Guitar synths , some thoughts

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iphoenix
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Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by iphoenix » Mon Aug 08, 2011 1:31 am

I love the sound of some of the 'real' guitar synths , such as the early Roland one GR700 /500 or whatever the model numbers. Im aware that they tracked notoriously badly & were awkward to use but the limitations could produce sublime results in the right hands, eg: Steve Hillage with the early Roland GR synth ...Im not sure if he used it on 'Green' or not, but my ears say he did.
Also Frank Zappa's 'Sy Borg' , from 'Joes Garage ' Act 2 side one ( fantastic album, fantastic playing & production as is 'Green') has some beautiful playing , some of the best guitar ever on that album (apart from 'Electric Ladyland'), but it sounds to me as if Frank is playing a guitar synth on 'Sy Borg' , the solo lines & outro, its absolutly sublime & Im guessing that it is also the Roland GR700 as that is the sound that I recognise from certain albums of that era , ( late 70s early 80s)
It sounds like Frank's guitar style, but synthesized.
I used to think it was an ARP Oddessy & I know that ARP made a guitar synth , the 'Avatar' , so it could be that too.
It reminds me a bit of Tom Coster's ARP Pro Soloist or Oddessy playing on some of the late 70s Santana albums . Tom Coster is an excellent keyboardist.
It sounds like Jeff Beck also used a guitar synth at times , Im not familiar with all his ( excellent) work, but on 'Wired' , it sounds like a guitar synth on a few tracks.
I just love the way an analogue synth lends itself to being controlled by a guitar & Im not talking modern guitar to midi converters, they dont really interest me, though its quite odd hearing a guitarist playing brass chords or piano lines & can be interesting.
Regarding more digital guitar synths I have always been fascinated by the Stepp 'guitar', & I hope one day to find a working one for sale at a stupidily low price .

Al Di Meola s playing on the album 'Cielo e Terra', is some of the most moving & beautiful I have ever heard, I always thought it was a 'Stepp' guitar, but Im just looking at the album notes & it states he played 'Synclavier guitar' .
I suppose he must have been using a pitch ( hex? ) to midi converter driving the Synclavier from guitar..unless it was guitar lines recorded into the Synclavier & treated therin..whatever I love it.

Excuse my ignorance if Im wrong & all the rambling , but as far as I know the Roland GR700 ( the earliest model or the next one was basically a MKS 30 synth section. I really like the way it sounds being controlled from a 'guitar'.
Im not familiar with the Moog Liberation, but that looks like an unweildly beast..& would keep you fit if you didnt slip a disc while playing it.

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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by tim gueguen » Mon Aug 08, 2011 3:49 pm

No GR700 on Joe's Garage given that it was recorded in '78. I've never seen any indication Zappa used analog guitar synths on record or live. Are you sure there's any guitar lead playiing on "Sy Borg?" Sounds like a Minimoog playing leads on there. Any analog synth sounding guitar sounds from Zappa himself came from signal processing. He used an Oberheim VCF unit at times, along with a Mutron Bi Phase and things like octave dividers. He supposedly used a MIDI pickup to control his Synclavier onstage in the late '80s.

Al Dimeola used a Roland G303 guitar modded to control the Synclavier, just as Pat Metheny and John McLaughlin did.

No guitar synth on Wired. It's been a while since I've listened to it, but I think Beck used an octave divider in a couple of places. Any synth leads you're hearing are Jan Hammer. Beck briefly owned a Roland GR500, which may have appeared on Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live, but if so that was its only recorded appearance in Beck's official catalog.
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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by iphoenix » Mon Aug 08, 2011 9:54 pm

Thanks for that info Tim, & just what Im wanting to know.
I wasnt sure that there was actual guitar synth on any of those albums except for Steve Hillage's 'Green'..
It could well be Minimoog on Sy Borg , but it sounds like a 'Frank' guitar line translated to synth, which is why I thought it could be guitar synth.
I know that there have been guitar 'controllers' rigged up to customised banks of 6 minimoogs in the late 70s ,one for each string, a fantastic concept theoretically.. so that would explain it to me if it were the case .
A few notable guitarists at the time used such a setup & Frank was always at the cutting edge as regards the latest & most experimental sound generating gear & ideas, genius that he was/ is .
I had also thought that the sounds that Im talking about in some cases could well be effects or analogue filters etc, but there is a very late 70s analogue mono synth sound / vibe there ala Minimoog/ Oddessy or even early Roland Sh xxx or Oberheim etc etc in the cases I mentioned , it doesnt sound like it originates from guitar to me.
Im obviously shooting in the dark here & have had no actual hands on experience with guitar synths as such, but I love the sound of the early Roland ones & want to find out more about them ,& hopefully pick one up at some point.
Incidently I realise I made a sleepy mistake yesterday bringing up the Moog Liberator synth in the context of guitar synths.. Its not a guitar synth obviously.

