I decided to get a new guitar for traveling so I would not have to subject my ancient SG and pre-cbs jaguar to airport bumps and tosses. If you just want to hear what the new Godin xTSA sounds like, here are a quick one, strange attractors, and recession era dreamscape 17, all showing off the synth and acoustic capabilities.
I have been eying up Godin guitars for some time now, and played a neat one with two humbuckers and a single coil in the middle with a little twist…there was also an onboard piezo pickup to emulate an acoustic sound. The one I played was in Honolulu, at Easy Music Center, and a good deal, but I decided to forgo it and wait til I got to Los Angeles to buy anything, thus saving one leg of travel. Plus I figured there might be more guitars in LA than in Honolulu. I sent some emails out inquiring and got back a response from Jon Bingham at West LA Music on Santa Monica Blvd saying he could get the Godin for me. He got me a great deal. Go see him for yr guitars! When we got around to details, it turns out that Godin has stopped making this particular guitar but makes the exact same one with a guitar synth built in as well, the xtSA.
I have been playing synthesized guitar for a while, using first G-tune, a tuning program with midi out, then the widi pitch tracking software. This has been fun–but tracking is a problem. Widi did a better job than g-tune (it should, it is made for the purpose while g-tune is primarily a most excellent tuner program), plus you could delimit the note range, taking some stray hits out of the picture. Still, it was like having a slightly drunk Thelonious Monk wannabe playing something vaguely similar to what you played on guitar but a little later. It is actually kind of cool sometimes, especially if used as an inexact wash kind of thing…check out rreplay’s round the perimeter, but the problem is something called tracking. Turning guitar string vibrations into midi notes is computationally inexact and intensive, so the tracking was never more than an approximation. Plus, neither captures any of the dynamics of your playing. This is particularly a problem with widi…it would not take much to put in an envelope follower to track dynamics and map it onto a midi control change message…that should be built into the program.
So anyway, Jon said he could get me a sweet deal on the xtSA, basically getting it for the same price as the discontinued model without the synth, so I thought , ok. Now last time I checked, guitar synths were always multi-thousand dollar affairs that locked you in to a particular set of synth hardware that did not sound so great. I checked again and found the Roland GI-20, which was just what I needed, basically it just took the signal from the guitar and changed it into midi, which I could then run through my zillion plugins.
After a few mixups which delayed the guitar’s arrival, I got it, the GI-20, a road-worthy case, and the attendant cords and a cool strap. The guitar is a beautiful flame maple top, black with lighter detailing in the wood. I also like the cognac flam maple finish, but got the better deal on the black one.
Got it home and spent a week on the acoustic and electric pickups without doing the synth. Very nice. The combination of humbuckers and single coil is nice. I have always played single coils, so it is nice to have that edgier sound available, and I figure when I get back to Honolulu, having something with humbuckers will add to the sonic palette. The single coil is not so hot, outputting only about half the volume of the humbuckers, but with a nice fendery slinky kind of sound. I am going to try raising it to see if I can get it to output a little hotter. I like crunchy single coils a la p-90s, but I am not sure this one has it in it. The pickup positions, selected via a strat-style 5 position switch are neck humbucker – humbucker/single coil – single coil bridge humbucker – and bridge. I thought it might be nice if the humbuckers could be tapped, instead of mixing, and a couple of other Godins do that with two pickups, the the LGX-SA and the LGXT, but they are two to three times the price.
The acoustic section is cool sounding, though without some doctoring up, not really acoustic sounding. It is more like the glassy 80’s Police/Andy Summer kind of tone that sounds really good chorused. I am playing with running it through a convolution reverb with a guitar body impulse loaded to make it sound woodier, and also mixing it with an octave up signal and a light slow moving chorus to get a twelve string sound…hmm, maybe a delay would be better than a chorus to get that…I’ll have to try it. One down side is that the whammy bar is really microphonic when the piezo is on so usually you’ll want to swing that out of the way.
The guitar plays flawlessly. It came set up right, and there are no dead spots or buzzes. It has locking tuners, which I guess I don’t get the point of just yet. They put on strings with no extra winds around the tuning peg, and I guess the lock is supposed to keep them in place and in tune, but mine slipped when I bent the strings, so I had to immediatrely restring. Not a good pitch for the Godin strings that they recommend on the guitar.
Now on to the synth…this is where things get a little squicky. The setup is to run an acoustic and electric analog out and a thirteen pin analog to midi cord to the Roland GI-20 midi box. When I plugged the Roland into the USB, it gave a terrible whining noise through the electric pickups at 1000 hz, 2000 hz 3000 hz and so on (see image above). I solved the problem by dispensing with the roland usb midi and running a midi cable out of the Roland and into an outboard USB midi port. Another seeming problem is that the synth volume knob does not work until you program it to work on the roland, as I found out when I RTFM. Once all that got sorted out, I was able to make some interesing music. Check out a quick one first if you don’t have much time or patience. It is the acoustic guitar played with a synth bass tracking the guitar sound. Next comes strange attractors, and last and weirdest, but showing some of the interesting things that can be done with the synth, is recession era dreamscape 17. All are recorded in one take in Plogue bidule. Everything but the drums comes from the guitar. As always, check out the rest of the music on way music.