So what's new? Plenty as it turns out.
Physically the JamStik+ is the same as the Jamstik V1. Same size, same batteries (with a huge battery life!), same string set up ... oh ... but color! Yes you can snag a JamStik+ in Black, Blue or White. No tobacco-sunburst yet, but it's a nice refinement and if history is any judge it worked wonders for the iMac!
To me the most significant improvements to the JamStik + are the inclusion of a real guitar pickup (hexaphonic) and the substitution of a BlueTooth wireless connection to your iOS Device instead of the original WiFi based one.
In my playing the pickup enables far superior detection of string picking and strumming than was the case on the original JamStik. That's not to say the older unit was bad, but the new iteration just feels more immediate and gives me real sense of cause and effect between striking a string and a note emerging. It's a significant confidence booster! The Bluetooth? Well it is now so much easier to initiate a connection between iPad and JamStik. The WiFi model worked by becoming it's own WiFi Hotspot after power-up. The iPad then had to be switched to join this Network and then the JamStik software connected the two devices. I don't know if my iPad has flakey WiFi performance, but I often had trouble finding the JamStik network and note triggering would occasionally 'hang' or delay. Zivix support were great, even replacing my unit with another, which was better, but never trustworthy. Along with all the WiFi issues with iOS8/Mavericks and the fact that from my location my devices fight over at least 15 WiFi signals, I eventually retreated to using a wired USB connection... which worked great! But with the new Bluetooth, just power up, run the JamStik + application and select the JamStik. Done... and done every time! Plus the iPad's network connection is still available to bother you with emails, texts and stock tips.
It's a win-win for convenience, no question, but there is a downside. Unfortunately it seems the connection via Bluetooth just isn't as fast as WiFi. There is a small latency introduced between playing the Jamstik+ and hearing it's audio output from the iPad. I tested extensively using the Jamstik+ App as a sound source (more on that later) to exclude other factors introduced by an app's MIDI implementation and found that I could adjust pretty easily to playing quarter to eighth note timing at slow to mid tempos. But as soon as I attempted sixteenth note, or triplet timing, things got hard. The ear-brain-hand loop (at least mine) just gets confused with the small delay and my playing fell apart quickly. Perhaps practice might improve matters, but as I wrote earlier, I think we are running into the limits of the technology and playing style must be adapted to fit. Plugging directly into the JamStik's USB connector makes the issue go away so there is a good workaround and all things considered I definitely prefer the new bluetooth configuration. For general, fun playing it works well.
The App that makes the whole JamStik system work has also had a major refresh. In fact Jamstik+ has a brand new app available for free download from the Apple App Store (sorry it's not compatible with the original JamStik ). Fortunately for my mind, it's simply called Jamstik+ and it contains some awesome improvements over and above the clean new layout which is much, much better than before.
Firstly the internal sound-set provided has seen a major quality boost and a nice little GUI selector wheel to make choosing a noise even more pleasurable. There are 26 patches ranging from nice guitar sounds ( acoustic, steel string, electric, 12-string, wah and an interesting short chord-per-note variation ) as well as strings, pads, bass, a sax, some drums and more. No piano which is interesting, but maybe Zivix are leaving that to others (it's not easy! ).
Digging into the settings reveals important new features to assist in configuring the JamStik to play nice with whatever sound sources you'd like. Remember it's an electronic stringed instrument (not a guitar!) and depending on what you are trying to accomplish you'll need to tweak how it behaves. So, right up front on the main page there is a button to engage string pitch-bend (you'll need to adjust the receiving device to decide the bend range), a toggle to activate the new 'tap mode' ( just fret the strings to trigger notes and to slide between notes .. no strumming required ) and the very handy 'Single Channel' switch to set the JamStik+ to MIDI Ch 1 on all strings rather than the default MIDI CH 1-6 ( one channel per string ).
The one button missing in this lineup is the "Enable Hammer On" toggle which is inexplicably tucked away in the App's General Settings page. At last this functionality is here and it makes a huge difference to playing certain types of sound. Care is required though. It's easy to hammer-flick that finger on a fret get a lot of MIDI notes flying around with little information for the sound generator to know when to stop them! Zivix have of course risen to the occasion and come up with some smarts to help tame the beast. Firstly there's a delay setting to tell the JamStik+ just how close in time notes should occur to be considered a valid "hammer". Setting this to a short value prevents false notes from sloppy fingering! Then there's a "String Hold Time" which sets how long ringing notes should sound before being silenced. The default is 7 seconds but it can be varied from 1-20 seconds. It's a huge refinement and makes it possible to tune the JamStik+ to meet the task at hand. Top marks! There's also MIDI Note Velocity adjustment, a setup for left handers and per-string transpose options ( not shown ) for alternate tunings. A MIDI Modulation mode is also present though to be honest the MIDI output was a bit confusing to me. It's a great idea to perhaps use the JamStik's palm-mute switch to send Modulation data and this can be configured, but my results were inconsistent. Zivyx are investigating and I'll report back when I understand what's going on! (Oh.. I wish I could save and load these Settings configurations too ...).
Speaking of alternate tunings the App ships with a whole raft of presets for you to try, not to mention basic Chord and Scale libraries. These scales and chords all display on the lower half of the GUI which contains a very easy to read representation of the JamStik fretboard. Even better, the display reflects your fretted fingering positions in real time as you play. Kind of Guitar Hero in reverse! It's a very useful function especially for scale-blind players like me! I can call up the diagram of a desired scale, pick a key and actually see where I'm playing in relation to the scale as I do it! As adverse as I am to 'dots on lines' displays, this is cool. The Scales offered are basic Major, Minor and Pentatonic, but I hope Zivix update us with some Blues, Jazz and more exotic options. It's a really fun way to explore!
So, now there are two Jamstik options. The Original WiFi Based JamStik for $199 and the new JamStik+ at $299. It's my feeling that the more complete package of hardware and software is represented by the newer model. If you want to use this device with any kind of DAW, for triggering samples or as a handy guitar simulator while travelling, at work or on the can ... the extra $100 is well spent. If you just want to dip your toe into the stringed MIDI controller 'scene' (lol) then I'd be on the look out for a cheap used Original JamStik because there's going to be plenty of people selling for the upgrade. I've got one here ... anyone?