So, I just finished covering the Summer NAMM show here in Nashville for
Vintage Guitar Magazine. I’ve been
attending the NAMM shows for decades now, they are where manufacturers of
musical stuff show off their latest creations in hopes of drumming up
sales. For us guitar players, this year’s
show was interesting in as much as there was a notable divide between the folks
offering up decidedly vintage style guitars, like the historic models from
Fender’s Custom Shop, and those offering all-out digital guitar-like
thingies. Let’s talk about that!
Digital technology has been grafted into electric guitars for at least a
decade and a half now, so this ain’t nothing new … but … what IS new(ish) is
the idea that a guitar can be ALL digital.
Now, I was an early adopter of the add-on digital capabilities of the Roland
9-pin system for a long time, and I currently have two electrics and one
acoustic equipped with Roland pickup systems; I am particularly fond of mixing the
sound of an acoustic guitar with a lush string pad, and I’ve enjoyed playing
horn lines on disco tunes … but when all is said and done, I was still playing
a REAL-DEAL electric guitar. For the
record, the Roland rigs can be darn cool!
During the time Roland was rolling their first 9-pin stuff out, there were a
few other companies (most notably Casio) that jumped on that bandwagon … but
most have now jumped off, although there are a few companies that still offer
guitars with factory-installed Roland 9-pin pickups, my fav is the Godin
nylon-string. Where Roland guitar synths
are concerned, man, don’t fear the ones and zeros, they behave themselves.
Way back on ‘07 Gibson offered the “Digital Les Paul” which mangled and
strangled the guitars signal in all kind of strange proprietary digital ways,
but all in all offered nothing the public wanted at a price no one could
Around that same time Line-6 began offering their digital “Variax” guitars,
which digitally sampled each string and then mangled the ones and zeros to make
it sound like something else. While the
Variax line has matured greatly since its inception, most players still see the
guitars as a novelty item to give them a little something different on a song
or two. (I know, Variax lovers, feel
free to voice your disagreement … but ya just don’t see many players out there
with ONLY a Variax on stage).
Last year I bought my first fully digital guitar-like thing, the “You Rock
Guitar”. All I can say is that there is
most definitely nothing about this so-called “instrument” that rocks. Cheese city baby!
Then there are the Peavey guitars with Auto-Tune built-in. They basically sample the analog signal, turn
it into digital, run it through the auto tune software and spit it back out …
in essence giving you a fully digital “representation” of what the strings
did. As a geek I think they are kinda neat,
but as a tone guy, I can’t use the words that accurately describe the sound; I’d
get in too much trouble.
So that brings us to today, Summer NAMM 2016.
Two 100% digital guitar offerings caught my
eye. What do I think of them? Man, I just don’t know; in the digital guitar
world, the line between cool and cheesy is VERY thin! And so, I’m just going to report my findings
here and let you all make up your own minds whether these fall on the side of
coolness or stinky cheese.
First, the feature-packed Cyber-Axewith built-in CPU and buttons out the ying-yang Check this wild-child out!
And last, yep … it was only a matter of time … the latest iPhone/iPad based guitar,
the “Fusion Guitar”: