If you were a teenager or a twenty-something anytime in the past 60 years or so, the odds are you’ve played air guitar at least a few times. It’s OK to admit it: we all do it, and we all look pretty foolish doing it. So how cool would it be if you could do something almost the same as air guitar, and requiring the same level of skill (which is to say, none), but that would actually generate music?
Well, Paper Jamz aren’t the perfect solution to that problem, but they’re closer to it than anything else I’ve seen that doesn’t break the bank. $24.99 will buy you a guitar that looks like a small electric guitar, only the face of it is flat, as the product name implies, paper. You can turn it on and play with it out of the box, though you’d be better off reading the instructions or watching one of the company’s website’s very helpful videos — the method for interacting with the guitar is, while not difficult, also definitely not intuitive.
There are as of this writing six guitars available, each with a different look and a different set of three songs. There are currently five rock guitars and one country guitar being sold, and, while each has only three songs to pick from, the company chose the set for each guitar well: each song is very different from the other two. (Examples: One has The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and Blue Öyster Cult’s “Godzilla.” Another (the one I tried out) has Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild,” Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” and Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.”)
There are also six drum pads available that match up with the guitars and also retail for $24.99 each. Each guitar and drum pad has several modes of play, which allow you to strum along perfectly with the songs without having any idea what chords you’re playing, strum along but actually play the chords, or play freestyle without any accompaniment (the website mentions a karaoke setting, but as far as I can tell my guitar doesn’t do that). Each instrument has its own speakers to play the music; each can also be hooked up to any headphones you may have or to the Paper Jamz amplifiers (retail price: $14.99), which I’ve not tried but which are basically separate speakers (which can also be used independently of the Paper Jamz instruments). Oh, and of course the company also sells guitar straps (retail price: $4.99) to match each guitar, though if you’ve got Rock Band or Guitar Hero those straps will work just as well. All the instruments and amps are battery-powered.
So the biggest question, then, is: Are they worth it? The answer is that it depends on for whom you’re buying it. Based on my own and my kids’ experiences playing with the instruments, it’s the sort of thing kids (mine are 9 and 8, but I suspect most under the age of 15 or so would feel the same) will have a blast playing with for quite a while, to the point where adults will demand they put headphones on if they wish to continue doing so. Most folks over 15 will have fun with it for a few days, maybe even a week, but probably not much longer than that. I mean, either you’re really interested in learning the chords — in which case you’ll probably want a real guitar or drum set — or you enjoy playing along with the songs — in which case the fact that there are only three songs available will get boring pretty quickly.
Wired: It’s like air guitar, only one big step closer to reality. It’s fun to be able to play along perfectly with Deep Purple without having the slightest idea how to actually play guitar.
Tired: It’s fun to do that, a few times. Then it starts getting old, unless you’re a kid and don’t mind doing the same thing over and over again.
The Giveway: Leave a comment on this post with the three rock songs you’d most like to see together on a guitar, by noon tomorrow, October 12, 2010, Eastern Time. One randomly-chosen commenter will win a full Paper Jamz set: one guitar, one strap, one drum pad, and one amp! The package is worth $69.96. Good luck!