BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A 2021 43North winner is helping aspiring guitarists learn the instrument and stick with it through their patented LED system and accompanying software.
Fret Zealot — a product of Zealot Interactive — features a state-of-the-art LED system and over 3,500 online video lessons. In addition to individual song lessons, the product also offers over 100 full courses, including advanced courses teaching the specific styles of artists such as BB King or Eddie Van Halen.
Founder Shaun Masavage spoke with News 4 about the growth Zealot Interactive has seen since being named a winner in 43North’s competition and the success the startup has seen in Buffalo.
“First thing I’ll say, 43North was incredibly helpful for giving us the environment and the workroom capital to get us to a point where we could really scale our company,” he said. “We have an amazing product, we have an amazing foundation, ecosystem, but the challenge was just getting to the point where we could essentially just pump marketing dollars into it and get us to that next level.”
The company operates out of the Tri-Main Center in Buffalo, where they just established a brand new filming studio as well.
“Overall, I couldn’t be happier with Buffalo in general, we recommend it to all of our friends in the music industry. It’s just a great musical city. It’s really inspiring, even just going to a bar and seeing live music everywhere. There are three bands performing on my porch for Porch Fest, it’s just fantastic.”
According to Masavage, Fret Zealot just surpassed 30,000 active monthly users. He said Buffalo has been an amazing place to be able to increase the scale of the startup.
“Customers can get this paper-thin LED strip and attach it to their own guitar and it lights up to show finger positions in real time, with the video lessons on-screen, and they’re color-coded to your fingers,” he said. “What we’ve seen is that people learn five times as fast when they have the LEDs on their guitar, and it’s really cool to see that.”
With a degree in mechanical engineering, Masavage said Zealot Interactive expected and planned for the undertaking of the physical product. He said what they weren’t as prepared for were the challenges on the digital side.
“On the digital side of it, the software side, we couldn’t just create a ‘one-app-fits-all’ because we use Bluetooth, that was kind of the fun early discovery of it,” he said. “Managing all of the software updates for Android, iOS, and web is a big project.”
To date, Fret Zealot offers lessons for guitar, ukulele, and bass. Masavage said they hope to begin teaching lessons for other instruments, including piano, percussion, and vocals.
“Those will all have their own exciting pieces of technology that go along with that, but this was part of the plan,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many emails we’ve gotten where somebody says, ‘Do you have it for this, for this, for this?’ And ukulele was easy, bass was easy, but there are people saying ‘Do you have it for 10-string guitar?, Do you have it for a multi-scale eight-string guitar?’ You’ve got to kind of draw the line somewhere and say, ‘Maybe someday, but for right now, we’ve got to concentrate on the bigger markets.'”
He also shared that the company has some exciting things in the works that they plan to release later this year.
The company evolves based on feedback, and according to Masavage, a common response they’ve received is that people who have tried to learn an instrument for decades have had success with Fret Zealot.
“It took a lot of engineering to do this, it’s a flexible circuit board, it’s immensely complicated for going on an instrument, but it works and it’s what people need to actually break through that barrier,” he said. “And we’ve seen triple the industry retention rate for our customers. Three times fewer people fail to learn guitar with our system than anything else out there. And that’s what we’ve seen from growing this.”
In addition to the lesson-learning aspect of the software, Fret Zealot is able to get licensing rights from record labels to help its customers learn specific songs, which Masavage said is another advantage to the product.
“It’s been great to be customer-friendly, industry-friendly, and creator-friendly and build the industry as a whole, rather than just competing with everybody in it,” he said.
Masavage’s number one suggestion for those interested in the product? Sign up for a free trial at FretZealot.com, where people can also learn more about the company.
“When someone comes to our lessons, we’ve got 100 courses, but we don’t force anyone down a specific path,” he said. “What we are working on is: once somebody gets in there and uses the courses with just a few criteria for starting — we’ll make some suggestions, but we don’t force anyone into it.
“Everybody has their own way of learning and we’ve tried to embrace that. There’s not a right or a wrong way, let people choose their own path.”
Masavage, a Virginia native, called his move to the Queen City “wonderful” and said he is so excited for the future of the company in Buffalo.
Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.