Guitar Technology: Smash or Trash?
October 11, 2011 by Mike O'Cull
Guitarists have always had an up-and-down relationship with the concept of high technology. Maybe it is because of the elemental nature of our instrument, especially in its acoustic form, or maybe it is due to the raw and often emotional approach taken by many of the creators and ongoing purveyors of rock, blues, country, and other styles of music. Whatever the case, there will always be a large part of the guitar community that likes to keep things simple and gets it done with a fairly traditional guitar, a tube amp, and a few pedals. This is a method that has worked for many players, given up great tones, and been part of a whole bunch of songs that are on a whole bunch of iPods all over the world.
It is not, however, the only way to fly. There is a small but visible minority in our scene of players for who simple is just not enough. There are pickers out there who just hear things in a different way than the rest of us. They are attracted to effects processing, looping, MIDI, guitar synthesis, and other ways to get guitars to do things never imagined by Leo, Orville, and Epi. Folks like Adrian Belew, The Edge, and Matthew Bellamy of the band Muse have made guitar technology and processing a building block of their sounds and make music that has little to do with the old ‘tubes, tweed, and tradition’ way of doing things.
The question before us today, gentle readers, is how do you, the readers of Gear Vault, feel about high-tech guitar playing? There are many innovations, devices, and pieces of equipment that are doing their best to move the state of the guitar farther forward than it currently is, at least as practiced by the majority of players out there. One of the most visible (and most quickly rejected by the market) pieces of guitar tech is the now-infamous Gibson Robot Guitar that strings and tunes with automated technology. The ‘Robot’ idea was instantly beat to death online and in print by the lions’ share of the guitar world for being, well, ridiculous. There are many other bits of tech that guitarists can dabble in, should they choose to. One of the most obvious and ‘conventional’ is the Fender Roland-Ready Stratocaster which is a guitar-based MIDI controller that makes it easy for a guitar player to edge into the type of device control usually left to keyboardists. Fender also introduced the VG Stratocaster that packs digital modeling technology onboard and allows one guitar to cop the sounds of many different axes, tunings, and the like. These are modern instruments, to be sure, but are back a little ways from the cutting edge of the tech thing and could be understood and used by a lot of players without too much of a learning curve.
On the other hand, some truly new jack thinking about the guitar can be seen in the string-less, touch pad guitar being prototyped by Misa Digital. This plank has 24 frets, a multi-function touch pad on the body, and is said to emulate guitar tones and to produce what Misa calls a ‘perfect sound.’ That sound can then be digitally morphed into anything it needs to sound like and even allows different effects to be applied on a note-by-note basis. This is said to eliminate the need for any type of external effects and processing gear in an effort to make guitar playing more ‘efficient.’ This is the sort of guitar that is certainly not for everybody and would probably take a fair bit of time to get a handle on and discover a voice with.
The thing we at Gear Vault want to know is whether this type of guitar tech is attractive to all of you out there in Guitar Town and what you would do with it in your own playing and rig. Some people won’t be interested in this at all and remain staunch traditionalists. Some, however, will see these things and feel like they just pulled the sword from the stone, so to speak. Where does each of you fall on this curve? Inquiring minds want to know. If you are, indeed, a high tech visionary, send us some links so we can see what you do. Remember: all the stuff we see as old school now was cutting edge modern in its day. If you are advancing the guitar in some way or just have strong feelings about the whole idea, drop us a line and get the dialogue started. Watch this space for the coolest stuff we get. Until it starts rolling into the home office, however, I am going to go fire up my coal-burning Telecaster and plug it into my mule-driven amp for a quick blast through 2112. Somebody has to keep it real…