First Hands-On With The Incident Tech gTar

I was lucky enough to get Incident Tech’s new gTar, a MIDI/DSP-based guitar that is perfect for both teaching and composition. The guitar, with the current software and feature set, isn’t quite the shredder’s dream – yet – but as a teaching system it’s excellent and I found it quite playable both “live” and while recording MIDI music.

To be clear, this is not an electric guitar with built-in pickups. You can’t plug it into an amp and go all Van Halen on your basement without an iPhone or iPod. Instead, the guitar outputs MIDI signals for each string and fret and can either connect directly to an app like Garage Band or Logic or you can connect it to an amp via the headphone-out jack. The gTar also has a series of embedded LEDs in the neck and, using your iPhone or iPod, you can play along to a preset number of open source and licensed songs. A free play mode turns the iPod into a mini amp with multiple instruments and a custom light show maker.

I haven’t had the chance to really sit down with the gTar and the attendant iOS app to really understand it fully but from my brief interactions I’ve found it to be far cooler than I originally imagined. Given that it has a full set of real, tunable steel strings coupled with a unique fret and vibration sensor, it seems to me like the perfect way for a guitarist to branch out into electronic composition without much fuss or cost.

I did see a bit of lag in the iOS app, especially when in Free Play mode, and the audio quality wasn’t excellent coming out of the tinny speakers. However, once I connected the auxiliary output, I saw better performance. This, for example, is how it sounds plugged right into the microphone jack and recorded to Garage Band.

You’ll notice just a bit of lag and some bum notes when I strum but for the most part I’m able to play normally and the guitar and phone keep up. There are two ways to strum the strings. You can either use a standard plectrum that, for the most part, works well or you can use a more precise metal plectrum, called the SmartPick, which closes a circuit and ensures the MIDI output is a bit cleaner. Most guitarists would probably steer clear of a metal pick, but it’s your choice.

Plugging the guitar via USB directly into Garage Band, on the other hand, gives a direct MIDI signal that allows me to do stuff like this:

Because it outputs digital data, you can change the “voices” on the fly and add effects and delays. The iOS app has a number of built-in effects including distortion and chorus and you control the level with the lightpad that appears on the phone screen.

Given the limited time I’ve had with this thing I’m loath to make a final judgement but as it stands I’m quite impressed with this 1.0 release and look forward to seeing what Incident has in store both in terms of on-board firmware improvements and in improvements to the iOS app. As it stands, however, the gTar is very playable and very fun.