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Why has guitar innovation lagged behind everything else?


ichasedx
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On 3/30/2022 at 9:57 AM, DunedinDragon said:

Unfortunately the Helix's MIDI implementation is very rudimentary so it doesn't really allow multiple commands in a single press, nor different actions depending on whether you want to trigger it on press, release, long hold, double press or press and release, nor sending a keystroke rather than a MIDI command.  So there's still a lot of room for improvement in the Helix for being a viable, full-fledged MIDI controller.

 

Some of this has been implemented in recent updates.

Press/Release/Hold is available for Looper and Snapshot commands (intra Helix).

Keystrokes can be sent (Hotkeys).

 

The ability to send multiple commands would be great, as would Press/Release/Hold for MIDI commands.

I think that part of the reason that L6 doesn't go further with MIDI is that most guitarists blow a fuse trying to comprehend SIMPLE MIDI.

Everything they add increases the workload for support.

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On 3/30/2022 at 11:57 AM, DunedinDragon said:

Unfortunately there's really no such thing as a "MIDI driver"...

I realize that, my reference to the "MIDI driver" was based on whatever they would choose to call the file that could contain all pertinent information you would download from their website.

Why not be as simple as once you identify the new peripheral , it would show up in the list of effects to choose from, and adjust it as you would with any other device in your signal chain. Once the Helix recognizes the device, in already know if it's controlled via midi or in an effects loop. Swing for the bleachers!

 

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On 3/30/2022 at 12:24 PM, ichasedx said:

I realize that, my reference to the "MIDI driver" was based on whatever they would choose to call the file that could contain all pertinent information you would download from their website.

Why not be as simple as once you identify the new peripheral , it would show up in the list of effects to choose from, and adjust it as you would with any other device in your signal chain. Once the Helix recognizes the device, in already know if it's controlled via midi or in an effects loop. Swing for the bleachers!

 

That would be a good approach as long as you didn't mind allocating it as a slot in your HELIX signal chain, but I would bet a lot of people wouldn't be too keen on having to do that particularly on the Stomp where it's so limited.  I've often thought it might be nice to have a MIDI object that could be added to the signal chain, individually configured and each of which could control any number of different MIDI devices based on it's on/off state or even the value of the pedal.  Almost like snapshots for MIDI devices.

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On 3/30/2022 at 12:16 PM, rd2rk said:

 

Some of this has been implemented in recent updates.

Press/Release/Hold is available for Looper and Snapshot commands (intra Helix).

Keystrokes can be sent (Hotkeys).

 

Yeah...you must have responded before my edit of my original post when I realized the Helix does have some of that stuff now.

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What I still don't understand to this day is: how come in the 21st century nobody figured out how to do sound switching without an audible gap prior to Kemper (I believe).  What's funny is that old Digitech rack units had spillover delay way back in the early 90's and there were no audible gaps when you switched sounds. 

 

I think the driving factor for innovation was always portability.  A grand piano or a Hammond B3 are huge and require several people to move, so there was a demand for making it more portable.  Analog guitar rigs for your typical bar band musicians have always been and still are more manageable: guitar, a combo amp and a couple pedals is all you really need to play a gig... 

 

Keyboard manufacturers were always trying to make things more compact, if you think about it: Church organ -> Hammond B3 -> transistor organ -> small clonewheel organ that weighs 15 lbs -> computer plugins.  Plus as a keyboard player you were expected to play a variety of keyboard instruments (piano, organ, synth, mellotron, etc) instruments that have keyboard, while the guitarist only plays... guitars.  So that drove innovation: how can you consolidate a truckload of keyboard instruments into a small board.

 

 

In terms of portability for me, Helix actually takes up more space than my old compact travel rig.  Helix also weighs more.  I used to fly in with 3 things: DS-1, Boss MS-3 (small digital processor for modulation/delay/eq, etc), Morley wah: all of them fit into my small backpack.  At the venue, there'd be a rented amp waiting for me.

 

Now with the Helix, I still play through a physical rented amp (well, through speaker of the amp rather).  I bring my Helix and my compact power amp for stage volume because I want consistency. 

