Denny Zager is part of the legendary recording duo "Zager & Evans" who wrote “In The Year 2525,” the #1 song of 1969 and the biggest one-hit wonder of any artist at any time in recording history selling over 20 million records world wide.
You may have seen Denny featured in Time Magazine, Newsweek Magazine, and The New Yorker. Denny has been asked to make numerous television appearances including The Tonight Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dick Cavett Show, Top Of The Pops, The Music Scene with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and he was also one of the few musicians asked to play at Woodstock in 1969 with Jimmy Hendrix, Santana, and The Grateful Dead.
How It All Began
Denny began playing guitar in 1949 at the age of 6 years old. He taught himself how to play the hard way...listening to songs on the radio and practicing hours every day. Years later he began writing his own material getting local air play and at the age of 15 had the #1 song in the 4 state area.
Over the next few years he put together several well known local bands..."The Devilles" and "The Eccentrics." When looking for a guitar player for the Eccentrics Denny discovered Rick Evans and soon after they formed their own duo "Zager & Evans" who produced "In The Year 2525."
After touring around the world Denny came back to his roots in Nebraska and focused on his one true passion...the guitar. If you know the music industry you've probably noticed that some people are in the business for fame and fortune while others are there for the love of the music.
Denny simply loved playing guitar, and performing was an avenue that allowed him to do it. Unfortunately Denny was never comfortable in the spotlight which is why he retired from performing and began doing what he loved most ...creating music and showing others how to do it.
The Zager Learning System
In 1972 Denny began teaching his son how to play and decided there had to be a better way to learn guitar then using the old boring notes and scales routines. Denny was never able to grasp those methods because he suffered from dyslexia. (A condition in which the brain reads things out of order) He wanted to create a system that was exciting and focused around playing by ear…the same way pro musicians played.
Denny began creating a system that was unlike anything ever seen before. Instead of tedious hours of reciting notes and scales, Denny’s system focused on showing the student how to play a song right away.
Denny remembered one of his most exciting moments growing up was the day he could play a really popular song that was on the radio. He would play this song for his friends and this excitement and sense of accomplishment fueled his passion for the guitar even greater.
Learning By Ear
Denny’s guitar system focused on learning by ear (like the pros played) but he simplified it like the paint by number coloring books you used as a child. The spaces labeled 1 you painted yellow, the spaces labeled 2 you painted blue, and so on, and when you finished you didn’t know exactly how you did it but you had a beautiful picture that was well beyond your natural abilities.
Denny's Guitar system was the same in that it was extremely easy to use and showed anyone how to play guitar and sound far beyond their natural abilities in a very short period of time.
Students would say "The music's flowing naturally from my fingers… but I don’t know how I'm doing it!" Denny's guitar system tapped into that subconscious part of our brain that scientist’s say we gain all our power from but rarely use.
From 1972 to 2000 (almost 3 decades) Denny taught thousands of people how to play using his revolutionary guitar method, constantly tweaking his system making it easier to use.
If you were a resident of Nebraska or the tri state area and played guitar during that time there was a very high likelihood that you learned to play using the Zager Guitar method.
Zager EZ-Play Guitars
Teaching thousands of people how to play over a 30 year time span Denny noticed that if there was one thing holding his students back it was always the guitars they were trying to learn with.
Denny began working on guitars in the late 1960's when he was having problems playing because his fingers were sore. He was making mistakes missing chords because his fingers couldn't take the abuse of practicing during the day and performing at night.
Denny spoke with the largest guitar manufacturers in the U.S. and even had his guitars "set up" by guitar luthiers (people who build guitars) yet he was still dissatisfied with his guitars playability.
Denny finally decided to take matters into his own hands and began modifying his guitar in a way that had never been done before.
The 10 Year Rebuild
In 1969 Denny rebuilt the neck on his guitar giving it a low oval shape unlike any guitar on the market at that time.
In 1970 he replaced the frets using a softer, smaller gauge of fret wire.
In 1971 he began testing saddles and by 1972 he had created a custom saddle which he matched with a custom designed nut.
In 1973 he began lowering string heights and realized how much easier his guitar played when his strings were lower on the fret board.
In 1974 he tested bracing systems and how they affected sound quality. Soon after he created his own bridge design as he realized he could produce more volume matching his bridge to his custom bracing system.
In 1975 he tested string gauges and how they not only affected sound quality, but also playability.
In 1977 he experimented with string spacing and how much faster he could move on the fret board when the strings were properly spaced.
Over a 10 year period Denny had literally rebuilt his guitar from scratch, and the results were astounding. After comparing the biggest brands on the market he realized playability on his guitars was improved approximately 50%.
Not only that, his guitars sounded richer, clearer, and more robust. Over the next decade Denny would continue testing, constantly revising and upgrading his guitars, and it wasn't before long that his students began using them.
The results Denny's students had with these guitars was incredible. Chords and measures that once took weeks to learn were now mastered in days.
Using the Zager teaching method his students were already learning at a rate faster then any other, but when combined with Denny’s custom guitars their learning curve skyrocketed.
Denny realized his students were able to practice 3 to 5 times longer simply because their fingers were no longer in pain.
Denny also discovered from his own playing that he could do things on his guitars that he couldn’t do on other guitars. Riffs and chords that seemed impossible before were now easy. The speed at which he moved on the fret board increased significantly and he became a much better player.
Veteran players were now demanding his guitars because they could play longer, move faster, and enjoy playing more.
Over the next 20 years Denny built and reworked thousands of guitars and honed his skills eventually launching his own brand of "EZ-Play" guitars.
In the late 1990's with the advent of the Internet Denny's son (Dennis Jr.) came up with the idea of putting together a guitar web site where players of all levels could learn from his fathers 60 years of experience via a library of videotaped guitar lessons. It would also give players the opportunity to try Denny's custom guitars.
The web site was an immediate hit. Thousands of players from all over the world began learning from Denny "online" and ordering his guitars.
Denny attributes the success of his web site to the 30 years of fine tuning he did on his inventions teaching thousands of students locally.
"My guitars and learning system had already been used successfully by thousands of players for over 3 decades...The Internet was simply an avenue for more players to find me."
Today Denny is recognized as one of the premier guitar luthiers in the United States. He's spent over 40 years refining his "Science" to a level that professional musicians and guitar builders consider absolutely astounding.
One company (one of the oldest acoustic guitar makers in the world) recently reviewed a Zager guitar and proclaimed it to be "one of the easiest playing guitars they had ever tested."
Denny plans to work on more guitars with his son Dennis Jr. launching several new models for 2023. Denny also plans on spending more time in the recording studio creating new lessons for his online guitar lesson library.