For several years now, my Stratocaster has been a memento hanging on my wall that marks the time before I got a MacBook. When my career moved toward podcasting I replaced my electric guitar with a 25-key keyboard controller and a library of virtual instruments. In Logic Pro or Ableton, the Stratocaster might just sound like a Stratocaster, but the MIDI keyboard could be anything I needed for my music or sound design work.
But recently, I purchased a new guitar that offers the same strengths: Jamstick’s Classic MIDI Guitar, which has brought my unused fretboard skills back into the digital audio workstation (DAW), with almost the same flexibility as a musical keyboard. .
The Jamstick Classic is a completely traditional electric guitar – six strings, quarter-inch jack, and all – but with an added analog-to-MIDI converter that lets you control virtual instruments in real time via USB or Bluetooth. Can plug directly into your computer. Do you need a trumpet or violin in your song? Just play it on this USB-C guitar.
I’m probably one of the more ideal candidates for using Jamstick. I’m a guitarist who doesn’t have great piano skills to take full advantage of MIDI keyboards, but I love making music in the digital realm. Although there are some third-party MIDI pickups and guitar pedals that integrate with standard electric guitars, Jamstik is the first company I’ve seen in a long time to fully incorporate a MIDI converter into a regular body guitar. It has the added benefit of looking just like the traditional Strat I’ve been accustomed to playing for years.
Dual outputs enable lots of possibilities in recording sessions
Because the Jamstick can convert notes on the guitar into MIDI data, it has allowed me to create music in different ways than a desktop keyboard. Being familiar with electric guitar, I have spent the past few weeks recording modular synth sounds, piano chords, bass rhythms, orchestra strings, a saxophone solo, and even percussion tracks at a faster and more complex level than I was able to. Spent hours. Have become capable of programming or playing keys. This is also a very interesting novelty. I can easily transpose my guitar live digitally and play a different key than the strings, or move up a few octaves to better fit the instrument I’m emulating .
The best scenario I’ve found with this guitar is to play some synth riffs and melodies, and then quickly switch the input in my DAW to my audio interface to record the analog output of the actual guitar. Dual MIDI and quarter-inch outputs enable lots of possibilities in recording sessions.
Jamstick offers its own library of virtual instruments inside its app, Jamstick Creator, which includes all the synths, guitars, classical instruments, and rhythmic sounds you can find. As a standalone app or as a plug-in to a DAW, you can use the software to view a virtual fretboard that updates in real time with the notes you’re playing and allows you to change instruments, play guitar, etc. Allows to tune and change effects. Adjustment.
Although many after-market analog-to-MIDI converters can help you simulate these sounds, what stands out with Jamstick’s own software is that it is able to detect guitar-specific nuances and translate them into MIDI. How smart it is in converting it into a map. String bending, hammer-on, and muting translate very well to virtual instruments. With a guitarist’s articulation, a funky bendy synth solo sounds so much better and more human than I could create with a keyboard. Although those specific subtleties are best achieved with Jamstick plug-ins and samples, the guitar can still be used as a controller for any MIDI tasks you’re doing in an app like Ableton or Logic Pro. And of course, you can plug the Jamstick in with a quarter-inch jack and record like any electric guitar.
As an electric guitar, the Jamstick Classic is an adequate replacement for most single coil models, although I’m not sure any guitarist would choose to play it over one they can get from a company like Fender for $999. The neck doesn’t feel as sharp or smooth as a higher-end model Strat, but since I’ve been using it, the guitar stays in tune very well. I’ve got some very nice Stratocaster sounds from the analog output with some amp modulation software, and I’ve started relying on it for tracking quick riffs at my desk.
You must use this USB-C to USB-A cable for this model to function properly
The Jamstick has some limitations as a MIDI controller. I’ve found that it works best when played at a slower tempo, or at least slower on the fretboard. Musicians will definitely hear the slightest delay in their playing, so it can be hard to play some chords without feeling like you have a little free time. Most of the time it was able to get going with some Van Halen-style finger tapping, but sometimes the notes wouldn’t register if I was moving too fast through the fretboard, especially using an open string. For example, when playing “Jordan” by Buckethead on guitar with a virtual instrument, the MIDI pickups could not keep up with the riff and it sounded distorted. Although you can obviously fine-tune digital notes in your DAW after recording, live performance can sometimes sound a little robotic or a little slow-paced.
USB-C inclusion is nice, but there’s a USB-A plug on the other end of the supplied USB-C cable. Due to the way the internals are constructed, you must use this USB-C to USB-A cable for this Jamstick Classic model to function properly. Using a USB hub (even one with DC input) won’t work well – when the Jamstik is plugged into my Anker 575 docking station, the guitar will sometimes stop working and a fast , will make a long glitching sound that won’t go away until I restart my audio interface. The best result is to go straight into the computer. This may be a bit frustrating for users whose computer’s ports are hidden or are already using too many ports on their physical computer. A new Deluxe and Standard model of the Jamstick is coming in February with an upgraded circuit board and a true USB-C cable, which will hopefully solve the problem.
Even with those hiccups, using an electric guitar with a MIDI converter went beyond novelty and became practical much faster than I initially thought. I can plug the Jamstick directly into Logic Pro for iPad with a USB cable to record multiple tracks, without using an external audio interface and multiple cables. It brought guitar playing back into my everyday hobby. Finally, I took my keyboard off my desk to clear out the clutter and am using the Joystick as my main controller. There is a reality where I can plug a Jamstick guitar into the iPhone 15 Pro’s USB-C port and record a riff in GarageBand. Although I can’t fit this guitar on my desk like a MIDI keyboard can, it will sit right next to it as one of my arsenal of tools for creating music and sound design.
Photography by Andrew Marino/The Verge