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Thoughts on the Sonuus G2M guitar-to-MIDI device...

 
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avj
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 10, 2010 9:50 pm    Post subject: Thoughts on the Sonuus G2M guitar-to-MIDI device... Reply with quote

After careful consideration and research, last week I ordered and received the Sonuus G2M. So far, I'm enjoying it -- even with its well-documented limitations. For me, as always, the truly interesting part was what I learned in the process.

First, a bit of Science.

When I first saw the Sweetwater demo video, I was amazed and excited. I recently acquired a Moog Little Phatty (the subject of a future long-winded "Thoughts on..." post) and I thought something like this would make for an awesome alternative way to play it. Because the G2M is only capable of processing one note at a time, I figured it would be a nice pair with the Moog LP since it is only capable of playing one note at a time. While this is mostly true, I didn't want to limit myself with a monophonic pitch-to-MIDI device since I have another synth (Alesis Micron) that is capable of beautiful polyphony. I decided to look into other solutions that I believed would work.

The Roland GK series pickups were the first thing I looked into, because for some reason I always believed they were "MIDI pickups" and would work as a direct drop-in and output MIDI information; I realize now that this is stupid, and that they are simply hexaphonic pickups. A hexaphonic (or divided) pickup is really just a special magnetic or piezoelectric pickup with six individual outputs -- one for each string. The GK pickups are primarily designed for use with Roland's guitar synthesizers, which process each string separately and allow for fascinating things like adding a chorus effect to only the A string or something. While interesting, this is not a solution that would get me any closer to being able to put something on a guitar and bash out an open E chord to play a Mellotron flute patch on the Micron. Even more disappointing is that some great MIDI guitar forums have done the legwork and determined that, while they have certain MIDI capabilities, no current or past Roland guitar synthesizer -- except for one old model, I believe -- does the pitch-to-MIDI translation necessary to output MIDI Note On information. There are other specialized hardware solutions that process that output of a hexaphonic pickup and output pitch-to-MIDI, but they're way beyond what I feel is worth spending on what essentially amounts to a fun gimmick. It appears it would almost be cheaper to outfit one's guitar with a Roland GK pickup and build a simple breakout box to send the six individual outputs from the 13-pin output cable to six mono outs, then send them to six Sonuus G2Ms and merge the MIDI output. Again, this is pretty fucking ridiculous unless you're Mike Oldfield -- and presumably Mike Oldfield could afford a proper system.

So, the point here is that there doesn't seem to be an in-production, commercially-available product that does what the Sonuus G2M does with the simplicity and price at which the Sonuus G2M does it.

Moving on, here's a bit about my experience with it.

On one end of the G2M is a 1/4" mono input for analog audio and a boost switch for lower-output pickups; on the other end is a 1/4" mono output that passes the analog audio, and a MIDI OUT. Also, the G2M is powered by a 9-volt battery, but if you have a 9-volt clip for your power supply of choice you should probably use that instead of toxifying the world's soil with battery waste just so you can guitar wank on your synth.

The first thing I did was grab the Micron, Jaguar, a guitar cable, and a MIDI cable. (I chose the Micron because it just happened to be out of the case and the Moog LP was in the case on another floor of the house.) After hooking up the G2M, I chose a random patch and just started going at it. I found it to track very well, but I'm no stranger to the requisite detached playing style needed for proper tracking of monophonic devices like the EHX Micro Synthesizer, DigiTech Whammy, and Boss harmonizers. Because it's not an effects pedal, when you really crap on the notes the G2M doesn't fail in a relatively musical way like the aforementioned devices -- but it is pretty neat as it struggles to pluck a note seemingly at random when hitting a chord. Also, because the G2M attempts to translate whatever input pitch (or pitches) you give it into a single MIDI Note On output, you can't do something like set your synth to Low Note Priority and expect it will just follow along with an appropriate bass root note. It would, however, be pretty sweet to affix a hexaphonic pickup to the guitar and send only the sixth string's output to the G2M. I imagine that would be pretty sweet indeed.

