The Brian Moore iGuitar
June 15, 2005
An innovative design that combines magnetic and piezo pickups
with 13-pin synth access
Look, you're among friends here, so you can admit it: Your pulse starts to quicken any time a FedEx truck pulls up outside. I know mine does!
A few days ago, FedEx made a surprise stop at my house. My heart rate shot up accordingly, even though I wasn't expecting anything. Imagine my surprise when the driver set a box on my doorstep of a size that I normally associate with electric guitars. Wow, was this some great karma coming back to me from a past act of kindness or what? Even more mysterious was the fact that no logo was printed on the box. Hmm...
I flailed around searching for a box cutter - oops, those were confiscated on a recent cross-country flight. But I located a kitchen knife and set to work. Within minutes, the box was open and the mystery solved. Out slid a heavy duty gig bag with "iGuitar" silkscreened on the front and below that, "Brian Moore Guitars."
Well, cool! See, until last April, when I flew up to Sweetwater for a marathon photo shoot of all the guitars in stock, I had never actually held a Brian Moore guitar in my hands. And honestly, back then we were so crunched for time, I really couldn't sit down to properly evaluate any of the instruments I shot.
In one of those wonderful twists of fate, I happened to cross paths with Brian Murphy, who is Sweetwater's Brian Moore rep and I humbly asked that when he had a chance, I would love to take one of the company's guitars for a test drive. Even more of a coincidence, Brian was thinking about asking me to do a feature on the company's iGuitar line. True to his word, Brian made it happen, and with such speed that I literally hadn't expected anything to arrive quite so fast.
The contents are quickly revealed...
After unzipping the gig bag, I carefully lifted out what turned out to be one of the Brian Moore i1000 series of guitars, the i81.13. Not big on giving their instruments exciting names like "The Shred Master" or "The Texas Rattler," (Extra points for that, guys!) the company's line pretty much follows a simple pattern. The "i" in the i81.13 means that this guitar is part of the Brian Moore "i Series" and in this case, it's the i1000 group of instruments, which means it has these standard features:
* A beautifully figured maple top
* An innovative rear output jack that keeps your cable safely tucked into the back of the guitar
* An RMC piezo bridge for a surprisingly authentic acoustic tone
* Classic "iM" Alnico humbucking pickups
* An ergonomically-shaped custom contoured top
Finally, the ".13" indicates that this guitar comes standard with the proprietary 13-pin connecter for access to the full range of Roland synths and guitar modules like the VG-88 V-guitar system, the VGA7 COSM modeling amp and the GR-20S guitar / bass synthesizer. You can also plug into the new GI-20 MIDI interface for direct connection to literally any MIDI gear or computer on the planet via USB. We'll be discussing these capabilities in just a bit.
For now, let me give you my first impressions of the guitar. First off, the body style is one which I'd call "modified Superstrat" - very reminiscent of the evolutionary electrics that were being built by companies like Jackson and Charvel in the 1980s and early '90s. It's not normally my preference, but I had to admit it gives this guitar an aggressively contemporary look.
I was particularly smitten with the bookmatched flamed maple top which is finished in a slightly off-red color that the company calls "cinnamon." I'll admit to being a flamed maple junky, and this guitar definitely impressed me with the quality of the figuring - deep, even and with none of the so-called "dead spots" which can and do occur even on some astronomically-priced guitars!
This guitar has what Brian Moore calls a comfort contour top and body, which you can see in the photos. So whether you're playing seated or standing up, the iGuitar is never fatiguing. And with the gently curving top, picking is almost effortless, plus there's no clunky pickguard to obscure the beauty of the flamed maple.
Keep in mind that at this point, I had no idea what the list price might be for an i81.13 - turns out it's actually $995, with a MAP ("street price") of $749.97, which is pretty astonishing once you hear about all the features, the playability and the sound, all of which I'll get to in short order.
Flipping the guitar over, I saw it had a bolt-on neck that fits so perfectly, I couldn't detect even the tiniest amount of space anywhere around the joint. Speaking of the neck, it's natural maple with a rosewood fingerboard. While I confess to a preference for gloss finishes on guitar necks, the i81.13 has one of the nicest semi-gloss necks in the business. Once I started playing, I'll admit it never became an issue, as the playability was superb.
