First, it's important to be clear that I believe Fender is a fantastic company that has done more for the arts and the guitar playing community than one could ever truly appreciate. Often imitated, their instruments are enviably well-built, designed with originality and have been played by many of the guitar greats of past decades.
This is partly why it's so disappointing to watch them become imitators of a product of which they are clearly not the primary innovators.
Fender's wheelhouse is their line of physical products - namely guitars, amps and basses - not online education in the form of guitar lessons.
My Fender Play review gives reasoning and evidence for not recommending it.
In an effort to continue being clear and helpful to readers of Guitar Chalk, it needs to be said up front that Fender Play is woefully lacking in terms of educational substance and comprehensive information. In that regard, we recommend the following alternatives:
Recommended Alternatives to Fender Play
The Reason for This Fender Play Review and Our Review Policy
When I review products, it's for the purpose of providing some kind of concrete assessment or commentary on the value that you're getting in return. Via our publishing policy, Guitar Chalk no longer accepts physical products or conducts product reviews as we have in the past.
I've made an exception for Fender Play (and often do for online educational resources), in an effort to give you an honest assessment of its value.
While we typically avoid commenting on products we don't recommend, the popularity of Fender, and the potential reach of a program like Fender Play, calls for an honest discussion and clear illustration of its value or lack thereof.
The first step in understanding why I don't recommend Fender Play is seen in the origin of its development and the motivation behind its creation.
Before we get to that, however, I want to provide a quick summary about what Fender Play does well and where it falls short.
What Fender Play Does Well: Moving You Toward Application
There are a few claims set forth in Fender Play's marketing verbiage on which I believe they've followed through. Primarily, they do get you playing quickly.
Music lessons that focus on songs and fun, instead of shredding and theory. - Endgadget Article
Fender Play does a good job of getting you playing chords and songs in a timely manner, depending of course on your current skill level with the guitar. Instead of focusing on theory and technique (aside from the most basic material) Fender Play gets you into application quickly.
Unlike other music instructional standbys like Mel Bay, Play doesn't spend a ton of time early on teaching theory or how to read notation.
And while this might be considered a strength of Fender Play, it's also a significant weakness if you consider what happens when there's application without any understanding of foundational mechanics or theory of the fretboard.
From an educational perspective, it's not always helpful or productive to jump into playing songs without understanding how those songs are put together.
We'll touch more on this as I get into the review.
Where Fender Play Falls Short and Exaggerates
I've noticed several articles (many of which read more like advertorials for Fender Play) will read something like this:
"Users answer a variety of questions on preferred instrument and genre, including rock, pop, folk, country and blues."
"Thus creating a comprehensive, customized curriculum."
The "variety of questions on preferred instrument and genre" is actually only two questions:
- Acoustic or electric guitar?
- Rock, pop, folk, country or blues style path?
The assertion that this creates a comprehensive or customized curriculum is empirically untrue, since those two questions are not comprehensive when it comes to teaching or learning guitar.
Moreover, you can't focus on exclusively beginner material while simultaneously creating a "comprehensive" learning path.
Guitar content for beginners is a singular learning path that is, in many ways, agnostic of style. It's also far more complex and delicate than Fender Play's treatment would suggest.
I've also noticed a lot of copy (either from Fender directly or from third-party marketers) that voluntarily pits Fender Play lessons against other online guitar lessons and, in particular, YouTube.
"Accuracy far surpassing your average online lesson video." - Press Release
"Puts YouTube lessons to shame..." - Fast Company Writeup
Now, if John Titlow (in the Fast Company article) is only talking about production quality, he might be making a fair statement. If he's talking about the content quality, he's completely incorrect, as is the title of his article.
Fender Play absolutely does not put YouTube guitar lessons to shame. (View Larger Image)
In no respects, whatsoever, is Fender Play reinventing online guitar lessons, even if we give Mr. Titlow the "age of distraction" qualifier. What they've done has already been happening for years on a number of platforms, which are (and have been) doing it far better.
Again, from Forbes, Melissa Daniels echoes an oddly similar sentiment:
Wrong again. (View Larger Image)
It's almost as if these talking points have gone out to several major media outlets and they've just stamped their name on them.
The reality is, if you have any experience with online guitar lessons and if you've actually taken the time to compare them to Fender Play's product, it would be impossible to honestly say Fender is changing or reinventing anything about how we learn guitar online.
If anything, they're woefully behind the gun.
Why was Fender Play created?
It's crucial to understand that Fender Play was not simply birthed out of an idea or creative initiative to teach people guitar in a better or different way. Anyone with access to Google knows that there are plenty of online guitar lessons, available to all players, regardless of style or skill level.
Fender wasn't simply trying to join the fray.
Fender's motivation behind developing Fender Play is one of sales, as it relates to their physical products. If you read Geoff Edgers' "Death of the Electric Guitar" article in the Washington Post, you'd notice he mentions Fender and Fender Play specifically.
Fender Play was developed as a response to their own drop in sales and a shifting guitar market that appears to have led to massive amounts of debt for Fender, among other larger guitar manufacturers. It's an effort to both keep more customers and attract new ones.
Thus, the motivation behind Fender Play is indirect. They're looking for a tool that will help build a bigger clientele for their physical products.
As a result, the substance and quality of Fender Play's content clearly suffers.
Broad Problems with Fender Play: Content Quality and Depth
In a broad sense, the biggest problem with Fender Play is its lack of content depth.
