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Digital, the Future of Electric Guitars?

by vaughn skow July 02, 2016 3 min read

All Digital Guitar

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.  Hummm.

Enter Roland:

Roland g-707

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.

Godin 9-pin classical acoustic guitar

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 afford.

Digital Les Paul connections

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).

Line 6 Variax

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!

yourock guitar

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.

Peavey AT200 Guitar

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!

Cyber Axe Guitar 2016 NAMM

And last, yep … it was only a matter of time … the latest iPhone/iPad based guitar, the “Fusion Guitar”:

Fusion Guitar Guitar 2016 NAMM

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