Fender is an absolute icon when it comes to electric guitars, so when the brand released its own way to learn guitar online in 2017, the guitar world sat up and took notice.
Having only existed for a year, Fender Play is undoubtedly the baby of the online tuition world and they have a lot of catching up to do if they are to truly complete with the likes of GuitarTricks (running for 20 years) and TrueFire (with 27 years’ experience). Nevertheless, initial impressions of the new platform are good – although there are several issues worth considering.
Some quick links to the sections discussed in this review:
Let’s take a closer look…
First impressions of Fender Play are great – the website and format are very clean, stylish and easy to navigate (much like a Fender Stratocaster!). Everything you need to access lessons, songs and tools can be found on the menu bar at the top of the page.
The lessons and the lesson pages share qualities with other sites such as JamPlay, although Fender keeps things even cleaner and fresher in design. You are presented with the main video lesson as well as a sidebar on the left of the screen, which offers course information. Below the video you will find another area that displays the lesson information, tablature (if relevant), a glossary and tools section (more on these later).
The video player is one of the more basic when it comes to functions, with only a 10 second rewind feature alongside the usual play, volume and full screen buttons. It’s not bad though and tracking through the video is pretty straightforward.
One big plus is that the actual video quality (4K) and shooting style is some of the most attractive around, with an incredibly modern feel to them. They are all filmed in a relaxed studio with contemporary instructors and multiple camera angles, so you are never left wanting for a different view.
Fender Play offers a handful of experienced and qualified teachers that come across very well. It is hard to compare them to the some of the iconic instructors that feature on more established sites (such as Paul Gilbert with ArtistWorks and Steve Vai with TrueFire), but Fender’s team of teachers are friendly and articulate, clearly communicating the lesson content, even if they don’t always seem the most engaging.
Fender Play is very comparable to other systems in their offerings for beginners. There is plenty of content and the courses are set out in a way that makes them easy to progress through, with various levels and content clearly marked.
The exact content of your course will depend on the path you have chosen to take. After you sign up, you are presented with a choice of three instruments (acoustic guitar, electric guitar and ukulele), then a selection of styles (including rock, blues, folk and country).
Whatever style you choose, the first Level 1 video is universal – ‘Guitar 101: First Things Fast’, which offers a look at setting up your guitar and familiarizing yourself with the instrument. From there, the next course will throw you straight into playing notes. You can then progress though Level 1 and onto Levels 2, 3, 4 and 5.
This is a straightforward platform and – combined with the easy-to-follow layout, progression system and clear instructors – it offers plenty for beginners to get involved with. Follow this for a few weeks and you are all but guaranteed to be playing complete songs pretty soon.
Being such a new site, Fender Play falls short in its content for more advanced players. There is certainly some worth for intermediate players who want to learn a new style, technique or song, but other sites offer much better content – and therefore value – for guitarists with a few years’ experience under their belts.
As we have mentioned, several styles are covered on Fender Play, comprising rock, blues, folk, country and pop, over both acoustic or electric guitar, with a more general course for ukulele. These will certainly satisfy beginners, although the styles remain a little broad and don’t delve too deeply into the myriad of sub-genres, such as surf rock, gypsy jazz or funk.
Sorry bassists, Fender Play has yet to incorporate bass lessons into the system. You can’t help feel they would work very well on this modern platform. However, considering they have added ukulele tuition, bass lessons may be something offered down the line. Watch this space…
Unlike some other online tuition sites such as ArtistWorks or TrueFire, Fender Play offers a good list of individual songs to learn in addition to technique lessons. This is great for guitarists who simply want to add a new song to their repertoire.
However, be warned – not every song lesson shows you the complete song. Many simply teach you the main riff to the song. This is still quite useful but it still feels a little incomplete.
Also, being just a year or so old, there is a distinct lack of songs when compared to GuitarTricks and JamPlay. Still, some key bands and artists are well-represented in song lessons, including The Rolling Stones, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, ZZ Top, Rancid and Deep Purple.
A bonus for ukulele students is that Fender Play offers a separate section dedicated to both traditional ukulele songs and covers from top artists including Maroon 5, The Zombies, Elvis and Johnny Cash.
Again, due to the age of the site, Fender Play is left wanting for extra content. You would assume this will come with time, but for now there isn’t much more than the courses themselves.
However, they do offer an ‘Articles’ section, which includes some short but useful articles on a range of guitar and ukulele subjects. At the time of writing this review, some recently added articles included ‘How to Move from Ukulele to Guitar’ and ‘The Guitar Theory Cheat Sheet’.
The site offers an online tuner for both acoustic and electric guitar, which is handy – especially for beginners. It is good to see the inclusion of several different tunings too, such as Drop D, Drop C and DADGAD. In addition, you can find the Fender Tune app (which does the same job) free for both iPhone and Android smartphones.
There is no core Fender Play app yet, although the website runs very efficiently from a smartphone web browser, so taking the course with you on the move isn’t too complicated.
Another thing Fender Play lacks is a community feel. It is hard to match some of the more established sites in this regard, but it would be nice to see a forum or chat room, or some way to interact with fellow members and instructors.
The good news is that Fender Play is very competitive – in fact, it is cheaper than most of the other paid-for online lessons, such as GuitarTricks and JamPlay, which come in at around twenty bucks per month.
Fender Play works out at just $9.99 per month, with a six-month option of $49.99 or the yearly subscription of $89.99, which is the best value package. Note that ukulele lessons are included with all subscriptions.
If you want to experience the format before using your own money, Fender Play offers a generous 30-day free trial. Simply register, enter your payment details, then you have a month of tuition for nothing. You will have to manually cancel the subscription before the month ends if you decide the site is not for you.
As we have said throughout this review, Fender Play is very simple to use. From the moment you register you will be able to select which style guitar you want to learn (acoustic, electric or ukulele) and then a genre (including rock, blues, folk, country or pop). Then, for beginner basics and the most simplified songs, you should start with Level 1, Course 1 and work your way through it.
More experienced players may wish to explore later levels, which bypass the very basics and offer tuition on more advanced techniques. You can also dive into some song lessons if that’s the route you would prefer to head down.
Fender Play shows a lot of promise and is certainly one to look out for. For beginners who have just bought a new Strat and want to learn from the guys who made it, trying Fender Play is a very good option. It is very easy to navigate, feels very high-end in its design, is structured sensibly and is affordable. The lessons themselves are helpful, stylish and are pitched well for complete beginners.
Even intermediate players who want to learn a new style of guitar would be wise to at least check out the free 30-day trial.
However, there are many flaws – most of which come down to the young age of the site and the lack of content. The song list isn’t as comprehensive as other paid-for sites and the lessons don’t provide experienced players with anything to get excited about.
Ultimately, Fender Play is a good addition to the world of online tuition and has a lot of potential – but currently they fall a bit short in several areas.