Pitch To MIDI

The guitar is an incredibly nuanced and analog sort of an instrument.  After all, we actually touch the vibrating medium with our hands.  This makes the bridge to the digital world of synths a wobbly one.  On the other hand, compared with the intimacy and power with which a guitar can express emotion, a keyboard is like taking a shower while wearing a raincoat.  Off the top of my head, the only other instrument that I can think of that’s more analog than a guitar is a harmonica: it plays best when it's wet.  And to play it, you stick it in your mouth and breathe through it while you rub it with your tongue.

A modern keyboard is an array of switches plus some additional control surfaces that were designed to be compatible with the digital world.  You express emotion through certain, relatively circumscribed actions -- hitting the keys harder or softer, holding down damper pedals, manipulating auxiliary control surfaces, using big ranges of notes in two handed chords, and so on.  You do not directly touch anything that makes sound.  Instead, you interact with controls that drive the sound creation mechanism.

So the keyboard’s very limitations help it perform well in the digital world.  Great keyboardists’ ability to express emotion under these conditions entails their working with and around the limitations of their instruments.  They learn how to “do it” and they are fantastic.

Thinking about MIDI guitar in this context allows us to approach the medium with a different mindset.  MIDI guitar is an attempt to cross the chasm between the analog and digital worlds.  Real time pitch-to-MIDI is a tough problem.  If it weren't, there would be a ton of great products available at highly competitive prices.  Alternative controllers, for example, the Ztar, aren't real guitars and require different playing adjustments and compromises.  Limitations are likely to persist.  On the other hand, great MIDI guitarists, just like great keyboard players will learn how to work around instrument-specific limitations and communicate emotion beautifully & intimately with their audiences.

Guitar synth (as opposed to MIDI guitar) players can drive specialized hardware and software with a real time, optimally hexaphonic signal.  The VG-88, and its successors, provide a particularly interesting example (but of course you can't drive external synths with it -- oops, another limitation).  Driving a laptop running multiple instances of a soft synth such as Antares' Kantos plus other real time filtering, signal processing, and mixing plug-ins offer a powerful alternative.  You use the laptop's stereo output to get your signal into the "real world." 

Driving this w/ a USB wire directly from a guitar's hex pickup to the laptop adds a bit more performance.

It may be that it is the working around-and-with the limitations of their instruments that gives great musicians their special appeal.  As always, your mileage will vary.

© Michael C. Glaviano 2009 - 2016