Review of the MI Guitar by Magic Instruments

Magic Instruments

Practice, practice, practice. If you want to become good at anything, there's no getting around those three words. Musicians, of course, know this all too well. Research has shown that trained violinists and pianists typically put in an average of 10,000 hours before they can be considered elite performers.

For the rest of us with far less lofty aspirations, there are popular rhythm-based video games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band that are much easier to pick up.

The games also allow players to quickly get accustomed to rhythmic timing, notes as well as some of the dexterity necessary to play drums, bass, and other instruments.

Still, making the leap over to, say, actually playing the guitar, is entirely different. There’s just simply no substitute for the hours upon hours of practice necessary to master the finer subtleties of things like finger positioning and different picking techniques. The learning curve can often feel so steep that about 90 percent of beginners quit within the first year, according to Fender, a leading guitar brand.  

That’s where technologically-enhanced instruments such as the MI Guitar comes in. Pitched as the guitar anyone can learn to play in mere minutes, the rhythmic guitar is something of a novice’s dream. Similar to Guitar Hero, it features a tactile electronic interface along the fretboard but is capable of expressing a wide range of chords.

At the top, the guitar’s force-sensitive strings also allow users to generate chords with varying degrees of loudness, much like a real guitar.

The Crowdfunding Project That Could

Originally launched as a crowdfunding project on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo, the campaign raised a total of $412,286.

The final product isn’t due to ship until late 2017, but early hands-on reviews of the latest prototype have generally been positive. A reviewer at Wired magazine praised the guitar as “totally fun and shockingly simple to use.” The Next Web echoed a similar sentiment, describing it as “great for quick jam sessions with friends, or using it to master the strumming portion first.”

Brian Fan, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based startup Magic Instruments, came up with the idea after spending an entire summer trying to learn the guitar, with little progress. This despite having played the piano as a child and all the way through his musical training at The Juilliard School, one of the world’s most prestigious music conservatories.

“I tried everything [to learn the guitar]. YouTube videos, learning guitars, gimmicks -- you name it,” he said. “The thing is you have to develop the motor skills and muscle memory for that particular instrument, which takes a lot of time. A lot of the time it felt like playing hand twister.”

The first thing to know about the rhythmic guitar is that it bears only a superficial resemblance to a traditional string instrument. Like other sampler devices, users are limited to a series of pre-recorded digital sounds that play through the speaker.

You won’t be able to perform hammer-ons, pull-offs, vibrato, string bending, slides and other advanced techniques that are used to shape the sound and give it that distinction.

“Intentionally, it’s geared towards people like me with limited or no experience and who want to just play, rather than guitar players,” Fan said. “So it behaves nothing like a guitar, but it’s still so much easier to play music since it’s not bound by the physics of vibrating strings.”

Review of the MI Guitar

Cradling the latest version on my lap, it did have the look and feel of an actual guitar, though lighter and admittedly much less intimidating. Despite not having much of a musical background beyond a piano class in high school, it still lends the player an air of confidence with its buttons in addition to strings -- considering we all press buttons on a computer keyboard every day, how can it not be intuitive?

It also comes with an iOS app that displays the lyrics and chords to various songs. Sync it with the guitar and it’ll carefully guide you along Karaoke-style, scrolling forth as you play each chord. It's not hard to flub my first couple attempts at a Green Day song, either by pressing the wrong cord button or hesitating a beat too many. But by the third go around, it's easier to pick up the pace a bit, stringing them together until lo and behold -- music.

Joe Gore, a guitar player, music software developer and former editor for Guitar Player magazine, who has yet to try out the technology says that while he likes the notion of a guitar for that anyone can play, he doesn’t expect it to be well-received by those who’ve long put in their dues.

“The guitar community is very conservative,” he explained. “And because there's a certain work ethic that goes into honing your craft, it’s natural to feel a bit scorned when they see someone cheat and take a shortcut instead of investing the time into something their completely passionate about.”

And while Fan says he understands where the criticism comes from, particularly the barrage of “hate posts” his team has received on social media, he doesn’t see any reason for guitar purists to feel threatened. “We are not replacing the guitar, especially the expressiveness and sound,” Fan said. “But for those who’ve never learned it when they were young and have less time now, we’re saying here’s something that you can pick up and enjoy playing right away.”

Where to Purchase

Anyone interested in pricing information and purchasing the Rhythmic Guitar on pre-order can do so by visiting ​Magic Instruments' website.​