The new Moog guitar synth thing however looks amazingly interesting. Id love to hear that in action.

I also realised today that the earliest Roland guitar synth GR 700 or whatever it is could not be based on the Roland MKS30 , as that & the JX3P didnt come out until the early 80s.

Re: Jeff Beck , of course it was Jan Hammer, he always had a very guitar-like synth soloing style, very fluid & lyrical.
All these musicians were/ are outstanding & have been huge influences on me musically..
I tip my metaphoric hat to them. The world has been richer for their presence.

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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by meatballfulton » Tue Aug 09, 2011 11:52 am

Zappa owned one of those 360 Spectre guitar synths...you can see it in the Baby Snakes video.

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Apparently this had Oberheim SEM circuit boards inside.
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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by loungedumore » Tue Aug 09, 2011 12:46 pm

The ESP section on the MS-20 is quite nice though not very accurate at pitch tracking . ( and yes the plugin version has this too )
Also not exactly a guitar synth (as you can not drive the OSC's with the guitar) I use my DSI Evolver as a synth guitar processor often .... tunable delays , Bit reduction , feedback looping , + the ol' basics of filter/env/Lfo , and all the above can be step sequencer controlled .
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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by meatballfulton » Tue Aug 09, 2011 5:58 pm

Zappa also used an Innovex Condor on his album Chunga's Revenge.

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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by cornutt » Tue Aug 09, 2011 6:42 pm

There are basiclaly two approaches to generating the synthesized waveforms in a guitar synth, assuming that a real guitar is used (excluding e.g., the Synthaxe, which uses a guitar-like controller). One is to process the guitar signal somehow in order to extract the pitch and envelope information, and then use those signals to drive VCOs and VCAs. The other approach is to waveshape the guitar signal into the desired synthesized waveform. The former is what the Roland GR500 and 700, the ARP Avatar, and the 360 Spectre/Slavedriver used. The big problem there is how to do the processing to get an accurate pitch signal, especially given all of the playing technique variations that guitarists use such as string bending, finger vibrato, hammer-on and pull-off, whammy bar etc. Particularly with the older technology, this took some processing time and accounted for the delay and tracking problems that so many guitarists complained about. The latter approach is what the Roland GR300 and countless "synth pedal" devices have used. It's much faster since it's just waveshaping, more or less a glorified distortion pedal. However, it's also severely limited since the synth doesn't actually know what notes are being played, and so for example you can't have a VCF track pitch since the synth doesn't know pitch.

Incidentally, the synth guts of the GR700 are quite similar to the Juno-106, including the use of the dreaded 80017A VCF/VCA hybrid.
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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by iphoenix » Thu Aug 11, 2011 12:20 am

Thanks guys , meatballfulton , Cornutt, & loungedumore for your information , pictures, theory & suggestions..

The 360 Spectre guitar synth looks very interesting & no doubt sounds amazing. Its got a nice synthy- lab look to it, very appealing to me ,as are a bank of Oberheim SEMs inside.
That could well be what Im hearing on 'Sy Borg' . The Oberheim Sem sound would fit I guess, & the timeline is about right ..or it could well be a Minimoog, but more of an American synth sound of that era if you will pardon my vague conjecturing .
The Innovex Condor also looks interesting , I hadnt heard of that, nor am I familiar with Chunga's Revenge, though Ive been meaning to pick it up sometimes. No offence to Frank or his family, but some of his output wouldn't be my 'cup of tea'! though I love much of his work & deeply admire him.
That thing looks like it might belong on a Sly & the Family Stone album, & you would need to be wearing massive hipster flares to use one. Im wondering what type of sounds it produces. Ill check out Chunga's revenge to see if I can spot it.
I often wondered how the Korg MS 20 would track with its pitch tracking capabilities.

I had thought that the GR700 came at least 4 years before the Juno 106.

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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by cornutt » Thu Aug 11, 2011 3:32 am

iphoenix wrote: I had thought that the GR700 came at least 4 years before the Juno 106.
No, that was the GR300, which as we've discussed was kind of unique in the Roland guitar synth line. The GR700, Juno 106, and MKS-7 are all based on the same circuitry and are all from around 1984. I think the GR300 is from 1979.

Pat Metheny, Andy Summers, and Robert Fripp all used the heck out of the GR300 in the early '80s. Off the top of my head, I don't know of any recordings that the GR700 was used on, although I'm sure there were some.
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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by tim gueguen » Thu Aug 11, 2011 3:22 pm

As far as the GR700 goes Adrian Belew used one on his stuff in the second half of the '80s, such as Desire Develops a Tail. Robert Fripp used one, but I don't think it made any recordings other than a soundpage for Guitar Player.

