The Fretlight Guitar has gone through a few revisions since its creation in the early 90s. At the time of this article's publishing, Optek Music Systems, Inc. only produces and supports the most current 400 and above series Fretlight guitars. The good news is that most future developments from here will be backward compatible to the 400 Series, as it is now built upon the infrastructure of backward compatible USB.
Here is a brief description of each Fretlight Series:
The Fretlight 100 & 200 Series: The neck had holes drilled through the wood to place LED lights inside and were then covered with clear discs. The LEDs were thus quite visible even when the lights were turned off. The 200 was powered by plugging it into a conventional wall outlet, and the lights were controlled by knobs on the body. Functionality of the light system was limited to display only 16 Scales and 16 chord types in any key, and individual notes.
The Fretlight 300 Series: (Otherwise known as the SmartLIGHT Guitar) This utilized an early technology to connect the guitar to a computer. The guitar required an external hardware interface box and connected via a serial port. The neck had holes drilled through the top similar to the 200 series.
The Fretlight 400 Series: This guitar series made a paradigm shift in two ways. First, the neck surface changed from wood to an advanced polymer that was translucent enough for the lights to shine clearly though, yet looked like seamless dark wood when the lights were turned off. (No more holes drilled through the next.) Second, the 400 went to the USB technology to allow connection to any computer without the need for any other external hardware. Computers recognize the Fretlight 400 Series guitar as a UID (User Interface Device) no different than it recognizes your mouse or keyboard. The functionality of the LEDs also increased, allowing for the ability to play specific songs, and allowing for a more complete list of chords and scales. (over 3,000 chords and over 500 scales actually.)
The Fretlight 500 Series: This guitar series has had its internal electronics upgraded to an all-new Sonix Flash chipset, complete with on-board capability for future growth, and fully compatible with all existing Fretlight software. The new high efficiency electronics produce the brightest and most consistent LED lights ever. Whether you’re lighting a simple riff, or a scale across the entire fretboard, the lights will maintain a consistent brightness.
Additionally, all FG-500 guitars have a Stratabond™ neck. Stratabond is a state-of-the-art engineered hardwood that yields uncommon strength and rigidity across ever changing environmental conditions. Perfect for a guitar necks that are susceptible to expansion and contraction due to varying humidity levels. The FG-500’s Stratabond birch neck will provide very consistent performance for years to come.
The Fretlight 5 Series: These guitars are designed specifically for the beginner player - lights only in the first 5 frets (and the nut) show you exactly where to put your fingers to play songs, riffs, chords and scales. The 5 is a tonally balanced full sized guitar that looks and sounds great.