I'd call the i81.13's neck a wide-thin design, reminding me of my old Gibson SG Special as opposed to say, a fat '59 Les Paul profile. Again, while I happen to favor fat necks, the i81.13 never had me wishing for something different. And the rosewood fingerboard's tight grain almost felt like ebony. The 25.5-inch scale feels right on this guitar and the 15-inch radius is a perfect match.
The headstock is unmistakably Brian Moore, with that unique sculpted design, which includes natural maple showing along the top and a gloss black face with an inset "iM" in pearl along with two chrome tuners up top and four on the bottom. It took my brain a few minutes to come to grips with the D string tuner being on the lower side, but it quickly became a non-issue.
All the controls are chrome with nicely-knurled edges for quick and easy adjustment, though the plethora of knobs and switches is a bit daunting at first. The guitar ships with a quick reference guide and it helps having that in front of you while you start exploring your timbral palette.
More than just good looks
Okay, the i81.13 looks slick, but there are a heck of a lot of cool looking axes available, so what makes this one special? Well, naturally you have to consider the 13-pin synth access, but let's hold off on that for now and talk about the features you'd consider to be standard on a guitar at this price.
First off, the two hot humbucking pickups - designated as iM Alnico humbuckers - have a surprisingly wide frequency response. In fact, when playing the guitar through a PODxt, I found the magnetic pickups were capable of a great deal of high end sparkle.
The bridge pickup will even slice and dice through a dense mix with pretty much the same authority you'd expect from the bridge pickup of, say, your favorite Tele. But roll the tone control back and it's just as easy to get a vintage flavored, dark and smoky humbucker sound. I also appreciated the fact that the volume control doesn't change the tone when you back it off for rhythm parts.
A nice feature might have been the ability to "coil tap" the pickups to achieve a thinner single coil sound. I've since learned that the pickups do have four conducter wiring, so it's possible to add a coil tap switch. Then again, most guitar players will find the range of tones quite adequate. At high volume levels, playing live, this baby screams!
From classic rock through the distinctive 1980s "glam rock" to 21st Century sounds, this truly is a versatile instrument, and we haven't even gotten to the piezo pickups yet!
And speaking of piezos...
We originally got a taste of what piezoelectric pickups could do back in the 1970s, when the first Ovation "bowl back" acoustics arrived. I was at a concert headlined by '70s "supergroup" America ("Horse With No Name" and "Ventura Highway" were just a few of their hits) and that's the very first time I heard an acoustic guitar on stage at high volume that actually sounded like an acoustic. And surprise - no feedback!
Unlike magnetic pickups, which respond to the vibrations and electromagnetic field around a guitar string, piezos employ special crystals that generate electricity under magnetic stress. In plain English, that means piezos sense the vibrations of both the string and the guitar's top and they have a frequency response that's much wider than a magnetic pickup. This delivers a sound that's very close to what we associate with an acoustic guitar.
The Brian Moore i81.13 utilizes an RMC piezo system with a fixed bridge. I really like the way the iGuitar delivers both the magnetic pickups and piezos via a unique cable system that plugs snugly into the back of the instrument. On one end of the cable is a standard stereo 1/4-inch jack and this splits out into a "Y" configuration so that your humbuckers can get routed to your guitar amp and the piezos to a separate acoustic guitar amp (with wider frequency response) or right to a mixing console or the house PA system.
How does the piezo system sound? Well, first off, you have to realize that these piezo pickups are mounted on top of a solid body guitar, which doesn't resonate like a hollow body instrument. Still, the sound is rich with a glossy harmonic structure and lots of high end zing. In fact, to my ears, the piezos have just a tiny bit too much high end, but that's easily corrected via the tone controls on the amp, mixer or PA system. The 81.13 doesn't have a tone control for the piezo system, and actually, there's a good reason for this (which I'll reveal in a moment).
To tame the high end and give the acoustic sound a bit of extra warmth and "air," I plugged into a Tech21 SansAmp Acoustic DI box, which provides a wealth of tone controls to shape your acoustic sound and special mic emulation circuitry that can be blended with the direct signal. Net result? Sonic bliss of a high order! For cutting through dense mixes, just run the piezos flat out.
Oh, and the reason for the tight top end on the RMC system is simple: this is where the guitar gets the information that gets sent out via the 13-pin connector. An inline tone control would slow down the tracking response, which is the fastest I've ever encountered!
