This futuristic guitar makes it possible to learn how to play in minutes

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The lights dim on the stage, and the rocker steps out as the crowd starts to cheer. He plugs in his guitar, and gets ready to play his favorite song. As the cheers fade, he presses the buttons on his guitar and taps his way toward greatness.

In the future, anyone who wants to get on stage and strum along to their favorite songs might just be able to, if they can press a few buttons. The Magic Instruments rhythm guitar, a new project debuting on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo yesterday, aims to be the first guitar-shaped object that anyone can play.

The Magic Instruments rhythm guitar.
The Magic Instruments rhythm guitar.
Image: Magic Instruments

Magic Instruments’ founder Brian Fan, a Juilliard-trained classical pianist, said that he wanted to learn how to play guitar so he could sing his newborn daughter lullabies. After a summer of trying, the musician who had grown up spending hours upon hours learning a different instrument, couldn’t transfer his skills to the guitar. Fan claims that the majority of people that pick up the guitar, like him, give up after a year. He wants to give anyone the experience of playing guitar, even if they can’t figure out the tricky finger work.

Fan’s guitar is set up like a very complicated version of the controller from the Guitar Hero videogame series. It can connect over Bluetooth to an app that his team is working on, and users will be able to play along to songs in real time. The buttons correspond to different chords—moving down the fretboard you’ll get different chords in the same scale, and moving across the fretboard will give you different variations of the same chord.

Fan said he’s working with all the major music publication houses to secure the rights to use the lyrics and chords from famous songs within the app. He hopes to have them available, either on a pay-as-you-go basis or through a subscription service, when the guitar ships in early 2017.  Think paint-by-numbers, but for music.

Play by numbers.
Image: Magic Instruments

Fan said that he’s already received backlash from guitarists about the point of the product. But he said it’s not really for them: It’s for the singer who wants to accompany herself, or someone who can’t devote the time, as an adult, to learn to play a guitar. With Fan’s instrument, you can be bashing out decent approximations of pop songs without help from anyone in a few minutes. It could be the future of karaoke clubs everywhere. Or, rather like Guitar Hero itself, it could be a passing fad.

Fan said the guitar will start at about $300 on Indiegogo, in roughly the same price range as a beginner guitar set. Fan’s guitar has a built-in amplifier that runs off of AA batteries (so you can bring it camping, he said), and can be plugged into a traditional guitar amplifier, or headphones.

I grew up playing guitar, but I’ll be the first to admit that I am not very good. My rhythm is horrible and I can’t seem to follow basic instructions. I still struggled to follow along with the songs in the Magic Instruments app, and questioned whether it was easier than just learning a guitar. But as I was talking to Fan, I realized that I kept absent-mindedly strumming the guitar, and playing little songs, thinking how it would make playing the backing tunes on songs a lot simpler.

This guitar will not be a hit with guitarists. But it could well end up being a fun gadget for singers—professional or otherwise. Fan believes some people will eventually use it onstage. We’re not going to see Jack White, Jimmy Page or Angus Young use one anytime soon, but if it gives the next great singing talent the confidence to get up onstage on their own, it could become a pretty useful tool.