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Zivix Jamstik Classic

MIDI Guitar By Dave Lockwood
Published August 2023

Zivix Jamstik Classic

The launch of the original Jamstik Studio marked a real advance in the world of pitch‑to‑MIDI guitars — and there’s now an alternative model for guitarists who prefer to play something more familiar.

When I reviewed Zivix’s Jamstik Studio MIDI Guitar, I wrote that “if there is ever a Mark II of the Jamstik Studio, I hope it has some easier‑to‑use tuners.” Well, here it is! The new Jamstik Classic mounts Zivix’s innovative and highly effective pitch‑to‑MIDI conversion system into a Strat‑like design, complete with a conventional headstock and tuners.

It is not that the previous incarnation didn’t work — I must admit I’ve very much got used to tuning with a hex key at the bridge over the last two years — but with MIDI guitars you do tend to check and re‑tune a lot, and needing a tool for this basic function is just not as convenient as reaching up and being able to tune with your fingers. Of course, there are also some people who simply don’t get on well with headless designs: if you are already an experienced player of conventional guitars, it does slightly disturb your inherent sense of where you are on the neck with your fretting hand, for a while at least. Although the original Zivix model, which retains the name Jamstik Studio, had a conventional 25.5‑inch scale length, it featured a scaled‑down body size that also imposed a different right‑hand position compared to a ‘normal’ guitar, so the full‑size alder body of the new Classic will be welcome in that respect, too. The neck on the Classic model is a 25.5‑inch scale‑length, 22‑fret, roasted‑maple, bolt‑on design, with a comfortable 42mm width at the nut.

Although this is a Strat‑like guitar, there’s no floating trem — on balance, that’s probably wise in the MIDI‑guitar world, where stable tuning is so important — but the tuners are nevertheless the locking type normally associated with a trem bridge (yes, I know it should be vibrato not tremolo, but I’m not sure I can personally undo 70 years of misusage...). Some might argue that locking tuners offer inherently more reliable tuning anyway, although I’m not sure I altogether agree. In fact, if you follow the locking‑tuner ‘best practice’ of using the minimum wrap around the string post, you end up limiting the break angle over the nut of the low E and A strings. Two double string trees take care of the break angle for the other four strings, and, of course, there’s nothing to stop you using a ‘sensible’ number of wraps on the E and A to get the break angle you want.

The original Jamstik Studio model (right) next to the Strat‑like Jamstik Classic, which is available in Vintage Cream or Onyx Black.The original Jamstik Studio model (right) next to the Strat‑like Jamstik Classic, which is available in Vintage Cream or Onyx Black.

Setup Matters For MIDI

The familiar double set screws of the six chunky, chromed bridge saddles adjust the action in the conventional way using the supplied hex wrench, and the brass nut is adjustable for height, too, if necessary. The truss rod adjusts from the headstock end, with the neck responding very quickly to small tweaks. This may all seem like it has nothing to do with the all‑important MIDI side of things here, but the fact is you need a decent basic setup for the guitar to avoid compromising MIDI performance, no matter how good the pitch‑conversion technology used. A low action obviously helps you to play cleanly, but fret buzz creates pitch ambiguity for the detection system, so it’s all about finding the best compromise.

The pickups on the Classic consist of a chrome‑covered bridge humbucker and two ceramic‑magnet Strat‑like single coils, with the Zivix system’s narrow hex pickup nestled in behind the humbucker. There’s a Strat‑like single volume control, and two tone controls, the latter assigned to the two single‑coils, leaving the bridge humbucker without one. I suspect some players might prefer the second tone control attached to the bridge pickup, but it’s an easy fix for anyone competent with a soldering iron. A five‑way pickup selector switch offers all the individual selections and parallel combinations except neck and bridge. The middle pickup has a reverse‑wind/reverse‑polarity spec, to make it in‑phase and hum cancelling when combined with the neck pickup, but there is no auto‑coil tap on the bridge humbucker to keep it hum cancelling when used with the middle pickup. A humbucker and a single coil in parallel doesn’t ‘quack’ quite like two single coils, which means you miss out on one of the classic Strat tonalities. The humbucker is also slightly further from the bridge than on a conventional ‘super Strat’ due to the presence of the hex pickup. Tonally, I don’t find that a problem, and I actually think a humbucker sounds better placed there on a 25.5‑inch scale length.

