By Jim Miller

Longtime readers of this column know I'm an old guitar player who just happens to play some keyboards, mainly because — let's face it — I could get tones from keyboards that just were not available from guitars. Make no mistake about it, I love a great guitar sound, but the darn things just couldn't emulate a muted trumpet, for example. Or a cello.

Over the years, I tried a number of MIDI guitars and found them all lacking in one way or another: They were ridiculously expensive, had uncontrollable tracking problems and unacceptable triggering delays. So back to the keyboards I went, hoping that one day I'd play a MIDI guitar that was actually usable.

Now if you read the last issue of Sweet Notes, you know that Sweetwater is now stocking the Godin Multiac, which is kind of a strange name for this instrument, but it is — finally! — one heck of a playable MIDI guitar. I actually got to play one in April when I stopped in Fort Wayne to visit my friends at Sweetwater. In fact, I had no more than walked in the front door, when I found this beautiful, natural finish nylon string guitar held out towards me by several of the other resident guitar players. "You've gotta try this," they all said.

Well, you put a guitar in my hands and you pretty much can't keep me from trying it out, so first I played it unamplified and was pleased at the exceptional feel of the instrument (the action is simply great), as well as the well defined tone. I dashed into one of the demo rooms, plugged it in and was even more impressed. This thing sounded spectacular! I was enjoying it so much that someone (finally) had to mention that there were others waiting to use that demo studio. Grudgingly, I handed over the Multiac (actually, as I now recall, my fingers had to be pried from the instrument).

It wasn't until later that day that I got to hear it plugged into the new Roland VG-8 V-Guitar System. Now before I say anything more, let me first say I am not easily overwhelmed, but when I heard this nylon-string guitar producing a sound as good as my vintage Stratocaster, well, I'm fairly certain that I blacked out momentarily.

Patient guy that I am, I waited my turn to take a test drive on this ultimate guitar/synth system and I can tell you with a great degree of certainty that this combination is a flat-out winner: The playability of the Godin matched with the startling tonal capabilities of the Roland VG-8 beautifully.

See, the VG-8 is more than a synth. Yes, you can create all sorts of interesting and unusual sounds, but its real strength (at least as far as I'm concerned) is its ability to create a digital model of literally any guitar you can possibly imagine. You can place any number of pickups (humbuckers or single coils) anywhere on your guitar "body" or even on the neck. You can even define what kind of amp you'll be playing through, as well as the type (and placement) of mic you'll be using to "record" it.

If you've been waiting for someone to build a killer guitar/synth system, take it from me: It's here right now and it's truly impressive!

Have you noticed how many people are suddenly waking up to the fact that certain instruments run through a Leslie speaker sound quite cool. Guess that's why a lot of companies are building electronic rotary speaker simulators. Surprisingly, many of them have been quite successful at capturing that classic sound. But for me, there's absolutely nothing like the sound you get from playing through a real Leslie.

Many years ago, I owned an old, beat-up, wood cabinet Leslie speaker and I loved the way it would make my guitar produce all sorts of weird and wonderful sounds when I hooked it up to my Fender amp. True, it was noisy and it weighed about as much as a Volkswagen bus, but it sure sounded incredible. Unfortunately, my electrical skills left a lot to be desired at the time and I eventually caused that old Leslie to have some sort of total electronic meltdown, leaving my living room with a nasty smell that took months to finally get rid of.

Over the years I ran into a number of Leslies and was often tempted to buy another one, but all of them had some type of mechanical or electrical problems that I just didn't want to deal with. After a while, the supply seemed to totally dry up. Guess others with a bit more technical expertise snatched up these beautiful old beasts.

Well, I'm happy to report that Leslies are again available — from Sweetwater, in fact! Yup, thanks to new advances in electronics and manufacturing techniques, this particular incarnation, dubbed the Leslie Model 323 (under $2000 list), weighs in at a modest (for a Leslie anyway) 115 pounds, and features the classic dual-speed horn rotor, plus a 12" low frequency bass speaker with electronic rotor capabilities plus an integral power amp. Even more amazing is the fact that there's a separate, stationary three-speaker array designed to reproduce audio signals from instruments that you don't want running through the rotary speakers (like a piano module).

Does it sound exactly like the old models? I'd have to say that the new speakers are much cleaner and quieter (though still full and punchy) and should prove to be much more reliable than their ancestors. They certainly capture the signature sound of that wildly rotating horn. However, if your interest lies in reproducing the ultra-noisy, gritty sound of a Leslie pushed to its limits (complete with annoying 60-cycle hum), the Model 323 (and any electronic simulator) might just disappoint you.

If you still find 115 pounds objectionable — like if you're gigging nightly and carting around two of these things plus all the rest of your gear — you might want to consider the next best thing to a Leslie, the Motion Sound PR-3 ($699 list). This little 27-pound beast features a rotating treble horn for frequencies above 700Hz with a crossover network that sends the low frequencies out to a built-in stereo low rotor simulator that can plug into your regular keyboard amp (or even into the PA if you're brave). Of course, you might know Sweetwater stocks PR-3s as well as Leslies, and they're well worth checking out.

Finally, if an electronic simulation of a Leslie makes sense for you, you have to check out the nifty little Spin from Voce (just $449 retail). Keyboard magazine called it "As realistic an electronic Leslie simulation as we've heard." I certainly can't disagree. For the bucks you get a great sounding (MIDI controllable) half space module with superb stereo sound. Trust me, you'll be happy with any one of these three!

Final note: If you have a computer and a modem (and these days, who the heck doesn't) you've got to check out Sweetwater on the Internet. Hey, the information super highway doesn't get much more super than this. For information on how to get access to the Internet (in case you're not already online and totally hooked) see page 5. As a special bonus, log on and you'll get to see yours truly playing a Godin Multiac right on your computer screen. Can life possibly get any better?