I have been in touch with Fret Zealot (the company) for some time. The Fret Zealot is a device that you can put on a guitar–and now a ukulele–to learn how to play the instrument. We decided to wait for a review until the product was released for ukulele. Originally I was hoping to simply review a unit installed on a ukulele, but it made sense for the company to send me a unit to install on one of my ukuleles.
The Fret Zealot is a combination of adhesive strips containing wiring and LED Lights, and a control module that connects to the strips and which gets mounted to the ukulele. The strips (3M) are rather permanent (they can be removed), but the control module can be removed at any time–and is charged by a USB mini plug. The control module interacts with an iOS or Android device, allowing you to interact with the Fret Zealot app.
The app has three basic parts…”Play” “Learn” and “Fun.”
“Play” has a library of songs (more about this in a moment), a tuner, and a metronome. The song list is rather long, but not very useful. The notes or chords that show are not connected to a “real” audio file, and there are no lyrics. So to be honest, I wouldn’t spend much time there.
“Learn” is where the power of the Fret Zealot comes into play. You can have the device show you different chords, scales, and notes. Amazingly, there are a few videos–songs and lessons–from Justin Guitar and The Ukulele Teacher that have been “programmed” to work with the Fret Zealot, and this is simply amazing. This is where the future lies with this technology, and Fret Zealot is on the leading edge. I just hope the library of videos continues to grow. There are also partner apps…Guitar 3D, Uberchord (old acquaintances of mine from techinmusiced.com) and Spark. I do not think that any of these partner apps are ukulele friendly.
“Fun” is, for now, a way to have your Fret Zealot show off rather fun display patterns on the LED strips. You can see examples of this at the start of the YouTube review embedded below.
As for the device itself, it works, and I’m excited about the future for Fret Zealot. The whole idea of the Fret Zealot is that you can turn any ukulele into a learning device, rather than having to buy a specialized ukulele.
I do have some criticism about the device, and I’ll share those thoughts, too. My preference is to have action at the 1st Fret to be .5mm. This was too low for the Fret Zealot and caused buzzing on the dual LED strip in the 1st Fret. I had to find a ukulele that had higher action to avoid the buzz–and had to remove an already installed Fret Zealot to do it. This isn’t the Fret Zealot’s fault, but it isn’t a device to be taken on and off at will–you commit to having it on your device until you take it off.
After installing the Fret Zealot on a different ukulele, I found that I really didn’t like the top row of LEDs, a dual strip. The top row represents an “open string,” and the immediate second row represents the 1st Fret. The diagrams for the Fret Zealot all show installation towards the actual (metal) fret, which placed the indicator for the “nut” in the middle of the 1st Fret–and this really threw me off.
As a result, I uninstalled the Fret Zealot AGAIN and moved it as high as I could on each fret, making the first row of LEDs much closer to the nut. Really, I’d love for that first strip to be above the nut, but I don’t know if that is possible.
And the penalty for a movement of the Fret Zealot a third time was that the top corner of the Fret Zealot (the one with the main cable) no longer sticks like it should, and as a result, there was some buzzing where the G string interacted with the top left corner of the Fret Zealot LED strip. I need to say very clearly that this is my fault and no fault of the Fret Zealot. Adhesive materials simply cannot be removed and replaced over and over again with the same results.
As I previously mentioned, the song library doesn’t seem to be very useful to me, and when installed, the Fret Zealot adds significant weight to the headstock.
That said, this is a product I’m really excited about, because it can help people learn how to play ukulele. The ability to sync videos with the Fret Zealot is a game changer, and the only problem is that videos need to be added one at a time, and that takes hours of labor, and thus lots of money. Perhaps Fret Zealot could make a end-user “video sync” app that would allow end users to make videos that could be added to the Fret Zealot library. I also love the idea of connection with other apps, so it would be fun to see what could be done with some other ukulele apps–anything from Kala’s library (and Musopia/Ukeoke) to Monster Chords (which uses or used to use some functionality with Uberchord).
I hope that future versions will be able to reduce the size of the controller, the height of the LEDs, and the cost of the device. But if you are looking for a device that can help you learn how to play the ukulele–making your existing ukulele an “intelligent ukulele,” Fret Zealot is worth checking out. And while there are other “intelligent ukuleles” on the market, if you buy one of those ukuleles, you have to choose from those ukuleles. With the Fret Zealot, you can connect any concert or tenor ukulele that you might have.
Many thanks to Fret Zealot for sending me a unit to review!
My video review appears below. Honestly, it’s a little scattered as I was trying to record what I was doing with the Fret Zealot app on my iPad while using the Fret Zealot and making a video at the same time. My iPad wasn’t recording all of the interactions with the app, and the part I wanted to demonstrate most–the syncing with The Ukulele Teacher’s video would not record (perhaps this is an iOS copyright limitation). Therefore, I wrote this more concise blog post, which says everything I say in the video.