Anyway, using that setup, I had the most fun using a polyphonic string patch on the Micron that had a slow attack time and a long release time. (Dan from Sweetwater does something like this in his demo.) I would play a note and wait for it to reach full sustain, then play another note, and another; the effect is sort of similar to doing single-string swells with delay on guitar. This works on polyphonic patches on the Micron and not on the Moog LP because the LP has only one voice. With a similar patch on the LP, a nice swell happens, but as soon as you pluck the next note and send it down the pipe, the voice is stolen from the original note to supply the voice for the new note.

The big test was with the rig I've been using for a project we're calling "ELLO" (no relation to Electric Light Orchestra, the East End greeting, or the side project of Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Tommy Lee, and Billy Ocean that I just lost five minutes fantasizing about), which is: CP Jaguar into pedalboard (slightly modified since photo) into Fender Vibrosonic, and Moog LP into EHX Memory Toy into huge PA with two 18" full-range speakers with tweeters. I really cannot overstate the size of the erection I have while hearing the Moog come out of that system.

On Monday, I placed the G2M before my pedalboard so I was just feeding it plain, dry guitar signal. On the other end, the analog out went into the first pedal in my chain and the MIDI OUT went to the MIDI IN on the Moog. With this setup, I can play single-note riffs on the guitar and it'll go through the effects and out the amp and also trigger that note on the Moog and come through the PA. This setup works well because I can also just play the Moog normally using the keys (after turning the guitar volume down so as not to trigger extra notes with my hands or my erection banging against the guitar), I can get just guitar and amp by turning the LP's output off using the button on the synth's front panel, or I can mute the analog guitar signal with the TU-2 if I just want to play the Moog with the guitar. I believe by the end of the night I was using the Jaguar's rhythm circuit exclusively, as the darker sound really seems to help tracking by removing a lot of the harmonic overtones and focusing on the fundamental pitch; this way, I could also keep the volume down on the lead circuit and flip the switch down to mute the guitar signal entirely and keep it from triggering notes on the Moog. (I tend to use the rhythm circuit a lot anyway during normal playing, so it works out well.) The only issue seemed to be that the full-on, balls-out rocking style of play that I usually employ when playing with the band is a bit more sporadic than the style required to give the G2M the signal it wants for optimal tracking. Tomorrow at practice I'm going to try using a compressor in line before the G2M to try and smooth out the transients a bit to see if it has any effect; if not, I'll just have to pull back a little when playing the few parts so far that make use of the G2M.

One thing I forgot to mention is the built-in tuner. It was a smart idea to build in, as it's pretty important to ensure proper pitch tracking -- but it's a bit hard to work with, especially live. I'm sure that with a little more time it would be easier to use, but I really don't care because I have it inline before a pedal tuner. There's an LED that works by flashing faster the closer you are to the correct pitch, finally staying solid when at pitch. I had great success roughing it in with the (soon-to-be-replaced) TU-2 and finishing off with the G2M.

All in all, I'm confident in the investment. For the cost of Yet Another Pedal, I have a device that can turn my beautiful Moog Little Phatty into a giant version of the EHX Micro Synthesizer pedal. I'm also really excited to try it with a microphone instead of guitar as demonstrated in the Sweetwater video, with the Korg Monotron, with a violin pickup, and with anything else I can dream up. There's a bass version -- the Sonuus B2M -- as well, but I don't know exactly how suited the bass guitar is for an application where extremely fast pitch recognition is required. I imagine the latency is higher, as the device would need more time to lock on to the lower frequency. (For the record, I tried the G2M with a bass, and the fourth string is barely recognized.)

As a final note, during my deep dive into the MIDI world, I learned that the original MIDI 1.0 spec was published in August 1983 by Dave Smith (yes, that Dave Smith) and has remained relatively unchanged for 27 years. It is fucking fascinating to me that an electronic device that complied to the MIDI spec almost thirty years ago can still wonderfully interoperate with something purchased right off the shelf today. The Atari ST was released in 1985 as the first home computer with MIDI capabilities, and there's still a collective of folks that swear by it and claim it's faster than any modern computer for extremely complicated sequencing. Adrian Utley said he used one to program the drums on "Machine Gun" from Portishead's Third.

