Updated by Bobby
Updated on September 9th, 2021
Justinguitar's logo has recently changed again (along with the mobile app) and there have been a few adjustments to the home page. We've made changes to our review to reflect that, and have also updated Sandercoe's lesson count info.
Verdict and Review Summary
Limitations in the advanced material and smaller style scope don't do enough to detract from Justinguitar's incredible value and top-notch organizational system.
Parent article: Best Beginner Guitar Lessons
One of the longest-running names in online guitar lessons is Justin Sandercoe. When he started Justinguitar.com, way back in 2003, there was no JamPlay, no TrueFire, and not even an iPhone to watch them on. His site has grown to accumulate nearly two million visits per month, landing him one of the top 500 spots in the arts and entertainment web category.
When I started writing my Justinguitar review, the first thing I did was go to archive.org and look up his site back in 2003 and 2005. It's just absolutely fascinating, at least to a guitar/website geek like myself.
Here's the first grab from 2003:
And one more from 2005:
Today, Justin's site is world's away from its meager beginnings and well-stocked with high quality guitar lessons and educational content.
To date, he has put together 1251 free lessons, 634 songs, and a fairly massive social media following (mostly on his YouTube channel).
What has drawn many to his site is that all of Justin's content has been offered completely free without even requiring an email to sign up. Even now, the bulk of content on Justinguitar.com is readily available without any cost.
You might ask at this point:
Why review a site that is completely free?
I suppose you could consider this less of a "review" and more of an overview of what to expect from Sandercoe's site. A lot of people compare it to paid options like Guitar Tricks and TrueFire, wondering why they would pay for content if they can get it on Justin's site for free. What I want to do is take a deep dive into Justinguitar.com and see what kind of value it offers.
Does it compete with what you get on the paid sites? Does it meet the same standard of quality and allow you to accomplish the same things?
We'll find out in my full Justinguitar review.
Point Value (weight)
1. Content Quantity
2. EDU Quality
2. Topical Order
3. Concept Coverage
4. Song Section
7. Video Player
8. Site Design/Navigation
Compare Justinguitar to Similar Programs
Content Organization Options
From the home page, Sandercoe has developed several different methods of organizing his lessons and filtering content into learning paths. While I won't cover all of them in-depth, I will list everything here, just for a clearer picture of how to navigate the site:
- Beginner's Starting Point
- Lessons Menu
- Song Menu
Under the last four items you'll have additional filtering options. For example, under Lessons, Sandercoe has his "Beginner Course" listed.
Each course is made up of "Modules" which are sorted by skill level using a three-part color system within each skill level.
For example, in the "White" grade you'll have modules listed with a time stamp and short description, as follows:
Let's explore the "Beginner 2: Getting Minor" module just for some more examples and screenshots. Once you click on that section, you'll finally be able to see all the videos within that module. At this point we have a parent/child system that breaks down like this:
Here's what that section looks like:
While it feels like there are a lot of steps to get to actual videos, the organizational thought and setup here is quite good. It's clear the Sandercoe has put a lot of time and intentional work into ordering his material in a way that you can go through chronologically, which is often a weakness of free guitar lesson programs.
Moreover, the new interface (as of mid 2018) is a great look for the site and extremely easy to navigate. From a user interface perspective and pure web design, Sandercoe has done a great job.
To get started with a video, just click on whichever one you want to start with, though notice the ID numbers do represent a pre-established order.
Certain features like the "Save for Later", "In Progress" and "Mark as Complete" buttons are disabled unless you sign up and login to the site. The video player is just a YouTube embed, though production quality is decent, especially for the newer material that Sandercoe has published. Most lessons have at least the following four elements included in some capacity:
- Video lesson
- Text section
- Soundcloud clip
To shore up his product, Sandercoe is comfortable in front of the camera and has a slow-paced, patient approach to teaching. The fact that he doesn't seem nervous or uncertain helps you focus on the music and educational aspect of the content.
