There seem to be two broad classes of electric guitarists: those who find their sound and stick with it and those who endlessly experiment with pedals, amps, guitars, and other gear in search of a broad palette of tones. For those most interested in taking their sounds to new places, the call of synthesizers is hard to resist. The cry of those guitarists has long been, “It’s completely unfair that great synth tones should only be available to keyboard players!”
Over the years, systems have been developed that convert guitar output to MIDI, which can then be used to drive synthesizers and samplers. Roland, in particular, has championed the high-tech guitarist, with guitar synths, guitar-to-MIDI converters, and modeling guitar processors such as the VG-99. All of this gear is incredibly hip; Roland has truly pushed the envelope of what can be done with a guitar tonally.
However, Roland, as well as virtually all the other guitar synth systems, requires that you use a hexaphonic pickup, which is really six pickups in one, with one pickup dedicated to converting each string. In most cases, the hex pickup must be installed on your guitar, though there are some guitars that come factory-stock with hex pickups (the Fender Roland-ready Strat and the Parker MIDI Fly and Adrian Belew models come to mind). It’s a bit of an investment, though well worth it in my opinion.
Now, for those who want to dive into the world of MIDI without installing a new pickup, a new company called Sonuus (distributed in the United States by Peterson, purveyors of fine strobe tuners) has created the G2M. With the G2M, you can get into MIDI with your guitar, for less than $100 – certainly a reasonable price!
For that amount of coin, there are some limitations. Chief among these is that the G2M a monophonic device; it only converts one note at a time, so you can’t play chords through it. There are no switches or knobs for controlling the MIDI signal, you can’t change MIDI channels, and so on.
But, on the plus side, it’s completely simple to use. In fact, this tiny box has one guitar input and a through jack for passing the guitar signal along to your amp or other processor. There’s a MIDI output jack that you connect to the MIDI input on your computer interface or synthesizer. The only other control is a boost switch that you use if your guitar’s pickups are weak. That’s it – the only other things on the box are a power LED that doubles as a tuner, a low-battery indicator, a clip light, and a MIDI indicator. The G2M really couldn’t be any simpler.
That simplicity is a huge bonus for the G2M. As a guitar player, I want to plug in and play, not mess around with controls. And that’s what the G2M lets you do. Plug it in and go.
Like all pitch-to-MIDI converters, there’s a very small delay between when you play a note and when the synth plays. For me, this was not an issue. Getting good results also requires playing cleanly, with no extra notes or extraneous sounds. That’s not a bad thing; I’ve always found that playing a guitar synth was great for cleaning up and improving my technique.
I tried the G2M with five of my guitars, and it worked fine with all of them. It does prefer, however, instruments with a strong fundamental note; in my case, this was my ’79 Les Paul Standard and a “Partscaster” with Seymour Duncan humbuckers on it. I found the note tracking improved even further when I switched to the neck pickup and rolled off the tone control to remove upper partials from the guitar’s sound. The other key is to make sure your guitar is perfectly in tune. The G2M will track out-of-tune notes, but it sends a ton of extra MIDI information when doing so.
After a bit of playing to dial in my touch and technique, I was off and running. I played virtual instruments in Apple Logic, and I also used the G2M to record single-note synth lines into Logic. The G2M tracks pitch-bend information, so you can use finger vibrato and do bends; if the synth you’re using is set up properly, then it will follow right along. I also used the whammy bar on my Strat to do vibrato and dives. Once again, if the synth is set up properly, then it’ll track fine.
The Sonuus G2M is a very cool little box. For studio use, it’s great for playing synth lines and synth bass. Since it doesn’t do chords, you can overdub notes to create chords and counterpoint. It’s also great for inputting notes into a music notation program, such as Sibelius or Finale. Live, you can use it to double your guitar lines with synthesizer or to perform synth parts on its own – add flute or saxophone to your band, play synth leads or basses, even play drums and percussion instruments.
For less than $100, the Sonuus G2M is a no-brainer. Grab one and put it to use, both in your studio and onstage. It’s a fast, easy, inexpensive way to add synths and samplers to your guitar sound palette.