So yeah. MIDI is pretty great.
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 10, 2010 10:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's pretty epic triggering the Moog with your guitar!

I'm still reading through this beast, thanks for the info
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 12:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

epic post. I definitely need one of these. I too thought the roland GK pickups output MIDI at first. I looked into and found that it was an expensive system of proprietary pickups, cables, and processors and just decided to forget about the whole thing. yeah, 'cause like you said it's kind of a gimicky thing anyway (well, potentially more than that but without getting my hands on it, it's hard to say). and then I really don't want to have to pay for or use their prefab guitar sound module, I want to plug it into all kinds of stuff a guitar was never meant to interface with (duh, right). didn't know that about the MIDI note on data. so how do the roland GK systems work if they don't do MIDI note on?

Quote:
It would, however, be pretty sweet to affix a hexaphonic pickup to the guitar and send only the sixth string's output to the G2M. I imagine that would be pretty sweet indeed.

or if you had like a 6-way string selector switch for the hexaphonic pickup!
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 12:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

also, have you seen this? they were made for a short time in the 80s. they're supposed to be one of the best tracking MIDI guitars ever. fujigen built.

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and....... MIDI output directly on the fucking guitar!!

they seem to be pretty hard to find but if you find one it's pretty likely that you could get it for less than the whole roland setup.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 1:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have one of those Roland GK pickups, and this looks way more awesome for most applications. Awesome stuff man!
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 3:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mages wrote:
didn't know that about the MIDI note on data. so how do the roland GK systems work if they don't do MIDI note on?


Thorough details about the way the systems work is in the "Introduction" section here, but to understand just what the pickup is doing is here:

Unfretted.com wrote:
Pinouts & wiring colours, 13 pin DIN cable

Pinouts for the 13 pin DIN connector used with the Roland VG8, VG-88, GR1, GR9, GR20, GR30, GR33, GR50, GI10, GI20, GKP-4, Boss DC-20G, WP-20G, Roland Ready Strat, Axon AX100, Yamaha G50, G1-D, Ibanez RG470GK, Brian Moore Guitars + lots of others.

The Roland cables are good quality 13 core, with a braided copper screen

The pins, signals and wire colours are as follows:

1 - String 1 - Brown
2 - String 2 - Blue
3 - String 3 - Grey
4 - String 4 - Orange
5 - String 5 - Pink
6 - String 6 - Purple
7 - Normal pickups - Green
8 - MIDI volume - Yellow / Stripe
9 - Unused - Yellow
10 - Switch 1 - Red
11 - Switch 2 - White / Stripe
12 - +ve supply - White
13 - -ve supply - Black

These were taken from a Roland cable manufactured in 1998.


Mages wrote:
Quote:
It would, however, be pretty sweet to affix a hexaphonic pickup to the guitar and send only the sixth string's output to the G2M. I imagine that would be pretty sweet indeed.

or if you had like a 6-way string selector switch for the hexaphonic pickup!


Yes! Now you're talkin'. That would be awesome.

I really shouldn't have used the word "gimmick" though for the way I've been using it in my setup, as that's really underselling this thing. I went back and forth a bunch on that word choice, so of course it's hilarious you zeroed right in on that instead of the other 500,000 words. Very Happy

It's very much an amazing and powerful feeling to dial up a Taurus patch on the Moog and have it follow along with a line I'm playing that's going down the analog path to the POG2, ShredMaster, Space Echo and coming out my Vibrosonic. I think it would only be classed as a gimmick if I was up there with mirrored aviator sunglasses and a pink Polo shirt doing a solo on my back while butt-bumping the stage.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 3:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dingus wrote:
I have one of those Roland GK pickups, and this looks way more awesome for most applications. Awesome stuff man!


