Optek Fretlight

It certainly isn’t the last word in style or leading edge features. All you get is a simple Stratocaster clone like millions of others with the standard one humbucker and two single coil pickup arrangement. There’s no whammy bar or tremolo bridge either but the guitar does play very nicely. The action on the strings is clean, low and adjustable via a truss rod in the neck, while the smooth finish on the maple neck puts that horrible shiny sticky varnish you get on so many cheap guitars to shame.

Put simply, if you can’t play that tricky scale or learn a simple chord progression you won’t be able to blame it on your equipment. And there’s no need either to worry about taking it on stage and being laughed off because your guitar looks more like a Christmas tree than a serious musical instrument. Disconnected from the PC, the Fretlight looks just like any normal guitar, the LEDs hidden behind the polymer fretboard. In fact I wondered if the right instrument had been sent to me when I first took it out of its box.

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Optek even claims that the polymer material used in the fretboard to allow the LEDs to both hide and show, improves the playing experience in other ways. With a normal wood fretboard, guitars can suffer from fret movement over time. Moisture in the air and varying temperatures can cause the wood to swell and contract, which can cause the instrument to sound ever so slightly out of tune. With a fretboard constructed from plastic, the argument goes, this will happen to a much lesser degree.

Optek also says that the ‘advanced polymer’ fretboard contributes to increased sustain – notes lasting longer and decaying more slowly after being plucked. Whether this is the case or not is a matter for debate. What isn’t in doubt is that you can buy a better quality guitar that sounds nicer, looks and plays better than the Fretlight for the same price. And that is a major consideration.

You’ll also read about electronic noise from the LED electronics interfering with the sound if you do a little searching around on the net and there’s no denying that this is a problem. Hook it up to your amp and turn it up with the Fretlight plugged into your PC and you’ll find that there is a substantial amount of noise whichever pickup combination you select.

At the end of the day, though, this is a tool for learning – if you ever get around to performing with it the likelihood is that you’ll switch those LEDs off. And the noise disappears once you pull the plug that’s connected to the PC.

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