There are certainly other concerns - smaller ones even - but the sheer simplicity and surface-level feel of the content is the most apparent problem area. Even if they were intentionally trying to avoid the weeds of more in-depth theory and technical topics, they would still have to deal with two major problems:
- The majority of other online guitar lessons provide these more difficult and extensive topics, in addition to the simpler paths and more basic material.
- Fender Play is charging for these lessons. Other companies, that are providing more information, charge the same price or even less.
As I browsed through Fender Play's content, it appeared that everything covered was very basic, entry-level information that could easily be obtained elsewhere online.
To be fair, it's probably true that almost all information in existence can be found on the internet, or at least at a well-funded library. Yet, the mark of a good teacher and a valuable educational resource is that they provide depth and substance in a way that's easy to understand and easy to digest in some kind of topical order.
Fender Play fails this measure on multiple levels, even for a beginner looking to get started.
I'll point out some specific evidence for these claims and walk you through what my experience with the program was like.
My Walk-through of Fender Play
Since Fender gives you a 30 day free trial, I gave up my credit card information, signed up and started browsing around. Fender says up front that the content comes in "bite-sized lessons" which can be helpful for some people who need/want to learn quickly.
The "world-class instructors" bit is a serious stretch, as you'll recognize some of the instructors from YouTube channels many of which, ironically, provide the same type of content for free.
One of the instructors is a bass player for a G&R tribute band, another used to post guitar lesson content on Mahalo's YouTube channel and several others I didn't recognize at all.
Fender Play's free trial splash page. (View Larger Image)
The sign-up process is quick, painless and immediately sends you to a screen where you choose between acoustic and electric guitar, presumably to cater your material to the path you choose.
I clicked electric guitar, though it's easy to change this at any point, depending on what you pick next.
Choosing a Path in Fender Play
Initially you're asked to choose between an electric or acoustic guitar path. (View Larger Image)
After you select either electric and acoustic guitar, you have five different styles to pick from to further narrow your content.
The style paths you can choose from in Fender Play. (View Larger Image)
I selected "Rock" and was taken to the following screen:
The "Rock" path in Fender Play. (View Larger Image)
The path it sets up for you does a good job of getting you into songs and applicable material quickly. You can easily start playing chords and riffs, depending on your comfort level with the guitar.
Fender deserves some credit for getting you into playing music in an efficient manner.
Yet, there are two major problems with the path system:
- As you browse through other paths, you'll notice most of the material is so basic (i.e. "Play Your First Chords" or "Alternate Picking") that the videos are just recycled in other paths.
- Most of the material covered isn't conceptually unique to a given path (chords, strumming and timing are not genre-specific).
The content in each path has very little to do with any of the specific disciplines of the given styles. It makes you feel like the "tailored path" you choose has almost nothing to do with what you end up studying, outside of the songs selected for you to learn.
These songs are added between lessons, allowing you to select them at will or go in the order they've setup for you.
Song lessons are interjected between topical lessons. (View Larger Image)
Fender Play does do a good job with their video production, which is shot from multiple camera angles in HD (and 4K if you have a screen that supports it) with excellent audio quality.
Instructors seem fairly knowledgeable, though not overly engaging or interesting, partly because of the simplicity of the material they're covering.
The Video Interface
Video interface for Fender Play. (View Larger Image)
On the left side of the screen, you'll notice that each lesson is broken up into different sections, which sometimes go to a different point in the video (usually in intervals of several seconds) or to a different video entirely.
It's a bit confusing and seems more like an attempt to make a short-winded video seem longer and more substantial than it actually is.
Fender deserves credit for a better-than-average production quality, but that doesn't mean much if the content isn't equally good, or better.
The Bottom Line
It's clear that Fender put a lot of work into the production quality of this material, which is worth acknowledging. However, it's also evident they've recycled information that is readily available on a ton of other platforms and charged 20 bucks a month for it without adding any additional value or organization. Moreover, Fender Play repeats and re-uses their own material in different paths and levels within those paths.
Simply put, Fender Play is a very stripped-down, short-winded body of content that provides little value or depth of information.
What if Fender Play was free?
Making Fender Play free would be a start.
But once again, the content they provide is already available in a multitude of free outlets. And no, it doesn't "put YouTube to shame." So, even if it were a free program, they'd have plenty of competition.
If Fender Play was cheaper than well-established sites like Guitar Tricks and JamPlay, I'd be willing to give them a little more credit. But, charging for this information as it currently stands is out of line with the mission they're claiming: making young and/or beginner guitarists more likely to stick with the instrument.
Cost concerns aside, we'd still be pointing you to a number of alternatives, like those I previously referenced.
Alternatives We Recommend
I think it's also worth mentioning, by way of comparison, that Guitar Tricks, which has been around since 1998, has over 11,000 video lessons and over 600 full song tutorials, the quality of which absolutely blows the doors off of Fender Play. It's also just $19.95 per month, and that's without the promotional offers they typically run.
In fact, we've put together a list of excellent online guitar lesson resources, including YouTube channels that we can recommend with a clear conscience.
Questions About this Review
If you have questions or concerns about this review, please feel free to get in touch and we'd be happy to chat.
For general inquiries about the content, my experience while using Fender Play, or to just share your own experience/opinion, please use the comments section below this article.
Thanks for reading.
Additional Credits and Contributions
- Proof reading: Sarah Flood
- Layout and article formatting: Bobby Kittleberger
- Banner image: Flickr Commons via Pukkia