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The "Ultimate Air Guitar", the Jaminator was invented in 1990 by Steve Capps, Ray DuFlon, and Ed Bogas of Noise Toys, Inc. (NTI) for Worlds of Wonder (WOW). Capps is notable as a software developer for Apple Computer's Newton.

Now bankrupt, WOW also brought the world Teddy Ruxpin and LaserTag. Approximately 100,000 Jaminators were produced, with most never sold. The experienced "real" guitarist would never pay $200 for a toy, and most experienced air guitarists didn't have $200 in any case.

Holding down a fret button with one hand, the air guitarist taps a string button with the other hand. Each combination of fret key and string key results in a unique guitar riff. The effect is a fully synchronized rendition of guitar riffs with accompanying melody and rhythm. Astonishingly realistic sounding guitar effects can be created by a simple technique called "retriggering" which refers to rhythmically re-tapping a string button to re-initiate the same riff. The opening few notes of a riff sequence can thus be repeated, until finally released to completion. E.g., duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah, duh-dah-dah-WAW-WAW-WAW-WOOOEEEE.

The Jaminator uses plug-in cartridges which store up to five songs. Examples include the Modern Rock cartridge with The Police's Roxanne, the Lead Guitarists cartridge with Chuck Berry's Johnny B. Goode, and the Classic Rock I cartridge with the Rolling Stones' Start Me Up. WOW originally produced six distinct cartridges.

The Jaminator is normally powered by six C cell batteries. However, WOW's Jaminator includes a DC jack for external power via "wall wart". A headphone jack can be used for privacy, but judicious purchase of cables at Radio Shack allows the proud Jaminator owner to easily pipe performances through a stereo system for sharing music with adjacent apartment dwellers.

A special RJ-11 cord (note: NOT a regular telephone cord) can be used to link two Jaminators together for synchronized playing. The original Macintosh keyboard uses a modular RJ-11 cord to connect the keyboard to the Mac. This cord can be used to hook up two Jaminators.

Following WOW's filing of Chapter 11, Japan's Arrow Micro-Techs licensed and produced the Jaminator through 1993 and 1994. Arrow Micro-Techs produced eight new cartridges including Deep Purple, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. Unfortunately, the Japanese version of the Jaminator lacked the DC jack thus requiring the use of C cell batteries. Regularly available for purchase on the online auction site eBay, potential Jaminator buyers should be aware of this difference in Jaminator editions and bid accordingly.

NTI still holds the Jaminator's official U.S. Patent No. 5,074,182, which is entitled

Multiple key electronic instrument having background songs each associated with solo parts which are synchronized with and harmonious with the background song
This patent, with all accompanying diagrams, can be retrieved from databases accessible via the United States Patent Office web site at http://www.uspto.gov .

NTI also owns the registered trademark for the term Jaminator.

Sources for this writeup include:

  • Jaminator Home Page : http://www.madcapps.com/Jaminator/Jaminator.html

  • Mendelsohn, Alex. Three men and a modem: Designing a toy on a budget. Computer Design (ISSN 0010-4566). Sep. 1995, Vol. 34, Issue 9. pp. 104-107

  • Personal ownership of three Jaminators (two working)

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