By Jim Miller

Last issue's column kind of stirred up a hornet's nest of sorts. Seems that a number of guitarists felt that my characterization of the sound of the Roland VG-8 accessed via a Godin Multiac guitar as being the equal of my vintage Stratocaster was no less than blasphemy. I guess some guitarists feel that unless a product is made of wood or is covered with tolex then it can't possibly be all that good.

Look folks, I'm certainly not going to give up my Strat — or any of my other guitars for that matter. For the most part, I consider my guitars to be not just instruments, but one-of-a-kind art pieces as well. You can't punch these things out of some machine (at least not the good ones); each one is, for the most part, a unique object with subtle variations in wood, finish, tone and playability. But that doesn't mean I don't want to add a special instrument that will provide just about any guitar sound imaginable. That's why I've taken the plunge (my accountant is filled with a sense of dread right now) and got a VG-8 V-Guitar System along with a Roland GK-2A divided pickup to install on one of my "less valuable" guitars. See, the actual tone of the instrument driving the VG-8 has almost nothing to do with the final sound. Your personal playing style and techniques will alter the final sound much more dramatically.

And let's get something straight: the VG-8 is not, nor has it ever claimed to be, a synthesizer (Heck, there's no way to even plug in a keyboard, even though it has MIDI ins and outs). No, what this baby does is detect the vibration of each individual string, then uses Roland's advanced DSP technology to do the high speed processing of each string's waveform independently and in real time. The signal is then manipulated by the DSP chips into a completely new sound, so that your Les Paul can sound like a Strat and vice-versa. This entire process is known as Variable Guitar Modeling (VGM) and it's part of the unit's proprietary technology, Composite Object Sound Modeling or "COSM" for short.

A second part to the VG-8 is what is termed Harmonic Restructure Modeling (or HRM). This process takes the guitar waveform and restructures the harmonic content in real time, providing all sorts of new and interesting sounds. However, I should point out here that since the VG-8 is not truly a synthesizer, the new waveforms produced will always in some way include elements of the original guitar sound. So you can't, in effect, call up a realistic simulation of a cello, since the playing techniques and waveforms of each instrument are quite different (we'll have to wait until Roland releases their "V-Cello System" I guess).

Still, the sounds that you can produce using HRM are quite interesting all on their own, since they are essentially brand new instrument timbres that probably have never been heard before. And as programmers dig into the VG-8, I'm sure we'll hear a lot more complex, evocative sounds.

One thing's for sure, you no longer have to carry two or three guitars to a gig or recording session. Protect your investments; keep them at home and take along a VG-8. You don't even need to wheel that old blond Fender Showman out of your studio, since the VG-8 can create highly accurate models of just about any amp, too.

It's no wonder that Sweetwater is having a tough time keeping enough of these units in stock (I'm just glad I got one before the supply runs out!).

Some of my favorite sounds: "FoxyLady" and "JimiLite," both of which capture the classic sound of Hendrix's Stratocaster; "Venture" and "ROKnREBL" are terrific twangy tones reminiscent of the Ventures and Duane Eddy (am I showing my age?); "FuzzFACE" really sounds like an old Maestro Fuzztone (probably the world's first distortion box); "RickyRPU and "Trampy12" definitely have the classic Rickenbacker and acoustic 12-string sound (hey, a 12-string tone with just a 6-string guitar! Wow, my fingers thank you, Roland!); "Carlos" and "BlkMAGIC" are immediately recognizable as Santana signature sounds; "STRAYCAT" is the ultimate Gretsch Rock-a-billy tone; "RAVE ON" recalls the early Telecaster-toting, Jeff Beck-driven Yardbirds; and "CLAPTONE" will take you right back to Eric's psychedelic Cream years.

In the HRM department, real winners include "VeryEFX" which is a 12-string tone with added 5ths on strings 1 to 4 and an added lower octave on strings 5 and 6; "TRUMPIPE" doesn't really sound to my ears like its title, but is a great new timbre; "G-STEPS" is a somewhat flute-like sound; and "PowerVIO," "SoloSIN" and "VIOPIPE" are all exceptional solo sounds.

There's lots more to this machine, like superb effects (notice the cooler the product the more space it takes to tell you about it). I could rave about this box for days, but I'm sure the editor is already thinking about how to shut me up. My advice: If you're a guitarist that's not afraid to step up to a next level of technology (hey, somebody was the first to use a Fuzztone way back when), then pick up the phone right now and order one of these while there are still some left on the shelves.

Still unconvinced (guess I'm not very persuasive, eh)? Then call your Sweetwater sales engineer immediately and order the VG-8 demo CD. It's free while supplies last and it gives you a much better idea as to this machine's power than a whole page of my glowing prose. It's informative and, darn it, fun to listen to. One of the demo tunes on the disc ("36 Frets" by Gundy Keller) almost made me want to give up the guitar altogether, it's that good. Actually, all the demos are great. These guys can play!

You know, as I was writing this, I ran a spell-check on the preceding text. That's always good for a laugh: It caught the word Stratocaster and suggested "oystercatcher" as the possible correct word. "Say, I think I'll take my vintage Oystercatcher out to the gig tonight." Pretty snappy, isn't it? If any guitar manufacturer decides to name a new product the Oystercatcher, I'll expect a royalty check. Anyway, that got me to thinking about all the other words that are commonly tossed around on these pages: multitracking, rackmount, laptop, synth, sequencer, MIDI, crossfade, DAT, ROM, floppies, even the word spellcheck, none of which is in any dictionary I own. Shows how fast the technology is moving along and how a musician's vocabulary evolves based on that technology.

Before I sign off for another issue, I hope you'll forgive me for getting a bit maudlin for a moment. See, I just recently lost a cherished pet, Tasha, a friend who for 13 years was one of the sweetest, gentlest creatures I have ever known. It's always a sad experience to lose any loved one, but I have to say that thanks to my music, I was able to deal with the pain by expressing what I felt through composing. Most people aren't as lucky as you or I — they don't have music to help them through the tough times. With all the amazing technology we have at our disposal (just look through this issue for a small sampling), it is the very essence and positive nature of our music that is most important. Sure it's great to have the latest digital multitrack, synth or mixer. But without the music, it's just a pile of scrap metal and plastic. Keep making music, my friends!