Like many a 30-something fan of alternative rock music, I have slung an axe or two in my time. I’ve been a gun for hire, a lone, wandering tunesmith, riffing into the early hours on my precious six string.And, like many a wannabe guitar hero, I became more accustomed to the smell of London’s pub rock toilets than I ever did to the backstage area of Wembley Stadium. I wonder if I would be telling a different story now, from a gold plated throne in the Hollywood Hills, had the Fender Play online guitar tuition service came into my life earlier?In my day, guitar tuition either came at the price of costly tuition with an in-the-flesh tutor, or from the pages of books, magazines and shareware tablature posted to the net from fellow amatuer guitarists. I even sent off for (the admittedly excellent, I write with a teary eye) ‘Fastfingers’ guitar course, designed by Steve Bray (a northern guitar hero who must have single-handedly taught half of Britain how to play) and packed with red zine-sized lesson books and a stack of CDs. All were great, but none could be called convenient.
What is Fender Play?
Enter Fender Play. Though it launched back in 2017, I was introduced to it earlier this year after months of refinements, and I’m happy to confirm it’s a superb learning tool. As its name suggests, it’s backed by Fender guitars, the company that’s equipped everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Kurt Cobain to the Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner over the decades.Fender Play breaks down the process of playing guitar into an app-and-online, video-heavy course run by professional, amiable tutors. It’s not one-to-one tuition – these are pre-recorded lessons – but they’re effective, well thought out and expertly filmed, giving you all the angles (whether on picking or guitar-neck finger-placing fretwork) to pick up the skills you need.
The service supports a number of different instrument types – acoustic, electric, ukulele and bass – and tailors its lessons then based on your sonic preferences, be they folky, rocky, bluesy or countrified. You’re then walked through the basics (with initial lessons that are more or less universal no matter your instrument, helping you to get to grips with the fundamentals) before the courses break down into specific techniques, scales, chords and more that fit your guitar-playing needs and style. From there, you then can jump into learning all manner of songs, from The Supremes to the Foo Fighters.While there’s little community element to engagement support at the moment, the service does add a handful of useful tools out along the way though, including an online tuner and “Guitar Theory Cheat Sheet” for getting your key changes spot on.
There are a few things Fender Play could still work on, however. While it’s 4K video tutorials look the business, they could do with more playback options – being able to loop sections of clips for intensive practice for instance would be fantastic, as would the ability to slow playback to half-speed or slower to fine tune technique and gradually build your speed up.Also, it’s very much positioned to support the beginner guitarist. But I’d wager that with the quality of the clips and teaching on show, there’d be an audience here for those looking for more advanced techniques. Like the players themselves then, perhaps there’s room for Fender Play to improve its shredding abilities over time too.There’s plenty to appreciate here then, and it’s all at a price that feels fair. You’re looking at $9.99 (£8 / AU$14) per month, a six-month option of $49.99 (£39.50 / AU$70) or a yearly subscription at $89.99 (£71 / AU$125), offering the best value. If you’re gifting or hoping for a guitar this Christmas, make sure you’re getting Fender Play bundled in with it too.
The best free music apps 2018