Saturday, June 23, 2012

Guitar synthesizer

The newest thing I've added to my quiver is really two things: first, a Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer, and second, a compatible guitar to "drive" it with, the Godin Multiac ACS-SA Slim Nylon-string guitar. I've wanted to have a way of recording MIDI data from a guitar for many years, and now I finally do.

I'll talk about the guitar first. I'm really enjoying it. It's very comfortable and playable, with a comfortable neck. It differs from a standard classical nylon-string guitar in having a narrower neck and longer scale, so it's an easier adjustment for an old hack electric player like me. Its standard amplified sound is terrific. I now can add the sound of a nylon-string guitar to my recordings.

But of course the synth capabilities take it to a whole other universe. As a controller, I'm pretty impressed. I've read for years that guitar-to-MIDI systems are just too glitchy to be truly usable, but I find that the Roland has little trouble tracking what I play on the Godin. My technique is fairly clean, so I think I shouldn't have too much trouble adapting my playing when driving the synth.

The guitar plugs into the GR-55 using a special 13-pin cable, which carries the individual signals from each string as well as the standard audio signal from the pickup. The individual string signals undergo pitch-to-MIDI conversion and the MIDI data triggers the sounds on the synth, and can also be routed to external synths or a computer's MIDI interface for recording. There are two separate sound sources that can be triggered at the same time, so you can layer any of the sounds available and adjust their blend.

In addition, the GR-55 incorporates some of the modeling technology from Roland's VG-99. So in addition to the two synth tones you can trigger at the same time, you can also layer one of the modeled COSM tones (which include electric guitar sounds like a Fender Stratocaster, Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul Standard, etc., electric bass guitar sounds like a Fender Precision bass, Jazz bass, Rickenbacker bass, etc., and finally acoustic sounds like steel-string guitar, nylon-string guitar, Coral electric sitar, conventional five-string banjo, and Dobro-type resonator guitar).

Finally, the synth tones can be routed through a battery of digital multieffects, and the COSM modeled tones can be routed through guitar amp models and guitar effects.

There's an expression pedal on the right side of the unit that can be set to control effect parameters, and a phrase looper so that you record up to 20 seconds of sound and have it repeat to provide a bed of sound to play over.

The "regular" sound of the Godin can also be blended with the two synth tones and a modeled tone, and you can adjust the volume of each independently from the Godin via a pair of slide switches. So, for example, in performance you could start playing some synth sounds, and comfortably segue into nylon-string guitar and back again.

I've really only begun to scratch the surface of the GR-55, and I look forward to lots of fun with it, and anticipating that it will up my interest level in both composing and recording.

Here's a small sample of some of the sounds on the GR-55...

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