MIDI Guitars: A nearly complete roster
This page aspires to be a complete list of all MIDI guitars and guitar-style MIDI controllers ever produced. I am deeply indebted to Rufat A. Suleymanov (firstname.lastname@example.org). Rufat's own Russian language MIDI guitar page includes numerous photographs of MIDI guitar gear. Without his efforts, this page would not be nearly as current or complete as it is. Thanks, Rufat!
On this page:
Roland has been playing the MIDI guitar game continuously longer than anyone else in the world. The company currently offers the GR-33, a converter/sample player with built-in arpeggiator and effects, and the GK-2A hex pickup.
Blue Chip Music offers the AXON AX-100, described at the Music Industries Corp. site. More information is available at Joel B. Christian's AX-100 page. Blue Chip also offers the GK-2-compatible AIX-101 hexaphonic guitar pickup and the AIX-102 pickup for four-string bass.
Virtual DSP Corporation has announced its MidiAxe, which incorporates a new patented miniature guitar-to-MIDI converter system concealed within the body of a guitar. The system is currently available in the iGuitar, from Brian Moore Guitars, and the MIDI Fly from Parker Guitars.
John Birch Guitars offers the M3 Guitar-to-MIDI Processor and John Birch MIDI Access Pickups. These incorporate individual string sensors for the pitch to MIDI converter into standard single-coil and humbucking configurations for guitar, as well as a single-coil bass version.
Bono Electronic, a longtime maker of accordion to MIDI converters, now offers the GM-3 MIDI Interface, along with an array of six different magnetic and piezo hex pickups. (Thanks to Stuart Poulin for the updated links.)
Most of these systems can be used with any six-string, steel-string guitar. A growing number of guitar makers are offering instruments with Roland GK-2A or compatible pickups built in:
RMC Pickup Co. offers pickups which can mate the Roland, Axon and several other MIDI converters not only to guitars, but to numerous other stringed instruments. The output(s) of these piezo pickup systems can also be amplified and used directly. RMC pickups are used by numerous builders, and are installed in the Brian Moore, Parker, Timtone, and some (but not all) Godin models referenced above.
Many MIDI guitar systems that are out of production are still widely available on the used market, and are still viable means of musical expression.
Roland has made (and discontinued) more MIDI guitar systems than anyone else. Discontinued models include the GR-30, GR-1, GR-09, GI-10, GR-50, GM-70, and GR-700. Paul Duivestein now maintains the GR-30 Page begun by Gord Braun. Steve Nolan's GI-10 Manifesto is an extensive resource. Also see my page about Early Roland Guitar Synthesizers, which clarifies compatibility issues between various Roland models.
My detailed Casio MIDI Guitar pages include detailed descriptions, charts, and a page about PG-380, -310, and -300 problems and their solution. These pages are supplemented by numerous musical demonstrations, on this site and on my MP3.com page.
MIDI guitar pioneer Shadow's first offering was the rack-mounted GTM-6 guitar-to-MIDI converter and companion hex pickup. Kaman briefly distributed this system, and offered four acoustic guitars--Ovation and Takamine, steel-string and nylon-string-- with Shadow hex pickups built in. To the best of my knowledge, these were the first nylon-string MIDI guitars in the world. An electric guitar version of the GTM-6 was sold with the Charvel nameplate.
The Canadian IVL Pitchrider 7000 was another rack-mount converter/hex pickup combination which achieved some success. This unit bore the Kramer nameplate for a time, and a few Kramer guitars were built with the IVL hex pickup. Distribution was later taken over by Digitech.
The Ibanez MIDI guitar system included the unorthodox IMG2010 guitar, with it's '57 Chevy tailfin-shaped body and unique MIDI whammy bar, and the rack-mounted MC1 MIDI Converter/Programmer. This system used the same 24-pin connector and cable configuration as the early Roland equipment.
The Korg Z3 featured a single rack space MIDI converter and synthesizer sound module. The companion ZD3 hex pickup included gain adjustments for each string. See Korg Z3 Features & Specs for more.
The K-Muse (later Phi Tech) Photon system used optical sensors to detect string movement. (The speed of this system can be heard on John McLaughlin's Que Alegria album.)
Zeta Systems entered the guitar-to-MIDI field with the rackmounted GC660 guitar and GC440 bass controllers, and later offered the Zeta Mirror 6, a complete guitar which used both wired frets and a hex pickup for pitch sensing.
Synthesizer builder Octave-Plateau demonstrated a prototype Voyetra MIDI Guitar (another entry in the "unusual body shape" category), but I've seen nothing to indicate it was ever put into production.
The Passac Sentient Six was yet another rackmounted guitar MIDI controller/hex pickup system.
Arguably the first production "guitar synthesizer," the Guitorgan featured electronic organ tone generating circuitry contained within its body. Wired frets, each split into six segments, were the basis of the pitch detection system. A MIDI output was optionally available in the late 1980s.
The Gibson Widget was nothing more nor less than a rebranded Shadow SH-075. The Gibson MAX was a rack-mounted guitar to MIDI converter plus a MIDI-controlled mixer.
These are all the MIDI guitar systems I've read about, heard of, or seen. If you have any additions to suggest or corrections to insist upon, please let me know!
A MIDI controller for guitarists, free of the delays and glitching which plague pitch to MIDI converters, but retaining the guitar's expressive qualities... A tall order. Several companies have tried to fill it; only Harvey Starr's products survive.
Starr Labs makes a variety of MIDI controllers, guitar-shaped and otherwise, which convey neither the blessings nor the curses of determining pitch from vibrating strings. In an effort to achieve the best of both worlds, Starr also offers the Starr Z2, a double-neck instrument combining a ZTAR VRX-II switching controller with an electric guitar built to your specs. This instrument can be set up with a Roland GK2A on the guitar side for those players who would like to combine the capabilities of the Ztar with the features of the Roland VG-8 for what Starr calls "the ultimate guitar performance system."
Half a dozen other manufacturers made guitar controllers; none of them got rich selling them. Most of these, I've only read about:
The SynthAxe and Stepp controllers were big-ticket items-- US$7000 and up. Though the SynthAxe had several high-profile users, doubtless price kept these controllers out of many eager hands. (Probably the highest-profile SynthAxe user is Roy "Futureman" Wooten, whose highly modified "Drumitar" triggers the drum and percussion sounds for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.) John Hollis's SynthAxe Page is an excellent introduction.
The Beetle Quantar used an ultrasonic pitch detector-- startlingly similar to the Yamaha G10 introduced a couple of years later (at twice the price). Ragnar Lillemark's Yamaha G10 page has pictures and an overview of features.
The guitar-like controllers you're most likely to find in pawnshops are the Casio DG-20 and Suzuki XG-1m UniSynth. Caution: Each of these low-priced, plastic-bodied units had a non-MIDI twin, Casio's DG-10 and Suzuki's XG-1, which produced only sounds from a very limited built-in synthesizer. Even the MIDI versions were pretty limited, though one guitarist told me he regularly gigged with a DG-20.
The Man-Machine Interface is a witty and insightful history of synthesizer controllers, including several pre-MIDI and MIDI guitar systems. Compiled in 1989, it's still a valuable reference.