Almost a month ago, Fender somewhat quietly started a new venture. For the first time, they hired a Digital Products Officer. I’m not going to pretend I can predict his success or failure in a job he’s hardly started. Kaplan seems like a perfectly competent guy with a lot of experience, although I’ve said before on here that this is an industry that is reluctant to change 1. Instead, it seems fun and prudent to speculate about what might come from the guitar giant as they dip their toes in the digital realm 2.
For one, we know a tuning app is coming. TechCrunch mentioned this in their article on the hire. That’s fine and logical. Tuners are one of the most popular guitar-centric apps out there and Gibson and Martin have had such apps for quite a while. There’s also hints that it may be a more complex tuner, which could be neat.
There’s also been talk of tablature. That is something I’d be excited about, assuming they do something unique with it. Tablature is largely a collaborative world on the web. Ultimate Guitar and their Tab Pro system have been a mainstay, but it’s a reluctant choice for so many. Their site being littered with ads, popups, and poor experiences all around. A very ambitious team with a lot of resources could greatly benefit the community by building a feature-rich platform (that works like Guitar Pro) that allows multiple people to collaborate on tabs. So instead of getting 10 variations of a tab for one song, users can suggest/review proposed edits to a single tab and work together to get it right (Wikipedia style).
And a minor suggestion, but how about suggestions? If you go to any tab site, they’ll tell you to learn some Ed Sheeran or AC/DC song because it’s popular with their users. You may not want to learn those songs, or they may be way above/below your experience level. So how about add some Pandora flavor? Let’s say you spend time looking at a Coldplay tab, maybe you get recommended a Pablo-era Radiohead song because it’s kinda similar music and complexity. That could be fun, no?
From there, we have no idea where things will go. It seems a lot of the current vision focuses on education and getting people to stick with the instrument. Ideally you start with a $200 Strat Pack but play long enough to eventually be in the market for an American Standard (with many Fender purchases along the way, no doubt). If they can get more people to stick with guitar by making learning easier or more intuitive, that’s good for them as well as the music industry as a whole. And we can only hope that combining Fender’s resources with Kaplan’s vision will lead to some really impressive changes in guitar technology. There’s already a technical foundation out there to do something like online lessons that offer real-time automated feedback. There’s tons of opportunity to offer new ways for people to collaborate online with recordings and songwriting. Heck, even something like an app that listens to your playing and suggests changes to your EQ or tells you if intonation is off would be interesting. I’m always happy to see people throwing out new technology for guitarists. It will be exciting to see what is to come!