Gadgets for humans

This electronic guitar will let even the most musically-challenged learn to play

magic instruments guitars

Some people are just not born to be musicians, but you can’t blame us for at least trying to learn to play an instrument. For most adults, it immediately becomes clear that without hours of daily practice, there’s little chance you’ll ever get good.

That’s why Magic Instruments‘ Brian Fan came up with the Rhythm Guitar, a full-sized electronic device that lets you play any guitar songs without learning how to adjust finger positions. Instead, you just push buttons, Guitar Hero-style, to land the chords you’re looking for.

magic instruments rhythm guitar

Fan, a pianist, said he tried learning to play a traditional guitar but found moving his fingers along the frets difficult to master. With Rhythm Guitar, he can focus on strumming and jamming along to the tunes.

“For many people, moving your fingers, strumming, and singing along can be hard to do simultaneously,” he told TNW. He also said older guitarists with arthritis have difficulty picking and playing like they used to.

Magic Instruments is currently headed to Y Combinator having just graduated from hardware-focused incubator Highway1.

I gave Rhythm Guitar a demo and it sounds pretty close to a classic guitar. The device comes with an accompanying app that has a list of songs you can choose from and it displays the tabs like a Guitar Hero game. This made it especially easy to play a song just a minute after getting used to where each buttons are.

magic instruments fretboard

My hands are pretty small, so I’ve had a hard time playing a full-sized guitar in the past, but Rhythm Guitar made it easy to focus on strumming correctly than placing fingers on the right frets. I don’t feel like a rockstar, but it was extremely fun.

Fan says the company is currently working with record labels to license more music on the app, and doesn’t foresee having trouble because the tabs are in Rhythm Guitar’s own language, thus not competing with songbooks these companies release.

rhythm guitar tabs

When it launches, users will be able to purchase the tabs per song, or subscribe to an unlimited catalog by the month. You can also pick and play your own songs without the app if you play often enough to remember which button corresponds to which chord.

I asked Fan how he feels about musicians who may see the Rhythm Guitar as a cheap way to master a skill, but he says he’s not concerned because the device was never meant to replace a guitar.

“If anything, it could be an introductory device to starting to learn a traditional guitar,” Fan said. “A lot of music gadgets out there are designed for people who already know how to play. We’ve designed this for beginners and people who just want to pick up and start playing.

“When Guitar Hero was popular, sales of traditional guitars went up. This could be a way for people to ease into learning a traditional guitar.”

I’ll admit, it was cool to play a song I struggled to hard to play previously because of my short fingers, but it still felt like I cheated. However, I can see how this device would be great for quick jam sessions with friends, or using it to master the strumming portion first.

Rhythm Guitar debuts on Indiegogo today with early bird pledges starting at $299. Each guitar comes with output jacks and can run wirelessly for a few hours on eight AA batteries.

The device won’t ship until Q1 2017, and will only come in a right-handed version first. The lefty version is in the works; when it hits the market, Fan estimates the retail value to be around $399.

Published April 19, 2016 — 15:00 UTC