 

What's improved is the ridiculous amount of bells and whistles that I'm able to have: my sounds are all tailored to each song.  I have CD-quality sounds with spillover delay, other fun gimmicks.  I also go in stereo.  The setup and sound check are a lot faster now than before.  Before, I had to spend a long time fishing for the sweet spot on the amp so that it's not too boomy, not too trebly and not too distorted.  Now all my sounds on stage just work out of the box, and the sound guy knows that he'll get the same familiar signal going to FOH.

 

 

 

 

 

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Enhancements to MIDI may be able to more faithfully and efficiently capture the nuances of how a guitar is played in the 2.0 standard. Hopefully this will include improvements that simplify or even automate MIDI setups. @craiganderton's posts have been particularly informative regarding the new standard. 

 

Wanted to take advantage of the OP's topic title though to evangelize the piece of guitar innovation that IMHO has been lagging the most even if it has nothing to do with the subject of MIDI - pickup technology, or at least its implementation. We are seeing polyphonic processing finding its way into guitar processors. However, guitar pickups remain monophonic. That means that current polyphonic processing still requires algorithms that process the monophonic signal, make a best guess as to the fundamental frequency for each string, and then process it accordingly. This introduces processor overhead, latency, and tracking glitches; despite the fact that the current products on offer for doing polyphonic processing from a monophonic source do an impressive job given what they are working with.

 

If guitar makers started offering more guitars with hex, polyphonic, pickups we might see a more rapid adoption of polyphonic processing in the guitar world with lower latency, better tracking, and lower demands being placed on the processor. For guitar players not using polyphonic processing those hex pickups could be summed. Polyphonic opens up a world of possibilities with its ability to process each string separately, and differently. It would seem that the guitar world should start moving towards making polyphonic pickups (and processing) the new standard.

 

In addition to the obvious feature of being able to do advanced processing of chords properly, polyphonic pickups as a standard would enable every guitar to instantly dial up alternate tunings or apply different effects or parameters to individual strings. You could even do subtle and picky things such as micro-corrections on specific strings for tunings, allowing the player to correct for the inherent tuning and intonation issues caused by guitar physics or flaws or problems with neck and fret construction. The possibilities are endless.

 

The closest analogy I can think of for the current state of affairs, is if the Hi-Fi manufacturers and record companies had persisted in producing monophonic equipment and recordings long after stereo had proved to offer a superior listening experience. It seems it is time to start moving towards more sophisticated pickup technology as a standard rather than an exception.

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On 4/1/2022 at 3:01 PM, HonestOpinion said:

 

If guitar makers started offering more guitars with hex, polyphonic, pickups we might see a more rapid adoption of polyphonic processing in the guitar world with lower latency, better tracking, and lower demands being placed on the processor. For guitar players not using polyphonic processing those hex pickups could be summed. Polyphonic opens up a world of possibilities with its ability to process each string separately, and differently. It would seem that the guitar world should start moving towards making polyphonic pickups the new standard.

 

Although it's an interesting idea I'm now sure how big the market might be in order to make the cost approachable.  Guitarists, by and large, are born into an analog world and really seem to struggle with digital tools.  I might be interested for a couple of reasons such as tunings and possible guitar emulations, but keyboards have such a dominant lead in their digital offerings that are accessible at a reasonable price and I'm not sure I would be all that interested in a guitar overflowing with various programmable buttons and such which would provide comparable functionality on a guitar which is really where the digital input devices pay off.  But I do think such a guitar when paired with a higher end brain like the Helix could certainly open a LOT of possibilities.

But that may just be the keyboard side of my brain talking.....lol

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Re hex pickups, being able to process individual strings is really cool...in theory. At one point Brian Hardgroove from Public Enemy and I had a band (EV2) that was just him on drums and me on the Gibson HD.6X Pro hex guitar. I had octave dividers on the lower strings so I could get bass along with chords, and standard magnetic pickups for doing leads. So it sounded like a lot more than two people. (Eddie Kramer called us "The Black and White Stripes," which I thought was kind of funny - there's a one-minute EV2 clip on YouTube, although it was from a fan's camcorder so you can't really hear the guitar's bass.)

