Total Recall - The History of Total Accuracy Guitar Tuition

Bob Leggitt | Monday, 22 June 2020 |


Even the promotional giveaway audio cassettes from Total Accuracy came with a high quality chrome tape formulation. This 1993 promo features jam backings that include Rock & Roll by Led Zeppelin, and is still sounding solid and zingy nearly three decades on.

So, what did you do if you wanted to learn rock guitar in the days before you could just hop onto YouTube and find a queue of enthusiastic knowledgeables waiting to serve your wildest whim for free? It could be difficult. A lot of one to one tutors were ureliable, and/or out of touch with contemporary tastes - less "what do you want to learn?", and more "here's what I'm going to teach you"... And those who could really deliver were most likely seriously expensive, liable to prohibit lesson recording, etc.

Then there were instruction videos, which might be a better bet, since they properly covered your niche and could at least be replayed. But they were often fronted by stars, as opposed to teachers. High on flash; low on explanation. And there were two mightily important factors that both the video and live tutorial routes lacked: the motivation to practice, and a gateway into improvisation.

MISSION


Total Accuracy set out to change that with a jam-orientated approach to learning. An approach that would teach, but crucially, also provide the student with a resource for honing and developing what he or she had learned. It was a very simple idea, but a good one, and one no one had brought to the mass market before.

In the early 1990s, Total Accuracy introduced multimedia packs which would show guitarists how to play popular rock tracks via tablature and instruction. But additionally, the packs included fully arranged backing tracks for each number - importantly, minus the lead guitar part that the student was learning.


The classic presentation from the cassette era. Cassettes, CD and printed media all in one pack. By this time in 1993, each of these tuition packs cost £29.95.

If you've ever learned the guitar, you'll know how much more exciting (and thus motivational) it is if you can set your practice into the context of a complete musical arrangement. You'll also know that playing along with a professionally recorded backing does wonders for your timing and general proficiency. And if you're playing to a custom backing which has been specifically recorded minus your role, you have the freedom to experiment - to depart from the script a little. To improvise.

As someone who learned guitar to nationwide competition success level, I'd say that if you're intending to join a band, this "jam" approach was, and still is, the best way to knock your playing into shape. Jamming is the part that stops you becoming just another a clone, and prompts you to begin doing things your own way. Indeed, Total Accuracy quickly recognised that the jam backings were a product in their own right, and began releasing them as separate items, as well as part of the tuition packs.

HISTORY & TIMELINE


The Total Accuracy packs began to appear in UK adverts forward from the March 1991 issue of Guitarist magazine - which came out in mid February. The first ad, printed in hard black and white bi-tone with no pictorial content, boasted "THE HOTTEST NEW INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNIQUE IN YEARS!".

In Feb '91 there was only one pack available, which was simply called Total Accuracy, and featured 15 tracks by the popular electric guitar influences of the day, including Guns 'n' Roses, Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Gary Moore, Steve Vai, Dire Straits, Iron Maiden, Joe Satriani and ZZ Top. In spring '91, the company released Total Blues, which added work by Jeff Healey, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Peter Green, BB King, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan to the portfolio.

Over the next few years, the brand steadily built up its library of packs with more additions.

At launch, the default media for the full packs was CD, but the packs could also be bought on analogue cassette for the same price, which was £24.95. Promotional samples given away free to guitarists would, however, most likely be on audio cassette, since in the early 1990s there was still a significant number of people who didn't have CD players. This still applied at least as late as 1993.

And the first departure from the full tuition pack format came on cassette only. By spring 1991, Total Accuracy had also introduced two separate audio cassettes covering the basics of rock and blues playing. These tapes, which were broadly generic and did not teach specific tracks, were introduced at £6.95 each.

Actually, the Total Accuracy brand appeared to have been surprised by the amount of demand that still existed for tape. Their main pack's initial "Also available on cassette" footnote almost immediately progressed to separate product listings for the CD and the cassette version. And subsequently the packs were fused into one, containing both CDs and cassettes.

CD became the default media for UK guitar magazine audio giveaways in November 1994, when Total Guitar magazine launched with an integrated cover CD. Indeed, Total Accuracy found its way onto that Issue 1 cover CD (the first of its kind in the UK), with a jam track for Jimi Hendrix's Little Wing. But Total Accuracy's dual CD/cassette packs persisted until 1996, after which they went CD only. Now there's a perfect timeline encapsulation of the demise of analogue tape for you.


An ad for one of the separate jam backing products, prior to the Jamtrax branding - the Blues Jam Session.

At around the same time that Total Accuracy phased out the audio cassette format, they began introducing tuition videos on VHS. Tape was not quite dead. Presented by Stuart Bull, the videos traded on actual tuition value. As Total Accuracy put it...

"Many instructional videos are purely a showcase for the player, but these excellent videos are directed solely at improving your electric blues skills."

It was a shrewd observation and move, and the videos were popular. But as the second of these videos was launched around the beginning of 1997, competition was mounting from an even richer source of multimedia and interactivity.... CD-ROM.

The CD-ROMs were really Internet experiences exported client side, because the rate of web data transfer in the mid to late 1990s was too slow to handle a live program. Described as "on-line guitar tuition", Ubi Soft's Guitar Hits Learn & Play CD-ROMs were extremely well thought out, and on a single computer screen combined the salient points of video tuition with notation, tab, and a true interactive interface which let the player set their tempo. The onscreen volume control was even modelled on a white plastic Strat knob. And before you ask, no, it didn't go up to 11.

The CD-ROMs were, however, considerably more expensive than the Total Accuracy packs, and they did not offer anything like the library of material Total Accuracy was now covering. While Total Accuracy had moved onto Nirvana, Oasis, Pearl Jam and the Chilli Peppers, Guitar Hits were releasing The Beatles. However, things were set to get even tougher for brands like Total Accuracy, as guitar magazines now had their own CD-accompanied tuition sections. An entire 250-page guitar mag was only four quid, and the CD was thrown in for nothing. That must have been denting the tuition product market to some extent.

But there's a lot to be said for volume of content and organisation, and despite the ferocity of competition in the genre, Total Accuracy survived. By 1998, the brand was online, at totalaccuracy.co.uk, and by early 2000 the domain was redirecting visitors to the new jamtrax.com. But in 2002, the parent company - Road Rock International - set up the Licklibrary website, combining the two brands in the challenging world of online services. Here's how the site looked when it was new...


Screen shot edited to reduce height.

And it's still around, so you can compare that with the way it looks today. One would have to say that the story of Total Accuracy, from its beginnings as a unique offering with no direct competition, to its continued survival in the age of almost infinite tuition options, is quite remarkable. Any commercial entity that can survive in an era where the tech giants have pulled every stroke in the book to entice tutors/musicians into teaching/working for free, must have been doing something right.