Zivix’s new Jamstik+ ($300) is a sequel to last year’s Jamstik MIDI guitar, adding Bluetooth Smart connectivity and a refined experience with a new set of iOS apps. The new version is available at the same price point as the original Jamstik, with the first-generation model getting a slight price drop. Like its predecessor, Jamstik+ is aimed at both the aspiring student and the experienced guitarist as a highly portable electronic guitar that allows musicians to plug into their iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and jam out with their favourite MIDI apps. The new version is also now available in blue and white models in addition to the original black.
Jamstik+ retains most of the same capabilities of its predecessor, and in fact when comparing the two side-by-side you’d be hard pressed to notice the difference beyond the “Jamstik+” logo that appears on the face plate. In addition to the instrument itself, the box also contains a strap, USB cable, two picks, and a set of custom wood skins for those who might want to accent their instrument with a slightly more classic guitar look.
The major enhancement to Jamstik+ remedies one of our minor quibbles with the prior version’s use of ad-hoc Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity – specifically that users couldn’t have their iOS device connected to both the Jamstik and the Internet simultaneously. While a wired connection was one way around this on the prior model, the lack of a Lightning cable meant users had to purchase a separate adapter from Apple to connect via USB. While this limitation wasn’t a deal-breaker, it did have the potential to detract from an otherwise great user experience, so the switch to Bluetooth is a very welcome enhancement, and Jamstik+ now offers direct support for Apple’s MIDI over Bluetooth LE support that was introduced in iOS 8 last fall. The practical upshot of this is that you can have your Jamstik+ connected to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch while also still being able to surf the net over your Wi-Fi connection, making it easy to do things like browse YouTube videos for inspiration or download new apps or content.
The Bluetooth connectivity not only works well, but allows for a much more straightforward user experience, since iOS apps can offer Bluetooth setup and pairing directly, rather than requiring the user to go and visit their main Settings app and join a Wi-Fi network manually. The previous implementation wasn’t a serious problem, but it’s still nicer to be able to setup everything from within the app with a minimum of fuss.
Once paired, the wireless connection with Jamstik+ was completely smooth with no latency, and worked equally well with Zivix’s own Jamstik apps, which have of course been updated for the new model, as well as other CoreMIDI apps such as Apple’s GarageBand. Beyond Bluetooth, the device acts and works the same as the original Jamstik, so there’s not much more to add to our previous review in that regard; everything that made Jamstik a great experience is still here, with the feel of a real guitar and the d-pad on the side that provides a virtual capo for shifting octaves and adjusting other settings on the fly. A new Jamstik+ app replaces Jamstik Connect for setting up the new model, while the previous Jam Tutor and Jam Mix apps continue to support both, with Jam Tutor adding some more live instruction and teaching improvements.
Jamstik+ is a worthy successor to what was already a pretty impressive device, adding useful Bluetooth capabilities while still bringing it in at the same price as its predecessor. As with the previous version, there’s a lot here to appeal to both the casual musician and the experienced guitarist, and it also provides a great way for musicians who can play the guitar but not necessarily the piano to interface with MIDI apps, considering that most MIDI controllers utilize a piano keyboard layout. As with the prior version, the portability is a key feature as well, since it’s much easier to toss in a backpack than a full guitar, and arguably has a lot more versatility going for it when paired with an iPhone or iPad. Jamstik+ remains one of the most unique and well-thought out MIDI instruments we’ve seen for iPhone and iPad users, and the addition of Bluetooth support in this version really does take it up that extra notch.
Company and Price
Compatibility: iPad (3rd/4th-Gen), iPad Air, iPad mini, iPhone 4S/5/5c/5s/6/6 Plus, iPod touch 5G/6G