Our Christmas Wishlist – 2015 Edition

It’s the end of yet another year, and credit cards continue to be maxed out all over the country as guitarists everywhere hope for a new pedal or amp or whatever it may be. Here at Daft Paragon global headquarters, we’re less concerned about what is under our trees. We want to look out for all of you this year, which is why we’re making our Christmas list for the guitar/music industry. This is all the stuff we want to see come to market or maybe just be more accessible to all of us.

Better Teaching Guitars/Software

I just saw this website that can decipher notes in YouTube videos and give the chords to songs. Fretlight has some software that doesn’t get a lot of buzz, but what’s almost criminal is nobody seems to be taking advantage of their SDK (not that Fretlight is the perfect hardware solution, but it’s certainly an established option). I see Guitar Pro has some sort of compatibility with it, but Guitar Pro is horrible software from a horrible company that just wants to shove low-quality ads and adware down your throat and try to trick you into paying for a subscription.

Point is, the problem with the guitar and music instrument industry in general is getting people to stick with playing. Yes, it’s hard work regardless and not everyone is going to want to follow through, but so many people either buy a beginner book, watch some varying-quality YouTube videos, or go in with blind faith on lessons at the most geographically convenient guitar store. These can lead to disappointing or frustrating experiences, and we’re often conditioned to believe there’s only one way to learn, so we think there’s no other way and just give up. With all the cool tech out there, it shouldn’t be that way. There are pieces of the puzzle out there that are really cool and have potential, but nobody has successfully put it all together. You’d think between much better audio-midi converters, light up fretboards, really good touch sensitive technology (put touch sensors on the fretboard!) and software that we’d have something cool. I’d love to challenge anyone to build a somewhat affordable guitar with these features. Heck, I’d offer to help fund it if the right partnership came along. Something that can not only show you how to play via an app & fretboard LEDs, but be able to sense if you’re putting your fingers in the right place and give realtime feedback. The same as a human instructor, but 100% on your own schedule. It should have existed three years ago.

Better Frets

I think without getting too creative, there’s quite a few areas where frets on most guitars could be improved with existing technology.

  1. Stainless Steel Frets: Pretty universally considered an improvement over nickel-steel, but costs more for both materials and labor, so we don’t see much of them. Aside from costs, they may wear your strings down a bit faster. But I’d always rather go through strings rather than frets.
  2. Zero Frets: No, not fretless guitars. But that little fret at the nutStill no real change in the number of companies offering them. They’re still better than the traditional nut design. They’re not that expensive. They’re not complicated to use or understand. And we don’t expect anything to change anytime soon…
  3. PLEK!: PLEK machines are slowly becoming more common in large as well as boutique manufacturer shops. But far too many guitars have all the detail work of leveling/dressing frets done by hand. Adding a PLEK into the fold with the tried/true (but ultimately not super accurate) method gives much better playability, intonation, consistency.

Spotify User Data for Music Discovery

Totally random, just for the sake of curiosity. I don’t know what kind of agreement Spotify has with Facebook, but since they are still crazy popular as a streaming service and a ton of their users log in with Facebook… there has to be opportunities to get data. What could you do with it? No clue. Knowing the demographics of people who listen to at least one Justin Bieber song a day could make for a funny article I guess.

But I think more likely, a tighter Facebook integration could lead to better music discovery. E.g. Facebook already has a system of finding lookalike users, people who have similar demographics, interests and behaviors, for the sake of advertising. That same concept could match up people like you (you’d never know it was happening or know who those users are) and suggest music to you based on what they like. Right now it’s basically limited to curated lists by Spotify (which are not really user-specific), recommendations based on artists similar to those you listen to (which usually keeps you in a feedback loop of musical tastes) and stuff your Spotify friends like (very much a shot in the dark). I think there’s potential for cool stuff here… probably won’t happen, because streaming music services still have to figure out how to be financially viable long-term and more investment in peripheral features isn’t going to get them there. Still, I can dream.

Better Gear Reviews

Reviews are tough. We’ve even attempted to write a guide on using them. That’s silly. Two things need to exist…

  1. Gear critics like restaurant critics at each major gear publication
  2. Better methodology for user-generated reviews

For #1, it’s probably and old people complaint to a degree. Newspapers (yes, paper!), all used to have their own food critic on staff. These folks used to be a big deal if you owned a restaurant or were a diner. If they gave you a positive review, it meant a big boom in business. A negative one would be really tough to overcome. And while they all obviously had personal/human bias, they were generally all critical and honest. Meaning, not everything was great or terrible. These positions have largely died off. In some cases they’ve been replaced with younger folks who don’t have the rep built up to get away with honest reviews, and default to the “everything is awesome” approach.

This has long been an issue with gear reviews. The major blogs/mags are all essentially the same. The companies that provide free/demo gear for review are largely advertisers. So that’s at least one source of conflict where you don’t want to anger the folks paying your bills. Maybe part of it is a reputation issue, like some folks don’t want to be seen as cynical (even though that’s the point of the internet, right?). Either way, just about every gear review is “pretty good!” to “the best thing ever”. Even though most gear in reality is likely poor to above-average.

There needs to be honest reviews from the influential sources. Find a way people.

For #2, yeah, there are tons of sites where gear users can submit gear reviews (including product reviews on sites like Sweetwater, Musicians Friend and others). And obviously forums make for a poorly indexed/searchable source as well (Google helps, but only somewhat). But every one of these sources faces one of two fundamental problems. Either A) The reviews lack any context as to the musical experience, musical style, ownership period, etc of the reviewer. Or B) the site is some startup idea that never gained an audience.

But it would be nice if that could be eliminated. Like, if the Gear Page just created a review database or something (solving problem B). It would be great if each review required a few fields be filled out (preferably as dropdowns, so you can’t enter some absurd answer that throws off the data):

  • How long have you owned this piece of equipment
  • How long have you played guitar
  • What is your experience level (hobbyist, part-time paid musician, full-time paid musician, etc)
  • What is your primary style of playing
  • List the other gear you primarily used with this item
  • 5 star rating
  • Description of your opinion/experience

Lot to ask for, and people are lazy, but man it would make reviews more useful.

PS – this sparked quite some debate here at the office, look for more on the topic very soon.

Mass Customization for Guitars

Look at any auto-maker website. They all have a “Build your own” functionality. Sure, the most popular models/features end up on dealer lots, but you can order any combinations of features/options from the “Build your own” tool and get that exact car delivered to you. This is essentially called mass customization. The computer world did it for quite a while (most notably Dell) until they realized that only about 2% of computer users actually know or care about what components are inside. Now they’ve all gone the Apple route, of having a small number of models with very limited options to differentiate.

Guitars, on the other hand, often have TONS of different models with minimal differentiation. Look at all the artist model Fenders. It gets really hard to tell the difference. Why not let you build your own Strat without it being a custom-shop purchase? Select whatever wood, color, bridge, pickups, etc you want (within the currently-available Fender options) and they will build it for you. Yes, you’ll wait, but you’ll get the guitar you want. Fender can keep putting out the most popular models on the store shelves, but giving people a reasonably-priced option (in reality, there should be little/no upcharge on this, just wait time. Same as with cars) to get the exact model they want is a win all around.

This is basically Warmoth, but for the major brands. And with the idea that you get a fully-assembled guitar ready to play from day one.