You might have noticed that I have a bit of a soft spot for MIDI guitars. Probably my lack of aplomb while playing an actual guitar led me to the notion that a MIDI guitar might let me get away with some help from a synthesizer or computer and start sounding like I knew what I was doing. To that end I've tried most variants on the idea of a stringed instrument which can trigger other electronic sound sources. Some have cost way more than I care to admit, others less so, but curiously their performance has never correlated very well with their price. Some crazy ambitious custom-built guitars with neural network processing have failed miserably whereas one or two plastic efforts have come close to being useful.
What is constant however, is the fact that if you get hold of a stringed MIDI device and start wailing on it like you would a real guitar it is never going to work out well. The physics of a vibrating string are totally different from the on/off nature of a keyboard press or drum hit. Techniques like bending strings, hammering on/off or tapping can freak out a system of digitization which has to convert all these deeply analog gestures into a stream of discrete computer bits. So the inevitability of things is that to get anything remotely satisfying from a MIDI guitar, the player is forced to adapt their playing style to the strengths and weaknesses of the device in hand.
"So why bother ....? " is the cry often heard after 3 minutes with a MIDI guitar attempting to wrestle a Mark Knoffler solo from it. "I can play a guitar, but I can't play this thing ...".
For me the answer is that if you want to just play a guitar, don't pick up a stringed MIDI controller at all! Play your actual guitar and stop yelling. However generaing a MIDI signal from an instrument you already have a feel for can be hugely rewarding. Sure you can use it to trigger guitar samples on a synth, sampler or physical modeling program ... but why ? You've already got a guitar and a million amps and pedals thanks to $30 worth of iOS apps. The real treasure is being able to play a piano, an organ, an oboe ( hell, all of them at once!) ... trigger a sequence of arpeggios using the timing habits you've already developed in your pick hand... record your notes into a sequencer for later editing. As I've said don't play the MIDI Guitar as if it were a guitar ... it's not... but explore it on its own terms. Give some thought to the instrument it is triggering and experience something new. Familiar... but new.
Somewhere back in the Unstringed archives I reviewed the original JamStik. I thought it had great potential and certainly lent itself to the iOS ecosystem. It was portable, battery powered, WiFi enabled and combined real strings along with a system of note detection not previously seen. But now Zivix have released it's successor, the JamStik+. They've kindly provided Unstringed with a review unit and I'm happy to say it's a huge step forward.