With a simple invention, career musician James Lenger, now a resident of Sunset Beach, puts his students on the fast track to learning guitar.

Career guitar teacher James Lenger put his alone time during the pandemic to good use. He learned how to sew and finalized a couple of patents for his inventions, including Strum Perfect.

During his nearly 30 years of teaching guitar (that’s 90,000 private lessons), Lenger watched his students apply a “death grip” to their strumming hand, making it difficult to get the sound they were looking for.

“Most students, especially beginners, focus all of their concentration on finger placement,” Lenger explains. “And they struggle to make their rhythm sound relaxed. The strumming hand is what gives their playing its character.”

So, Lenger came up with a solution.

He first began working on Strum Perfect two years ago. The device locks the forearm in place, isolating the back-and-forth movement of the strumming hand, allowing students to learn much faster. Cutting the learning time helps motivate students to continue.

Strum Perfect James Lenger Brunswick NC

For Lenger, creating an individual experience for each student is also key to keeping learners engaged, no matter their age.

“One of the things I do, especially when a new student starts out, is have them write out every song they’ve ever wanted to learn to play,” he says. “Especially those songs, that when you hear them, the hair on the back of your neck stands up.”

Once Lenger knows what a student’s motivations are and what genres they’re interested in, he can help them create a “real experience,” even down to authentic equipment and instruments from different eras, including an original RCA ribbon microphone from the 1940s or a parlor guitar from the 1800s.

“Instead of going to a computer and pressing a button to recreate the sound, students can feel connected to the music in a real way,” he says.

Learning to play the guitar (or any instrument) is like learning a new language, he says. “You’re not going to understand the slang until you understand the structure of the language. I always start with the structure, while making it interesting and motivational.”

Brunswick NC Strum Perfect James Lenger

In 2006 Lenger founded the Guitar Cities music program in Chicago, where he taught business professionals in the financial districts how to play guitar. He expanded his instruction schools to New York, Birmingham, the United Kingdom and London. After building a successful program, he decided to sell the schools. And then, when COVID happened, he found the time he was looking for to devote to his invention — and the place.

Originally from High Point, North Carolina, Lenger moved to Sunset Beach after living in Chicago for the past 15 years.

“I knew I always wanted to end up back in North Carolina,” he says.

Looking to escape the big city during the pandemic, he found the perfect time to make the move.

He’d been developing the idea for Strum Perfect for a couple of years. During the pandemic, he bought a sewing machine and some basic tools and started working on this product. He says it works much like a golf swing trainer and helps students focus on technique — something he learned from his coaches while competing for Team USA in the Modern Pentathlon event.

“When I completed in fencing and swimming, my coaches put most of the emphasis on the technique for both events,” he says.

Strum Perfect Brunswick NC James Lenger

Now Lenger’s patent for Strum Perfect has been filed and approved, and he can add inventor to his already impressive resume. Additionally, he submitted a patent for another musical device he invented during COVID — a reinvention of a plate reverb.

With a passion for turning people into guitar players, Lenger says he’ll never stop teaching. He set up a workshop and recording studio at his home in Sunset Beach and is accepting adult students (and younger) who are interested in learning to play from scratch or just want to hone their existing skills.

“Like I said, I want everyone to have a real experience,” he says. “So, the lessons are basically catered to their interests and tastes.”

Strum Perfect is available online at strumperfect.com. If you’re interested in lessons, visit guitarsunsetbeach.com.

Photography by Laura Glantz