Sunday, January 24, 2016

JamStik: This Gadget Just About Maxes out on the Richter Scale of Coolness

Jamstik: The Guitar for iOS 

Let's start with "What is it?"  It's an electronic device that is, at the same time, both an actual, physical guitar - actual in the sense that it has real strings that are strung across a real neck with real frets. It doesn't, however, make sounds mechanically as a real guitar would. Rather, several optical sensors below the level of the fingerboard "read" the way the strings are manipulated and send impulses wirelessly to an iPad or other iOS device, like an iPhone, where they are interpreted by software into real music. Or so a raft of YouTube videos explain and demonstrate.

Why bother? I mean, after all, this nifty thingie does cost $299 and for that amount one can purchase a pretty good traditional guitar. However, in addition to the 'Coolness Factor', which I think is somewhere near the top of the Richter Scale for this item, this is practical. It’s small, light, and portable and can be taken places that traditional guitars, even travel guitars - scaled down, sometimes foldable guitars - cannot go. But beyond this level of understanding this ‘instrument’, which I believe is a first step toward some sort of musical next step – there really is much to ponder. It’s a hybrid, something that preserves the traditional way a guitar is fingered, the way its strings are tuned, and the way scales and chords are laid out on its fingerboard, things that represent a very long and successful evolution of musicality and ergonomics. But the JamStik takes that historical development by the hand and leads it into the realm of digital music. In other words this is a guitar-based interface with the computer, something that promises new possibilities. And, of course, there have been numerous such flights of innovation and imagination previously. There was the The Moog Guitar Model E1-M with MIDI, which I believe cost several thousand and is now discontinued. And there is the Godin xtSA Synth Access Acoustic Electric Guitar, at over a thousand. But these are pretty much standard guitars, for professional musicians, by the way, that go further; that is, in ADDITION to being a traditional guitar they have special design and wiring to allow them to interface with computers.

But this thing, the JamStik is very different. First it is not truly a guitar; it is a handheld device that is BASED on a guitar. Yes, it has real strings and neck, but it has only 5 frets instead of the standard 24 that a Fender Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul would have. Clearly, its designers have stripped the guitar down to the basic human hand, musical instrument interface this way, because they see it taking the experience of playing the guitar somewhere that it hasn’t been… YET!

IMPORTANTLY, because this item can be acquired at a 'within reach of the average hipster or spoiled student' price point -  and it has been designed to be paired with devices like the iPad, which in addition to being a processor (computer) already has an OS and software, a microphone, and speakers, etc. etc. And because the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, etc. – all devices that the JamStik can interface with, are all at the same level of price point, this one might become popular, even go viral… and once gazillions of pairs of hands are wrapped around this thing and it has become part of the landscape of college dorms and coffee shops and airplane cabins and who knows where else (one can play it in private through headphones), some really exciting things are likely to happen. Think, ‘Crowd Sourced Musical Innovation’! Actually, when you think about it, that was the appeal and impact of the guitar from the early ‘60s on… no longer did people need to have access to a very large and expensive piano or organ to make music; guitars were inexpensive and portable and became truly ubiquitous, lending themselves to a situation in which a major portion of an entire generation, at least attempted to make music, a hell of a step forward from the previous generation, if you think about it. This item promises a similar sort of boost, not only is it even more practical, but there are a host of ways that the device it interfaces with can support would be creators in overcoming “talent gaps”, as well as offering the possibility of “Looping” techniques (creating one’s own backing track to play on top of), and ways to record, polish, and publish the music one creates. The mind races at the possibilities and likely impact of all this! 


Want some more insight? While the video above is less than 2 minutes, perfect to give one the gist and to spread the word about the JamStik, there are also numerous longer, more in-depth videos available, too. Here's a good one....

JAMSTIK Guitar for Iphone & Mac REVIEW

And while we're at it, here's a predecessor that is quite amusing, but represents no threat that I can see to the JamStik :) None, whatsoever!

PocketStrings Portable Guitar Practice Tool from ThinkGeek



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