September 19, 2006

Virtual guitar site amps up with LAMP

Author: Tina Gasperson

Chordbook.com is a virtual playground for guitarists. The site is one of the most popular guitar chord databases on the 'Net, and was once listed as one of the BBC's top 10 educational sites. Chordbook.com features an interactive database of chords and a unique "virtual guitar" that allows users to visualize chord fingerings and hear chords as they should sound by "strumming" the virtual guitar. Glasgow guitarist Bob Melrose created the site as a hobby, using Adobe Flash on top of Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP.

"It has been a huge success," Melrose says, "which I didn't expect when it was first designed." He says that chordbook.com began as a "hobby project. [I was] learning to use Flash and simply thought it would be great if I could model a virtual guitar and stick it online." He couldn't find a domain similar to "virtual guitar," but chordbook.com was available.

"I liked the domain name, then decided it might be sensible to add a MySQL database of chords and hook it up with the virtual guitar. All the chordbooks online a few years ago were very techy, static affairs. The philosophy was to make it more friendly, fun, and realistic."

Visitors to the site can choose between an electric or acoustic guitar. Other options include a choice between a left- or right-handed guitar, or the ability to fit the virtual guitar with a capo, a piece of equipment specifically designed to temporarily raise the pitch of some or all of the strings at the same time. There's also a virtual guitar scale generator that guitarists can use to develop improvisational solos, and a tuner that allows for non-standard tunings.

Melrose admits that back in 2000 when he first began developing chordbook.com as a LAMP-based site, he was a "bit green" in his coding skills. "When I started out six years ago, I had no experience in Web design, development, or programming of any kind. Building chordbook.com really helped me develop my skills. I roped in a friend, Gil Murray, to help design the database and the basic application. It's gone through several upgrades to this point." While Melrose focuses on PHP and Flash, Murray handles the MySQL apps and coding in C++.

Since the inception of chordbook.com, Murray has launched a full-blown Web development business called Soulbat, offering design, hosting, and domain registration, in addition to PHP development. "We're pretty much booked solid most of the time," he says. "Open source is definitely what we like here. I'm very much into LAMP. I marvel at the amount of good, free stuff available on the Web, from scripts to applications, and I am glad to be able to contribute something to the pot by providing a useful free service."

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