For the purposes of this review, we signed for the one month ArtistWorks ‘$10 test drive’ (using the code TESTDRIVE), for which we paid $9.99.
We live in incredible times. Want to learn how to play like Carlos Santana? Well, head over to Masterclass.com and sign up to his lessons. Oh, and check out Tom Morello while you're there, and say 'hi' to Annie Clark for us won't you? Joe Bonamassa? He's waiting for you over on Truefire with Larry Carlton, Pat Martino and Sonny Landreth.
Back in the day, if you wanted to learn how to play like your heroes the only way was to keep dropping the needle on the vinyl until it wore so thin you could almost see through it. Nowadays, you just subscribe to an online guitar lessons site and wham, bam they're beamed directly into your living room.
Cost: 3 month plan, $35 per month; 6 month plan, $30 per month; 12 month plan, $23.25 per month
Thing is, it's all a bit one-way isn't it? The quality of these sites and their roster of educators is unquestionable, but if you get hung up on a certain rhythm, phrase or technique the video keeps rolling on regardless. Which is why we love to recommend local guitar teachers. Are they famous? Probably not. Are they there for you? Absolutely.
There is, however, another way. ArtistWorks is a video tutorial site that, if we're brutally honest, is much like the rest, but it does offer two standout features that make it pretty much unique. Firstly, there's a community of students and teachers, aka educators, that you can reach out to with your questions. Second, and most impressively, if you submit a video of yourself playing a piece or questioning aspects of a course then your teacher will respond with a video full of helpful advice and valuable insight.
To be fair, Truefire offers private lessons with its educators, but they're implemented slightly differently, carry an additional charge and rarely feature the big names. With ArtistWorks, this service is included within your subscription and gives you access to legendary guitarists such as Martin Taylor, Paul Gilbert, Jared James Nichols and Keith Wyatt.
ArtistWorks review: Schools and courses
Let's rewind slightly, and take a look at how ArtistWorks operates, because it works slightly differently to similar sites. Under its Courses menu you'll find about 50 titles taught by around 50 educators, which is impressive but seemingly only a fraction of what a site such as Truefire offers.
Delve a little deeper and you'll discover that these titles are, in fact, what ArtistWorks likes to refer to as 'schools'. There are schools for piano, mandolin, cello, French horn, trumpet and others but the dominant instrument by far is guitar. Thirteen schools are dedicated to our six-string favorite, including Electric Blues Guitar, Acoustic Classical Guitar, Electric Jazz Improv Guitar and even Acoustic Dobro & Lap Steel. Rest assured, our instrument of choice is well-served.
Each school is taught by a single educator, for example Martin Taylor teaches the entire Fingerstyle Jazz Guitar curriculum, and the content is comprehensive to say the very least. The Electric Blues Guitar school, taught by Keith Wyatt, comprises seven distinct sub-courses, including Fundamental, Intermediate and Advanced modules, and each of these can comprise up to 25 or more video lessons.
With this amount of content available, working through a school's entire curriculum could take months, if not years. Which is just as well, because unlike most other sites, your subscription only allows you access to one school. Initially, this seemed a bit churlish to me, but speaking as a guitarist who tends to flit from one course to another, cherry-picking the best bits while learning very little, I now recognize that this imposed structure is a good thing. If I'm going to learn blues guitar then I need to buckle down and do just that, rather than get side-tracked with bits of rock, jazz, trumpet and goodness knows what else.
This slavish dedication to a single genre also enables you to better get to know your teacher, and your teacher to get to know you. Invest in a six-month plan and you can upload up to 12 videos for your teacher's attention. Pay $100 more and you can upload an unlimited number.
What about the standard of teaching? I dipped into Keith's Electric Blues Guitar school and couldn't be happier – he is without doubt one of the most experienced guitar teachers on the planet. There are, however, a couple of caveats. Videos can be slowed, and sections looped but, unlike some of the competition, there's only one camera angle shown at a time, which can sometimes make it hard to see exactly what Keith's playing. ArtistWorks also lacks other niceties, such as live tab/notation and an animated fingerboard.
ArtistWorks review: Video feedback
On to ArtistWorks’ primary strength. Submit a video of your playing and it, together with your teacher's response, will be posted to the Video Exchange library for you (and every other student within your school) to see. Watching others play the pieces you're trying to master, followed by the teacher's comments, is both fun and helpful but submitting your own video for the first time takes some courage.
But it's worth it. In the past seven years Keith has responded to more than 5,000 submissions, so I was expecting to watch short, somewhat cursory videos from the great man but no. Many of his critiques are highly detailed and typically run to about eight minutes – some even last for more than 15! This guy clearly takes a great interest in his students.
You can also converse with Keith and other students on your school's forum pages or talk with them using the Shoutbox facility, which is ArtistWorks' messaging app. I didn't get to discover how quickly some of the other teachers respond to these communications, but invariably Keith was on the ball.
All this interaction comes at a price. Sign up to Fender Play and it'll cost you about $90 a year, but you'll be on your own. With ArtistWorks you'll get one-to-one support, but it'll cost you three times that amount – just over $5 a week.
However, to put that into perspective, that's less than the cost of a couple of lattes. You always wanted to kick caffeine anyway…