Rockin the best music gear of 2018
The last 12 months have seen iconic brand Gibson collapse and be reborn, Fender experiment with hybrid forms for its Parallel Universe series, and Moog release its first analog polysynth in decades while also calling time on its line of FX stomps. It's been a rollercoaster of highs and lows, but we're focusing on the positive for a look back at music gear highlights in 2018.
It's always a difficult task to pick a favorites list, and even harder to put them into top to bottom order. While we've managed the former, our best music gear of the year selections do not appear in any particular order.
Joué interface and MIDI controller
Let's start with a splash of color in the form of the Joué interface, which enjoyed its commercial release earlier this year.
The device has a main board or platform which can accept colorful modules made from a soft touch elastic material. These modules transmit pressure variations up top to the board's sensors below – you can have one long keyboard-like module, three 16 button grids to control music creation software, a pseudo fretboard or a mix and match of everything.
The Joué board connects to a tablet running music apps and supports player gestures for expressive sound creation. A Joué Essentials bundle is priced at €479 (US$540).
Haken Audio's ContinuuMini
Haken Audio has been manufacturing a pricey-but expressive synthesizer and controller called the Continuum Fingerboard for well over a decade. This year the dev team had a baby, which was dubbed the ContinuuMini.
Designed with portability in mind, the MPE-enabled ContinuuMini runs on the same sound engine as its ancestors, but features a thinner all red playing surface and can only translate the movements and gestures of up to two fingers into sounds or MIDI commands.
Haken Audio took to Kickstarter last month to fund production and expects to start shipping to backers in early 2019 before putting the device up for sale at $899.
Fret Zealot for Bass
Learning to play an instrument is hard, so we welcome gadgets that help ease you into the process. The FretX learning sleeve was a good way to get a handle on basic guitar chords and develop rhythm, but Fret Zealot offered more.
Instead of being content with following the lights on the first few frets only, this LED strip covered much of the fingerboard and, together with a companion app, went way beyond neck end open chords. In May, the startup launched a version for the bass guitar on Kickstarter that promised to get low end lovers up and running in 60 seconds.
The campaign proved a success and the product now ships with a Fender Squire Precision bass for $399.99.
Roadie Bass robot tuner
Sticking with the bass guitar and Kickstarter successes, Band Industries released a bass guitar version of its tuning robot in 2018 and we took it for a test drive.
Like the electric guitar version, the Roadie Bass has a motorized peg turner that tightens of loosens strings until the correct pitch it reached. The device uses vibration sensing, so you can tune up in a noisy room, and can work stand-alone or together with a companion app.
It's a nifty replacement for clip-on or pedalboard tuners, but is quite pricey at $149.
Stylophone business card
This one's not for sale, but a great example of the DIY spirit that's very much alive and well in the music gear community. Tim Jacobs of Mitxela found himself in need of new business cards to impress potential clients and contacts, so he developed the StyloCard.
The 85 x 55 mm card doesn't have its own sound engine and can't output audio by itself, but acts as a MIDI controller for music creation software over USB, with a crocodile clip used as a stylus.
As mentioned in the opener, synth veteran Moog launched a new flagship in October, its first analog polysynth in more than 35 years.
Described by the company as a "deeply immersive sound design tool, a powerful performance instrument," the Moog One comes with three new dual-output triangle core analog voltage-controlled oscillators with ring and frequency modulation and is available in 8 voice and 16 voice flavors.
The keyboard out front rocks velocity and aftertouch, there are pitch and modulation wheels and an X/Y pad, together with 73 knobs and 144 buttons for shaping the sound. This beast of a synthesizer is housed in a hand-finished ash and aluminum enclosure, and pricing starts at $5,999.
As someone who suffers from an overflowing effects pedalboard, the SST – or Space Saving Tuner – is an appealing development.
The teeny chromatic tuner is designed to slide inbetween two stomps on a pedalboard and offer always-on, at-a-glance tuning. It's reported to be accurate to +/- 1 cent and provides eight reference pitches to choose from over an A438 to A445 range.
The only negatives we can see are the lack of muting during a tune-up and the rather high $59.99 price tag.
Like the ToneWoodAmp from 2014, the Pulse adds effects and extra flavor to the sounds coming out of the soundhole of an acoustic guitar, without the instrument needing to be plugged into a stomp chain or connected to digital FX banks.
The device fits to the front of a guitar, behind the bridge, and makes use of the string pegs and strap nut to stay in place. It's currently at the pre-order stage, with early birders being offered a 50 percent discount price of $75.
One of the most fun gadgets on show at the Winter NAMM expo back in January was a feature-packed synthesizer with the look of a Fisher-Price toy.
The battery-powered Blipblox has a built-in sequencer that can select a melody from a bank of hundreds and run with it. The young player can then use the big buttons, knobs and levers to alter the music output from the integrated speaker. For more serious creators, the device has a MIDI input to feed in signals from external hardware such as keyboards.
After a successful Indiegogo campaign, it's now available to buy for $169 direct from Playtime Engineering.
Jammy portable practice guitar
Keeping your calluses in trim during extended periods of travel can have guitarists packing short, stubby instruments specifically designed for life on the road. But even the shortest and stubbiest of travel guitars can still prove a handful when also hauling luggage.
In 2017, RnD64 launched a crowdfunder for Jammy, a portable digital guitar where the picking section of the body and the fretting end slid out from pocket-size to a more comfortable playing size. The startup subsequently ditched the sliding idea for the launch of the production version in June this year.
The new Jammy still has two playing areas, but now comes in two parts that slot together to form one long travel guitar that's reported capable enough for 70 percent of popular rock songs. We'll let you know exactly how it performs when we get one on the review bench in early 2019.
The Jammy travel guitar is currently up for pre-order.
Look Mum No Computer
No end of year music gear roundup would be complete without a brief stopover in the ever-creative mind of Sam Battle at Look Mum No Computer.
This year Battle has played with fire, tinkered with a Game Boy and rocked a Continuum Fingerboard. But arguably his most memorable hack is the Furby Organ.
The sonic wizard gave over 40 Furbys a synth voice of its own, connected them all to some Arduino processing brains and made them chatter using a piano keyboard out front.
The choral nightmare can see in the video below.