The 13-pin Roland-compatible output
Back in the early 1990s, when the first guitars were designed to trigger synths via MIDI and later from onboard 13-pin systems, there was a noticeable lag time, meaning you had to learn to "play ahead" on these instruments, otherwise your MIDI note would trigger too late. This caused a lot of guitar players to swear off any sort of involvement with MIDI or synths in general.
Eventually, the tracking times got shorter, particularly in later incarnations of Roland's GK-2A and GK3 divided pickups, which were designed to mount onto the guitar of your choice. Still, with the i81.13, I must say that it's only on the tightest, most percussive sounds that I noticed any sort of lag at all. Most of the time I wasn't even aware of it - period! What a pleasure it was to plug the guitar into the Roland GI-20 guitar-to-MIDI interface and trigger synths like the Alesis Andromeda and samplers like my Kurzweil K2500!
Naturally, the i81.13 can be plugged directly into any Roland product that accepts a 13-pin connector, like their VG-88 V-Guitar System and the GR-20 Synth. In direct comparison with guitars that have externally mounted interfaces, the 81.13 beat them all with its blazing fast response!
But there's more to the 13-pin system than simply triggering external synths or samplers. Using the Roland GI-20, you can connect the i81.13 directly to your computer via a simple USB cable, meaning you can input directly to the Sibelius G7 Notation / Tab software (available from Sweetwater, of course), then go exploring in cyberspace and discover the world of online interactive music. You can even use the 81.13 to enter data in such easy-to-use programs like Apple's Garage Band! Now that's smooth in anyone's book!
Naturally, as you'd expect from a guitar that's as well thought out as this one, all three systems - magnetic, piezo and 13-pin - can be used separately or in any combination. Talk about a world of options . . .
While Brian Moore builds a complete line of upscale guitars with some of the nicest inlay work in the industry, the i81.13, like other affordable models in the company's line, isn't built in the US. Without apology, Brian Moore's iGuitar line is hand crafted in China.
Yeah, I can hear some of you moaning.
I think there's still some stigma attached to guitars that are built overseas. Some of that's leftover from the 1960s, when some truly awful imports made their way into the country. A lot of these instruments were gaudy and poorly designed with features nobody in their right mind needed. We guitarists are a conservative bunch - myself included, but I'm learning.
If you think about it, stringed instruments have been built for many centuries in China. Some 200-year-old instruments still play and sound as good as the day they were built. In fact, I own two Chinese "moon lutes" that are at least 150 years old and are still playable. By comparison, domestic stringed instruments really didn't hit their stride until the mid-20th Century!
I've said it before (most recently in my feature on Gretsch guitars) and I'm sure I will say it again: If an instrument is built by a dedicated craftsman who takes pride in his (or her) work, what difference does it make where that person is located?
Heck, my Nikon 8700 digital camera is made in China and it's hands down the best digital camera I've ever owned. I'm old enough to remember when the first Japanese 35mm cameras began arriving in the states from manufacturers like Nikon, Canon, Minolta and others. At the time, German cameras were considered the best you could buy. But by the late 1960s, cameras built in Japan quickly overtook the industry leaders by offering features you couldn't find anywhere else and at prices that were a fraction of the cost of a Leica or a Rollei.
The same thing is happening today in the music industry. And far from downplaying the fact that some of the most innovative guitars are being manufactured overseas, Brian Moore, like other guitar companies, are rightfully proud of these amazingly affordable, feature-laden instruments. And if only a US-made guitar will do, well then, Brian Moore has some real "drool worthy" instruments to choose from.
Yeah, it's taken me quite a while to get to this point, but there's an awful lot about the i81.13 to like! Feature-for-feature and dollar-for-dollar, Brian Moore's entire line of iGuitars are simply some of the best values in the business. In fact, I'd have to say this i81.13 at $749 and change is one of the biggest and best guitar bargains you'll ever find!
In Brian Moore's advertising for the iGuitar series, they use this tag line: "The i stands for fun." While the iGuitar is certainly fun to play - and own! - my feeling is that the i stands for innovative, inspiring, ingenious and just plan incredible. If you're thinking of buying a terrific guitar priced at about $750 and don't consider the i81.13, you'd be, well . . . insane!
Hey, but don't just take my word for it. I would strongly suggest that you talk to your Sales Engineer who will be happy to help you pick out the exact iGuitar for your specific needs. Sweetwater has just about doubled its stock of Brian Moore guitars and basses, so you're certain to find the perfect guitar in your favorite color and with all the hot new features!
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