Learning to play guitar is tough. It takes time, dedication and practice. Lots of practice. Fortunately, technology is taking the edge off a little and offering more hope of success to those who might otherwise take an early bath out of frustration. Online teaching services like iPerform3D provide virtual lessons whenever you need them, hardware additions such as the Maestro can help guide students to the correct finger positions, and the gTar marries the power of your iPhone with buttons and strings on a full-sized guitar. The JamStik from Zivix brings many of these aspects (and more) together in a compact portable practice/learning guitar made for the mobile generation.
If guitars could spawn digital offspring, then the JamStik would likely have Ned Steinberger's NS/Stick and a Traveler Ultra Light as parents. It's a backpack-friendly 15 inches (38 cm) long and tips the scales at just 24 ounces (0.7 kg). If you can already play the guitar, its five frets and genuine light gauge (0.010 - 0.046) user replaceable strings can cater for running through chord shapes and scales to keep you on top of your game while on the road, in much the same way as PocketStrings.
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Like that practice tool, the JamStick is not designed to output sounds on its own. To make beautiful music, you'll also need an iPhone or iPad running an iOS CoreMIDI app or two (Apple's GarageBand, iPolysix and iMS-20 from Korg, Moog's Animoog, or Arctic Synth, for example). As such, the creative possibilities are limited only by the software running on a Wi-Fi-connected device.
Additionally, because JamStik uses real strings, players can bend, slide and vibrato with the best of them – something that's not easily achieved on button-based digital guitars like the Kitara. There's a directional control pad on the upper edge of the instrument's body that can be used to extend the pitch beyond the apparent limitations of the neck (like a kind of virtual capo), or for MIDI function selection and control.
To shorten the length of a note ringing through the speakers or headphone jack of a connected device, the li-ion-battery-powered JamStik has a palm mute switch located at its "bridge" end. Since there's no pickup, the compact digital guitar also features a system for detecting when a string has been picked.
For those wanting to learn how to play the guitar, the JamStik has a few tricks up its sleeve to help make the process a little less painful. Its small size makes it much easier to carry around than its full-size cousin. Though the strings are kept at playing tension, there's no need to worry about being pitch-perfect, so tuning woes are also removed from the equation. As a slight aside, this did lead me to ask if users would suffer the kind of uncomfortable out of phase sound between detuned strings and the instrument's amplified output that I experienced when reviewing the AT-200 from Peavey.
"Due to the string length being so short it does not produce an out-of-phase psycho-acoustic condition for the player, and nowhere near the acoustic energy produced by a full length guitar string," the team's Chad Koehler told us. "Any detectable pitch is also way above the range where most people will be voicing sounds from their iPad or similar."
Zivix has developed its own companion teaching app called JamTutor, which transforms the JamStik into a ready-when-you-are, always available guitar teacher that progresses at your own pace. Like many other digital tutors, the system can show onscreen finger positions for a kind of interactive guitar tablature learning experience, but JamStik goes farther.
Using patented tracking technology, it can sense when your fingers are not in the right position before you even pick a string so the output sounds right every time, which should help build confidence. Whatever skills you acquire using a JamStik can be immediately applied to a full-size real guitar (though the result may be less than satisfactory if you haven't learned how to tune by then).
If you still find yourself all fingers and thumbs, a hybrid guitar/DJ app called JamMix has also been created for players to easily make music, regardless of skillset.
As of writing, the JamStik is at the pre-production prototype stage of development. To get the system into the hands of learners, seasoned players and sonic scientists, Zivix has launched on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. The early bird special has sold out, and the campaign is only open to US residents (the development team is working hard to make an international version available soon).
Backers will now need to stump up at least US$199 to get their hands around the short neck of a JamStik when they start shipping out in December – but that's still a hundred bucks cheaper than the projected retail price. If you're feeling particularly generous, you can opt to buy one and donate one at the $449 pledge level.
The funding campaign runs until May 27. Check out the pitch video below for an idea of what's on offer.