MI Guitar: The app-powered guitar that anyone can play

Sometimes you never learn… and that can be a good thing.

Most longtime AWT readers know that I've had mixed success on crowdfunded projects, although I'm currently down to just one way overdue product (Narrative Clip 2) that I'm beginning to think will never show up. But yesterday I saw a product that I absolutely had to back -- the MI Guitar on Indiegogo.

A bit of Steve history; I love music, I sing fairly well (at least I think so), and I can even think up multi-part scores in my head. The problem is, I can't get 'em out of my head and into the real world because I don't play an instrument. Every time I've tried to learn something -- guitar, piano, dulcimer -- I've gotten frustrated when I can't pick out a recognizable tune without weeks of practice. I played clarinet in 5th through 7th grade and my parents were too cheap to get me lessons, which meant that I had no idea what I was doing and just "played by ear".

So imagine my delight when I saw a writeup on the MI Guitar. It looks and sounds like a guitar, but rather than having to pretzel my stubby fingers into various positions on strings to try to play a chord, I just push a button. Each "fret" has one large button and five smaller buttons behind it.

Along with this is an iOS app. You pick a tune -- "House of the Rising Sun" seems to be the standard on the website -- and it shows the lyrics and a number sequence for denoting the fret and the button. So the first fret (near the top of the guitar), first button would be 1-1, fifth fret and 6th button would be 5-6. One finger press on the right button produces exactly the right chord.

There are "strings" in the sound hole area of the guitar that you can strum or pick depending on how you want to play, but those strings never need to be tuned and never break. The MI Guitar team says that just about anyone can pick up the instrument and play a song within five minutes.

It comes with the standard goodies you'd want in an electric guitar -- a standard 1/4-inch output for a amp or speaker, a USB MIDI output in case you want to capture the output in something like GarageBand, and headphone and mic ports for listening to your playing in private or singing along with your playing. Four knobs grace the body of the guitar for adjusting treble and bass balance, volume, selecting different guitar sounds (including two bass guitar sounds), and digital effects like chorus or reverb. Additional guitar sounds will be available through the app.

Two really subtle but smart features are the accessory mount on the end of the neck (there is no headstock) so a smartphone can be mounted for reading lyrics and chords while playing, and a detachable neck that makes it easy to pack the MI Guitar for travel.

On the side of the neck are backlit numbers and letters to indicate the fret, the key currently selected and the scale selected. Magic Instruments, the company behind MI Guitar and the app, is planning to sell lyrics and chord numbers for individual songs for $0.99 or every song in the catalog for $5.99 per month. The company plans to have “tens of thousands” of songs in its catalog when MI Guitar launches.

Not only are a lot of non-musical types like myself flocking to this Indiegogo project — MI Guitar is at 280% of its goal with a month to go — but some professional musicians who have played with prototypes say it’s great for songwriting.

There’s only one bad point; I will have to wait until March of 2017 to get MI Guitar. Unlike the Narrative Clip I’m still waiting for, I think the MI Guitar team will make its goal. It’s backed by Y Combinator and Highway 1, so the company has funding (even without my money!) and should be able to deliver on time.

Since the campaign has about a month to go, you too can get in on the action for as little as $299 (today only!). Who knows, maybe we can get a band of MI Guitar players together at some future Apple World Today event!