Written by Guitar Chalk Editorial
Parent article: Advanced guitar lessons
Our Verdict and Review Summary
Advanced, unique, and niche guitar material is TrueFire's strong suit, plus a vast catalog of material. They also get major kudos for allowing single-course downloads for a one-time fee.
Back in 1999 TrueFire was started as a self-publishing platform for musicians and music teachers, bearing almost zero resemblance to the guitar lesson juggernaut it is today. TrueFire boasts a subscribing membership roster of over a million people along with nearly 1.5 million visits to their site every month. By shear volume of content alone, they're one of the most (if not the most) comprehensive guitar lesson resource on the internet.
They house over 33,000 total lessons spread over 700 courses, which is the single largest online guitar lesson repository in existence, eclipsing even the Guitar Tricks lessons database. While our review can't possibly cover all the content, we will dig into the interior of a full membership and show you exactly what kind of benefits are available to paying customers, focusing on site structure and overall content quality.
This review is less about a grade and more about showing you what you can expect from a TrueFire membership, while illustrating what makes the program unique and where its strengths and weaknesses can be found. Once you have that information, you can make an informed decision about whether or not it will work for you in your context.
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
Our reviews are designed to be objective and informational, with input from multiple musicians within our sphere of influence. We recognize that there are a lot of guitar lesson programs out there that serve a diverse range of people. In that regard, our reviews are meant to provide buying context and to show what type of person would most benefit from each program. We're not simply trying to sell every product to everybody. Because what works for some people, might not work for others. Our reviews help you get a feel for the product so you can decide whether or not it will work for you in your situation.
Compare to Similar Programs
TrueFire Review Quick Hits
TrueFire offers the longest free trial of any online guitar lesson site that we know off, giving you 30 days to try a streaming membership with access to everything on the site. There's no credit card required at signup, which might make this program more attractive to you than the Guitar Tricks trial. Here's a quick look at the other perks of the TrueFire free trial:
Keep in mind that full membership is a "streaming account," which means you can stream anything on the site. The downloading options and individual purchase of each course gives you either a disc, digital copy or both and requires an additional one-time purchase.
Streaming the content will be adequate for most. If you want to sign up for a TrueFire free trial, you can follow along with the rest of the review.
Once you're signed up with a TrueFire account, you'll land on the "Dashboard" for your user profile, which has two primary elements:
- Top Menu Bar
- Left Profile Sidebar
The top menu is where you'll navigate through all your content, the bulk of which can be found in the "Courses" and "Learning Paths" items, which break down like this:
- Courses: Individual lesson series, addressing specific topics (better suited for intermediate to advanced players)
- Learning Paths: Groups of courses listed in topical order (better suited for beginners)
The left sidebar is all related to your own personalized account, and doesn't need to be used unless you add material to it like saved playlists, courses or other progress-related information.
TrueFire does an excellent job of displaying a lot of information in a non-chaotic fashion. The interface doesn't feel crowded or confusing, making it surprisingly easy to find what you're looking for, even if you're not familiar with guitar-related terminology. From a design perspective, there's a lot to give kudos for:
- Recommended courses get more relevant and helpful as you use the program
- Font is large and easy to read
- Menu items are easy to decipher and well-prioritized (more important content floating left)
- Plenty of customization options via the left sidebar
As mentioned, the Courses and Learning Paths are the two most important navigation items. We'll start exploring TrueFire's content by taking a closer look at both those sections.
TrueFire Learning Paths
TrueFire's learning paths house five different categories:
Each of these paths lead to a pre-constructed series of courses designed to get you through the beginner, intermediate and even advanced stages of the guitar style in question. When you select a path, you'll be taken to that path's homepage with an overall progress bar:
The content that follows is made up of Core Courses and Supplemental material for each course. Thankfully, you can minimize the supplemental material, which gets to be visually overwhelming if you're just trying to move through the core courses in a linear fashion.
