On my huge list of “things I want to do before I depart planet earth for good” are rather fantastical but obviously unattainable things such as fly an X-Wing fighter through Beggar’s Canyon and ride on the back of a Great White shark garbed in official Team Zissou gear. There are some (but not many) doable things too, like see the Toronto Maple Leafs hoist the Stanley Cup and learn to play the guitar somewhat proficiently, meaning not just the opening notes of “I Wanna Be Adored” over and over again. On second thought, the Leafs hoisting the cup is more suited to the “fantastical but obviously unattainable” list, but thanks to the Jamstik+, an ultra-cool creation by Zivix, I am one step closer to guitar-God status.
The Jamstik+ is a Bluetooth to iOS (iPhone, iPad and Mac) guitar-like device complete with actual strings that emulates a number of different stringed instrument sounds. Setup is a piece of cake. From out of the box to my first twang took less than 10 minutes. The Jamstik+ is hefty, in a good way, and despite its compact overall size, feels very much like a real guitar where it counts. It is well constructed from sturdy plastic and comes with a shoulder strap and guitar picks.
The software needed to use the Jamstik+ is available on iTunes and was easy to both find and setup. There are a variety of different apps available that allow skilled players to get the most out of it, but for this emerging shredder, it was straight to the tutorial app to get things going. The tutorial program is one area that could use improvement, but I only learned this after searching for other guitar tutorials on YouTube. It is set up in a similar fashion as the Rock Band video game. Notes are presented on a constantly moving conveyor belt that you pluck on the Jamstik+ when they hit a certain point. You are scored on the timing and accuracy of the note. Unfortunately, there is no way to slow down the pace of the note presentation so the first hundred stabs at it were dismal. But I eventually improved and felt comfortable enough for the next lessons.
When I made it to learning my first few chords, I felt well on my way to super stardom, but the skill required to complete lessons from this point on seem to advance astronomically. Single note plucking changed to combinations that went from one chord combination back to single notes and on to a different chord with barely a second to remember and get finger placement down in time to play it. After fiddling around for 2 straight hours without any improvement, I quickly felt utterly inept and wondered if maybe I wasn’t cut out to play guitar at all. Back to the previous lessons I went, but they were so simple to master. What was I missing? The jump in difficulty is what prompted me to search YouTube to see what other instructors had to say.
First of all, I learned the agony in my index and middle finger after continuously pressing on the razor-thin E and B strings was normal and one popular YouTube tutorial assured me this would pass after callous buildup from several weeks of practice. There was no talk of chord combos until many lessons in which was reassuring. So this is an area that the Jamstik+ app developers could improve upon or at least set realistic progress indicators for learners. It would be a big plus if the Jamstik+ was supported on Android as well, which is in the works.
Overall, the Jamstik+ is an incredibly innovative device and should be considered a serious musical instrument rather than a novelty item or toy. It would be well-suited from those who already know how to play guitar and are looking for a simple and compact way to jam and compose music without hauling around a full-size guitar. It works for the learner as well, but for this beginner at least, a lesson system that eases into the basics a little smoother would be preferable. So for now, guitar-God status remains on my to-do list, but has moved higher up on the achievable column.