Date: 17 August 2005
Reviewer: Karl Foster
The Gus G1 guitar promises to make MIDI sequencing a cinch for guitarists. Karl Foster plugs his Mac into a Marshall stack and levels the neighbourhood
Keyboard players have an easy life. Essentially, they press buttons, which makes inputting data into a Mac MIDI sequencer such as GarageBand, Cubase or Logic a breeze. Using a guitar as a MIDI trigger is trickier. The sound of a guitar is rich in harmonic, which is bad news for a pitch to-MIDI converter. It has to lock on to the fundamental to send accurate pitch detail to the tone generator. Then there's the time it takes to recognise pitch, which creates a slight delay - check out Brian May's guitar synth solo on Queen's 'I Want To Break Free' to hear how unsettling the delay can sound.
Japanese music equipment manufacturer Roland has long been the pioneer of guitar synth technology with its GK -series split pickups and guitarist-orientated converters/synthesizers. However, British manufacturer Gus Guitars has joined the fray with the Gl MIDI, a solid-body electric with a Piezo-based pickup built into the bridge. The idea is that you plug a 13-pin multi-core cable into the socket at the rear of the guitar, connect it to a Roland GI-20 converter, connect the USB port of the converter to the Mac, boot a MIDI sequencer and strum synth sounds. The Piezo pickup is said to output a very dean tone, making it easier for the pitch-to-MIDI converter to track accurately.
Naturally, for a guitar that costs over £3,000, the buyer is going to want some pretty handy electric guitar sounds as well as MIDI trigger functionality, and the G1 does not disappoint. While you'd expect the carbon-fibre-clad cedar body, with chrome-plated aluminium tube surround, to sound metallic compared with a wooden electric guitar, the combination of materials and the pickup configuration produce truly useful tones. Everything from Strat-style twanginess to Gibson guts, can be extracted from the four 'lipstick-tube' clad single-coil pickups, configurable into humbuckers via a six-way rotary selector. Switch in the Piezos and you've a clean acoustic tone that can be routed to another amplifier via a stereo 1/4-inch electric output jack and split guitar lead.
As for playability, the G1 is a marvel. The shallow neck is fronted by a 22-fret cocobolo fretboard with distinctive resin markers and is very comfortable to play. Upper fret access is excellent thanks to the unusually shaped body which, when hanging from a strap, feels just like a regular guitar even if it looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. The controls are easy enough to get used to, although the concentric rotary knobs are a tad fiddly to operate for the chunky fingered, and the tremolo system performs very well indeed, with tuning kept solid by Gotoh 510 Magnum Lock machine heads.
When plugged into a Roland GK-33 guitar synth floorboard, the GI shows its mettle. Tracking is very fast and feels responsive, with only negligible delay between plucking a string and hearing the synth patch trigger. It's accurate across all strings and along the entire length of the neck, hence you can play sizzling synth solos in a guitar style with confidence. Hook the GI up to a GI-20 MIDI interface, plus Mac and sequencer, and the creation of realistic sounding guitar parts is easy. Solos, picking patterns and strumming sequences can be played straight in as MIDI data, saving time. Both as a versatile, well-built electric guitar and MIDI-trigger solution, the GI in conjunction with a GI-20 performs like a dream. Guitarists seeking to drive a sequencer will revel in its ability to track their playing quickly and accurately. While some may flinch at the price, Gus Guitars are superbly built and quality doesn't come cheap. While good looks aren't everything, the GI regularly causes jaws to drop, which is great if you're gigging. More importantly, it sounds great as an electric guitar, sounds sweet as a quasi-acoustic guitar and opens up incredible musical possibilities via MIDI.
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