A new revolutionary tool for musicians hit the market today. Meet the jamstik+.

Lauching today on Kickstarter, the jamstik+ is a new kind of guitar MIDI controller that uses natural guitar frets and strings rather than switches and piezo sensors. It works completely wirelessly with your iPad, iPhone or Mac, seamlessly linking to their app. And, best of all, it can be yours for just $249.99.

We chatted with jamstik Music Product Specialist Christopher Heille. See what he had to say about this one-of-a-kind smart guitar.


Interview conducted by Chelsea King

1. What inspired your drive to make a product like the Jamstik?
The jamstik (and the recently announced jamstik+) was a collaborative effort of Zivix’s founder (electronic engineer/designer Dan Sullivan) and a couple of others on our team. Originally the idea of a guitar fretboard loaded with optical sensors was done on 21-fret instruments (full scale guitars) but we found the process of working with guitar manufacturers to be painstakingly slow and not very adaptive to new ideas. We scrapped the full scale guitar idea to do something disruptive and more mobile friendly, built from synthetic materials, and designed to connect directly to platforms instead of proprietary receivers. The jamstik was carved out of that set of ideas and challenges.

2. What are the differences between your innovation and other midi controllers?
In terms of the whole MIDI controller market (keyboards, drum pads, etc,) we use strings and frets instead of switches or piezo sensors. In terms of guitar-MIDI controllers we have a lot going on “behind the scenes.” Nearly all of the guitar-MIDI products on the market use some kind of audio/pitch-to-MIDI conversion to translate a performance from a player’s hands converted to MIDI data. If you think about it, that process is always dependently reactive to a processor tracking the audio, and factors like tuning and intonation can really affect the ability of a processor to handle that accurately. Add to those factors the simple reality that guitars are notoriously not completely intonated in the first place and you can see the open door for interferences at the source. The jamstik uses a network of infrared emitters and sensors under an IR transparent fretboard to literally “see” what the player’s fingers are doing in real time and we don’t listen to the audio for pitch information at all. This allows the jamstik to do several things in an almost “predictive” state (i.e. we see finger contact on the fretboard before the picking hand strikes the string) and generates MIDI very fast. We also use that fretboard data in our JamTutor instructional apps to build an interface that’s easy for beginners to understand, it solves that abstract “where do my fingers go” problem. We’ve added a  magnetic pickup to the jamstik+ but we’re using it a little different than the traditional application. We use the data from the pickup to generate MIDI velocity information, and it acts as a gate for MIDI Note-Ons.

The other major difference that sets the jamstik and jamstik+ apart is that it was designed from the ground up to connect directly to iOS and OS X. This allows for our wireless connectivity to be available for any application or app to access the jamstik’s MIDI output. We use no dongles or receivers or cables to get into the system – we’re already there.

The other obvious point is that the jamstik uses real guitar strings and frets – no membranes or “string proxy” wires – they’re real. Because we use a solid fret wire you can bend strings and play with vibrato too. 

3. Your design really seems to cover it all, and in such a small package. Can it really cover twice the note range of a 21-fret guitar?
Because the jamstik is a MIDI controller it’s output can be remapped on the jamstik to access all of the MIDI note range, 36 notes at a time. Just like keyboard players have been using scaled down controllers for years (how many times do you see an 88-note-weighted-key-controller on a stage) the jamstik is a play on that idea for guitar players. Yes it’s a new concept, but we see working players use it all of the time. 

4. If someone is new to music, how easy would you say the Arcade mode is to teaching individuals how to play?
The JamTutor app series (the first installation is available in the iTunes App Store now, but the second installation will be up soon) is designed to get what I call a “guitar curious” person into “guitar familiar” territory. Someone won’t become Jack White overnight with the jamstik and the JamTutor apps, but they will be able to pick up a really guitar and play open string chords, some barre chords, some scales, and read TAB after finishing JamTutor. We accomplish this by using a couple of interfaces, of which Arcade Mode is one. How easy is Arcade Mode? I see a lot of people progress through a number of challenges and develop skills as a result. Is it easy? Some are easier than others. Do you improve your skill set? Yes. Is it fun? Judging from the smiles and determination I see when people try it out I’d say I think the experience is enjoyable. 

5. Is this model something accomplished musicians may also find useful in their music production?
Definitely. Guitar is my primary instrument, and there’s no “brain filter” between my ideas and my workstation when my interface is six strings and frets. I can play keyboards (I spent ten years behind a keyboard and a Mac producing hip-hop and club stuff) but my brain starts to “think” more when I’m playing keys. The jamstik allows me to work in my “native tongue” so to speak, and it does it very well. Aside from that, it’s so deadly convenient. I never ever imagined I’d use the jamstik as much as I do, simply because it’s there and ready to go. I literally just unpacked my 61-note keyboard controller last month from my move last summer because I hadn’t needed it for anything, the jamstik had replaced it almost completely.

On the convenience tip, there’s two more mindblowing scenarios for writers and producers working with the jamstik:

First – it revolutionizes your work flow by allowing you iPhone to become a legit “idea curation” device. Knock it all you want, but GarageBand becomes a different animal when you can play those sounds with real instrument control. I have pages and pages of GarageBand demos on my iPhone and iPad, all from little spare minutes of time or large chunks of “travel time” on planes and such. Every writer and producer I know is so pressed for time that nobody can wait to develop an idea, you’ve got to come to a session with a war chest of hooks and beats. I can open up GarageBand and scroll through a bunch of ideas I’ve already got “in the vault” and start working. Yes, I AirDrop the selected .band files to my Mac and open them in Logic Pro X and we’re off and running.

Second – I find I’m seriously inspired by playing “guitar motifs” and hearing other sounds thanks to MIDI. The simplest riff or phrase can become it’s own song so fast. Why? Usually I’m playing sounds designed for keyboard controllers or touchscreens, and they have a wildly different personality when played like a guitar.

6. I’m sold. When can I buy this model?
The jamstik+ hits Kickstarter at 3pm March 25.