For Those About To Rock The Jamstik, We Salute You

I love stringed MIDI instruments. After messing with the gTar two years ago I’ve been looking for the perfect portable MIDI device that allows me to meld my inability to play keyboards with my sub-par guitar skills. Perhaps I’ve finally found my perfect match.

We first met the Jamstik last year and I’ve been waiting to get my hands on a unit since. The team is finally shipping and they sent me a very early model. While I find that the Jamstik suffers from many of the same problems any MIDI guitar would have – namely a tendency to drop notes and reward good form over sloppy fretting – for an experienced player on the road it could be a real and useful tool.

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I preface all of my guitar posts with the caveat that I am not a very good player and that I exhibit far more gusto than skill. Therefore my tests are limited in scope and I suspect a real guitarist would have a far better time with this ukulele-sized instrument. With that said, let’s move on.

The Jamstik is essentially a stringed instrument that picks up the image of your fingertips on the fretboard. A special cam system allows you to bend notes (with difficulty) and there is even a method to add vibrato. The device connects via Wi-Fi to compatible iOS apps and can plug directly into your computer via USB to recharge the internal battery and connect to MIDI apps. It costs $299 and is shipping now.

Who is it for? First it’s a great practice guitar. Although you only get a fraction of the neck, a D-pad on the side allows you to move up and down the octaves and, more importantly, most of the major stuff is going to be situated around a three to four fret range. While you’re not going to be shadowing Santana note for note with this thing, you can at least practice your rhythm guitar. The kit even comes with iOS apps that interact seamlessly with the Jamstick including JamMix, a sequencer/recorder, and JamTutor, a teaching app.

It’s also for guitar players who prefer to compose on the fretboard rather than the keyboard. I could see this as an all-purpose way for a dedicated to guitarist to connect, quietly, to her laptop and create songs on the go. If you get good enough at this – and there are people who can get good at this thing – then you have a true multi-instrument in a box that is about as big as a baguette. It’s 16 inches long, supremely portable, and a lot of fun to play.

So how does it sound? As I said before, don’t base your decision on my playing. I tried a standard blues lick as well as a G-C-D strum fest and got the following two recordings.

This is what a real player can do:

I am still excited about the Jamstik. It’s a compact, usable, and fun musical instrument that works well for beginners and experts. Sadly, folks like me might be frustrated by some of the features and, although latency is a non-issue, the fret sensing for sloppy guitarists might be a deal-breaker. However, once you realize what this truly is – a keyboard you can play like a guitar – then you come to understand how to play the device and get the most out of its sound.

It took a while for the Jamstik to hit the market and I’m glad it did. It’s a great little instrument and truly points to an interesting future for the acoustic and electronic musician. It takes a while to get good but, like any instrument, practice makes perfect.