Lava unveils ambitious, lightweight Me 3 carbon fiber "smart guitar"
Chinese company Lava surprised and delighted us with its "Me 2" carbon fiber acoustic guitar, and now it's released "the first smart guitar ever," with a built-in touchscreen to control several built-in effects and apps, including a tuner and looper.
These might be some odd-looking axes, but Lava isn't here to make toys. The Me 2 started growing on me the instant I started playing it, and quickly became something I'd throw in the car or over my shoulder whenever I left the house.
Its built-in body-shaking speaker enabled just enough acoustic amplification to fill out the bottom end of this compact instrument, as well as opening the door to chorus, reverb and delay effects that give the sound a beautiful sheen and supply an instant vibe at the press of a button. Its carbon body made it hardy, super lightweight and impervious to weather and humidity, making it an extraordinary travel axe. I still think it looks weird, but I've found myself putting a lot of miles on it and enjoying it immensely.
So I have to say I'm intrigued by the Me 3, which drops today, and aims to take things to the next level. Little seems to have changed in the overall shape of the guitar, so it still looks just as weird, and probably even more like a toy with the addition of a 3.5-inch multi-touch screen. On the other hand, that's good news for playability, since I found the neck spot on, the action perfect, and I loved the compact form when it wasn't slipping off my lap.
Lava has upgraded the "Freeboost" body-shaking speaker, as well as the honeycomb carbon sandwich structure of the soundboard, to "assure harmonic resonance around the soundbox" and raise bass levels as much as 20 percent. It'll still be put through a Plek machine for high precision fret leveling, and it'll still ship with high-quality Elixir strings that'll last ages.
The main step forward here is electronic, though. By adding a touchscreen, Lava turns the Me 3 into a smart device with capabilities way beyond the previous model. An app-based interface gives you plenty of control over effects, of which there are reportedly many, as well as presumably the ability to upgrade the device down the track. This will be huge for players that like to plug in; the Me 2's effects did suffer from a lack of fine control when running through an amp. From what we can tell at this stage, the Me 3's effects are stackable, they can be stored, and there are some pretty out-there sounds in there.
A Tuner app makes it very quick and easy to iron out strings that are overly sweet or sour. A Tempo app gives you a metronome to work with. A Practice app throws lessons at you, from strumming patterns to scales, ear training and chord transitions, measuring your performance and spitting out reports so you can track your progress.
And there's a Loops app, which throws down "over 100 grooves from different genres" and allows you to record up to four guitar tracks over top of them. You can then save these things on the guitar itself, or upload to the cloud through a Lava+ app that's designed to be "an online social music community."
The looper idea is intriguing. I'm fascinated to see if it makes any sense with the guitar unplugged, since the acoustic sound was front and center with the Me 2, and the built-in speaker was mainly there to enhance the sound. Either way, a built-in loop station will be a bunch of fun to use with an amp, and it could make the Me 3 a very neat little self-contained busking weapon. It'll also be an extraordinarily convenient way to record and share song ideas in beautiful definition.
Another neat new touch fixes an issue I had with the Me 2, which required you to bend a USB cable at an unnatural angle to get into the sound hole and charge it. Mind you, the battery lasts weeks on a charge. Presumably the touchscreen will make the Me 3 more power-hungry, so it's nice to see that it'll ship with a very neat wireless charging cradle that doubles as a guitar stand.
The bad news here is that the price goes up. Where the Me 2 we tested retails for US$799 – which is well into serious guitar money – the Me 3 will start at $999. That'll be for the 36-inch version; there's also a 38-incher, and both will ship in a range of out-there colors, from white to pink to gold, blue and red, as well as a space gray for folks less likely to get away with the crazier stuff.
These guitars are certainly not for everyone, and indeed I view the Me 2 as a nice complement to my old Takamine acoustic rather than a replacement. But Lava is an ambitious company that's proven it can take weird, futuristic ideas and turn them into genuine musical instruments worthy of consideration. If they nail the touchscreen interface on this one, and avoid the cheesiness that can sometimes creep into a touch OS, the Me 3 could be a pretty amazing step forward.
The Me 3's main competitor in the smart acoustic guitar world would appear to be Lag's HyVibe. Several hundred dollars more expensive again, the HyVibe offers much more traditional wood bodies, with some nice sounding effects, looping capability, recording, tuners and other bits and pieces included. It's got a more conventional wood sound, and you wouldn't know it had any fancy smarts if you didn't look closely. It's a classy looking, great sounding high-end guitar with the electronics a juicy cherry on top.
But the HyVibe certainly won't rival the Lava Me 3 for sheer "throw it in the trunk" roadworthiness, carbon-fiber lightness or touchscreen-enabled digital flexibility. I'm certainly looking forward to checking it out in person, and seeing where Lava has taken the sound this time.
Check out a video below.
Source: Lava Music