Every now and then, there's an idea that comes around in new computer-related guitar technology and you think, "man, why didn't I think of that?". The latest incarnation of the Fretlight Optek
guitar may be one such match of technology to computers that could help thousands of wanna-be guitar players get started or improve their chops. This isn't their first effort at it (you can occasionally find the older Fretlight 200 models on eBay) but it does have the most promise.
What Optek has done is put a series of very small LED lights directly into the fretboard of the guitar, recessed beneath some weird custom very playable polymer surface. Then by virtue of the built-in DIN connector, you plug in the Fretlight directly to your computer with a standard USB interface. Now your computer, or more accurately, software that on your Windows PC can control the guitar's LEDs to help you learn chords, scales, riffs or pretty much any song that has been tabbed. It's this last part, the idea that any
song can be demonstrated on the Fretlight that I think gives it so much appeal. Yes, Optek has put together some nice MIDI based tracks that you can learn and play along to, but the selection is still limited and if your tastes are particular (and what guitarists tastes aren't?) then you'll want to play your
favorite songs, not someone else's top 100 songbook. And when you're done working with the basic included software, there are several add-on titles that are "Fretlight Ready"
and quite serviceable.
So to get the benefit of the Fretlight, you need to be tethered to your PC. However, when you're not plugged into the PC, the Fretlight is just like any other bog standard Strat-clone. The configuration is two single coil pickups with a humbucker in the bridge position for a bit more versatility. In the coming months, Optek will be adding a few more colors
and hopefully some other styles of guitars.
Although Optek is still a small operation, the guitars are geting quite a bit of PR lately in magazines ranging from PC Magazine
as well as a slew of UK guitar publications through their UK distributor www.emittor.co.uk
. (They must have made a field trip out to Bath and met all the editors at once!) Look for a more in depth review in the coming months. In the mean time, check out this PDF from the July issue of Total Guitar (UK)