roastguider

just an experiment with a synth setting I liked on UHE’s BazilleCM vst synth that I got by subscribing to computer music magazine. reminded me of the proto-synth-punk-actually-kind-of-beyond-genre duo Suicide’s famous Ghost Rider, but not; hence the silly spoonerism for the title.

 

rainish

Play it on a sunny day if you’re only happy when it rains. This is a chill thing, not much going on it seems on the surface. Nice background music that will make you reach for your raincoat when you leave. The track is a simple live guitar improv run through four different lanes with the use of some rain sounds in unusual ways.

Only read more if you want to geek out on the details.

The first thing to come in….the pit-pat of drops splatting…is a guitar synth triggering samples of my home-made wooden-keyed sansa.  This is “lane 1”

IMG_0114Soon after you gradually begin to hear two sets of ambient rain sounds emerge in the background. These are the only other thing than the four-lane guitar. The first to enter are a group of snippets of from a freesounds field recording of rain on a tin roof. The recording is split into pseudo-mid-side, with one section of the clip providing the mid, the common base sound to both stereo channels. Then two other clips, both from different times on the same recording are placed, one on the right channel and one on the left, to provide some stereo, giving the track a sense of space. All this was because the original field recording was mono and I want the stereo to be big on this. The second track is a stereo field recording I made of the rain as it sounded on the 9th floor outdoor walkway of my apartment. It is in stereo from the start, and much more “ambient” than the tin roof.

The second guitar lane comes in during fade in of the ambient rain. It is still the same guitar notes as the pit-pat samples. It is electric guitar, more or less pretty clean, run through two vocoders, one with the “left” side of the tin roof pseudo stereo recording, the other with the right side. On one vocoder it is the carrier, on the other it is the modulator. This means that one side of the guitar sounds like it is playing through the rain, while the other side sounds like the rain is playing through the guitar. The two sides are sent through the rain yet again, this time using a convolution plugin that makes the vocoder processed guitar/tin roof sound as if it is playing in the tin roof rain. Got some tin roof rain for your tin roof rain sound. All of this gives the guitar a sort of watery voice I think while still keeping the notes clear.

That gets joined soon after by the third lane, the “acoustic channel” of my Godin e
lectric guitar. This makes the articulation of the “watery” guitar clearer. The fourth guitar lane (still the same single guitar playing though) then fades in, a reverb drenched, trebly guitar that smears everything up again, but just in the background, tying together the guitar with the rain tracks to complete the atmosphere. Past the middle, all of the sounds gradually fade out one by one til only the the vocoded, convoluted guitar and a little ambience is left at the end.

As a special bonus, the art for the song is made from the spectrogram of the mix, which looked nicely smeared and rainy to my eye. That is the part “outside” the car. The driver’s eye view of the road and the inside of the car is stolen. Not saying from where.

reconsider

I learned this from a book a zillion years ago and then had to reconstruct it without the book from memory.  I thought it was Lowell Fulsom’s “Reconsider Baby,” but it doesn’t seem to be so I am just reconsidering what it is altogether.  Everything is guitar and guitar synth.  The horns (including a tuba for a bass!) don’t sound too cheesy as long as I keep it simple.

Amongst the guitar players: conservative fetishization and its discontents ;^)

Recently, Peter Kirn over at the excellent blog Create Digital Music wrote an article about Antares, the makers of the much misused and reviled Autotune, and their experimental onboard guitar processor that brings it to the guitar, an instrument that already has it (they are called frets).   It set off an interesting discussion that mostly bears out a couple of things I have thought about guitarists (of which I am one) for a long time. First, we are usually really conservative when it comes to technology.   Second, we usually simultaneously have a hardware fetish: When we do want tech, we want a physical thing even when there are software solutions that do the exact same thing, often better, often for free.

