Are you a music lover with a burning desire to carry a tiny guitar wherever you go? Don't fret (Ha! See what we did there?), because Avon-based inventor Mark Roebke has created just the thing: the FretPen! What is the FretPen? It's a pen - just a normal pen - that doubles as a teensy guitar. "But Backbeat!" you may be screaming to yourself, "How can I play guitar on a pen?!" Ah-ha! That's the genius behind this little guy. Plug in a bluetooth extension, and you can play your FretPen via an iOS device.
If you're a musician, or if you know/live with a musician, you may have noticed a tic that's common to everyone from drummers to bass players: they tap on everything constantly. Roebke hopes to channel that annoying tic with FretPen and gives it a purpose. The pen features a wooden fretboard with three steel frets, and the design mimics the spacing on a traditional guitar. Using just the pen, unplugged, folks can practice their fingering and build dexterity. By plugging in the bluetooth-enabled guitar body, users can connect to an app in their iphones to actually hear the results.
FretPen is, at this moment, in pre-production. The team that created it has a Kickstarter page where they're offering perks for donations that range from stickers and shwag up to a chance to fly to Seattle to hang out with Queensryche (who are surprisingly enthusiastic about this thing). The fundraising is ongoing through the end of the month, and as of the first week they're about a third of the way toward their goal.
Mark Roebke, the brains behind FretPen, is affable and easy-going. A start-up techie by day, he also plays in a band in Vail in his spare time. "I'm one of those guys that went to the college counselor and said, 'I don't want an internship, I want to be a rockstar!'," he says, "But all the other guys in my band quit after college and I thought, 'Oh crap, I have to figure out what to do with myself." Roebke has found success in the tech world, and he's looking for more with the FretPen
Roebke says the idea for the FretPen came to him pretty simply. "I was at home working on a music piece and I was really close to having it nailed -- in guitar playing there's lots of muscle memories. It's second nature. So I was really close, but my phone dinged and I had to head to the office for a meeting. I was driving there thinking, 'It sucks I had to leave when I was so close to nailing it.'" The idea of a pen stemmed from its ubiquity. You can take a pen anywhere. It is small, it can fit in your pocket, it won't get confiscated at an airport. And he took his time on the design to make sure it aligned with a real guitar. "It's literally like a chunk of a guitar neck that got cut out," he says.
Roebke sees the FretPen as a useful tool in a lot of different applications. He said he'd love to walk past an airport gate one day and see people playing on their FretPens instead of getting high scores on Words With Friends. He especially sees it as useful for young kids who are just getting into guitar playing. "[High] school's a tough place for a lot of people," he says, and having that extra connection to music wherever you go could be a really positive thing for young people.
At this point, all the manufacturing work has been done in Colorado, and Roebke is proud of that. As for whether that model is sustainable in the long-term, he's not so sure. He's happy that all the intellectual property, and all the things that will make the FretPen iconic, have been produced in Colorado. But if FretPen takes off, it may be difficult to manufacture the entire device in the state. Still, it's an option he's exploring.
But still, it's a really tiny guitar, and that's weird and funny, right? Is it a toy, or is it a tool? We asked Roebke if the goal was to jump on the Guitar Hero bandwagon, and he was very clear that though it's really fun, this is a tool for experienced guitar players who want to practice away from home, and for folks who are just learning. "It's not a joke, and we didn't want to replicate Guitar Hero. It's a very real experience in a very tiny package." Rock on, tiny guitar enthusiasts.