When we first caught word of the gTar, it was a bit of a mystery, with an online presence amounting to little more than a low-res press shot, an enigmatic YouTube teaser and assorted specs coming out of South By Southwest and various investor sites. This week, however, brings TechCrunch Disrupt to town -- and Incident Technologies has braved some unseasonable New York City storms to come along for the ride. We managed to snag some time with the iPhone-docking instrument ahead of its debut on stage this afternoon.
Details are still a little scarce -- but here's what we know: the company is looking for a summer release for the educational instrument. In the meantime, Incident has thrown up a Kickstarter page, so you can get in on the action. A limited number of investors can get their hands on a unit for the low, low donation price of $350, once it goes into production. That's $100 off the estimated $450 retail price point -- not cheap, sure, but there are a couple of things to note here. First, we played with the gTar for a bit and we can say, definitively, that this isn't just some cheap, plasticky toy -- this feels like a real, amateur-level electric guitar. Also, for whatever it's worth, that price also includes a backpack carrying case -- so that's something, right?
Follow along after the break to get some fingers-on impressions.
As noted above, this isn't Guitar Apprentice we're dealing with here. This is a real deal, electric guitar -- at least in the sense of the externals. The company worked with guitar makers on this thing and it shows. It's made of wood, not plastic, giving it a fairly standard electric guitar weight. The body takes more than a few cues from the iconic Fender Strat, with a cutaway that gives you access to the full fretboard. The model that we played around with has a glossy white body with a black pick guard and neck.
The rear of the neck, interestingly, has exposed screws -- I asked an Incident rep about this, and he answered that the designers considered adding putty to cover the holes, but that ultimately felt too strange to the touch. Instead, you'll have to deal with the screws as a side effect of having electronics embedded in the neck. The headstock, meanwhile, is a bit of a generic diamond shape. The strings and tuning pegs are all the real deal as well. Ultimately, though, the tuning of the strings doesn't have any effect on what comes out of the speaker -- rather, it's an attempt to get players used to the standard guitar interface. This is, after all, an educational device at its core.
Strap pegs on the bottom edge and the top of the cutout mean you're not confined to your chair. On the side next to the pick guard, you'll find a slot with the power button, USB and audio out. The USB is used primarily to charge up the device's lithium ion battery (the iPhone itself is not charged by the guitar), which should give you six to eight hours in a go, according to the company. The presence of the USB port could also open the device's potential beyond education, perhaps as a synthesizer. In the meantime, the 1/4-inch audio out will let you output the sound to a pair of headphones or a stereo. Without this, you'll be listening to audio through the iPhone itself, as Incident opted not to stick speakers into the body.
The iPhone can get fairly loud in its dock inside the body, thanks to some acoustic amplification in the cradle. It fits in quite snugly, docked on a 30-pin connector, but the push of a button will get it right out. Once the iPhone is cradled safely inside, the gTar uses a free app designed by Incident. The idea here is to turn the whole learning process into a game of sorts -- with easy, medium and hard levels of instruction and corresponding points. Social networking functionality is also planned for the device's launch, so users can share things like scores online and compete against friends.
Choose a difficulty level and a song (the track offerings are still a ways off from being finalized) in the app and you're ready to go. The gTar will light up a small LED on the corresponding fret / string. In easy and medium modes, the "SmartPlay" functionality takes out mistakes, so you can play along with minimal frustration. After playing around with the device for a bit, it's easy to see how the repetition of learning a song this way could certainly get one into the guitar-playing habit. The app also has a "FreePlay" mode, which lets you use the device as a bit of a synthesizer, letting you switch around sounds on a virtual effects pad.
The gTar doesn't have any pickups. Strumming is detected by sensors at the bridge while finger positions are registered by the frets themselves, picking up contact with the strings. If you look closely, you'll notice that the frets are broken up into segments for each of the strings, so the gTar can detect the differences. And should you break a string, there's easy access through a door on the device's back.
Incident's got a rather compelling product on its hands here, and to all the naysayers comparing this to a plastic Guitar Hero controller, there's a lot more to it than that. Still, $450 does feel a bit pricey for an entry-level, educational guitar. Hopefully, however, the price will drop a bit if the gTar sees wider production.