I’m sure that classic conventional guitar tones will be very much a secondary consideration to purchasers of this instrument, however: it’s the MIDI performance that we are really interested in. An edge‑mounted USB‑C port is used for both MIDI output and charging the onboard battery, with a 3.5mm mini‑TRS MIDI output, too, and wireless MIDI connectivity using BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) also onboard. I always prefer a wired connection for minimum latency MIDI recording, but the Bluetooth connection facilitates the use of the new Jamstik Control app on mobile devices. You can (and I do) use both together: the Bluetooth for settings in the app and the wired connection for MIDI. This allows you to access all the performance and setup parameters of the MIDI side of the instrument on a conveniently placed tablet or phone, without having the Jamstik Creator app open and occupying a chunk of your DAW’s screen space. A lot of the work that I do requires the sounds of ‘conventional’ instruments, albeit in virtual form, and that’s not an area in which the sound library of the Jamstik Creator app is particularly strong, I feel, even with some new libraries available. Previously, working in Logic Pro, I would have to fire up Creator solely to flip between ‘no‑pitch‑bend’ mode for a piano part, and then activate pitch‑bend and perhaps set the pitch‑bend range for a fretless bass part, for example, but now I can just do that from the app on a tablet or phone.

Both the Creator software and the new Control app offer a Transcription Mode, specifically for use with music notation software.

Both the Creator software and the new Control app also offer a Transcription Mode, specifically for use with music notation software. This is designed to maximise accuracy by disabling some of the note detection features and also increases latency by some 30‑40 milliseconds, so obviously not intended for real‑time performance.

The new Jamstik Control app for mobile devices gives you access to the settings and performance parameters independently of the Jamstik Creator virtual instrument.The new Jamstik Control app for mobile devices gives you access to the settings and performance parameters independently of the Jamstik Creator virtual instrument.

Jamstik Creator Instrument

The virtual instrument (VST and now also AAX Pro Tools‑compatible) within Jamstik Creator does, however, make effective use of MPE mode (see the MPE boxout), an extension to the MIDI spec that allows for much deeper control and interaction with potentially every note than is possible with just channel‑based MIDI controller data. MIDI guitar systems were, from the very start, often configured with each string being on its own MIDI channel so that each could have its own pitch‑bend data, rather than a single channel‑based pitch‑bend parameter that would, of course, change all strings’ MIDI output at the same time. But the MPE spec allows for real‑time control data to be applied on a per‑note basis. With a Jamstik in MPE mode and with String Envelope activated, MIDI CC11 (Expression) or CC7 (Volume) data is generated based on each note’s string amplitude, tracking its envelope and using that data to influence synth sounds. More String Envelope control data options are available, including Channel Pressure (Aftertouch) and CC71 (usually Resonance), and can make for a more expressive playing experience, along the lines of ‘multidimensional’ controllers like the ROLI Seaboard, Roger Linn’s LinnStrument and other dedicated controllers that permit meaningful physical interaction with MIDI notes as they are sounding.

Generating the MPE control data is only half the picture, of course: the receiving synth has to be set up to know what to do with it, and the majority of virtual instruments included with DAWs certainly aren’t yet ‘MPE ready’. A deluge of MPE data will often prevent a single‑channel virtual instrument from working at all, so if you are having problems with a Jamstik connected to a DAW, the first thing to check is that you haven’t inadvertently left it in MPE mode. It is easily done as the Creator app always prompts you to enter MPE mode for tuning and setup. Many of the sounds in the eight new sound libraries available to purchase for Jamstik Creator, some of them created in collaboration with Brooklyn, NYC‑based Samples From Mars, seem to make effective use of the expressive possibilities of MPE and are well worth exploring.

The Jamstik Creator app has had a number of enhancements since our original review and now has access to many more libraries of sounds.The Jamstik Creator app has had a number of enhancements since our original review and now has access to many more libraries of sounds.

Standalone Use

Although I’m sure the primary application for Jamstik instruments, among Sound On Sound readers at least, will involve connection to a DAW, Jamstiks output MIDI directly and are therefore capable of standalone operation, either connecting directly to a hardware MIDI synth or to the Jamstik Creator soft synth for performance. In my review of the original model, I felt that it would have been far more useful in standalone mode if it had hardware control of some of the basic settings on board, such as multi‑ or single‑channel operation, pitch‑bend on/off, and octave selection. These are now all well taken care of in the Control app, making it ideal for studio work, but I’m not sure I’d want to be dependent on an app for those settings in a live performance scenario. Along the same lines, I’d happily dump the second tone control in favour of a MIDI CC7 (Volume) generator. My venerable old Casio MG510 didn’t do MIDI half as well as the Jamstik Studio, but it did have all of those parameters on hardware switches, and a built‑in tuner, too. Maybe some considerations for a future Mark III? One new thing we do have now, however, is a double‑tap facility on the power‑on switch to flip between single‑channel and MPE operation. It would be great if that were a user‑definable function in the control app (personally, I’d prefer it as pitch‑bend on or off).

