As a long-time player of console rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, I’ve had several people’s share of silly, plastic instruments laying around my house. And while they’ve all looked varying levels of authentic, none of them actually taught me anything about how to play the guitar other than the base concepts of “one hand pushes down here while the other one goes up and/or down.”
But the Jamstick+ aims to change that by being an odd-looking, toy-like instrument that actually has lessons (via apps) to show you the basics and help you learn strumming, plucking and finger assignment. It even has real-feeling strings and frets to help you translate your lessons into the real thing.
Other than those individual pieces, however, you might feel ridiculous holding it.
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I’d understand if your first thought upon seeing the Jamstik+ is that it looks like My First Guitar, and the bright red color and plastic shell of the unit I tried didn’t help that at all. If you’re that worried about appearance, you could probably spring for the plain black or white ones, though. Even the blue would be a step up, I think.
But that simple exterior is holding some serious tech. The Jamstik+ connects to your iOS (and soon Android) device via Bluetooth, and it works with three apps to get you rocking: The base Jamstik+ app shows you how to play chords, but if you want a little more structure, JamTutor 1 and JamTutor 2 offer lessons, tutorials, and a game mode that will look familiar to console-owning fake shredders.
The lessons work well enough, I guess, but if you want to get the most out of the Jamstik+, I imagine it’s important to actually want to learn how to play guitar. I thought I was interested, but it turns out that the spirit of rock does not, in fact, reside within me. And I should have seen that coming because I played clarinet in school band.
Still, I can see how the Jamstik+ could provide a good way in for people who might not want to spring for personal lessons or might be a little self-conscious about seriously sucking in front of other people.
But if you decide to go for this, know that the included strap is garbage. Or maybe I got a bad one, but the chintzy plastic nubs that are supposed to snap into the body of the Jamstik+ to, you know, hold the strap on, did no such thing. They’d slide out if I even nudged the unit the wrong way, which is bound to happen when you haven’t even quite dialed in on how to hold the thing yet.
I imagine you could fix them with some small, rubber washers to hold them tighter against the body, but after paying $300 for this thing, I doubt you want to also plan a trip to the hardware store.
Jamstik provided Cult of Mac with a review unit for this article. Read Cult of Mac’s reviews policy.