Got to have that box to stomp on, gotta feel it. As an avowed tube snob for the first thirty years of my playing, I have a keen understanding of this. Guitars have vibrating strings sunk into resonant wood. Tubes compress and distort in some wonderful non-linear way that creates a feedback loop, from guitarist to strings to wood to pickups to amp to speakers and back to the player. Its a little mystical and still gives me the warm fuzzies (as opposed to the solid state cold fuzzies). This is no BS and there is a connection.

But tube snobbery has fallen on hard times lately IMHO. Yes, I still think single coils through a tube amp sounds great, but digital modeling has gotten way better over the past ten years, and much of the responsiveness and harmonic structure of tube compression and distortion is available on my laptop. For example, this is all laptop guitars and it sounds as good as tubes to me, both the spanky, new string sound of the rhythm and the just-on-the-edge-of-distorted lead. Plus the Hammond B3 sound is through the guitar and the laptop too. Try bringing a real one of those through TSA, which I did with this whole setup. And try to get this out of a tube amp. Same guitar, same day, same laptop, same song. Its to the point that I never play my lovely vintage tube amp any more, which is a bit of a shame. It has no master volume and I live in a condo, so that is how its going to be. While I give up a few things, like responsive feedback (of the Jimi variety this time) and early deafness, my tonal pallete is vastly expanded along other axes, so to speak.  A look around waymusic or listening in on the waydio will give you an idea of what I mean.

ampeg vt40
My amp, the ampeg vt40

I still have a longstanding plan to lug the old tube monster (see image) and the SG out to a practice room with some new strings and earplugs, but somehow have not had time to get around to it. I also had to test drive the newest piece of future vintage gear, the all tube, no nonsense Vox Night Train. It rocks, but I probably won’t drop the five bills for it cuz I can get close enough with my laptop. But I think the guy in the video is pretty much what we tube snobs look like to the rest of the world…just not aging gracefully, no?

The thing that most of us guitarists have not figured out yet, and which gear companies don’t want us to know, is that anything that can be modelled as a DSP circuit in a piece of hardware can be modelled just as well or better, and cheaper too, in software on a standard issue laptop.  Its the nature of DSP.   My favorite example is the thousand plus dollar digital echoplex vs the free vst plugin Mobius, which is in effect, 8 echoplexes with no limit on the loop lengths. Remember, going digital means we are already out of the analog realm of the tube snob, even if the thing is in a box. But there must be something about the FEEL of that box, right? I think that is nonsense and habit rather than ears.

There is a wonderful piece of research that my friend Jon Sterne told me about, where a Stanford Prof played back different kinds of music to incoming students in different digital formats. What he found was that they liked the sound of 128K mp3 files, complete with hiss, more than the sound of uncompressed audio which was technically much better.  Why? Habit. That is what they are used to hearing so that is what they like.

I think this is much of what my cousins the vinyl snobs hear in their LP collections, which have to be massively EQd and adjusted in a giant gnarly kludge to compensate for intrinsic sonic weaknesses of scratching sound into slabs of petroleum byproduct before it ever gets to the main stage of the amplifier, and sounds different on the inside of the platter than on the outside to boot.   But cuz will insist that he (and its always a guy. sigh.) hears a warmth in the vinyl that is missing from digital audio, no matter how good the format. They are hearing something, but it is not intrinsic to the music, it is an artifact of the vinyl, and they like it.

So what is Antares doing? They have put a mini-computer into the underside of a guitar — forty thousand bucks of hardware according to the video — <sarcasm> whoo wee, wish I had that! — that brings us guitarists all that autotune goodness that has done such wonders for pop music and the news </sarcasm>.    

So this is where the discussion gets interesting on the CDM blog. One group of tech embracers drool (and we do that sometimes) over the possibility of getting their hands on one of those $40k guitars while the other says, phooey, you lose the feel.  Well guitarists, listen up:  I’ll give you most of one of those 40k jobbers for free. Autotune is software. So is GSnap, a free VST plugin. There is your 95%. There are about five other ways of doing it too. And the last five percent is doable with some DIY noodling, along with lots of other stuff that that guitar can’t touch because the processor is artificially limited to doing that one thing.

