates the first fret. Getting your head around this can make things a lot easier when you first get started!
Other Guitar Learning Exercises
Along with learning songs, the Fret Zealot app includes a guitar tuner, chord index, and scales guide. These are ideal to help you to learn playing the guitar, but the app includes one other important component: an actual tutor!
Thanks to the Justin Guitar series of videos, you can pick up a lot of great tips for all levels of play. Better still, these videos (more are set to be added) are connected directly to the LEDs on your guitar. You can literally play along with the videos.
As noted, more videos are set to be added. Looking at the bigger picture, there’s an opportunity here for celebrity tutorials to be bundled into the app as well. Just imagine playing along with Joe Satriani or Slash, while they sit nestled in your phone or tablet!
Enjoy the Guitar Light Show
Also included in the app is a pre-programmed selection of light show routines. These give the Fret Zealot a stunning appearance when not in use, and can be found under Fun > Light Show. Four options are available: Bolt (a white light that shoots along the neck of your guitar), Rainbow (LEDs at each fret change color to create a stunning rainbow effect that moves long the neck), and Sparkler (lots of colors, flashing on and off across the neck).
Although exiting the Light Show menu switches these effects off, a fourth option, Random, can be accessed under Fun, and will cycle through the three routines until you start playing a song, or the battery runs out.
Playing Guitar with the Fret Zealot Attached
You’ve probably already considered that the Fret Zealot adds a small amount of width to your guitar neck. Then there is the finger of LEDs at each fret. So, how does it feel to play?
Surprisingly, it’s largely noninvasive. Speaking as a right-handed guitarist, there is little to complain about. Although the Fret Zealot has a slightly rubberized coating, it doesn’t seem to slow progress along the neck. Similarly, it barely even comes into the equation when playing notes and chords.
I cannot speak for lefties, but there is a chance of a slight amount of resistance, at least until your hand becomes used to the Fret Zealot’s position along the bottom of the neck.
In terms of using Fret Zealot to learn, the LEDs are sharp, although occasionally obscured by your fingers. This is where having the tablature version of the song visible in the app comes in useful, as a secondary reference.
Removing the Fret Zealot
Fret Zealot can be removed, if you’re not using the light show, which might be a good idea if you’re playing live. Alternatively, ensure it is only used on a secondary guitar that you never take out of the house.
On that note, it’s worth considering before you apply the Fret Zealot that it is designed for one-time only installation. Over time, the adhesive reduces its hold, so leaving it installed is the best option. (The creators of Fret Zealot plan to sell a reapplication kit; in the meantime, double-sided tape should work for regular reapplication.)
Removal can take time, however. Be sure to start by slacking off the fingers at each fret, taking care not to rip them from the spine.
While the fretboard itself won’t be affected by the adhesive, any plastic layer on the edge of the neck will hold onto the adhesive longer. As such, you’ll need to clean your guitar’s neck to remove the residue. A tightly-rinsed cloth, previously soaked in warm, soapy water should be enough here. You may prefer to simply scrape it off with a plectrum.
Connecting the Fret Zealot to the battery means clipping the device to the headstock, then inserting the power cable into each device. Switching on the Fret Zealot via the switch on the battery should light up your guitar with some dazzling colors!
Keep the Battery Charged
Although the battery has a good charge (up to 12 hours), it’s worth giving it a bit of a boost between uses, lest you end up with a practice session cut short by a lack of power.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that we had a bit of difficulty with the battery. While the device charged, the cell and connecting cable didn’t play nicely with the LED section of the Fret Zealot. Happily, cell and cable were swiftly swapped with working replacements, so that’s a big plus point for Fret Zealot’s customer service.
This Is the Guitar Tutor You’re Looking For
If you’re looking for a way to kickstart your guitar playing, Fret Zealot could be the answer. While a genuine, human tutor might come in useful at some point, Fret Zealot is preferable to endless YouTube videos. It might not be as atmospheric as the Rocksmith videogame, plunging you into the action playing in a Guitar Hero-style environment, but the barebones approach really works. Whether you’re looking to learn or revisiting the guitar to refresh your abilities, Fret Zealot lights up the process, easing you back in with straightforward tutorials.
Sure, the app might need improving slightly, but it is squeezing a lot in with video tutorials, chord charts and access to that big library of play-along tabs.
In short, Fret Zealot will get you started with a guitar better than any single website, YouTube video, or book. Want to get started? Don’t let the price set you back—the value of Fret Zealot is greater than the sum of its parts.