Yamaha EZ-AG guitar
Yamaha
By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 7/23/2004 2:36:28 PM ET 2004-07-23T18:36:28

Learning how to play a guitar can be a pain. First you have to buy a guitar, then wear your fingers to the bone while you’re taking lots of lessons. Then you have to practice a lot before you can make sounds that come close to simulating music. Or, you can try learning how to play with a Yamaha EZ-AG and cut out some of the pain and suffering.

The EZ-AG is a futuristic, self-teaching musical instrument which is a lot of fun to play – and to watch. That’s because instead of a full set of strings, the EZ-AG has frets (actually they’re red LEDs) which light up to show you where to put your fingers.

It's really a computer with MIDI and XF song compatibility that is shaped like an acoustic guitar. It’s 34 by 12 by 3.25 inches and weighs 4.3 pounds without batteries. It can operate on six AA batteries or an optional AC adapter. With 480KB of memory, the EZ-AG comes with 25 songs built-in, but the internal storage can hold a maximum of 99 songs.

I think most people can learn how to make chords and strum by following the lights. The EZ-AG has a selection of built-in songs and riffs for you to play along with and you can download more songs from your computer into the guitar. It will also play back any MIDI files you might have but the “strings” will only light up when you download specific files from yamahamusicsoft.com.

There are controls for everything. You can select from nine guitar sounds, eight bass guitar sounds, banjo, shamisen and grand piano. (For those history buffs out there, a shamisen is a three-stringed instrument that was developed from the classical Japanese stringed instrument, the biwa. Now you know!) An LED readout screen that gives visual feedback is located right next to the volume, tempo, balance and capo controls. There’s also a built-in speaker and a headphone jack; the EZ-AG also can be connected to an external amplifier.

LED fret board
Yamaha
The LED fret board shows you how to construct chords.
There are six strings, just like a real guitar, but they’re for strumming only. They’re also not very long and they work only when EZ-AG decides they should be on. You can set the EZ-AG to strum along with the built-in song, or you can put your fingers on the LEDs and then strum, or you can just watch the EZ-AG do its thing and sing along.

Playing with the EZ-AG is addictive. With the press of a button you can become a balladeer virtuoso. It was so much fun that I got up my nerve to actually play guitar for friends and foes alike. Everyone wanted to try it. And I mean everyone.

On the other hand, when you turn off all the bells and whistles the EZ-AG is not as easy to play as a real guitar. I took lessons 100 years ago and remember little. But Mike, my neighbor at work, is a terrific guitar player and he had a bit of trouble trying to play a riff. Bending the strings was completely out of the question.

I've found the EZ-AG priced at just under $200 on the Web. That’s not bad for a musical computer but you have to weigh that against the price of a versatile, inexpensive acoustic guitar and a bunch of lessons. Then again, lessons can be an ordeal -- and the Yamaha EZ-AG is a whole lotta fun.

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