Material goes up in skill level as you go down through the courses, at which point you can also minimize entire skill levels, a we did in this screenshot:
Here's a look at how the content expands:
Once you decide on a course and click on it, you'll be taken to that course's page. All of these individual courses are also accessible from the "Courses" section. In the "Learning Paths" section, they're just organized in a particular order so they can be more easily followed.
In the next section, we'll take a look at the courses interface specifically and actually interact with some of the material.
Courses are the ultimate destination of a TrueFire user, regardless of how those courses might be grouped or how you reach them. The courses section from the main menu allows you to browse courses outside of the learning paths and simply jump around to specific topics as much as you want. Here's what's included in the drop-down menu:
Clicking on one these categories - take "Hard Rock" for example - leads you to a category page that curates all the courses related to that topic. TrueFire does a great job of organizing this content and allowing you to search by either courses or individual lessons, along with a ton of additional filtering options via the left sidebar.
Here's a quick look at navigating through the "Rhythm" courses section.
When you decide on a course you'll be taken to that courses introductory page, which always look like the following with a video player, and options for watching on the right sidebar.
Once you're in the course, you can see the number of video lessons on the right sidebar, broken up by the amount of time it takes to watch each one. If you don't have a full membership or trial, you'll see tabs for "Free" and "Course" like in the screenshot below. Course material you've got to pay for, while "Free" you can watch without a membership.
Up until now we've been talking primarily about the navigation experience and site structure. Let's get into some discussion about the actual content and the videos themselves.
Video Lesson Interface
TrueFire's video players and viewing interface is one of the most well-designed and intuitive setups we've seen thus far, loosely resembling Fender Play's setup. The primary components are the following:
- The video player
- Course navigation (right sidebar)
- Lesson materials (charts, tabs, etc, located below the video player)
The video player is licensed from Soundslice and provides the user with an extremely sleek and modern-feeling interface, with a speedup option that allows you to bump the video up to 150 percent, allowing the material to be covered much more quickly and then slowed down as needed. Here's a look at the interface from one of the "First Steps" beginner lessons:
Note that we've logged into our full membership account now, meaning all the course lessons are available and the "Free" tab has been replaced with a "My Playlists" tab. Lessons for every course are setup this way with plenty of variance in length, lesson material and instructor personality.
You can tell that some instructors are more scripted, while other seem to prefer speaking off the cuff. For example, Steve Vai's lessons were very conversational and didn't seem to have a single word written down ahead of time, while Tommy Emmanuel followed what seemed to be a carefully-designed teleprompter script.
Regardless of instructor, the video player makes it really easy - even somewhat addictive - to go through material, track progress and learn at your own pace. It's one of the more sleek and design-savvy experiences we've seen.
Noteworthy Guitar Teachers
We mentioned that JamPlay does a great job of bringing in notable artists to teach some of their songs and other material. TrueFire raises the stakes with a number of household name guest guitar teachers that include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Steve Vai
- Tommy Emmanuel
- Andy Timmons
- Johnny Hilland
- Larry Carlton
Most of these guys only do a few courses, but it still amounts to a ton of material. For example, Tommy Emmanuel has four complete courses, all with their own set of individual videos.
As I mentioned, you get a distinct feel for the teaching style and personality of these players, which is especially interesting if you've only ever listened to their music. Being taught by them is a completely unique and motivating experience. Their courses are structured exactly like the rest of the site's material and don't seem to have any set uniformity in terms of length or learning approach.
For example, Emmanuel's material was on the short side (though still very thorough), focusing on fingerstyle which is clearly one of his most mastered areas of study. At the same time, Vai spoke off-the-cuff a lot, which meant a lot of his videos went for much longer with more material and a wider range of topical coverage.
Free Lessons Section
One of TrueFire's strongest features doesn't cost anything. With over 6000 lessons the free lesson section is one of the most robust of its kind. We should add that it's important to remember the distinction between a lesson and a course. Courses are full, ordered groupings of lessons that are meant to address a single topic comprehensively. The free lessons section is filled with standalone lessons that might be part of a course, but doesn't include the rest of the course content.
