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.
I have been traveling a bit with the new DA Guitar Rig and am happy to find that it all actualy works. This is a bit surprising as there were many unknowns in putting this mess together. Here is a quick rundown of some of the pros, cons and future enhancements of the system.
The sound and signal from guitar to laptop is awesome. The Sonuus i2M USB device injects a clean signal with very low latency into the Ableton Live brain while the 1.6 GHz MacBook Air barely breaks a sweat, even with 8 to 10 channels of processing craziness happening at once.
One of the design goals of the DA Guitar Rig is to conquer cable management. The mystery box in the middle of the drawing above represents this aspiration. It is an octopus of leads routing data, analogue audio and power to each device.
On the right is a photo of my first attempt at creating such a beast. It is an old computer bag containing every cable in the system, a USB hub, digital to analogue audio device and a power splitter. All necessary cables are cut to appropriate lengths. When multiple cables lead to a device, those will eventually be loom bundled. The cables never leave the bag. They unroll and attach to each device, but always lead back to the central bag/hub. No loose cables equal no lost cables. I also keep a small stash of replacement cables around just in case.
Here is a look at my latest guitar setup. The previous system was built around a Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer: a great gadget, but quite complex. So after selling it on Craigslist, as well as a few other items, I started building this new rig based on staying “in the box.” This is the plan for this never-ending work in progress.
MacBook Air, Ableton Live and AdrenaLinn Sync
Live is one freaky DAW. Part workstation, part recording studio, part performance tool, part instrument. There are so many ways to approach Live it can be a bit boggling. For the moment, I am using it for plug-in hosting (Native Instruments Guitar Rig, AdrenaLinn Sync), a few synths, backing tracks and the thoughtfully designed Live Looper.
I’m really digging the Souuus i2M Musicport. It is pricy ($150) compared to some USB guitar inputs. That is, until you consider the added functionality. Not only is it a clean analogue audio input (for guitar or bass), but it also does fast tone detection onboard to output MIDI. The MIDI is monophonic, so don’t expect it to do chords or individual string detection like a Roland GR-55 setup, but for synth leads or sax solos it’s awesome.
The i2M comes with software for customizing the device to your needs, but operates independently of software. So you can use it on a computer as well as an iPad. Makes a perfect choice for iPad Garage Band since you can feed the guitar amps the analog signal and send MIDI to the keyboards, drums and other instruments. Coolest feature – the SONUUS logo lights up (green or red) and flashes to indicate mode and clipping.
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