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News about Fretlight Guitars

In a recent edition of Frontiers in Psychology, a peer review panel representing academic institutions in the U.S., U.K. and Belgium analyzed the methodologies and results of cognition studies performed at Wichita State University and University of Central Florida using Fretlight Guitars. The article supports the research findings: The Fretlight Learning System, lighting up the notes right on the fretboard, enables cognitive processes that dramatically surpass traditional methods of learning. 

"This research proves that Fretlight changes that paradigm because you learn more, you learn faster, and that confidence keeps you excited about playing. The number one reason people quit playing the guitar is that they don't have the time commitment," said Fretlight CEO and inventor Rusty Schaffer.

Conducted at Wichita State's Training Research and Applied Cognitive Engineering Laboratory (TRACE) and Central Florida's Institute for Simulation and Training Cognitive Sciences Laboratory, the research evaluated the theory of embodied music cognition utilizing an "augmented reality" system (e.g., the Fretlight learning system) versus traditional learning modalities such as sheet music, tablature, chord diagrams, books and instructors.

At Central Florida, researchers examined short-term learning effects with novice players assigned to learn the A Minor pentatonic scale. At Wichita State, researchers examined both short-term and long-term effects, with participants learning the same scale on the same equipment. Testing evaluated note quality, accuracy, consistency, retention, and scale time. Participants used the FG 521 Fretlight electric guitar and Fretlight Studio v5.02 learning system software. Those learning in the traditional or "diagram" condition also used Fretlight guitars, but without activating the lighted fretboard and learning system.

Over the course of 10 learning trials, participants within the Fretlight Learning System group played 25% better than those using diagrams, retained 60% more scale notes, 68% more riff notes and 21% more of a song than their counterparts using the traditional method. In addition, Fretlight users reported feeling confident that they could learn a song 200-300% faster than those using only diagrams and tablature."

By 'offloading' information directly onto the guitar, the Fretlight system lessens barriers to learning by reducing the cognitive transfer between diagram and instrument, i.e. less back and forth," said Dr. Joseph Keebler, Assistant Professor of Psychology and director of TRACE lab at Wichita State. "Whether learning to play guitar play or working with computers, we can now re-conceptualize the way we interact with instructional content."Dr. Keebler added that ongoing research in human-systems integration – examining how we engage with technology around us – is revealing that innovations such as embodied systems are increasing cognitive power and expanding brain function.

In other words, the Fretlight works. About Optek Music Systems, Inc. Read more:


Teaching guitar technique

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1.  To provide a Fretlight Showroom in Western Australia

2.  Act as a source for sales of Fretlight Guitars

3.  Provide authorized Fretlight warranty service

4.  Provide Fretlight product support, advice, technical support and training

5.  Establish, develop and maintain a Fretlight Certified Teacher position

Interview with Rusty Schaffer in Music & Sound Retailer

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These 4 video clips demonstrate the versatility of the Fretlight learning system. Utilizing the scales option as an improvisational guide this person experiments with Bebop .

This month’s “Five Minutes With” holds perhaps even greater interest than usual because our interview subject, Rusty Shaffer, CEO and Founder, Optek Music Systems, Inc. (Fretlight Guitar), tackles head-on some of the most vexing issues currently facing the music products industry. From the sometimes-troubled relationship between large manufacturers and scrappy mom-and-pop stores to the “ego” that can crop up in some music circles, straight through to the continuing challenge of cultivating the next generation of musicians, the issues Shaffer raises can be thorny…and a few eyebrows might be raised before this story wraps up. But let’s be clear about one thing: Shaffer passionately believes in both the music products industry and the cause of making music, and Fretlight’s doing some cool, innovative things that, if Shaffer is right, will both strengthen our market and improve its future prospects.

Agree with his point of view? Disagree? Send me an e-mail at and share your thoughts.

The Music & Sound Retailer: Let’s start by discussing your own background. Touch on the highlights of your personal story as it relates to the music products and technology industries, as well as simply to music. Tell us about the career path that you’ve traveled, bringing us right up to the present day.

Rusty Shaffer: The interesting story is, when I was six, my parents tried to get me guitar lessons. And, at six years old, your hands aren’t big enough. They bought me an old classical guitar, and it just didn’t work. I took one or two lessons and quit. Their dream of me becoming Glen Campbell went out the window! I always loved music, though. Remember, going to high school in the late ’70s and early ’80s…rock music and guitar music was just peaking. Today, we refer to them as the “legendary bands”! There were lots of big influences for me, music-wise. I had some friends who played, but I never really picked it up until college when I had a friend teach me. Once I strummed my first three chords, I was hooked! I mean, I was literally hooked. The guitar spoke to me like nothing else I had ever done.