 

The guitar didn't sell well, although some subsequent Gibson high-tech guitars that sold reasonably well, like the Dark Fire, had hex pickups. However, there are several problems inherent in hex pickups:

 

Crosstalk. It's very difficult to get decent isolation between strings and maintain audio fidelity. So if you're distorting a string, you're still getting intermodulation distortion from adjacent strings. The high and low E have less crosstalk, so they sound "different" than the four middle strings.

Dealing with all those outputs. You can't run six audio lines out of a guitar without going insane. Gibson used a modified Ethernet-type connection (similar to the Variax), so the cable itself was svelte. The strings were multiplexed digitally. But this brings us to the next problem...

Where do the outputs go. The HD.6X Pro cable terminated in a breakout box with 6 audio outputs. With EV2, these went into an audio interface with 6 audio inputs. All the processing had to be done in the computer, and I used six instances of AmpliTube. But changing presets and such for six channels was a real hassle, and with the laptops of those days, six amp sims just about brought the computer to its knees. I depended on running the magnetic pickups through a multieffects to create different sounds.

 

Gibson's later polyphonic guitars multiplexed the audio down a standard stereo 1/4" cable that terminated in a Firewire interface. That eliminated the breakout box and all the audio connections, but...the interface was Firewire (which is pretty much dead at this point), and had a fixed sample rate of 48 kHz. So if you were into using 44.1 kHz, you had to do a sample rate conversion. Then there was the issue of not being able to aggregate it with other interfaces on Windows, and the last driver IIRC was for Vista.

 

The hassles involved in poly guitar are what led me to using multiband processing, which avoided a lot of the problems and still sounds pretty cool. I would assume someone with schematics and a sense of adventure could create a box that would create six separate outputs from a Variax, but again, now that you have the six outputs, you have to process them...so you'd need a Helix with six independent parallel paths, or a way to get those outputs into a computer. 

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On 4/2/2022 at 3:11 AM, craiganderton said:

Re hex pickups, being able to process individual strings is really cool...in theory. At one point Brian Hardgroove from Public Enemy and I had a band (EV2) that was just him on drums and me on the Gibson HD.6X Pro hex guitar. I had octave dividers on the lower strings so I could get bass along with chords, and standard magnetic pickups for doing leads. So it sounded like a lot more than two people. (Eddie Kramer called us "The Black and White Stripes," which I thought was kind of funny - there's a one-minute EV2 clip on YouTube, although it was from a fan's camcorder so you can't really hear the guitar's bass.)

 

The guitar didn't sell well, although some subsequent Gibson high-tech guitars that sold reasonably well, like the Dark Fire, had hex pickups. However, there are several problems inherent in hex pickups:

 

Crosstalk. It's very difficult to get decent isolation between strings and maintain audio fidelity. So if you're distorting a string, you're still getting intermodulation distortion from adjacent strings. The high and low E have less crosstalk, so they sound "different" than the four middle strings.

Dealing with all those outputs. You can't run six audio lines out of a guitar without going insane. Gibson used a modified Ethernet-type connection (similar to the Variax), so the cable itself was svelte. The strings were multiplexed digitally. But this brings us to the next problem...

Where do the outputs go. The HD.6X Pro cable terminated in a breakout box with 6 audio outputs. With EV2, these went into an audio interface with 6 audio inputs. All the processing had to be done in the computer, and I used six instances of AmpliTube. But changing presets and such for six channels was a real hassle, and with the laptops of those days, six amp sims just about brought the computer to its knees. I depended on running the magnetic pickups through a multieffects to create different sounds.

 

Gibson's later polyphonic guitars multiplexed the audio down a standard stereo 1/4" cable that terminated in a Firewire interface. That eliminated the breakout box and all the audio connections, but...the interface was Firewire (which is pretty much dead at this point), and had a fixed sample rate of 48 kHz. So if you were into using 44.1 kHz, you had to do a sample rate conversion. Then there was the issue of not being able to aggregate it with other interfaces on Windows, and the last driver IIRC was for Vista.

