Why you should care
Because now you don’t need to have a guitar to play one.
My pick flicks across the strings, and a resonant E minor chord echoes through my apartment. It’s satisfyingly full-bodied, and the strings leave indents under my fingertips. But I’m not playing on a full-size guitar and amp — not in my small building. This is a baby-size smart guitar. It makes music, but not as you’ve known it.
The Jamstik+ tries to mirror the guitar-playing experience. The 16-inch-long device comes with six strings atop a sensor-packed fretboard and five frets that are easily adjusted so you can play a range of notes. And it never needs to be tuned. Sounds are played through a connected iPad, iPhone or Mac, but it can also be used as a MIDI device, easily connecting to GarageBand and with a library of sounds. The associated apps combine tutorials with gaming, so you can learn at your own pace, or just enjoy playing Guitar Hero-style challenges. Want to feel like a rock star? Pop on the strap and you can rock out with it around your neck.
“We’re not out to replace the guitar,” Jamstik music product specialist Chris Heille tells OZY. He says that the Jamstik+ ($299) is designed to complement “real” instruments, but with added benefits such as portability and lesson plans via the Jam Tutor app, which mirrors your fingers on the screen, letting you see them in real time.
A magnetic pickup gives the player a “more traditional electric guitar approach.”
But is it really like playing live music? Musician Sebastian Bird has his doubts. “It’s a nice gadget, but nothing compares to learning on a full-sized instrument,” he says. He’s also concerned that people who learn to play this way might find it hard to move to a full-size guitar. I found there was a learning curve involved, but practice helped me adapt.
The first version of Jamstik was released in 2014, after a successful crowdfunding campaign. Building on that success the Jamstik+, which reached over 10 times its funding goal, offers some new features, such as Bluetooth protocol (so you can stay on your Wi-Fi network while playing) and a magnetic pickup, giving the player a “more traditional electric guitar approach.” I loved how the app reflected my fingers. Watching my friends’ faces change from skeptical to amazed was priceless.
Heille says the Jamstik is more than just a cool tool, more than getting mini guitars into the hands of consumers. They want to create connections and moments. “Music is a pretty powerful force, and it can help emotional well-being,” Heille says. To that end, the creators, keen to give back to the community, have started partnering with organizations that promote music therapy. For example, for every 15 devices purchased, one is donated to a charity such as GuitarsForVets, which provides guitars to veterans to help them cope with PTSD. The size makes it easy to use in a clinical setting.
There’s no denying that rocking out with the Jamstik+ is a step down from the real thing, but once you’ve turned the volume up and started working on those hair flips, well, ain’t nobody going to tell you to stop rocking.