Download Example 1
Chords created by extending the release time on the synth
Download Example 2
Audio chord placed in Sampler, modified and triggered with guitar through G2M
Download Example 3
Solo over arpeggiated synth and drums. All sounds except distorted guitar generated using the G2M
Given how cutting-edge guitar synthesizers seem today, it’s hard to believe that they have been around for more than three decades. And, not surprisingly, they’ve evolved significantly in that time. The early-’70s models used by Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell were not equipped with MIDI and were only able to control certain dedicated sound modules. Because there were no MIDI-conversion latency issues, these guitar synths were able to track very well. Once audio-to-MIDI conversion became available, guitars equipped with hexaphonic pickups (that is, pickups that can send and receive audio separately from each of the six strings) could be used to control keyboard synthesizers, synth modules, and even samplers. Suddenly guitarists had the ability to trigger everything from synth pads and drum sounds to loops, string parts, and piano sounds.

If this all sounds like a history lesson in a foreign language, you’re on your way to understanding why guitar synthesis has yet to catch on in a big way. In the past, most guitarists’ eyes would glaze over when talk shifted to MIDI and synthesizers. And those who were interested were often put off by slow MIDI tracking, false note triggering, and the inability of early audio-to-MIDI converters to follow techniques like hammer-ons, pull-offs, slurs, bends, and tapping.

The Sonuus G2M, a MIDI interface that’s easy to use and eliminates the need for special jacks and pickups, has the potential to change all of that.

The Magic of MIDI
For those unfamiliar with the term, MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) is a digital message protocol designed to transmit musical events—such as, say, a pitch bend— to ones and zeros so that they can be processed by a computer. Companies like Roland and Terratec (Axon) have advanced audio-to-MIDI conversion significantly and addressed many early hurdles. But even the best MIDI converter still requires accurate playing at a level beyond some guitarists. To get acceptable results, you must pick every note cleanly and with exactly the right pressure. If you hit adjacent strings or allow notes to ring over each other, the MIDI module creates glitches and unwanted sounds. Sloppiness that’s perfectly acceptable—or even desirable—in normal guitar playing is verboten with a MIDI guitar.

This is one reason you are still unlikely to spy a 13-pin MIDI connector plug coming out of a guitarist’s hex-pickup instrument in a live performance (precision players like Pat Metheny and John McLaughlin aside). But the boom in home recording means more and more players are using an audio-to-MIDI converter in their studios, where less-than-perfect technique is not as much of an issue.

I have a Graph Tech Ghost hexaphonic pickup system in one of my instruments and have used Roland and Axon converters that both perform admirably despite my own technical limitations. Still, I often find myself reluctant to deal with the complexity of this technology. That learning curve, combined with my infrequent synthesizer needs, usually leads me to fall back on my meager keyboard skills.

The Sonuus could lead many users back to the synth guitar technology just by virtue of how easy it is to use. The G2M’s solid plastic case is smaller than an iPhone, though somewhat thicker. And basic operation couldn’t be simpler: Plug any electric guitar into one end and a MIDI cable into the other, then jack into your chosen MIDI device and go—no hexaphonic pickup is required.

A green power light indicates the onboard 9-volt battery is supplying juice. The power light also functions as a tuner, blinking more slowly as you approach the correct note. You’ll need to start with the string fairly close to pitch, but tuning is very accurate. And it’s a welcome addition given how essential correct pitch is for accurate tracking.

A red LED lets you know when battery power is getting low, and another red Clip light tells you if the instrument signal is too hot, which can also adversely affect accurate tracking. A Boost switch next to the 1/4" instrument input supplies extra power to low-output pickups, and a 1/4" Thru output sends your instrument’s audio signal wherever you choose (for instance, to an amp or mixer). The G2M also supplies 5-volt power to MIDI devices that require it.