 

The hassles involved in poly guitar are what led me to using multiband processing, which avoided a lot of the problems and still sounds pretty cool. I would assume someone with schematics and a sense of adventure could create a box that would create six separate outputs from a Variax, but again, now that you have the six outputs, you have to process them...so you'd need a Helix with six independent parallel paths, or a way to get those outputs into a computer. 

 

My experience with guitar synthesis has been with the Roland GK pickups and a Godin guitar with a built in hex pickup. Both types of systems used the same cable for connection - the Roland GK cable (13 pin DIN MIDI).

 

I started with guitar synthesis way back when Roland's first GK pickup became available. It was an aftermarket affair that had to be mounted either with screws(horrors) or adhesive to your guitar. You also mounted a clip to plug in the cable. Rather kludgy on the install, tracking was not great, and the cable while within the bounds of usability was still clunkier than a standard guitar cable. Tracking and mounting on later versions of the GK pickups got better but it still felt like blasphemy to mount those things on a quality guitar so they always ended up on one of my cheaper bangaround axes. My favorite implementation was the Godin which tracked well and had the advantage of being built from the ground up with the pickup properly and integrally mounted with an eye towards synthesis. That is the model I hope more guitars move towards in the future with a standardized and sleeker cable and jack.

 

I was unaware of the crosstalk issues and I suppose that is something that would have to be resolved to improve the technology.

 

I never attempted your more sophisticated use of multiple Amplitube instances and always used a Roland GR guitar synth, upgrading as new models appeared. That made for a fairly simple single cable connection from guitar to guitar synth, no breakout required.

 

I can see where some of the potential processor overhead savings from not having to translate from a mono to poly signal when using a polyphonic pickup are simply moved over to, or even exceeded, by the demands that six separate streams place on the modeler/synth, but hopefully the hardware is moving in a direction where those demands can be handled.

 

I understand that this is a pie in the sky hope to some extent, as @DunedinDragonpointed out, in that there may well not be enough market demand for guitar synthesis and polyphony to justify the extra cost to market them widely in the offerings from major guitar manufacturers. Add to that the fact that many instruments have remained pretty much unchanged for centuries and it is not a surefire recipe for seeing things leap forward any time soon. Still, it seems like it would be a natural progression as the modeling and synthesis worlds seem to be merging to some extent with the addition of polyphony to modelers. I hope that trend continues to the point where separate offerings of guitar modelers and guitar synths are no longer necessary. Polyphonic modeling and synthesis will be collapsed into a single device. Ideally this will be accompanied by a much broader choice of quality guitars fundamentally designed to be used with polyphonic processing and synthesis.

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On 4/2/2022 at 3:02 PM, HonestOpinion said:

My experience with guitar synthesis has been with the Roland GK pickups and a Godin guitar with a built in hex pickup. Both types of systems used the same cable for connection - the Roland GK cable (13 pin DIN MIDI).

 

It's definitely easier to shove MIDI data down a cable compared to audio. The signal levels are much higher, and crosstalk isn't as much of an issue because dynamics info is embedded in the data, rather than an amplitude change with audio. Now, if MIDI really could reproduce all the nuances of playing guitar, and there was a guitar synth at the other end that could translate these nuances to sound, then it would be easier to process the synth sound than the raw audio.

 

Ultimately, I do think the end run will be a controller that plays like a guitar, feels mostly like a guitar, and can translate nuances to data, but is not a retrofitted version of a conventional guitar. From a physics standpoint, conventional guitars just weren't designed for this kind of application.

 

The Jammy-E guitar's technology is very promising, and it was a finalist in the 2021 MIDI Innovation Awards. Sadly, the company making it is (was) located in Ukraine, and I don't have to tell you the rest of that story :(   However, the founder has been in contact with The MIDI Association, whose  members are trying to help. They hope to find a way to keep the technology alive. 