Still The Best?

I described the original Jamstik Studio as “one of the best guitar‑to‑MIDI instruments I have used” and the time I have spent with it since then has only increased my appreciation of its capabilities. Several firmware updates have managed to avoid breaking anything, so it still provides cleaner, more reliable MIDI than any other pitch‑to‑MIDI based system I have experienced. The MIDI system in the Classic is exactly the same as the one in the original Studio model, confirmed by the measured times from pick transient to the start of the converted MIDI note being almost exactly the same on both models. I say almost because, as in my original review analysis, it doesn’t always seem to be entirely consistent. The top E at 5‑6 ms has too narrow a window to ever notice anything different, but I’m still both baffled and intrigued by the apparent ability of the low E, with a measured time in isolation of around 25 to 30 ms, to sometimes seem able to place notes earlier than it should with that conversion time. Have I got magically better at consistently compensating for latency on the lower strings? I very much doubt it. I have asked Zivix for any insight but, as before, they are understandably shy of revealing the details of their proprietary technology other than to say that it is “new and developed entirely in‑house”.

The original Jamstik Studio remains current and, as the name perhaps suggests, maybe that’s the one for people who do their work sitting in front of a screen and keyboard all day; the smaller body and headless neck are actually quite useful in that context. The new Jamstik Classic, with its more traditional and familiar guitar‑like persona, will certainly make it easier for players to transition into the world of MIDI guitar for the first time, as well as completely eliminating the minor irritation of tuning the strings at the bridge, and could certainly be seen as better suited to those who might want to use both MIDI and conventional guitar sounds from one instrument in a live performance setting.

It takes a fair amount of faith and dedication to continue to actively innovate and develop instruments for the narrow and highly specialised world of MIDI guitars, but given the growing interest in more expressive MIDI instruments and need for alternative controllers to exploit them, it’s not too hard to imagine that Zivix’s persistence might have put them in exactly the right place at the right time.  

Understanding MPE

Officially, MPE stands for ‘Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression’, although pretty much everyone, including seemingly the MMA (MIDI Manufacturers Association), seems to refer to it as MIDI Polyphonic Expression. The fundamentals of MIDI data haven’t changed since their adoption in 1982, of course, allowing for note information to be generated from a control surface, usually a keyboard, and sent to virtual or hardware instruments, or recorded in a DAW software application. The basic data says which notes have been played and for how long (and on which channel), whilst additional data describes other parameters, such as pitch‑bend, sustain pedal use, or modulation application, and applies it to all notes being played on the same MIDI channel.

MPE, by contrast, sends its additional control data on a per‑note basis, allowing perhaps one or two notes in a chord to be emphasised with modulation or a filter opening up, while the others are unaffected. This is far more like interacting with a physical instrument than playing sounds from a conventional MIDI controller like a keyboard, so long as there is some logical connection between the player’s actions and what happens to the sound.

MPE‑compatible controllers tend to have dedicated virtual instruments already set up to make use of the data so you can just get on with the business of playing and exploring the additional expressive possibilities. At present, however, I’m not aware of any MPE‑ready virtual instruments included within DAWs, nor is the editing of MPE data well catered for in every DAW, and the ability to easily edit is, of course, one of the greatest assets of the MIDI format. I’m sure makers of expressive controllers will be keeping a close eye on software developments in this area, which are surely bound to come.


  • Fast, accurate MIDI output from a real guitar.
  • Outputs MIDI directly.
  • Jamstik Control app makes settings easily accessible without having to go into the Creator instrument.
  • AAX Pro Tools version of Creator now available.


  • More physical MIDI controllers would be advantageous for live performance.


Pitch‑to‑MIDI combined with some DSP ‘intelligence’ has resulted in a major improvement in MIDI guitar performance, and the integration of Zivix’s technology into a more familiar guitar format can only make it more accessible to a greater number of players.


£999 including VAT.