JamStik+ Review (plus Video Link)
On Friday, my JamStik+ arrived from Zivix. The JamStik is a small guitar that connects to your iPad or Mac. The original JamStik was sponsored in part by a Indiegogo crowdsourcing campaign, and the JamStik+ was sponsored by a very profitable KickStarter campaign.
From a distance, the JamStik and JamStik+ look identical. The original JamStik connected to your device via wi-fi (the JamStik itself became a wi-fi hub). Since the time the original JamStik shipped (a year ago), Apple introduced a new Bluetooth MIDI standard for iOS and Mac OS. Zivix quickly moved to make their wi-fi products into Bluetooth MIDI products. The JamStik+ brings Bluetooth MIDI to the JamStik, as well as an additional pickup. These changes result in a device that is easier to connect (although the wi-fi version was not difficult) and more sensitive. The fretboard finger position sensors (IR sensors) remain unchanged.
If you follow this blog, you know that I am 100% in support of Bluetooth MIDI, and I expect most platforms to adopt this standard as Apple is now on the international Bluetooth advisory board (they also recently joined the USB board). Compared to the old days of MIDI (a more than 30 year old standard), Bluetooth MIDI is truly “turn on and play.” The hardware and software take away all of the old challenges of MIDI.
In my playing of the JamStik and JamStik+, both devices feel the same. It is simply easier to connect to the JamStik+, and the JamStik+ is slightly more accurate as I play Zivix’s JamTutor, which is a free app available to JamStik owners. For the record, the original JamStik uses an app called “JamStik Connect” to establish the MIDI connection, while the JamStik+ uses the “JamStik+” app to simply turn on the Bluetooth MIDI connection and to provide audio events (sounds/instruments). Once you have that MIDI connection (wi-fi on the original JamStik, or Bluetooth on the JamStik+), you can use the JamStik with any Zivix app, or with any of hundreds (if not thousands) of Core MIDI apps on the market.
It is worth mentioning that “real” guitar players still complain about the device and the fact it isn’t a “real” guitar. A quick look at the device should have told them it isn’t a “real” guitar, as it only has five frets. In truth, this device really isn’t for them–except for the fact that it can be used as an input device into apps like Notion. This means that a guitar player who does not play piano could now use the guitar an a entry method. I would think that would be appealing to “real” guitar players. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Zivix make a full size JamGuitar some day, since they have the basic technology figured out already.
One of the things I have seen with guitar players in guitar classes is that many players come in unable to read music–but they can read tablature. They like to look up tablature on the web. If your JamStik is connected to your iPad via wi-fi, you can’t look up tablature. If you have a JamStik+, it connects via Bluetooth, meaning students can still use wi-fi on their device (JamStik+ will operate in the background).
Both JamStiks bring a number of features to education: real strings, no tuning required, and a small footprint. You can use Zivix’s JamTutor apps (one is available, another is coming) for individualized instruction, or you can use an existing guitar method, as all of those methods only use the first five frets (if that) of the guitar. Zivix recently reached a distribution agreement with Hal Leonard, and I am hoping that some of Hal Leonard’s guitar methods find themselves embedded in future Zivix apps. Wouldn’t it be great to have an app that taught student guitar via gameification, but taught notation/literacy in addition to tablature?
If you adopt JamStiks, you do have to figure out a plan for charging instruments, and I keep bothering the folks at Zivix to provide a lab set of JamStiks for schools that would include a storage cart, extra batteries, and strings. I had a set of nine (original) JamStiks to use with some students last year, and under daily use, the devices hold up well. We have not suffered a broken string, and battery life is still good. If you do use JamStiks, I encourage writing down each device’s Bluetooth or wi-fi identifier, and then printing that identifier on a label (P-Touch?) so that students know what device they are connecting to. Tony Strand used (original) JamStiks with his guitar program and had good results.
Original JamStiks can be bought at the Zivix website (www.jamstik.com) for $199 (probably while supplies last) and the new JamStik+ can be purchased for $299. This is within striking distance of a quality school guitar (plus case). If you are interested in a classroom set, I would contact Zivix directly and inquire about education pricing.
As you can tell, I love this device and its potential for music education. I love the updates to the JamStik that are found in the JamStik+. If you are a music educator and you have any dealing with guitar–I have a suspicion that you will like this device, too!