Activision killed the Guitar Hero franchise, Rock Band seems like little more than a DLC machine, and Ubisoft’s new Rocksmith game sounds awesome if you want to jam on a real guitar, although the jury’s still out about whether it actually teaches you anything. All of this is to say that the world of videogame guitars seems to be a bit of a mixed bag. But what of the world of guitar bags themselves? No, not the carrying cases for a real-world axe; I’m talking about the new Electric Guitar Messenger Bags that you can get from ThinkGeek, among other sites. Do these practical bags with a mini amp actually “deliver” like the messengers they’re named after? Not really.
The design of the bag itself is great, with a deep main pocket and surprisingly durable cover flap to keep the contents dry. The carrying strap on the electric guitar messenger bag is pretty heavy duty too, so you can easily carry a laptop plus several heavier items and not worry about it coming undone or spilling. If you’re looking for a straightforward messenger bag that can take the everyday abuse of a true messenger or even a college student, the industrial design of this bag is pretty solid.
But this isn’t a straightforward messenger bag now, is it? The only reason you’d be picking this up is really its electric guitar functionality, and if you’re basing your purchase decision on that unique selling proposition alone, the novelty doesn’t seem worth the $50 investment.
From an artistic standpoint, the electric guitar messenger bag looks great. A white line-art guitar runs from the bottom-left to top-right corner of the bag while red, orange and yellow flames embrace the axe like the best ’80s rock album artwork. In the bottom-right corner is a clip-on mini amp, complete with volume and tone nobs and a style that screams “garage band.” Like its industrial design, the graphic design is top notch.
Try actually playing the guitar, though, and you’ll need much more than a Rocksmith jam session to feel like you’re doing anything more than making your neighbors’ eardrums barf. Unlike a traditional guitar, the frets up and down the neck don’t indicate places where you should put your fingers, but instead act as dividing lines between touch-sensitive “boxes” that indicate what note you’re trying to play. Activating that note (or notes, since you can play multiple at once) is achieved by strumming down on the “strings” in the middle of the guitar’s body. Unfortunately, the touch-sensitive boxes are far from accurate, so you’ll find yourself pounding on the strings and boxes trying to get the note to register. Try to play more than one note in a three-second window, and you’ll get even more frustrated at the lack of response. For context, I passed the bag around the room one Friday night to see what others thought, and four of the five people said “you’re just playing the same damn note over and over.” And yes, I was trying to press a different box each time.
As a result, I’m not really sure who would want to actually buy this electric guitar messenger bag. The novelty of it sounds cool, but the “same damn note” frustrations are going to be common among non-guitar players, turning them off to the whole experience, while the non-responsiveness of the touch-sensitive boxes are going to turn off people who actually know what they’re doing. It can’t even be converted to a kids’ toy — I tried — because the kids quickly get tired of not knowing how to make any noise other than the single note bemoaned by older (arguably drunk) adults.
I really wanted to like the electric guitar messenger bag, and from an artistic and industrial design side I do. For $50, though, I expected the bag’s singular novel feature to actually be enjoyable. It’s not. If a white elephant gift exchange is in order this holiday season, you may want to check it out. But if you’re looking for a “real” present for someone in need of a messenger bag, you’re better off getting an honest-to-goodness messenger bag rather than this marginally funtional novelty.
– Eric Pitt