Ah, but the feel, the bends, the touch — without the $40k guitar, it is all for naught alas. One of the features many guitarists lusted after (and we do that sometimes) was instant retuning. It has been possible since the beginning to transpose midi, so I have experimented a lot with doing the instant retune trick on my midi guitar. Here is the rub though: The gizmo retunes the signal, but not the resonance of the wood, the frequency of the strings, or the quiet sound of the acoustics of an electric guitar — all those stay in the actual tuning, leading for me to a tremendous cognitive dissonance. Here it is about the feel, and you would have to play really loud to offset that dissonance in the aural dimension, and still be left with the haptic dissonance. I am sure, in fact, that the guitar mix for the demo video is run straight to the mixing board so that we cannot hear the actual acoustic sound of the guitar bleed into it. That is why the guitar comes through much clearer than the the voices.

Autotune guitar is a boondoggle, a gizmo. Anything it can do with its processor, your laptop can do, probably better and for free, with its processor. Let the guitar do what it is made for, which is get an interesting signal out to the mangling stuff that follows. A hex pickup along with your regular pups is actually a useful piece of hardware for this. Use the computer you already own to do the rest. The hardware makes you do what it does. Not that I am against hardware…I’m a guitarist, so there is always some new thing that I sure would like.

Software, when it is nice, can be made to do what you do (most of the time). That is why I opted for the no-synths-built-in synth box when I did get a midi guitar setup. I’d rather use my ideas than what somebody pre-decides for me, which is what the pricier guitar synth boxes are doing. In fact, the guitar synth box itself could be done away with if there was a six-in soundcard interface that could feed the hex signal to the computer. All that pitch recognition and midification could be done on the laptop too if there was the right I/O. I’m sure Radio shack has the adapter somewhere….

Godin xTSA review: the synth (plus Axon AX50 and Roland GI-20 and a zillion VSTis)

Part three.  Parts one, electric guitar, and two, acoustic, are also up.

In this section, I want to tackle two things about the Godin xSTA‘s synth section and then compare the Roland GI-20 Synth controller to the Axon AX50 controller.  I’ll show how the guitar and the controller together make up an expressive unit that effects the sound profoundly before it ever gets to the synth part of your setup.  But first, I am going to complain about a flaw in this expressive unit, why no one addresses it, and a workaround.  Keep in mind that although I am complaining, this is not, as Liz Lemon would say, a dealbreaker.  It just means I had to settle:)  The problem with an expressive unit that is made by two different companies is that when something is wrong, each can point the finger to the other and say the problem lies over there.

guitar synth signal flow
guitar synth signal flow, with hum

The first task is to map out how the guitar synth makes sound. The bridge of the xSTA connects to a hardware synth controller via a thirteen pin plug.  What’s so hexaphonic you ask?  Instead of one output, it has a separate output for each of the 6 (=hex) strings.  Instead of outputting a single weak audio voltage, it presents you with six, so each string sends its own signal, making chords much easier to pick out than with software, but also meaning you can set each string to its own synth if you want.  The box you plug it into — either the Roland or the Axon — then transforms pile of voltage signals that into a stream of midi signals and sends it on via USB to your computer and from thence to whatever you are using to turn midi into sounds, the synth proper.  Both Roland and Axon make controllers that have built in synths for double to quadruple  the price, but I loves my vsts and saved the money and got the cheaper controllers that just transform the voltage to midi for me to mangle myself.  For the most part, the pre-built synth sounds are cheesy, both Roland’s and Axon’s.  That includes the resource hog NI Kontact Player softsynths included with the AX50.  I’d rather roll my own and have more control over the tweaking and so forth.

