Fret Zealot hands-on review

Forget that Guitar Hero axe. Fret Zealot teaches you to play the real thing

The Fret Zealot is an exciting 21st century guitar accessory that brings visual learning to developing shredders.
The Fret Zealot is an exciting 21st century guitar accessory that brings visual learning to developing shredders.
The Fret Zealot is an exciting 21st century guitar accessory that brings visual learning to developing shredders.

Highs

  • Easy to install
  • Works on your own guitar
  • Simple to use
  • Massive number of scales and chords in app

Lows

  • Can only be swapped to another guitar once

If there’s one thing Guitar Hero and Rock Band have proven, it’s just how much everyone wants to shred on six strings. But as anybody who’s tried to actually learn guitar after impressing animated audiences on-screen will tell you, it’s not that easy. Tuning, finger positioning, and various complicated chords and scales are obstacles all beginners must hurdle, which is why we were extremely excited to get our hands on an early review unit of the Fret Zealot.

A Kickstarter-backed learning tool that caught our eye earlier this year, the Zealot (originally called the Fret Zeppelin), brings advanced LED technology to the fretboard of any guitar. The device uses color-changing lights next to each fret to show you how to play everything from songs to advanced chords and scales.

Others have tried to teach guitar through tech, notably Magic Instruments, which raised hundreds of thousands on Indiegogo last year and says it may ship in 2018 (only a year or two late!). And remember this robot hand? But after spending two weeks with the Fret Zealot, we’ve come away very impressed. The Zealot brings color-coded visual learning from the video game world to the music world, and it has something compelling to offer all levels of performers — whether you’re strumming from square one or are already an advanced improviser.

Features/Design

The Fret Zealot comes in two pieces: A 14-fret LED strip adheres to the fretboard of your guitar, and a USB rechargeable Bluetooth-connected box attaches to the headstock of the instrument. The box connects to the strip via a short 3.5-mm cable and can be removed for travel, or when you don’t want to use it.

We know what you’re thinking: Adding a bulky strip of lights just before each fret seems like a recipe for poor playability. The folks at Fret Zealot thought of this too, taking special care to make sure that everything feels and sounds great all the way up the fretboard; they even went so far as to make the top two frets’ LED strips thinner than the rest, to accommodate the steadily shrinking distance between frets. All this thought and effort means the Fret Zealot is almost unnoticeable when playing the guitar, with the Epiphone Les Paul the company sent us feeling nearly identical to one we could have grabbed off the rack at Guitar Center.

Setup

While our Fret Zealot strip came pre-installed on one of the company’s guitars, most buyers and Kickstarter backers will have to install their own – a relatively simple (if time consuming) process that involves de-stringing your guitar, peeling off a backing strip, carefully sticking the Zealot to the first 14 frets of your fretboard, then re-stringing your guitar.

Physically, the Fret Zealot becomes almost unnoticeable when playing.

Once the LED strip is installed, simply use an included capo-like clip on the Bluetooth Box to attach it to your headstock, then connect the included 3.5 mm cable between the strip and the box. From there, all you need to do is turn on the box and pair the Zealot to your phone. The box itself should offer over 8 hours of playtime — more than enough for long practice sessions.

The next step is to download the Fret Zealot app, which should quickly and easily recognize and pair with the device.

Performance

A dizzying array of features are hidden inside the company’s app, with everything from chords and scales to play-along tracks for popular songs, making it the perfect visual solution to many beginners’ woes on the instrument.

In fact, everything on the Fret Zealot feels as though it was fueled by real-world guitar players’ desires, with each finger corresponding to an individual color on the fretboard for easy positioning, and strings that should be muted showing red all the way up the fretboard.

When playing with the Zealot in scale mode, the root notes of each scale are lit in easy-to-find white, with each octave boasting a different color. Speaking of, scales can be shown over the entire fretboard, based on hand position, or even on single strings, making it easy to work on the minutia of even the most advanced guitar playing inside the app.

The perfect visual solution to many beginners’ woes.

When you’re playing with a capo, you can tell the Zealot what fret it is on and it will adjust all chords and scales to fit its position. You can loop and even slow down difficult sections of the play-along songs inside the app. These are the little things that help the Fret Zealot stand out as an extremely exciting 21st-century guitar accessory.

