Fender Mustang Micro guitar amp
Three lockdowns down, and I bet you didn’t quite get round to perfecting your guitar technique. Me neither. My sadly still-pristine Fender Telecaster has a thin layer of dust on it. My Mustang GT40 amp has mostly seen service these past 15 months as a foot rest (a very good one, too). My online Fender Play guitar lessons subscription has expired.
Such an opportunity wasted. If only this portable, personal Fender guitar amp had come out last year, I’d be the natural successor to Prince by now, without once bothering the neighbours.
The rechargeable Mustang Micro plugs neatly and directly into your guitar – no messy leads – and offers, just like a proper amp, a range of 12 different sounds and 12 effects into your wired headphones or earbuds – plus buttons to “lighten” or “darken”, as Fender puts it, the overall sound. It has Bluetooth streaming too, so you can accompany recorded music – and there’s no irritating latency.
A splendid guitar accessory you might find your family loves as much as you will.
Fender Mustang Micro, £89.99, fender.com
Lumi Keys piano tutor
Roli has in less than a decade established itself as a leader in music keyboards, with the great Hans Zimmer and Canadian musician Grimes as users and Pharrell Williams as chief creative consultant.
Now the company wants keyboard beginners to get tinkling. Its Lumi Keys is a multicolour mini keyboard (a note shy of two octaves) that teams up with your iPad, iPhone or Android device to gamify the learning experience.
I’m not saying I’ll be at Carnegie Hall any time soon, but it is a highly intuitive learning system. Rather brilliant. But note, I didn’t say “easy”. You do have to concentrate.
If you need more keys, you can snap two Lumis together magnetically for a nearish full-keyboard set-up. And the Lumi app comes with 40 classic tunes to learn and a bundle of introductory lessons. If all goes well, you can then buy a subscription (£29 for the first year with the Lumi bundle) to give access to a lot more, including contemporary – hence copyrighted – material.
Lumi Keys, £299, plus optional annual subscription to contemporary-songs library, playlumi.com
Steinway Spirio R self-playing piano
Having a major pianist like Lang Lang, Katie Mahan or Robert Glasper come round to do a private performance could be a bit of a budget-stretcher. But so long as you’re good for £127,000 to £467,500 for a new Steinway Grand incorporating the company’s latest tech feature, Spirio R, you can have any of dozens of big names – including pianists no longer with us such as Vladimir Horowitz and Arthur Rubinstein – play for you every evening.
Spirio R is a self-play piano system, the type that offers the slightly spooky vision of the keys playing themselves. Many of the thousands of recordings available from Steinway are accompanied by streamed video of the performance. So with a Spirio R piano and a big TV, the illusion of a virtuoso playing live for you is not far off complete. Sceptics may say that you could just play a music DVD of a performer, but no matter how good your sound bar or hifi is, a Steinway grand is always going to sound vastly better. With a Spirio R piano and a big TV, the illusion of a virtuoso playing live for you is not far off complete. It’s not just a question of the keys plonking down in a particular order. When an artist like Lang Lang records a piece for Spirio R, it picks up the subtleties of every key press – the system can detect 1,024 “velocity steps”. So the auto-Lang Lang that plays in your home is to all intents and purposes him.
When it comes to performers who departed decades too early to record specifically for Spirio R, Steinway analyses existing audio recordings so as to reproduce as closely as possible the original key strokes, and then, for the video, match up original film recordings. Steinway has been making self-play instruments for six years now for the high proportion of buyers who can’t actually play piano. But the new Spirio R system is more sophisticated than the 2015 version. For instance, rather wonderfully for those who do play, you can record your own work and edit it to perfection on the dedicated iPad that comes with a Spirio R piano. You can even post your polished Meisterstück on social media.
Steinway Spirio R, from £127,000, steinway.co.uk
Senstroke virtual drum kit
Occasionally, when I’m in buoyant mood, I will drum along to some percussion-heavy music I’m fond of, using anything around – chair arms, cushions, desk – as surrogate drums. It’s a habit which, as far as I can tell, I share with only about a billion of my fellow humans.
Being able to drum silently but produce sound on headphones was one of the reasons that a groundbreaking kit by Aerodrums was so successful. Drummers’ partners, children and neighbours tend not to love drumming.
But there’s now a French rival to the Liverpool-based Aerodrums that I and, more significantly, my drummer daughter-in-law believe has the edge. While Aerodrums uses cameras to track your hands and feet, and requires near-darkness to work well, with Senstroke, you slip a Bluetooth-enabled sensor onto each drumstick and each foot, pair with an app, and, voilà, you’ve got a drum kit.
The tactile feedback from a stick hitting an object such as a table or cushion isn’t quite the same as from hitting a real drum, but it’s more satisfying than the sensation of drumming air. And you can calibrate different objects in different positions to emulate different drum sounds. Daughter-in-law toyed with the idea of using a glass and porcelain cake stand as a cymbal, and then wisely un-toyed with it.
Senstroke is not just a bit of fun, although it is definitively that. In combination with a phone or tablet app (tablet is better), you can use it to learn drums from scratch, or to polish and practise your skills. The accompanying app is extensive, effective and serious.
Senstroke, from €144, senstroke.com
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