LAS VEGAS -- Want to learn to play the guitar? I speak from personal experience when I say it's tough, especially if you rely on apps or videos that merely show you what to do without providing any feedback.
To look at the JamStik is to see a six-string, 15-inch fretboard that requires no tuning, instead relying on infrared sensors that track your finger placement and a Wi-Fi-powered MIDI interface that links the device to your iPad. (It can also work with an iPhone or iPod Touch, according to company reps, but there's little question it's better experienced on a tablet.)
The JamTutor app provides dozens of lessons, starting with the very basics and progressing through tablature (aka "tab"). Early lessons include video tutorials, but what's interesting is that you get to see onscreen representations of your finger placements and string plucks, thus affording much better feedback than you can get from practicing on an actual guitar.
In later lessons, JamTutor will switch to Guitar Hero-like games, the difference being that here you're picking at the equivalent of a real guitar, not just pressing buttons.
With the JamMix app, you can have fun playing the notes and chords you've learned with accompanying background loops. And because the JamStik is MIDI-friendly, it works with loads of other apps (including, most notably, GarageBand).
The unit supports string-bend, velocity, and hammer-ons, which probably means something to people way better acquainted with guitar than myself.
Although I got to play with the JamStik for only a few minutes (and in a fairly noisy environment), I got the sense it could be a uniquely great asset to anyone interested in learning the guitar. Hopefully in a few weeks I'll be able to get some more substantial hands-on time with a demo unit.
The JamStik is scheduled to go on sale by the end of March 2014, with an expected price of $299.