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On 3/29/2022 at 11:29 AM, cruisinon2 said:

 

Who'd you think he was?...;)

 

Well, there were two clues that led me to my conclusion. But at the time, I didn't want to say anything out of respect for their privacy. The first clue was the username pianoguy. Then, a long time ago, on the HD500 forum, they said that they played with Alice Cooper. I remember way back in the late '70's early '80's I saw an Alice Cooper concert on cable. The guitar player he had, started playing Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting and Alice told him to stop, that he wasn't suppose to play that. It turned out the guitar player was Davey Johnstone who was Elton's guitar player in the beginning. So the user name pianoguy combined with playing in Alice's band led me to that conclusion. That's who I thought it was. Given the time frame mentioned in my last post, that would make that impossible. I hesitate to say who I think it is now, again for privacy reasons.

 

 

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On 3/29/2022 at 6:09 PM, hideout said:

Truly advanced guitar synth products have completely sidestepped midi altogether to avoid its relatively low speed.

 

Actually, even with 5-pin DIN MIDI's speed isn't the issue, it's the time required to analyze a string's vibrations and convert it to MIDI data. This is why the low E sounds so much more delayed than playing high up on the next. Higher-speed transports, like USB, can't solve that particular bottleneck.

 

As to why the Seaboard feels expressive, there are several reasons:

  • The sensors go beyond on-off switches, and respond to pressure and movement
  • They don't have to convert a frequency to MIDI data (which is what bogs down MIDI guitar), only controller motion
  • It's USB-only, which is essential when you're trying to stuff huge amounts of polyphonic data into a computer.

 

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I had the luck to play a Synthaxe back in late '80, and was just a piece of alien gear. Stiff strings and very odd feeling at first, primarily because you have to forget about picking and use the fretboard more like a keyboard (also you have to learn new techniques for the right hand which needs some time).... but the responsiveness was just amazing. I honestly don't remember any latency or warble, or glitches. You could also set the instrument in keyboard mode, so you had to go into chord position on the fretboard, then play that chord through the little keyboard controller onboard, which was also sending velocity and/or expression. Just mind blowing. I wish I bought that stuff when I had the chance to. (it was for sale in north Italy, and pre-owned by the italian singer and great guitar player, Pino Daniele)

 

I can't believe nobody did a replica of this instrument. I would buy it instantly (for the right price). 

 

qqq.jpg

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On 4/7/2022 at 7:53 AM, PierM said:

I would buy it instantly (for the right price).


Allan Holdsworth’s SynthAxe was up for sale - it’s sold now, but quite possibly it was the wrong price for you. Crazy money!

 

https://reverb.com/uk/item/1882073-allan-holdsworths-synthaxe-used-on-every-record-since-atavacron-1986

 

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On 4/7/2022 at 12:27 PM, datacommando said:


Allan Holdsworth’s SynthAxe was up for sale - it’s sold now, but quite possibly it was the wrong price for you. Crazy money!

 

https://reverb.com/uk/item/1882073-allan-holdsworths-synthaxe-used-on-every-record-since-atavacron-1986

 

 

Actually it was a GREAT price, considering the previous owner. But importing this beast to Italy, would cost +~45% on top of that money.

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On 4/7/2022 at 2:08 PM, PierM said:

Actually it was a GREAT price, considering the previous owner. But importing this beast to Italy, would cost +~45% on top of that money.

 

Wow! that is expensive.

 

When I was a lot younger in the late 1960s, I was fortunate enough to know Allan Holdsworth when he was first starting out. He was the guitar player in a local band - we all used to drink in the same bar.

Allan replaced another friend of mine, Pete, in a band named "Museum", and then some time later they both turned up on the same day for the audition with Colosseum. When Pete got to the stage door, he could recognise Allan's playing and thought he should not bother to try out for the gig, and went to the bar across the street. After his session Allan also went into the same bar. When he saw Pete, and he said that he should go and try out for it. Needless, to say Pete decided not to go for it, so they both decided to get drunk. Allan got the job and the rest is history.

 

Sadly both these guys are gone now.

 

Here's link to Museum with a picture of Allan circa 1967.
https://www.zanywoodruff.com/related-bands/the-museum-1967/

 

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