In order to get a better visual for how Justinguitar's organizational system compares to other programs we've tested, you can refer to the following graph which has the grade for each one. Sandercoe's program is good enough to be in the mix of the top three.
More On the Video Content
As I mentioned, the video player is just a YouTube embed, but does the job well and is a familiar look for most people. Sandercoe also includes a lot of textual material in most of his lessons. For example, in the Foundation 3 Practice Schedule lesson, there's a written "Practice Schedule", "Things to Remember", and "Goals" section.
Sandercoe does a good job of providing both illustrative examples and instructional (vocal) explanation of what he's playing and how you can understand it. He doesn't hesitate when he talks and seems very comfortable and well-versed in each topic he covers.
Again, we can look at some specifics here to see how Justinguitar compares to other programs, particularly the paid ones. Here's a graph of educational quality, where you can see Justinguitar falls a little behind the big box options, but still performs quite well:
Justinguitar Song Lessons Section
At the time of writing this review, Sandercoe had amassed 549 song lessons, ranging from the mid 2000s to this year. One problem with this is that a lot of the older lessons are shot in a really low resolution. For example, Sandercoe's "Wish You Were Here" videos are shot in 240p, which looks really grainy and hard to focus on, at least if you're used to 720p, 1080p or even (these days) 4k.
Compare this to his 2017 "Hey Jude" lesson shot in crystal clear 1080p:
Better yet, 2019 gets us to Justinguitar in 4k.
Having been producing content for so long, and relying on YouTube as a video hosting service, you're going to have a pretty wide range of production quality. This is just a necessary consequence of Justinguitar being around for 16 years, and going through a lot of technological advances.
Otherwise, Sandercoe's song lessons are structured the same way as his regular guitar lessons, using demonstration, thorough explanation, and a lot of supporting material.
Are the song's licensed?
Justinguitar's song list rivals Guitar Tricks and JamPlay in size, though I'm not certain whether he has gone through the trouble of licensing the songs. My guess would be no, since he has so many and I know that it can be really hard to get publishing rights.
Then again, it strikes me as odd that Sandercoe would risk the legal implications of providing so many unlicensed song lessons.
For the user experience it's of little consequence, though there is a sense of professionalism that you get from knowing the Guitar Tricks song library is entirely licensed and 100 percent accurate. Overall, the shear volume of songs that Sandercoe has taught wins him a solid rating in this department, though you could make an argument for JamPlay's song resource being better. Surprisingly, Justinguitar actually has more song lessons than JamPlay.
Justin Sandercoe's teaching is undoubtedly worth (at least) as much as the typical $19.99 a month that most other membership sites cost. I'd recommend Justinguitar over a handful of these sites, including:
Even in regards to topical organization or ordering of his courses (an area typically weak in most free resources), Sandercoe has done an amazing job. His material is easy to navigate and sectioned into digestible segments with a clear learning path, especially after the 2018 update.
Where I find Justinguitar lacking is in more difficult or advanced material and stylistic coverage. For example, since Sandercoe is the only instructor, you get the styles and songs that he knows and takes an interest in. In other words, theres's not a lot of help if you're looking for a metal or hard rock category.
Sandercoe is a blues, acoustic, and soft rock guy, so those in that stylistic niche are going to find his material more relevant.
It's the same problem you have when you take in-person guitar lessons.
You only get one instructor.
Even then, you've got a ton of beginner and intermediate material that's applicable to every style, and available free of charge. I know there are a lot of folks that use Sandercoe's program for beginner learning, then branch out to other paid options like JamPlay or TrueFire once they start to narrow in on a style.
With limited drawbacks, Justinguitar has become the single largest and most well-put together free guitar lesson resource on the internet. And while it can't quite meet the same quality standards set by larger paid sites with multiple instructors, it's a fantastic alternative for those who just want to start somewhere and get a hold on the basics.