Vernon Reid did a duet record with Bill Frisell called Smash and Scatteration, which included him playing a GR700 MIDIed to a Korg Poly 800. Frisell used a GR300 on that album, and used one elsewhere, such as the first Bass Desires record.

I'm pretty sure John Abercrombie used the '700 on a couple of his late '80s records, and was pictured on the cover of Guitar Player with an Ibanez IMG2000 synth guitar, the Ibanez MIDI guitar system being compatible with the Roland 24 pin standard used on the GR300 and '700.

IMichel Cusson of Quebec fusion group UZEB appears to be using a '700 in this live performance. i'm guessing it's also one of the earliest live recordings of a JX8p.
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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by Micke » Thu Aug 11, 2011 6:14 pm

Timo Laine's guitar synth work on his solo album "Symphonic Slam" (1976) is no slouch either. As far as I know
it's the first true album to be based on guitar synthesizer, in this case the very rare 360 systems polyphonic guitar synthesizer.

Image
The sound source for this system comprised of six slightly modified Oberheim SEM modules (one for each string) built into a portable case.





Another even earlier album featuring some use of guitar synth is "Inner Worlds" with Mahavishnu Orchestra/John McLaughlin.
On this record--recorded in the summer of 1975--McLaughlin is playing a modified Gibson with a hex pickup going through a 360 Systems converter and six Minimoog modules:



(the arpeggiated synth line heard in the beginning was done by Stu Goldberg with a
Steiner Parker Synthasystem).


MCLAUGHLIN: "I began experimenting with guitar synths back in 1974. Bob Easton at 360 Systems came up with a rig that used his interface first with an EMU module, and then with a separate Mini-Moog for each string, which was like driving an eight-wheel truck. I was always saying, “Ladies and gentlemen why don’t you chat amongst yourselves while I tune up my instrument.” It was kind of a joke, and after one major tour I gave it up. So, the problem was that the technology wasn’t very good in the early days. For example, the latency was terrible. I mean it was like 50ms on the low strings! But you’ve got to go with what you have, and that was the best technology available at the time."
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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by cornutt » Thu Aug 11, 2011 7:12 pm

I keep thinking that one of these days I will be able to track down the whereabouts of the Russ Hamm Guitar Synthesizer that Peter Sobel played on the Synergy album "Cords". Larry Fast apparently gave it back to Hamm after the album was finished, and he doesn't know what happend to it after that.
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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by slippast » Thu Aug 11, 2011 8:07 pm

Excellent thread. Thanks!

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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by iphoenix » Thu Aug 11, 2011 9:38 pm

A goldmine of information coming in here which I will enjoy very much viewing & listening to.

Some of my favourite guitarists & musicians being mentioned too, I forgot about the amazing Adrian Belew , I love his playing & sound.
Great stuff.
Thanks Micke & everyone / Tim, lounge & esteemed moderators for your learned & fascinating info on guitar synths & the players who use them.
There is something about those early ( 'real') guitar synths that is really evocative, inspiring & exciting. I havnt heard of anyone actually using one though since the 1980s. ( not that Im in 'the loop' as it were, but very interested & curious nevertheless)

Do people still use them professionally? It seemed to be a very late 70s early 80s phenomenon.

I guess Moog are attempting to reignite some interest with their latest relevant offering & it has certainly ignited my interest, though I havnt actually experienced one in 3D yet.

edit later:
Thanks again Micke, & Tim I just listened to those utube clips , fantastic stuff , from a time when music was let breath & musicians were not afraid to be epic.
I particularly enjoyed John Mc Loughlins' 'Inner Worlds' track. Exactly the quality I love about guitar synth playing.
Carlos Santana sounded like he was playing guitar synth in a very similar style & tone on 'Devadip Oneness' /'Silver Dreams , Golden Reality, though i cant remember the track now & also on the album', Marathon' I really dont like the album, but there is one outstanding & lovely instrumental track ,'Aquamarine' that also sounds like it may have guitar synth on it, but it may also be Tom Costers' sublime Arp Pro Soloist or Oddessy playing, which imho is similar to Jan Hammer's playing & sounds very like a ( very good) guitarists expression when playing high lead lines.

That medely of art work on the Symphonic Slam tracks was amazing . The tracks themselves were lovely too.
Outstanding. I have a few of those images on various album covers.
Most of the images were like a cross between Dali & Max Ernsts work .
Mati Klarwein did the painting for the Jon Hassell album cover 'Magic/ Realism' ( one of the images that was shown on the Symphonic Slam Utube tracks..) & another of his album covers too , I forget the title. Another favourite musician of mine , Jon Hassell, but off topic to guitar synths.
Last edited by iphoenix on Fri Aug 12, 2011 10:49 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Guitar synths , some thoughts

Post by ninja6485 » Fri Aug 12, 2011 12:17 am

anyone know if black sabbath's air dance featured a guitar synth?
This looks like a psychotropic reaction. No wonder it's so popular...

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