I've been fascinated by MIDI guitars for ages. The guitar is only instrument I can play worth a crap but keyboards, particularly synthesizers , have always held a great attraction to me. And why not... they have knobs and sliders and flashing lights... and create noises that make it sound like I know what i'm doing when in fact I'm randomly holding down two keys. What's not to like?
The promise of the MIDI guitar controller has always been for a guitarist to get some control over a keyboard based musical devices. Essentially to play any electronic MIDI enabled electronic sound source ( Piano, synth, drums, strings ... ) without having to learn! Good theory. The spanner in the works is that most attempts at creating a MIDI guitar besides being very expensive haven't exactly ...er... worked very well. I've tried many, from purpose built units to fancy pickups stuck to regular guitars running into processors and more exotic tries involving switches on fretboards and 'rubber' strings. All succeed at some level, but most failed at being a technology which enabled a player to produce the right note at the right time every time! In the end ( for me ) it's always ended up being too much trouble to warrant the time and expense.
Enter Jamstik. I've had my eye on this little device for a while ... as soon as it showed up as a Kickstarter project a while ago. The promise of a stringed and fretted guitar analog, combined with built-in WiFi connectivity to an iDevice which already hosts a plethora of excellent inexpensive sound sources and recording platforms seemed irresistible to me. So I finally decided to plunk down and see if the JamStik does what it says on the box!
At $250 the Jamstik is not an impulse purchase ... but its cheaper than the Apple Watch will be, and I guarantee is WAY more fun! It's not a toy though. It is plastic, but solid with a positive feel that doesn't give any sense of snapping in two from the 6 real, heavy gauge guitar strings installed! They may only be 15 inches long but they are the real deal and strum, pick and fret pretty much as you'd expect on an itty-bitty guitar. If your fingers are used to lighter gauge strings it might take a day or two to adapt ... mine did!
The strings aren't actually meant to create sound though. They are not pitch-tuned so your 'acoustic' playing sounds all kinds of plinky-plonky. The strings simply provide MIDI triggering information for the JamStik to send to your receiving iDevice. However they do permit the player to play chords, notes and perform pitch bends ( a switchable option ) over the 6 playable frets which can be moved up and down by octaves with a button on the body of the Jamstik.
Connecting the Jamstik to you iPad or iPhone requires downloading a free App called "JamStik Connect" from the App Store. Turn on the JamStick ( it's powered by an 8 hr rechargeable battery ), let it calibrate for a minute or so, connect your iPad to the WiFi Network generated by the Jamstik ( called "Jamstik" ) and run the "JamStik Connect" app. Done. The app confirms the JamStik is connected, provides some basic sounds for testing and even has a little section to explore some chords and scales.
Now run any MIDI capable App you like and Jamstik will show up as a MIDI input choice for your playing pleasure. I've only had the JamStik for a week or so and I've tried out Garage Band, Cubasis, N-Log Synth, Thor Synth, Bismark 16 SoundFont Player and some of the dedicated guitar Apps like OMGuitar and iFretless Guitar. And its been great! Not perfect ... but as good a MIDI guitar experience as I've ever had at any price. The short scale note range is easily made up for (IMO) by the easy set up and portability, and the instrument is perfect for recording parts and tracks in an iPad DAW. The flexibility is insane. If you can strum a guitar and have a hankering to expand your sound pallet you will love this.
Remember ... ITS NOT A GUITAR. You will have to modify your playing a little ... particularly if you start playing endless synthesizer arpeggios which never end! The one thing that disappoints me a little is that while 'Hammer Off ' notes work most of the time, 'Hammer Ons' don't. The Zivix website says a Firmware Update will address this . I hope so.
I'll be posting some more about the JamStik as soon as i get bit more time with it... but I'm pretty confident my opinion will only improve!
Oh one more thing... within a day or two of my purchase, Zivix announced a Kickstarter for a new JamStik model, the JamStik + , so you might want to take a look at that before buying one of your own. Or maybe there'll be some specials in the offing!