Fretboard Heatmaps:
A Lifetime of Playing in One Graphic

Saw this today on the Guardian‘s site: A clever programmer named Joe Cannatti decided to visualize the fretwork of a 22 well-known players. He used Ruby on Rails code to search the internet for tablature files, and then depicted the data as “fretboard heatmaps” — fretboard graphics with frequently played notes depicted in red. (The redder the note, the more frequently the player uses it.)


You can also view these visualizations on Cannatti’s website, which includes more details about how they were created.

I predict that, like me, you’ll find the results interesting but not surprising. Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield chunk a lot of low E. (James once told me that he could never play a guitar without a low E-string, adding that the only features he finds lacking in his guitars are beer holders of the type found on boats.) Dave Matthews loves open-position D chords. B.B. King doesn’t play many low notes — he’s got a band for that. Satch and Vai are busy beavers, their fretboards a smear of pink.

No less predictable: Damn, we guitarists can be argumentative know-it-alls! Check out the Guardian’s comments section, where dozens of players screech that the data is either meaningless or faulty.

I disagree. These results ring true to me. I’d be shocked if you were to examine the instruments of the guitarists in question and not find exactly the fret-wear patterns suggested here.

So what would your fretboard heatmap look like?

5 comments to Fretboard Heatmaps:
A Lifetime of Playing in One Graphic

  • Tom Watters

    This is so cool!

  • Digital Larry

    I like it. Reminds me a bit of the part of Harry Olson’s “Music, Physics, and Engineering” (called “Statistical Analysis of Musical Compositions”), where he analyzes everything Stephen Foster ever wrote and comes up with an algorithm for creating Stephen Foster “type” melodies. Basically, it goes off the premise “if the current note is X, the likelihood that the next note is (list all the notes) is as follows…”

    Olson’s book is pretty cool although really dated (first published in 1967). And of course Amazon has it!

  • Oinkus

    Wow, the comments are pretty brutal , yet again musical type people showing their self-centered viewpoint. Good thing I am an Everlastingknowitall with chops of steel and fingers of flaming brilliance !

  • Oinkus

    If I wasn’t an asshole I wouldn’t be anything ?

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