There are many iOS apps that offer onscreen versions of musical instruments and, though a convenient way to practice chord positions or to quickly jot down a song idea, they can be a pretty poor substitute for the real thing. In 2013, Zivix launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to bring a backpack-friendly MIDI guitar designed for the mobile musician called the JamStik to production. Now the company is back with an improved mini guitar that boasts better picking detection and processing speed, and uses Bluetooth LE instead of Wi-Fi to keep surfing channels open while playing.

Though roughly the same shape as the original, the new jamstik+ is a little taller than the original at 16 inches (40.6 cm) and quite a bit heavier at 36 oz (1 kg). It still sports six metal strings and five frets to give players a real feel for picking, bending, vibrato and sliding and its user replaceable rechargeable battery is claimed good for 8 hours between charges (though a USB power adapter will need to be purchased separately).

It's been designed to be easy to just pick up and play and, according to Zivix, newbies should be up and running in minutes. Unlike a real guitar, jamstik+ players don't need to worry about tuning up the instrument before rocking out as the finger positions on the short neck are tracked by infrared sensors and Zivix has partnered with Fishman to add a hexaphonic pickup "to offer a more natural playing experience." Of course the down side of this approach is that new players don't develop an ear for when strings are at pitch and don't learn how to tune an instrument, but such things can be reserved for an instrument proper.

Software running on an iOS device paired over Bluetooth LE translates the picking action into sounds. The jamstik+ is reported compatible with hundreds of music creation and learning apps, though Zivix has created its own companion apps.

The recently updated jamstikConnect app connects the mini guitar to an iPhone or iPad and lets users choose from a library of instrument sounds, configure the D-Pad buttons on the jamstik+ and engage one-touch octave and capo shifting. "Now, you can play a banjo, harp, sitar and more as soon as you’re connected," Zivix told us. "There are also more integrations with the IR fretboard to show your finger placement, so the user has more visual cues while playing. This is a result of consumer feedback."

The jamMix app offers an easy introduction to music creation, while the jamTutor app gives students an interactive learning platform with instant feedback. And as the device leverages the latest MIDI protocol, it can also serve as a digital music controller for virtual instruments in music creation software like GarageBand and Ableton.

Zivix reckons that lag between picking a string on the jamstik+ and a sound being thrown out of a paired mobile device's speakers or headphone port is negligible. The experience is reported similar to that of Fishman's TriplePlay wireless MIDI controller for guitar, which we found to be pretty much spot on, with the company stating that "using GarageBand as an example, a user can likely expect an average of 25 ms with variations."

Where the original JamStik launched on Indiegogo to help it reach production, the team has chosen Kickstarter as the launch platform for the jamstik+. The campaign runs until May 7 and has already stormed past its funding target. The first available pledge level for a jamstik+ in a choice of three colors is US$229, representing a saving of $70 on the expected retail price. If all goes to plan, Zivix expects to start shipping in July.

Have a look at the pitch video below to see the new mini guitar in action.

Sources: Zivix, Kickstarter

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