What to do when playing in the dark and you can’t see the frets? Or, even worse, temporarily blinded by stage spotlights? Nothing worse than a screaming bum-note or wrong chord ’cause you can’t see what you’re doing, right? I’m sure we’ve all had a moment like that at some point in time. But what can we do to avoid it?
In terms of actually modifying your instrument, the cheapest way is to make your side dots either bigger or more reflective, or both. Some people use a white or metallic ink marker. Some use plain white labels or stickers, which are generally lighter and more reflective than clay or pearl. Those with maple necks or fingerboards will usually go for something dark, i.e. black. Cheap, cheerful, easy to remove but do be careful that adhesive or ink solvents don’t damage your finish. The down side is that some people just don’t like the look.
Another option is something luminescent. There are glow-in-the-dark stick-on dots, and also more permanent dots, to replace your existing dots (which will of course need drilling out). But luminescent dots tend not to stay bright for very long without recharging from another light source. As with most phosphorescent materials, they are brightest for a short time only. I’d suggest trying stick_ons first, before going for anything that would involve permanent modification.
The most visually impressive option is to have LEDs built into your guitar neck. It looks cool, you have a choice of colours, brightness can even be controlled on some models, and there is the great advantage of staying bright for as long as the battery is good. Of course, installing as after-market on a existing guitar possibly involves removing the fingerboard and drilling and routing the neck to install the electronics, and then rebuilding the guitar neck again. Not a job for the faint of heart!
Personally, I’d just go and practice playing with my eyes shut. Seriously, there is no substitute for training your “mind’s eye“. Try running scales or melodies up and down one or two strings, and practising lots of barre chords changes to different positions. They are a worthwhile exercise and with a little time, bum notes in the dark will be a thing of the past, or at very least far less common. You’ll also improve your listening and reaction abilities.