I’m pretty much self-taught…just a strummer. I started playing in college at the University of Connecticut with other people, in bands, at open mic nights and in coffee houses. I was always the singer and rhythm player. After college, around 1987, I landed back in San Jose CA. I was out there as a flight instructor teaching flying and working as a Mechanical Engineer for United Technologies. All of a sudden, I wanted to play this thing called “lead guitar.”

Somebody said to me, “Well, here, you’ve got to look at this book. See all these dots? This thing’s called a scale. You’ve got to memorize all these dots. These are all the places you need to play on the neck.” Well, I’m a pretty impatient guy. I think I gave it all of 30 seconds. I was sitting in my apartment, looking at this book, and I said, “This is ridiculous. Why doesn’t somebody take this information and just put it on the neck of my guitar? That way, while I’m learning it, I can actually be playing at the same time and kill two birds with one stone.” That’s when the light bulb went off for the Fretlight Guitar.

Like most people, and still today, I was a gear junkie…always looking for something to try to help you improve. We all do that and the industry relies on that a lot. You buy gear. I knew what was out there in the stores, and it was plain to see that there was nothing that could really help you get better. So, I’m sitting around thinking, “This is a pretty good idea. I know I have to protect it. I think I’ll figure out how to make a prototype and then I’ll go down to Fender and sell it!” Of course, I was a kid out of college and didn’t know anything about running a business. I ended up calling a patent lawyer out of the phone book. People need to understand this is all pre-Internet and pre-Google. So, I grabbed a phone book and called an attorney. I remember this attorney saying to me, “Sure, we can help you get a patent. I’ll just need a $10,000 retainer.” I said, “I’ve got about $452 in my bank account currently.” Click!—that wasn’t going to work. I kept calling, and the 41st attorney I called asked me, “Can you make payments?” I replied, “You mean like on my Sears Master Charge?” I had, like, a $500 limit or something, and I said, “I can do that.” That’s the American way! I could make payments. So, that started the patent process.

I didn’t really have any special training in electronics or building circuit boards, so back to the phone book. “I need help with this,” I would say. “How do I do that?” I remember there was a retail chain we used to have called Service Merchandise. It was more like a Target or a Best Buy, and they used to sell Harmony guitars. I bought a Harmony guitar and ripped off the fretboard, bought a Warmoth fretboard and had a luthier put it all together. Next, I made a circuit board, finished the prototype and it worked!

In 1987, Fretlight didn’t do what it does today; it only had three knobs. It plugged into the wall and it was a regular guitar, but it would light up fingering positions. One knob, you selected chords, scales or notes; the second knob was all your keys; and the third knob was your scale type. So, you picked scales, A-sharp, Minor Pentatonic. And there it was—everything from those chart diagrams—right where I wanted it…right on the fretboard.

So, I flew down to Fender, and I’ll never forget this. I won’t say the name of the person I talked to, but he’s probably still there. I showed him my great invention and thought, “You know, I’m gonna hold out for the case of beer. They have to throw that in…it’s really important.” After about a half-hour of talking to a couple of guys, they looked at me, punched some numbers into the calculator and said, “It’s not going to work. It’s gonna add $42 to retail.” My jaw dropped, because I didn’t expect that. This was back in 1989, and they were still down in L.A. before the move to Arizona. I was just flabbergasted.

I said, “Wait a second, you guys. Do you know those new Apple Macintosh computers? Those things are gonna do music someday. I don’t know how, but they are. They’re going to be everywhere. We’re all going to use one. Someday, a Fretlight’s going to plug into that and it’s going to be incredible.” And they looked at me like, “That’s it. This kid is from Mars. We’ve got a nut job in the building. Please escort him out.” I flew back to San Jose and I was dejected as hell. I remember at the time looking through a catalog and seeing Fender’s Jimi Hendrix model and, in the caption, it said, “We’ve taken great pains to make this vintage. We’ve even pre-rusted the screws.” I immediately thought, “I’m not going that way. I’m going in a different direction from these guys.” I decided right then and said, “You know what? I’ll show ’em! I’ll do it myself!” I didn’t know how, but I said I was going to do it. That really thrust me into the bull-in-a-china-shop mode to get this done as an inventor.

The Retailer: What’s the best part of coming to work each day now?
Shaffer: Customers. I still answer the sales phone once in a while. I love to hear people’s stories and to learn where they are in their playing. I can tell them exactly how Fretlight can help them. I love answering the phone when we have customers call back after they’ve gotten their Fretlight. I’ll hear, “Do you guys know you sent me a real guitar? This thing’s amazing! Do you guys know how amazing this is?” I’ll say, “Yes, we built it. We know.” [Laughs.] But it’s great. Customers…and changing people’s lives, that’s the best part. Our customers are amazing. Each one has a different, unique story. Much like all of us in our...

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