Neato! What do you use it for?
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 5:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

avj wrote:
Dingus wrote:
I have one of those Roland GK pickups, and this looks way more awesome for most applications. Awesome stuff man!


Neato! What do you use it for?



Nothing right now, and most bands I would bring it to just to show them thought that the idea itself was ridiculous. Now that I have a Vado (camcorder) maybe I'll do a demo, no time soon though because right now that guitar is in pieces.


The reason I got it was because I got a helluva deal on it on craigslist for a Roland GK-30 with the GK-2a pickup for $150. I then bought the two GK pedals that Boss put out (the synthy one and the octave one, super cheap on eBay). Problem is the tracking is such shit and the sustain is garbage so I havent messed with it in a while. The Strings/violin on the GK-30 sounded amazing though. I hate those specialized Roland cables though, they are way too expensive.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 9:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

avj wrote:
I really shouldn't have used the word "gimmick" though for the way I've been using it in my setup, as that's really underselling this thing. I went back and forth a bunch on that word choice, so of course it's hilarious you zeroed right in on that instead of the other 500,000 words. Very Happy

oh I know. I could see myself using it for tons of things. even just having the Moog accompany your normal guitar playing seems to me to just be the tip of the iceberg. I think I would use it mostly by going through it primarily and then running the output of the synth through more effects. but let me put it this way: I spent $50 on my little yamaha synth. I would have a hard time spending several hundred dollars on the roland system. especially when I have no experience with what exactly I really can accomplish with it as a tool. so to that end, yeah, this seems like a much more viable option.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 9:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dingus wrote:
Problem is the tracking is such shit and the sustain is garbage so I havent messed with it in a while.

ah yeah, I bet it's because those pickups are mounted right by the bridge. there's tons of harmonics and no sustain right there. if it was made to be mounted by the neck pickup it would probably work better. like avj said, this sonuus thing works best with the rhythm switch on (a.k.a. the neck pickup with the tone rolled off). I wonder though, avj, you said a compressor might help smooth out transients and what not, have you tried something like a big muff? maybe with the tone rolled all the way down on the pedal itself? if it doesn't add too much harmonics it could give you ridiculously long sustain.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 9:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

avj wrote:
Mages wrote:
didn't know that about the MIDI note on data. so how do the roland GK systems work if they don't do MIDI note on?


Thorough details about the way the systems work is in the "Introduction" section here, but to understand just what the pickup is doing is here:

Unfretted.com wrote:
Pinouts & wiring colours, 13 pin DIN cable

Pinouts for the 13 pin DIN connector used with the Roland VG8, VG-88, GR1, GR9, GR20, GR30, GR33, GR50, GI10, GI20, GKP-4, Boss DC-20G, WP-20G, Roland Ready Strat, Axon AX100, Yamaha G50, G1-D, Ibanez RG470GK, Brian Moore Guitars + lots of others.

The Roland cables are good quality 13 core, with a braided copper screen

The pins, signals and wire colours are as follows:

1 - String 1 - Brown
2 - String 2 - Blue
3 - String 3 - Grey
4 - String 4 - Orange
5 - String 5 - Pink
6 - String 6 - Purple
7 - Normal pickups - Green
8 - MIDI volume - Yellow / Stripe
9 - Unused - Yellow
10 - Switch 1 - Red
11 - Switch 2 - White / Stripe
12 - +ve supply - White
13 - -ve supply - Black

These were taken from a Roland cable manufactured in 1998.

ok, yeah the hexaphonic pickup doesn't send midi note on, but they don't even have a MIDI connection so, I wouldn't really expect them to. The Roland GR-20 type processors that the pickup plugs into though, they have MIDI in/out, surely they send note on data?
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 10:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Wow. Getting one.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 4:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mages wrote:
avj wrote:
Mages wrote:
didn't know that about the MIDI note on data. so how do the roland GK systems work if they don't do MIDI note on?


