There are many musicians I know who want to record at home with synthesizer sounds, but find that their keyboard skills are not entirely up to scratch. And fair enough too, because these people spend most of their time practicing guitar, thus ignoring other instruments in the process. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s rather admirable to be able to focus all your energy towards one instrument and fully master it. But, it leaves you in a bit of a bind when you want to record keys and you are too cool to have keyboard players as mates. There is a solution, one that has been around for quite some time. It involves that nasty word – MIDI.
The concept of fitting divided MIDI pickups to guitars is by no means a breakthrough revelation. It has been going on since the 80’s and has in all this time had limited success. Notes would drop out, or latency issues would make it unfeasible. Then, there were usually far too many peripherals involved. You couldn’t just plug in a lead and be done with it. There where extra cables and different boxes and signal splitters and all sorts of stuffing around. By the time a decent sound was found and achieved, you could have learnt to play the keyboard and already recorded the entire album. So, the breakthrough MIDI technology hasn’t always been an ideal solution for guitarists, but nowadays, it is.
The Keyboard Guys
Many of you will have heard of the GK divided pickup from Roland. It has been developed over many years and continues to lead the way in MIDI tracking for this instrument. The latest incarnation is the GK-3 and is now available as a bundle with the Boss GP-10 guitar processor for the quickest and simplest Roland guitar setup to date. Installing the pickup does not require permanent modification to your guitar and is a breeze when compared to traditional guitar pickup installations. You don’t even need to restring most guitars in the process, but simply need to spend a little time ensuring height and positioning are correct. Once installed, you have the ability to switch between your traditional magnetic pickups or the GK, or blend the output from both. This allows you to access a number of guitar and amp effects on the GP-10, but also allows you to convert you guitar playing to MIDI and open up a world of possibilities without learning a new instrument.
The Guitar People
The other main player in the MIDI guitar market these days comes from a different background. Whereas Roland came from a keyboard based history, Fishman have always been a company building pickups for guitar players. Now, they have extended the reach of their customer base by creating a new pickup that offers a very simple introduction to the world of MIDI guitar. The Triple Play system includes a divided pickup to be mounted onto just about any guitar, but it goes one step further by doubling as a wireless transmitter too. The receiver is a USB dongle that sends the signal directly into a computer software platform for incredible flexibility with your guitar. It is very easy to install and set up and the ever developing software package makes it so easy, even guitar players can tinker with loads of synthesizer sounds in live and recording environment. Being wireless, it doesn’t really restrict the player in any way and can be left on the instrument, going unnoticed when not in use.
The only real drawback with this system though is that it does involve the use of a computer in order to generate sounds. The Roland GK setup has grown to not only integrate with computers, but to offer a standalone hardware alternative too. This might make some people a little weary of the Fishman when wanting to use one of these systems in a live environment. I know myself, trusting a laptop on stage is never ideal.
If stability is a must, then a Roland and Boss combination is the answer. You are restrained slightly with the reliance on cables to run both your MIDI and audio signals combined, but you can be certain that you are not going to suffer from software meltdowns and computer crashes at the worst possible time. For recording, the Fishman option is definitely a simpler and more creative tool. But, for rugged build, hardware implementation and stability, you just can’t go past that classic Roland sound.