The first MIDI-capable guitars were giant clunkers with poor tracking and complicated setups. More recent technology is much better, but super-expensive and depending on what route you go down you could find yourself doing irreversible mods to your guitar. Not everyone wants a super tricked-out MIDI guitar for stage use, but it’d be very handy to have something in the studio that would make it easy to lay down keyboard parts without having to actually play keyboards. Enter the You Rock MIDI Guitar.

This is several instruments in one, when you get down to it: it’s a MIDI controller which operates like a guitar, with six strings, 22 frets (not buttons) like some other MIDI guitars) and a whammy bar. It’s also a controller for various guitar-based games out there. And it has its own sounds built in too, so you can plug it straight into an amp, mixer or headphones and hear a guitar, a piano, a sitar – whatever floats your boat and is stored in the instrument’s memory.

The six equal-sized steel wires which take the place of strings only extend between the bridge and the base of the neck. From there you press down on one of six strings (actually raised surfaces on the fretboard). The response isn’t the same as a guitar: you can’t perform vibrato (but there’s a bar or a modulation stick for that), and the strings don’t vibrate and sustain the way regular guitar strings do (but the software compensates for that), and you’ll find yourself picking the treble strings way too softly at first (but your muscle memory will soon make up for that too).

Outputs include a standard quarter inch guitar output jack, stereo mini headphone output, stereo line-in for MP3 players, iPods and the like, a high-speed USB/MIDI interface, a MIDI output with 5-pin legacy connector, and a GameFlex port which connects it wirelessly to Wii and PS/3 consoles (Gameflex cartridge sold separately). It runs off either four AA batteries or USB power.

The inbuilt synth sounds are good enough to mess around with through headphones or an amp, and they help to make this into an ideal practice instrument for travellers (it helps that you can take the neck off too for easy stowing). But the real magic comes when you plug it into a computer or MIDI sound module and start exploring. Even if you’re used to working with MIDI via a keyboard or the editing window in Garageband/Pro Tools/Cubase/Logic/Studio One etc, the You Rock MIDI Guitar opens up a whole new world of expressive possibilities. Once you’ve become accustomed to the playing quirks you’ll be able to lay down keys, wind and string instruments and even drum parts. And you can even use the You Rock MIDI Guitar to input data into a TAB program like Guitar Pro, which is very handy indeed. In fact, you can improvise something in Guitar Pro to get the TAB down then export that MIDI info to your DAW for further editing or sound reassignment. Very handy.

The You Rock MIDI Guitar will be a hard sell to some guitarists, since we’re so traditional, but it’s very much worth checking out and seeing what it can do, rather than dwelling on what it can’t, or expecting it to be exactly like a conventional guitar. It’s a really handy studio and practice tool, and very inexpensive for what it does.

Here’s a little example of what you can do with this little wonder:

You Rock Sitar by I Heart Guitar