Thorough details about the way the systems work is in the "Introduction" section here, but to understand just what the pickup is doing is here:

Unfretted.com wrote:
Pinouts & wiring colours, 13 pin DIN cable

Pinouts for the 13 pin DIN connector used with the Roland VG8, VG-88, GR1, GR9, GR20, GR30, GR33, GR50, GI10, GI20, GKP-4, Boss DC-20G, WP-20G, Roland Ready Strat, Axon AX100, Yamaha G50, G1-D, Ibanez RG470GK, Brian Moore Guitars + lots of others.

The Roland cables are good quality 13 core, with a braided copper screen

The pins, signals and wire colours are as follows:

1 - String 1 - Brown
2 - String 2 - Blue
3 - String 3 - Grey
4 - String 4 - Orange
5 - String 5 - Pink
6 - String 6 - Purple
7 - Normal pickups - Green
8 - MIDI volume - Yellow / Stripe
9 - Unused - Yellow
10 - Switch 1 - Red
11 - Switch 2 - White / Stripe
12 - +ve supply - White
13 - -ve supply - Black

These were taken from a Roland cable manufactured in 1998.

ok, yeah the hexaphonic pickup doesn't send midi note on, but they don't even have a MIDI connection so, I wouldn't really expect them to. The Roland GR-20 type processors that the pickup plugs into though, they have MIDI in/out, surely they send note on data?


I could be wrong or working from outdated information, but somewhere along my travels I concluded based on what I had read that these modern Roland "guitar synthesizers" are just self-contained devices. They may have the ability to speak MIDI in one way or another, but not pitch-to-MIDI. I think even if they were able to do pitch-to-MIDI, I'd still have not gone that route as it's still a bit pricey and too elaborate of a setup for what I'd be using it for.

aen wrote:
Wow. Getting one.


Yeah dude. I know you've got a Little Phatty as well, and the pairing is really a thing of power and beauty. You may have to settle for using a guitar in standard tuning, as I don't know how well the G2M would track Aenstandard -- but maybe the bass version, the B2M, would work a little better. As I said before though, I'm not sure how well-suited a really down-tuned guitar or bass is for this application because of the increased latency because of the slower string vibration.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 5:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wasn't sure how much interest the initial post would generate, but since at least a few people seem intruiged I thought I'd include one other super-tits thing I came across in my research.

The video game Rock Band 3 is out now (please, hold your groans for a moment) and it actually looks incredible. I won't bore anyone with the details, but if you're an actual musician like most of us are, simply reading about this game should permanently supplant the need for dick pills.

The most exciting aspect aside from the gameplay (and the new "Pro" mode, which is where you actually play the fucking song as it would really be played) is the ability to use both the Mustang controller and the real Squier guitar controller (due out March 2011) as MIDI controllers outside of the game. When the Squier guitar controller is released, I am very excited to see what the intrepid controller hackers reveal about its innards. If the Squier is like $299, perhaps it would be possible rip the MIDI portion out for use on one's favorite guitar -- not only for use within the game(!), but as a full-on MIDI controller for everything else. I guess we'll know more when it's released, as everything I've read so far seems to be baseless conjecture.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 5:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Might as well dump this here too. It's a write-up on MIDI guitar stuff by Dan Fisher from Sweetwater, who is fairly active on the Moog forum as well.

Six-String Synthesis
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 10:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

avj wrote:
The most exciting aspect aside from the gameplay (and the new "Pro" mode, which is where you actually play the fucking song as it would really be played) is the ability to use both the Mustang controller and the real Squier guitar controller (due out March 2011) as MIDI controllers outside of the game. When the Squier guitar controller is released, I am very excited to see what the intrepid controller hackers reveal about its innards. If the Squier is like $299, perhaps it would be possible rip the MIDI portion out for use on one's favorite guitar -- not only for use within the game(!), but as a full-on MIDI controller for everything else. I guess we'll know more when it's released, as everything I've read so far seems to be baseless conjecture.


