You’ll Not See Nothing Like The Mighty JamStik MIDI Guitar for the Classroom

Richard McCready • March 2024TechnologyUpClose • March 30, 2024

It’s safe to say the invention of MIDI changed the way we perform music. By sending signals down a cable connecting two instruments, you can use one instrument to produce sounds on the other. As the first MIDI instruments were keyboards, this meant a keyboardist on stage could use the keys on his digital piano, for example, to play the sounds on his synthesizer. It’s a little like coupling manuals on a church organ – you can use one keyboard to play the sounds on a different one. 

It’s also safe to say the invention of MIDI changed the way we teach music, particularly in teaching music technology and in teaching piano class. Many of us will remember a room in school or college called the “MIDI lab” where you could use a piano-style keyboard to input music to the computer, or teachers and students could listen to each other’s piano playing through headphones without having to leave their station. 

Because MIDI was first used by keyboards to communicate with each other, the piano-style keyboard is the instrument most associated with the technology. However, the power of MIDI goes beyond just our familiar black and white friend. You will see drummers striking MIDI pads to trigger sounds, wind players blowing through EWIs (Electronic Wind Instruments) to generate new timbres, guitarists using MIDI to control guitar synths. Even the light shows and fireworks displays at concerts use MIDI to trigger the lights and explosions. MIDI is everywhere, but it’s so beautifully simple and clever you are never aware it’s there.

When teaching piano class, I have often used the power of MIDI to be able to display the notes I am playing on the keyboard onto my projector screen – many programs accept the MIDI signal from the keyboard and then convert it to something easily displayed as a visual aid for learners. I also teach guitar class, and something similar has eluded me for a long time, but now thankfully, a bunch of clever people at the Zivix company have created two new MIDI guitar models which have transformed my guitar teaching. I can now play a real electric guitar in class and the students can see on the screen exactly what notes I am playing, what chords I am playing, and what this all looks like on the fretboard.

The first model, Jamstik Studio, currently retails at $800. It is a headless design which features two coil-splitting humbuckers, a 24-fret standard length rosewood neck and a ¾ size body. The size of the guitar makes it very light and well balanced, and it is easily played by people with smaller bodies and hands (i.e. children) as well as adults. The offbeat design is very striking, and it comes in many exciting colors – pink, mint green, orange, blue, as well as the boring old black or white. The headless design does have its advantages in that it is light to hold, there is no neck dive when playing the instrument, and the bridge tuners are amazingly stable. Changing strings can be a little daunting if you’re unused to headless guitars, and the magnetic tuning wrench which attaches to the bridge could possibly get misplaced. However, the software enables highly accurate tuning, and I have honestly found my own Jamstik Studio keeps its pitch accurate for weeks without re-tuning, or changing strings too often.

The second model, Jamstik Classic, currently retails at $1000. It is a beautiful-looking instrument that owes a lot of its shape to the ubiquitous Stratocaster. It has a humbucker in the bridge position and single coils in the middle and neck, with the standard volume, 2 x tone controls, and 5-way selector switch, as well as the MIDI pickup. The 22-fret neck is made from roasted maple; it is amazingly smooth and fast, and a joy to play. The tones on this guitar are rich and full, and there is a lot of variance between the pickup timbres. Since it’s a bigger guitar than the Studio, it is a little heavier, so is well-suited for someone who already plays a full-sized guitar, but it feels amazing in your hands and plays incredibly well. Locking tuners make tuning very stable and enable very quick string changes. Currently the Jamstik Classic comes in onyx black, baby blue, sunburst, and vintage cream, and they all look amazing.

Both Jamstik MIDI guitars give you free access to Jamstik Creator (for Mac/PC) and Jamstik Control (for iOS/Android), which will allow you to play synth using the MIDI pickup, as well as calibrate your guitar’s feel and sensitivity. You can use either the included USB-C cable or Bluetooth to connect to these apps.

Connecting to the online Jamstik Learning Portal portrays on a screen the notes you are playing on the guitar, both in fretboard view and in chord box view. In this way, you can model notes and chords for students, and when the student plays the guitar, they can see what they’re doing and check for accuracy in placing their fingers. Not only does the software display the position of the note, but it also shows note names and chord name as you play – it’s almost magic! It really is remarkable to see how much this helps students, and how it brings a high level of engagement to your lessons.

Both the Jamstik Studio and the Jamstik Classic, in collaboration with the accompanying software, are powerful tools in the classroom. If you teach guitar, I strongly suggest you purchase one and add it into your teaching strategies. It’s a big purchase, but so is a digital piano or a French horn, and maybe you can use this article to help advocate for a budget line to add a Jamstik MIDI guitar to your class. Both the Studio and the Classic come with a padded gig bag, the necessary cables for MIDI connections, and the software you would need for your computer, tablet, or phone – there is zero additional outlay and zero subscription to pay after purchase. If you order from the website below and use promo code RM15 you get a 15% discount on the price. In considering such a procurement for your classroom, you should also understand these instruments are professional-level guitars and the prices are extremely reasonable for well-built, great-sounding guitars with arguably the best MIDI integration currently on the market.

Richard A. McCready was the TI:ME Teacher of the Year, 2013

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