Fretlight Guitar / The Players' Blog

The Guitar Industry – Setting You Up for Failure

Written by Rusty Shaffer
Rusty Shaffer
on May 21, 2013

I’ve spent 29 years in the guitar industry, both as a guitar manufacturer and as a consumer.  I’ve seen and played hundreds of guitars from a variety of manufacturers.  What’s astounding to me is that the guitar industry, comprising the manufacturers, the retailers and even the process of learning to play, successfully guides at least 80% of new players to failure.  And this is exactly where Fretlight makes a difference.

learn to play guitar

Let me explain.  A new player or “newbie” to the industry walking into a guitar store for the first time knows absolutely nothing about guitars and is looking to be completely guided to the right instrument and the best way to get started for the right price.  His desire is to learn to play songs on guitar and to grow and develop into a musician.  Other industries such as golf, snowboarding, camping, etc., go out of their way to make getting into their sport or hobby fun and easy.  In all fairness there are a handful of guitar retailers who do a great job helping out customers… but really, they are few and far between.

So back to our newbie who is very excited to learn to play guitar.  Maybe they just saw a great concert or have a friend who plays or simply have always wanted to learn to play guitar.  Whatever the reason, they are motivated about getting into their new hobby.  Unfortunately, here’s the reality of what they can expect…

The Guitar Store Experience:

At the guitar store, the newbie first asks a salesperson about which guitar they recommend for a person just starting out.  They typically get steered to a cheaply made, horrible-playing guitar (in most cases due to poor construction or the non-existent set-up).  If they are lucky they don’t get too much attitude from the salesperson.  The salesperson of course reminds them that after years of dedication and struggle they may be able to play that beautiful guitar over there – yeah, that one hanging on the wall, reminding our newbie that it can’t be easy to learn to play guitar.

The newbie asks, “But doesn’t it have six-strings like this one?” The salesperson scoffs, “Oh no, that is way too much guitar for you dude.  That’s a professional instrument for stage player who understands how to coax out the subtle overtones of buttery full-step bends and shred across 20+ frets, while their amplifier sears out sweet distortion via the volume and gain cranked to just the right setting.”

What’s sad is that the newbie just wanted to learn the guitar solo in “Day Tripper,” but you see that’s not good enough for the guitar industry.  The attitude is either play well or don’t play at all.  Okay then, onto the purchase.  The motivated newbie truly wants to learn to play guitar.

The Purchase Experience:

fretlight classic

Once the newbie or newbie’s parent has their guitar at the checkout counter, the salesperson gladly throws in the ancient chord and scale book, published in 1956.  “This will get you going,” he says, “Start memorizing.” Of course the newbie has their favorite song book in hand as well because they assume they will get home and learn to play songs on guitar – at least that’s what they want to do.  Ah, but no one says it’s harder than it looks.   Only that with diligence, patience, some finger bleeding and random cursing and head bobbing, you may one day play the guitar and actually be able to join the “club”.  Then you too can call yourself a guitar player.  Again, the newbie just really wants to strum a few chords to their favorite song.

The At-Home Experience:

Still not dissuaded, the newbie begins to play.  They’ve got their song book out, guitar  ready (after 10 minutes of figuring out how to connect and use the electronic tuner they purchased because no one at the store showed them how to tune their guitar) and maybe they are plugged into an amp, but they have no idea what levels to set all of the knobs.  All they want is to learn to play guitar, but they need tools that will facilitate the learning process.

Now, remember that poorly set-up guitar we talked about earlier? As the newbie attempts to contort their fingers into positions on the neck, it hurts.  They try to strum, but it sounds like grinding metal.  They push harder on the strings to attempt to make it sound better.  The pain continues (literally) and they are no closer to making this thing sound better than when they started 20 minutes ago.

What do they do? They incorrectly blame themselves.  “I must not be pushing hard enough – I don’t have the dials set right – it’s me, maybe I’m just not built for playing the guitar.” Not built for playing the guitar? Ludicrous! Virtually anyone can learn to play guitar.  The problem is that most guitars are not set-up properly and the string action (that’s the height of the strings above the fretboard) is too high.  I’d have a hard time playing that guitar and the newbie – IS A NEWBIE! What a terrible way to begin something that is supposed to be joyous and fun.

The Back-to-the-Store Experience:

The few newbie’s that don’t quit right then and there, cut themselves some slack and realize that the strings are conspicuously high off the fretboard; time to head back to the store.  Once at the store, the newbie is directed to the repair department – repair department? But it’s a new guitar! They explain the problem to the guitar technician as the tech holds the guitar and starts looking at it from all kinds of different angles – back to front, front to back, side to side, etc.

The tech says, “Your problem is that you need a set-up, maybe even a slight fret level.  Yep, that’s it.  It’ll take about two weeks.” “But it’s a new guitar!” cries the newbie.  The tech replies matter-of-factly, “Yeah, but this is sort of standard practice many guitars.  Once the guitar gets adjusted to your climate you’ll only have to do this about once or twice a year.” The newbie succumbs, because really, the only other option is to quit.  Can you imagine driving away after having purchased a new car with the wheels mis-aligned? Amazing huh?

learn to play guitar songs

The industry has provided a terrible experience for new potential guitar players for decades and here at Optek, we’re doing our best to change that experience.  We want our beginners to start playing right away so that their experience is positive and rewarding.  In most cases that’ll mean they have no idea what they’re doing, but they are following the lights and playing a riff.  By picking up a Fretlight, you can learn to play guitar far more quickly than through any other method, giving new players great tools to continue to develop their abilities.

As they begin to smile because they’re making music, they naturally crave additional education through our interactive video lessons and learn to play songs on guitar.  Also, we pre-adjust all Fretlight guitars (the action) for the destination locale’s temperature and humidly so that it’s easy to play right out of the box.  We also offer an on-board tuner as an option so that tuning a Fretlight guitar is quick and simple.

Our #1 goal is your complete, and quick, satisfaction; we strive to make it easy to learn to play guitar.  After that initial (positive) experience your desire will take you to place you only dreamed.  In our eyes you enter the “club” when you play your first note on your new Fretlight guitar.

Thanks for tuning in.



Rusty Shaffer, an avid guitar player, pilot and mechanical engineer, invented the Fretlight guitar in 1987, forever transforming the process of learning to play guitar. To develop and market the Fretlight, Shaffer founded Optek Music Systems, Inc. in 1988. Shaffer is a self-taught musician who has played both guitar and piano for over 20 years. Check out more about Fretlight on Google+.

Posted Under: Learn To Play Guitar, Playing Tips

  • Rick Canup

    I love my fretlight.