The waiting is the hardest part. When Burr Johnson demoed the Triple Play MIDI Guitar Controller for Fishman at the NAMM earlier this year, it showed all hallmarks of changing the game when it comes to MIDI guitar. At the time, there was talk of it shipping in June. A recent conversation however with a Fishman representative pushed that date to an indeterminate time later in the year, with an “announcement coming in the summer.” Here’s hoping it will be worth the wait.
Roland has always built capable MIDI guitar controllers, but they’ve not kept up with the times nor the needs of forward-thinking musicians. The recently released (January 2011) Roland GR-55 is a boat anchor of a device that felt ancient the day it shipped. While it sounds great and tracks well, interacting with it feels like traveling in time to the mid 90’s; fiddling with clunky buttons, scroll wheels and sub-sub-sub menus. The 55 is a valiant attempt to aim the product line at the pro guitar player, my experience with the product left me with the feeling that Roland doesn’t understand the modern customer and was resting on its laurels when it comes to advancing MIDI guitar technology. At least that’s how I felt as I posted the GR-55 to CraigsList after a few months of using it.
Fishman is poised to sweep in and make the Roland line look like a relic. Stealth, wireless and far superior tracking (according to a Fishman representative) along with a price point to make one regret their sizable Roland investment. But do they have the marketing power to take MIDI guitar to it’s full commercial potential? Unlikely. Here’s why.
Roland, a huge corporation with ample marketing dollars, has had this opportunity in it’s lap for a decade or more, but has yet to convince guitar player that MIDI is a must-have utility. It clearly takes more than simply having half-broken demo units sitting dusty and orphaned in Guitar Centers. If the Fishman product lives up to its promises on release day, they should be able to take a good portion of the niche market. It my be a nice place to be business-wise, but it would be awesome if some company could really sell MIDI guitar to the main stream. It’s a potentially huge market. Who’s going to crack it? Does Fishman have the marketing savvy and budget to sell MIDI guitar to the masses? Time will tell.