guit synth
The guitar synth "expressive unit" -- no hum

The one big problem with the “expressive unit”  arises from a ground loop hum when you use the USB midi/audio interface on either the Roland or the Axon controller.  The details of the hum are in the original post I made, and it is a problem well known on the Roland and Axon, forums, and to Godin (the latter via me at least).  Because the problem appears on both synths, and it seems that it is particular to Godin guitars, the problem would seem to lie in the xSTA.  My theory is that guitar synth setups are still designed for a hardware rather than a software synthesizer producing the actual sound, and with the expectation that a guitarist will not only use an outboard synth but a separate hardware amp or two for the electric and acoustic signals.  If you try to send the (non-synth) audio signals and the synth signals to the same device  (to treat the signals on your laptop rather than through an amp and effects boxes as discussed in a zillion other articles here), a shared ground sets up a feedback loop which in turn produces the hum.  The problem is in the wiring of the thirteen pins.  To get rid of the hum, send the acoustic and electric guitar signals through their own cables to the sound card in of the computer, skip the USB portion of the controller altogether, and send your output to a separate midi input device (I use an M-Audio midi-sport 2×2 for example).  No hum, but then you cannot use the software patch editors for either unit while you are playing, or the built in internal midi ports they create.  If you want to set up and store patches, you have to do it along with the hum, then unhook the USB to play.  It is not a problem until you start running everything into the laptop, but now that it is an option to do so, and a good one, Godin should really rewire the plugs to get rid of the ground loop.  A response from someone at Godin would be especially welcome here. When I contacted tech support, they said take it in for service, but this seems from the forums to be a problem with all of them, a design flaw rather than a defect with my particular guitar.  But because the source is easy to push off , and there is a workaround, Godin has more or less ignored the problem.

The second problem with the setup from the guitar angle is that the thirteen pin connection is spotty, even with a brand new cable (update: It was the cable.  Another new cable sorted this out).  Both the Roland and the Axon have an onboard tuner, and I recommend you use it each time you plug the cables in because often one string won’t output any signal until you remove and reseat the cable plug in the guitar.  Once it is working it seems to be pretty solid, but this is not a guitar for Pete Townshend acolytes (although I suppose Pete has mellowed enough to play it by now).    This second problem just makes it one more thing to check and double check before a live gig.  Doing a live gig with a guitar and laptop setup is still a pretty brave move, because a dozen things can be unplugged, switched off, or in need of a jiggle whether electronic or physical.

That is the end of my problem with the guitar, and as I said, all this is something I’ve learned to live with that is more than made up for by the sounds I can concoct on this setup.

tracking

I’ve been interested in guitar synthesis for eons, but it was always priced out of my reach until the arrival of VSTi synths.  Even then, the software-only solution I used had a major weakness. The biggest technical difficulty for guitar synthesis is something called tracking. That is the ability, or lack thereof, of software or hardware to turn an audio signal into a midi note.

I tried a couple of all-software ways to convert guitar notes to midi with mixed results.  That method uses a freestanding program like the discontinued g-tune or a vst plugin like widi to analyze the audio input and produce midi output.  I’ve described the sound (and the method of getting it) elsewhere as being like playing with a drunken Thelonius Monk wannabe.  The notes come out, but they are a little late and often a little bit askew, and all the velocity information is lost.  the note is either on or off.  This can actually be charming on occasion, and making synth sounds with slow attacks and long releases is a pretty good way of adapting to the all-software methods, as in this rreplay song.  If you are holding off on going synth because of $$, this is a cheap way to get started and opens up lots of tonal vistas.  Ultimately, whether it is hardware or software, the converter has to deal with the same thing, so I think that tracking will eventually move out of the controller box (i.e. the Roland or Axon) and back into the software.  Optimizing what comes out of the guitar will still help better the process though, so the specialized synth pickups on the Godin will probably stay.  Software solutions to hexaphonic output are limited by soundcard input at this point, which does not have the right connectors, and except for semi-pro and pro sound cards, does not have enough channels to deal with all the sounds coming from something like the xSTA.  For the foreseeable future the outboard controller box is still a necessity, but not for any really good reason other than nobody has moved it onboard a sound card and developed the necessary software yet.    Maybe Gibson’s firewire cabling scheme  will catch on –it is a step in the right direction — but it remains to be seen, and at a little shy of 4 grand for the guitar, I won’t be seeing it!