From what I read, I understood the Mustang is MIDI as well as a wireless controller and uses a switch per fret per string (17 frets, 6 strings, 102 switches).
.

The Squier Strat appears to use sensors built into the fretboard and a strum sensor to be a wireless controller with standard pickup output but not a MIDI device.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 11:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NickS wrote:
avj wrote:
The most exciting aspect aside from the gameplay (and the new "Pro" mode, which is where you actually play the fucking song as it would really be played) is the ability to use both the Mustang controller and the real Squier guitar controller (due out March 2011) as MIDI controllers outside of the game. When the Squier guitar controller is released, I am very excited to see what the intrepid controller hackers reveal about its innards. If the Squier is like $299, perhaps it would be possible rip the MIDI portion out for use on one's favorite guitar -- not only for use within the game(!), but as a full-on MIDI controller for everything else. I guess we'll know more when it's released, as everything I've read so far seems to be baseless conjecture.


From what I read, I understood the Mustang is MIDI as well as a wireless controller and uses a switch per fret per string (17 frets, 6 strings, 102 switches).
.

The Squier Strat appears to use sensors built into the fretboard and a strum sensor to be a wireless controller with standard pickup output but not a MIDI device.


Not true. In fact, the Squier guitar only does analog audio and MIDI. It's also console-agnostic, requiring the use of an additional adapter to interface with each console. This may also mean you can use any proper pre-existing MIDI guitar system to play the game, but this is where I can't find any proper information yet.

Wikipedia wrote:
A second guitar controller will be made with Fender in the style of a Squier Stratocaster, featuring six strings instead of fret buttons. The instrument is a true electric guitar that also has full output MIDI support outside of the game.[6][22][28] A demonstration of the unit at the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo shows the Fender guitar controller being played directly through an electric amplifier alongside other players on the other controllers while playing the game.[29] The Squier will not be able to be used for normal guitar/bass play.[26] The Squier was not available at Rock Band 3's launch, but will be released in March 2011.[30] The Squier will be console neutral, producing MIDI output and requiring players to also purchase the MadCatz MIDI Pro-Adapter specific for their console.[31]


It'll be nice when it's actually released and the Rock Band peripheral nerd sites will dissect it and figure out what's what.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 11:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ah, I see Fender finally made it clear 2nd November it would be MIDI capable. Excellent, though it's not clear from Fender's site whether the "and controller" means $280 includes the MIDI Pro-Adapter that Joystiq reckons you need to pay $40 extra for.
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 10:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Last Thursday at rehearsal I planned on trying a few different things to optimize my current live setup. I brought along my trusty EHX Big Muff Pi (after having sucess with trying it at home, thanks Mages) and EHX Black Finger compressor. I didn't get a chance to hook everything up how I wanted to make it all work, but my habit of overbuilding and overengineering everything has led me to what I see as a nice long-term switching setup, which I'll be able to test out tonight.

There are four ways I can use this setup, as outlined in this ridiculously stupid diagram:



The most used options are one and three, with number two being used only in one song so far. Option four is there for future fun.

This works well, because when I'm playing guitar normally (option one) I'm only one stomp away from engaging the Moog as an "effect" to double the guitar (option two). When I'm playing the synth by hand (option three) all I really need to do is disengage the loop (putting the setup in the same state as option one) to prevent triggering the synth with accidental guitar bumps. Also, for songs that I only hand-play synth on, I can engage the tuner on the pedalboard to completely mute the guitar's output.

So the things added were the self-made effects loop pedal (with single loop), the Big Muff, and the Black Finger. The Big Muff and the Black Finger have no effect on the guitar's output sound at all and are only there to feed a nice sustainy signal to the G2M. I found the Black Finger worked better when second in the chain, acting as more of a limiter than an initial-attack-squasher.

Tonight should be fun.
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THEGREATJONZINI
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Joined: 09 Nov 2009
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 10:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I bought one of those g2m boxes today from amazon. i will throw my my two pennies worth in when i get it.
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