Remember how we showed you the "Free" and "Course" tabs? This is essentially all the free lessons available throughout the entire site.
This means that you get a lot of pieces of a lot of different courses, but not the full picture.
Still, 6000 lessons is 6000 lessons. It's a lot. And it's the same high-quality content you get from the paid material, without any watering down or cheapening on the instruction. Even if you don't sign up for the free trial, this material should be accessible by simply browsing to the free lessons page.
You can use the search function at the top of the free lessons page to filter the material however you want. We searched for whatever Steve Vai had in the free section. Beyond the search bar there isn't a lot to help you categorize or organize the free material, but that's part of what it's designed to do. It's meant to give you an idea of what the full scope of content will offer you.
Tools and Other Features
Like JamPlay and Guitar Tricks, TrueFire offers a handful of interactive tools and additional content that includes a free guitar tuner, chord charts, scale charts, a metronome and Jam Tracks. All of this feels fairly basic and didn't really sway our opinion one way or the other. We'd be fine with or without these extras.
Some additional products include TrueFire's own DVD's, which are often part of the download and individual purchase options for different courses. They also have a section for audio lessons and e-books, all of which is additional paid content that we did not review.
Pricing and Value
TrueFire provides a massive amount of quality content, which is difficult to take as a whole. You'd be better off to think of TrueFire as a curation of individual content bundles, reaching a wide variety of styles, skills and specialties that you can't really find anywhere else.
If you're looking for a comprehensive resource, especially if you're a guitar teacher or music instructor yourself, TrueFire does the best job of covering the most ground, while still managing to go fairly deep into each topic.
What you'll pay is comparable to most of the other programs we recommend.
The monthly and yearly price of TrueFire is a bit higher than Guitar Tricks at $29 per month and $249 per year. Though they also adds the lifetime option, giving you access permanently without having to deal with a monthly or yearly fee.
All of these options give you access to future content (added weekly), classes and all material that doesn't require a one-time purchase. Here are the highlight feature list of TrueFire's streaming membership:
The Value Question: Who does this "work" for?
TrueFire has the widest scope of topical coverage in existence, which makes the question of "buying context" a little harder to answer. We still like Guitar Tricks' beginner programs and navigation a little better, just because it's easier to decipher and organized really well via the core learning system.
There's no way to substantively criticize what TrueFire has built.
With TrueFire, it's going to be a little harder for a true beginner to get a better feeling for where they need to go or what material would be most relevant to them.
That's not to say that beginner's can't benefit, but we would say that TrueFire's massive database is best suited to those who are more likely to know what they want to learn in specific areas of study. This would be similar to what we recommend in our JamPlay review, that users be intermediate to experienced and have a thorough idea of what they want to cover, having already verified that TrueFire provides it.
TrueFire's program is well-suited to professional teachers and guitarists who want a resource for their students, or perhaps to continue improving their own skill set in more nuanced areas of study.
There's no way to substantively criticize what TrueFire has built. In terms of topics covered, depth of knowledge and nuanced playing styles offered, they're the best we've seen.
Now, whether or not you're best served by that type of program is harder to tell. For many beginners it's going to be way more content and more material than they would need to get started. Still, the value is there, even if you start out with the basics and work your way up to the micro-niche guitar playing topics, as you develop your own style.
With a rock solid site design and plenty of ways to customize what you see and what material you use the most, it's not hard to set things up so you can easily get to the material that's most directly applicable to your situation. We'd recommend signing up for the trial and exploring some of the material. If you don't find at least a couple of things that interest you, we'd be pretty surprised.
References and Review Information
- Article formatting and layout: Bobby Kittleberger
- Proofreading: Millie Roark
- TrueFire Consultant: Zach Wendkos
- Review Format: Full Membership with Streaming Access
- Reviewed On: Macbook Air, iPad, iPhone and 27" iMac