When Rafael Atijas was a kid growing up in Uruguay, he wasn’t that interested in music. He wanted to be an architect, just like his dad.
Then life got in the way. His older sisters took him to a series of gigs—Argentinian guitarist Charly Garcia, eternal rock icons The Rolling Stones—and something clicked. Staring up at Keith Richards shredding away on stage, he knew what he wanted to be.
He wanted to become a rock star.
So at 13 years old he picked up a bass, thinking it would be easier to learn as it had fewer strings. He set out playing covers and original tracks with friends, eventually recording two albums.
Then came university—and a choice. He opted to study marketing and communication, rather than music, as he didn’t want to play in an orchestra or be a teacher. After all, “you don’t study” to be a rockstar, as he told El Observador. Jobs in marketing with the family company and creating digital marketing campaigns for music releases followed.
Yet Rafael Atijas has never lost track of Richards and Garcia. He’s never renounced his love of rock and guitars, or subsequent idols, such as Jack White and Prince.
Instead, he’s got closer to them than ever. Through Loog, a three-stringed guitar he developed, he’s completely revolutionised guitar teaching. He’s using augmented reality, monsters and educational games to make a generation of rockstars, from as young as three years old.
And it’s had astounding success—selling across Mexico, the US, Chile, Thailand and Uruguay, and ending up in the hands of Franz Ferdinand, Jack White, and even Charly Garcia himself.
From idea to Loog
Atijas’ journey towards Loog began in 2007, when his wife was offered a scholarship to study a master’s degree in the US. As Atijas was working from home for a US company, he was able to relocate relatively easily.
In 2008, he was accepted into a master’s programme in Integrated Marketing at New York University. And it was there, with his academic’s eyes, that he saw a huge gap in the market for educational instruments.
“Most guitars for kids are simply cheap, scaled-down guitars. And because they have six strings anyway, the neck is still too wide for a child to play comfortably—let alone easily,” Loog says. “Plus, cheap guitars tend to be cheaply made. It makes sense to avoid spending a fortune on a beginner’s instrument, but by going with really bad quality and materials, chances are your kid won’t feel engaged enough to play.”
So, in 2010, he developed Loog. The guitar uses the same first three strings and tuning as a regular guitar, so that finger placement can later be applied to a 6-string guitar. It also has a body that is designed to be comfortable and easy for children to use.
But, the big draw is that the guitar comes with games, flashcards and an augmented reality (AR)-powered application to teach people to play songs from day one.
Using AR, a mirror image appears and adds dots to show people where to place their fingers to play chords. The games offer practice rounds or karaoke style to real songs by artists including The Beatles, Taylor Swift and, of course, The Rolling Stones.
The Loog team. Credit: Loog
Kickstarter and beyond
Now a team of seven people, Loog has just launched its third Kickstarter campaign—this time for a new range of guitars that include an amplifier and a speaker. These are the Loog Mini Electric Guitar (for ages 3 and above), the Loog Pro Electric (for ages 8 and above), and the Loog Pro VI (for ages 12 and above)—the first Loog guitar to contain six strings.
Writing on the site, Atijas explains that the fact Loog was created at university “explains a lot” about the company’s culture.
“Our main goal is not to make the most profit, but to offer a product that is unique and well-designed,” he says, adding that two previous Kickstarter campaigns raised a combined $430,000—“turning Loog into the best-selling guitar ever on Kickstarter.”
The product has won design and innovation awards in Uruguay, Spain and the US, and Atijas has been a speaker at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference.
But the biggest success has been the joy the product has delivered to musicians young and old, expert and beginner. And nowhere was that more obvious than when Ronnie Wood—the Stones guitarist who has played alongside Keith Richards for more than 40 years—picked up one of Atijas’ Loog Minis and, in a video that has since gone viral, serenaded his two young daughters.
“That was a moment of glory for all of us,” he told the website Salvaje.
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