I’d like to find a guitar w/ nylon strings that I can play live as part of my solo acoustic set to preserve my fingers and fingernails. I looked at a bunch of them, ended up focusing on a Taylor and a Godin. Tried both at my local store – buckdancers.com in Portland, ME – and really liked many things about both guitars. I chronicled that at the time.
Because the Godin also has the Roland 13-pin connectivity built-in, I figured that I should look into how it interacts with a guitar synth.
The last time I looked into those, frankly it was unplayable – for me, anyway. The tracking just didn’t work with my picking technique, and it was a complete mess. Plus, I didn’t really think that the patches were all that realistic. Granted, this was some years ago, so I figured I should investigate anew with a clear and open mind.
My goals are simple:
1. To ascertain if the Godin Multiac can provide what I am looking for in a nylon-string guitar
2. To investigate whether guitar synth technology, with my limited skills, is “ready” for me to plunk down some money and time to integrate it into my live set.
The Godin Multiac is a beautiful guitar. Not as light as one might think at first, but not too heavy either. Well balanced, it fits nicely either standing or sitting.
The name of this guitar is ACS-SA Slim. The slim part refers to the nut width which is on par with a normal electric guitar nut width, the idea being that the transition for an electric guitar player to this guitar should be simple.
It is. Score one for the good folks at Godin.
I would not hesitate to take this guitar at a live gig. It’s professionally built throughout. As a matter of fact, I did just that twice already as part of this test drive endeavor. Both times, the guitar performed like a pro guitar should. Stayed in tune all night – I only had to tweak it when I took it out of the gig bag upon arrival at the gig. The tones are strong, and played direct through my Bose L1 Compact, the guitar sounds were clear, articulate and powerful. Fingerpicked lines and chord strumming were both on par with the quality I expect from live, professional gear. The guitar I usually use for my sets is a Tom Anderson Crowdster w/ a koa top.
Now comes the GR-20 side of things.
As someone with whom I recently interacted on this topic mentioned, these guitar synths are a rabbit hole out of which you may never climb.
What I need to find out is simple:
1. Are the patches suitable for a live, professional set? I don’t want something that sounds like an electric piano played through a ringtone machine. I need something that sounds like a piano.
2. Is the interface well-enough thought out that I can play this thing live without detracting from the overall performance? I don’t want to be head down and tweaking things every two minutes in front of an audience.
3. Is the lag issue resolved?
4. Is the tracking accurate?
One thing that should be kept in mind is that when you play a guitar synth, you shouldn’t expect to play the target instrument as if it were a guitar. For example, you can’t “strum” a sax when you play a real sax. So it’s a good idea to play it on the guitar as if you were playing a sax, not a guitar, especially when it comes to phrasing, attack, etc…
This said, one of the first patches I wanted to try was the banjo. I had this idea that since the Godin can play the synth tones, the guitar tones, or both at the same time, on some songs, it would be great to have the guitar tone at full volume and the banjo tone at half or 3/4, and to basically both at the same time for coloring purposes. I also had similar high hopes for the mandolin patch.
Well, early results would seem to indicate that no such luck is to be found. Again. When playing note by note, the banjo patch is adequate. But when strumming, it’s a mess. Maybe a 10th of the notes are actually sounded out, and with lag. Bottom line, while I would expect a sax to sound weird when strummed, I would expect a banjo patch to sound *perfect* when strummed since it is, you know, a banjo patch. I have a banjo – I strum it regularly. It sounds great. But I can’t play both the banjo and the guitar live at the same time, hence my interest in this technology. I tried to vary my picking style and strumming style to palliate this, but so far no go. I will reserve judgment until I’ve had a chance to talk to people who know this technology better than I do, but I am not even cautiously optimistic at this stage. That’s a bummer, this was one of the reasons why I was looking at this technology.
I ran through all the patches on the unit, and these are my immediate feelings on the matter:
1. The piano patches are the most realistic and usable.
2. Many patches in the synth bank are basically unusable for me. I couldn’t find one tune I play that would accommodate those sounds.
3. I enjoy the “split patches”. For example there is a patch where the bottom two strings, low E and A, are assigned to a bass patch, while the remaining four are assigned to a piano patch. As a finger picker, this open really fun possibilities.
4. The drum/percussion patches could be an interesting thing to spend some time with in conjunction with a looper. I could make a quick drum line live, then loop it and get into the actual song. Food for thought…
5. The organ patches are good, not great, but right now I can’t find anything to play with them as a solo guy. If I were complementing someone else, maybe I would be more drawn to them. Again, the idea of using a looper seems to be promising.
6. The brass patches are really not all that good. I don’t think I’ll spend much time there.
7. The bass patches were sort of fun. I see no use for them live, but in the studio, I could see enjoying that now that I can’t play bass anymore due to past injuries.
Here’s a quick first video I made with a piano patch, trying to see if this is something worse spending more time on. While I already had to adapt my picking technique, there were still many “sonic artifacts” for lack of a better term that popped up in there. I think that some of that could be remediated by giving the guitar a better set up as the action is fairly high right now.
Without further ado:
I will film more videos as I progress through this test drive and will document them here… so look out for Pt. 2 coming your way soon 🙂