Virtually every chord type, mode, and scale we had ever heard of — and many we hadn’t — are programmed into the Zealot app, and many more will come as the device finally hits the hands of users. In fact, CEO Shaun Masavage says the company is looking to work with as many developers as possible to make sure the Fret Zealot is hyper-compatible with various learning systems, meaning there’s a distinct possibility that users may eventually be able to take Fret Zealot-compatible guitar lessons online, or that the device may pair with existing guitar education apps or online platforms.

Conclusion

Virtually every existing guitarist and wanna-be shredder in our office had a keen interest in checking out the Fret Zealot during our review period, and everyone who spent time with the device walked away impressed.

Our pre-release unit may not have had the exact fit-and-finish of the final model (which Masavage says will have even thinner LED strips and a better-looking Bluetooth box), but the possibilities alone were enough to seriously excite us. With myriad scales, songs, and chord types to choose from — and an exceptionally easy-to-use interface — the Fret Zealot is a very useful piece of guitar gear for both beginners and experts. We can’t wait to see what happens when it makes its way into the hands of guitar players and developers around the globe.

Product Review

Party-proof and big on sound, this could be the perfect portable speaker

With better waterproofing, increased durability, and flashy new colorways, The Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 bests its predecessors, offering excellent sound and worry-free performance on the go.
Emerging Tech

What the heck is machine learning, and why is it everywhere these days?

Machine learning has been responsible for some of the biggest advances in artificial intelligence over the past decade. But what exactly is it? Check out our handy beginner's guide.
Music

From 'E.T." to 'Lord of the Rings,' these are the best movie soundtracks ever

Whether you're a lover of beautifully composed original scores or a fan of perfectly compiled popular music, these are the best movie soundtracks of all time — from Star Wars to Garden State.
Product Review

The Kasa Cam Outdoor delivers smart security monitoring at a great price

While it may lack the sexier features of Nest Cam IQ Outdoor, the weatherproof TP-Link Kasa Cam makes home security easy, with full-HD video streaming at a great price
Music

Spotify is the best streaming service, but its competitors aren’t far behind

It can be hard to decide which music streaming service is for you, so we've picked out the individual strengths of the most popular services, aiming to make your decision a little easier.
Music

Here are the best internet radio stations for your listening pleasure

Even in the streaming era, radio stations get some of the best exclusives and curate some of the finest handpicked playlists around. Here are the best internet radio stations, for your listening pleasure.
Home Theater

Genius gives Apple Music a brainy boost with new lyrics integration

Genius has announced its most in-depth partnership to date with Apple Music, bringing lyrics to the app as well as making it the default player for the Genius mobile app and website.
Music

A wealth of rich tunes: Cash in with the best songs about money

There may not be as many songs about money as there are songs about love, but it's a close second. If you're looking for a skrilla-inspired playlist, check out our picks for the best songs about money.
Home Theater

5 gorgeous turntables that spin stacks of wax in style for less than $500

Vinyl records are awesome, but they're also finicky. To get the best out of your stacks of wax, it's best to play them on a quality turntable. Here are the best turntables to be had for under $500.
Music

Spotify vs. Pandora: Which music streaming service is better for you?

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Music

The best new music this week: Kurt Vile, Valley Maker, and more

Are you looking for the best new music? Each week, we scour the internet to find the most compelling new releases. On tap this week: Kurt Vile, Valley Maker, Broncho, The Dodos, Colter Wall, and Ambrose Akinmusire.
News

Amy Winehouse is coming back as a ‘hologram’ for a 2019 world tour

Amy Winehouse is set for a holographic return to the stage in 2019 in a global tour featuring her greatest hits, though how fans of the late singer feel about the "comeback" is another question entirely.
Music

Jam out in style with the 25 best playlists on Spotify

Music is the world's most potent drug, and the best playlists on Spotify will make you catch feelings. We've scoured the service for its top collections, and brought them together in one place -- for you.
Music

How to convert and play FLAC music files on your iPhone or iPad

The high-resolution revolution is upon us, and FLAC files are a popular way to store hi-res sound. But what if you’re an iOS user? Check out our article to find out more about FLAC files, and how to use them on Apple devices.