Guitar Synthesizer Page - MIDI Guitar
Several companies make guitars that can be patched into MIDI devices and
synthesizers. This page is not meant to be exhaustive, but should give the
novice enough information to know whether or not they want to jump into
this pool and how deep they want to dive. . . . ENJOY!
History: I won't go into much of the past history of midi guitars, except to say
that a variety of designs have been tried from proprietary hardware built into the
guitar that converts the play action into MIDI, to guitars with actual switches in
the place of frets.
The most widely used process is one developed by Roland which senses the string
vibration and within a portion of the cycle determines the frequency and converts
it to standard MIDI note data. The sensing units fall into two types: Magnetic
sensors and Piezo-electric sensors.These sensors are divided to pick each of the
six strings up independently. This enables the guitarist to split up the strings
depending on the convertor being used. The current convention uses a 13 pin
DIN cable to carry the information to a convertor box/pedal. We will concentrate
on this format exclusively here.
LATENCY: Because all the convertors utilize some portion of the frequency cycle
to map a note, varing results are obtained depending on what notes you are
playing and how you are playing them. Consequently, a lag time is often more
noticeable on the lower strings and notes than on higher ones. Additionally, when
playing a synth guitar, playing style must be more precise in order to avoid
double notes or extra "ghost" notes. By their nature, the sensors are very
sensitive and will pick up notes that you may not even be aware that you are
It should be noted here that the best results are obtained when you "Play to the
Instrument" In other words, if you are emulating a sax, don't try to shred away,
but imagine yourself actually playing the instrument. Listen for the starting
breath sounds and the susequent vibrato and make it work for you.
MANUFACTURERS: In a nutshell, a synth access guitar will not do you any good
unless you utilize a convertor. Once the signal is converted to MIDI data it can be
used in any number of ways to drive keyboards, computer audio syths or
hardware sound modules. Many maufacturers combine the convertor with a
synthesizer which sometimes improves the latency issue. The major player along
with Roland is AXON. For a good review of these products click here.
GUITARS: I personally own two guitars with piezo sensors and another with the
Roland supplied GK pickup. My preference leans more to the bridge mounted
pickups simply because you get more out of it. Most guitars with a Piezo sensor
also give you an option to play the piezo signal, which in effect gives you a decent
"electric-acoustic" sound. I can tell you that the bridge mounted pickups on
acoustic guitars will NEVER sound like a good mic on an acoustic guitar, but the
sound has some nice characteristics and has become a flavor all it's own. Some
of the guitars to consider:
Brian Moore: I know little personally about this line, however along with
making 13-pin synth access guitars (utilizing the RMC piezo system) they
have a USB version to go direct into a DAW.
Fender Roland Ready Strat:This is a Plain Jane strat (usually Mex.) with
the Roland GK pickup built in. I'm not sure that it is even available
anymore as the move was made to a "VG strat" which is more designed
to be used with the Roland VG-99. Used ones still fetch $600-$800 US.
Godin: I recently purchased a used XTSA and I am most impressed with
the quality, sound and performance. If I had to suggest an entry level
model, I would lookfor one of these used, or its slightly less adorned
Freeway brother. Along with the Piezo and Synth access, you get two
humbuckers and a single pole controlled by a 5-way toggle that gives
you the broadest range I've heard on a guitar.
Carvin: This is one of the best kept secrets in the MIDI guitar world.
Carvin is a US guitar maker that puts out an incredible product for the
dollar. For around $2 grand you can get their top line synth access
guitar - COMPLETELY CUSTOM MADE! Mix and match finishes, woods,
necks and inlays. . Read their users forum. Owners are nuts about these
guitars and rightly so! A challenge anyone to anyone who thinks you
have to plop twice that amount - or more to Big "G" or Big "F" for a
custom shop product - and no synth access to boot! Carvin and Godin
both are the unsung heros in the line up. Properly set up, you get the
value of three distinct sounds in one axe (Piezo, Synth & mag PUPs) My
beauty can be seen here.
The Roland MIDI
(some items discontinued)