I finally took the dive and got the xSTA (less than a grand)  and started out with a Roland GI-20, then switched to an Axon AX50 synth controller interface.  This requires a bit of explanation.  The xSTA and other Godin guitars are known for having state of the art tracking.  Not having the budget to go out and buy a bunch of synth ready guitars, I’ll have to take their word for it.

The biggest challenge for tracking is the bass register of the guitar.  The lower the note, the more time between wave peaks in the sound signal.  Most voltage-to-midi converters need at least one wave cycle of the note, usually more, to determine what to output. To make things worse, the initial moment of striking a guitar with a pick or finger creates a noisy stretch before the note stabilizes, called a transient.  As a result, there is a slight delay before the note can be calculated from the signal, and the lower the note, the longer it takes to calculate because a wavelength takes longer to happen, so the worse tracking gets. One solution is to just turn the octave setting down a few notches and play your bass using higher notes on the guitar.  I just have a hard time getting the feel of a bass when I am playing on a wambly little G, B, or E string.

The xSTA’s job is to get the cleanest signal for each note to the midi controller and from there the controller takes over, so we need to divide the issue up and separate the xSTA’s job from the midi box’s job.  That said, the tracking from the xSTA is twenty times better than the software tracking solutions, which it damn well better be because it is also twenty time the price!  There really is not much more to say about the guitar part of the synthesis chain, so with that, we need to turn from the guitar to the midi controller hardware, and compare the Roland to the Axon.

I started with the Roland GI-20.  It was a hundred or two $$ less than the Axon AX50 and offered some features the Axon did not have (see below). The tracking is much better than software solutions, but not good enough to play a complex rhythm on a bass line and keep the nuances.  You can hear it drift around a bit in this piece, which is the acoustic section played with the synth on and the midi transposed down an octave and sent to a bass synth vst plugin.  The bass should be playing the same notes as the guitar part an octave down, but as you can hear, they don’t exactly, giving the not unpleasant illusion in this case of two players playing slightly different things.  Not drunk Monk, but forget funk or even punk. Its still thunk thunk.  Sorry, had to do that 🙂

Ultimately, two factors made me retire the Roland and go for the AX50.  One is size (because as I mentioned, I am traveling a lot) and the other is the tracking.  It has been a tradeoff though, as the Roland is better for some things, especially if you have some room to spread out (anyone want a good deal on a barely used GI-20? seriously, if you do, contact me!).

The Axon is pitched as a tracking monster.  Instead of waiting for a whole wavelength, the folks at Axon studied the transient part of a guitar picker’s attack, the very first moments during and after hitting the string but before the signal has stabilized to produce whatever frequency it is going to produce.  They figured out how to accurately predict the note to follow from the transient, in theory doing away with our tracking problems.  It works really well, if not quite perfectly.

In the musical example, the first time through I play the electric guitar section only on the left channel, so you can hear what I am trying to play.  Next comes the guitar on the left with a bass synth on the right powered by the xSTA and the AX50 run through Cakewalk’s Dimension with the “electric fingered 1” bass patch.  The third time, just so you can hear the difference from software solution tracking, I used widi, an audio to midi vst plugin, fed into nuSofting’s marimka, emphasizing the attack so you can hear how slow the tracking is on the software solution.  Its not bad, but a little off.

tracking bass -close
tracking bass -close

If you look closely at the image files, you will see that the green lines, which mark the onsets of notes in the guitar only signal, come a little before the bass notes in the left (lower) channel.  In the closeup image, it becomes clear that this lag is right at the edges of perception, in the ten to twenty millisecond range.  Thus playing it doesn’t sound like a lag so much as it feels a little slow. (n.b.:  the green lines are generated by a software onset detector that uses the whole signal, thus not real time, and not subject to the problems above, but also not useful for live playing)

Once you set the AX50 up to your playing style, it tracks any cleanly played notes with very little mis-tracking (playing notes other than what you played).  Some of the subtleties of a bass line will still get lost, as is obvious from the gaps in the first picture for the left channel, but the tracking is just shy of instant.  I have found that you can get a pretty expressive bass sound by mixing in some of the acoustic guitar signal into the octave-down synth mix to get the sound of the strings and the transients in there with zero lag and then plastering on whatever bass tone you choose so that the acoustic transients cover for the lag.

GI-20 vs. AX50

The GI-20 has some features I like that the AX50 lacks.    It is massively flexible.  You can program the switches on the xSTA to send either octave up and down messages, great if you want to switch quickly to a bass guitar register, or it can be set to send patch change messages (which by the way, can also be programmed to set the octave, sort of rendering the first choice a bit redundant).  The volume control for the synth can be set to any midi control (cc) message rather than just controlling volume, so for example, you could use it to sweep a filter instead of controlling volume  (losing the volume control in the process however).  Where the GI-20 is most remarkable in this regard is when you hook up both the optional foot controllers, one being a two button footswitch and the other an expression pedal.  The GI-20 gives you lots more options than just sending CC mesages, though it does that to.

THe AX50 has no inputs or dials.  no footswitches or pedals.  just an LED with a simple display and a power switch and a little tuning button on the front.  Everything gets done via the program banks controlled from the tail-most switch on the Godin, which you set up in software (with the USB hooked up).  What is extraordinary about the setup is that because of the transient sensitivity, the  unit can tell where on the guitar you are picking, whether closer to the neck or the bridge, with enough accuracy that you can assign a midi controller to it so that you can for example run a filter sweep  (like on a wahwah pedal) by changing the picking location.  This maneuver without the synth is already part of any expressive guitar player’s repertoire — it changes the tone drastically — so hooking it up to midi is a natural feeling extension of what you can do with the tone.  This is a great feature and I love it a lot.  You can divide the picking area and the fretboard into zones and assign each by string to a different sound, so that if you play an “A” on the seventh fret of the  D string,  it can play a different instrument than if you play it on the twelfth fret of the A string!  I have not had the chance to experiment with this much yet, but I like the idea.  What this does is keeps the expressive potential on the guitar.  No feet are involved and the hands never have to leave the guitar.  Now if I can only get the tilt sensor to the wiimote hooked up and attach it somewhere…oh wait a minute, maybe this not-so-free freeplayer thingie will work for another chunk of change….

Anyway, the bottom line is that you can get a tremendous variety of tonal wonderment out of the mixture of electric, acoustic, and synth sounds that the xSTA makes accessible, and the whole package of guitar and controller costs around the price of a nice mid-level guitar.  I opted for the Axon for the tracking and having a simpler smaller setup, but the Roland has its neat features too.  The whole setup is a blast most of the time, and I am still, after a year, finding new tones and new ways of making and mixing sounds every day, which is what it is about for me.  I’ll keep writing about the software setup, but I think I’ve pretty much covered what I have to say about the hardware.  Any comments?

Finally, if you made it this far, please take a little more time and listen to some of the great music on way net if you haven’t already.  Anything I’ve recorded in the past year and a half or so has been on the xSTA and either the Roland or the Axon.

Godin guitar synth

godin guitar and case

n.b., update June 23, 2010: in depth review of Godin xTSA, part 1: as electric guitar.  Part 2: as acoustic. Part 3: as guitar synth with Roland GI-20 and Axon AX50

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.