Sonuus G2M Guitar to MIDI Converter ($129 list, $99 street)
By hcadmin |
Want to get into MIDI guitar? Now you can do it without breaking your budget
By Craig Anderton
The G2M is compact and battery-powered.
Unfortunately, the question that wasn’t asked was “What guitar player wants to give up the expressiveness of a guitar and modify their technique in order to hear sounds with delays and glitching?” The answer was “Not as many as the industry hoped, by a long shot.” However, lots of guitarists did embrace the options MIDI gave them; and while MIDI guitar never broke through on a huge level, Roland kept the flame alive with a series of products that made continuous, incremental improvements in tracking, sound quality, and flexibility. Quite a few studio musicians also took advantage of MIDI so that when the producer said “Sure wish I could put a cello part here,” they’d whip out their MIDI guitar and synth, and deliver the goods.
MIDI guitar isn’t about replacing guitar, but supplementing it with new choices. And now Sonuus, a small company out of the UK, has delivered MIDI for the masses: The G2M costs under $100 street, but provides true guitar-to-MIDI conversion.
The catch? It’s monophonic, not polyphonic, so forget about chords. However, many would argue that where guitar excels as a MIDI controller is indeed single-note lines. Trying to play piano from a guitar can be awkward; playing a sax sound from a solo line makes a lot more sense.
Just remember that MIDI is constantly butting up against the laws of physics. Keyboards are controlled by switches, and a guitar string is anything but a switch – trying to convince it to be one is not easy. Yes, you do have to play cleanly; yes, you may have to modify your technique (although there are MIDI guitarists who say that working with MIDI guitar has made them better, more accurate guitar players). But can a box smaller than a pack of cigarettes give a satisfying guitar-meets-synth experience? Let’s find out.
You can get the specs from the web, so as usual, we’ll concentrate more on what it’s like to actually use the G2M.
The first thing you’ll notice on the front panel (Fig. 1) is that the input is a standard, 1/4” phone jack - you don’t need any kind of special pickup or cable. A standard 9V battery powers the G2M, which is switched on when you plug into the input (so remember to unplug it when not in use). Battery consumption is about 10mA – on a par with medium-power guitar effects. The company quotes an estimated 70 hour battery life, which is a good thing because there are no provisions for adding an AC adapter.
There’s also a front panel boost switch, but in practice, I found that that I didn’t need it.
Fig. 1: The front panel is pretty minimalist: Input jack, and a boost switch to accommodate low-level pickups.
Fig. 2: The rear panel has a 5-pin MIDI out connector and a Thru 1/4” phone jack that carries the guitar’s audio signal.
Looking at the rear panel (Fig. 2), there’s a MIDI DIN connector and a Thru jack. The latter is helpful, as one of the common uses for MIDI guitar is to layer standard guitar sounds with synthesized sounds. This does two things: Gives a bigger sound, but also, the “real” guitar signal can help mask any glitching that may be in the MIDI synth sound. However, you may need to reduce the guitar’s level and pull back on the tone control, which limits the Thru’s usefulness; more on this later.
The MIDI out works with standard synths and any interface with a 5-pin MIDI jack input, but bear in mind that some interfaces don’t have physical MIDI in jacks any more, as they assume you’ll hook up USB-based MIDI devices. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sonuus’s next product turns out to be G2M USB, where the MIDI connector gets replaced with a USB port. That would also allow the unit to be powered by USB so you could ditch the battery.
On the top of the unit, there are several LEDs (blinky lights are always welcome!). These indicate:
- Power on and tuner function
- Low battery indicator
- Clip indicator
- MIDI activity indicator
HOOKING IT UP
I booted up Sonar 8, enabled the MIDI in on the V-Studio I/O interface, patched it to the G2M MIDI out, and plugged a Peavey Milano guitar into the G2M.
First step is tuning, but you can use the G2M to help in the process: Play an open string, and the Tuner LED pulses. The slower it pulses, the closer you are to being in tune. Of course there’s no kind of sharp/flat display and the tuner is very basic; it’s not as easy to parse the display compared to a dedicated tuner, but it does the job.
Next step is setting up a synth. There’s one crucial point: The G2M recognizes pitch bending, but the synth needs to have its pitch bend range set to plus/minus two semitones for the bending to work accurately. This range is pretty much standard, although some synths default to plus/minus one octave, and some vary it per preset. In any event, most synths let you save the pitch bend range as part of a preset, so you can edit it as needed.
I chose Arturia’s Minimoog V as the target soft synth because I could set it for a mono (single-note) response, as well as turn off pitch-bending – if the part you’re playing doesn’t need pitch bend, you’ll get more accurate tracking if you turn it off. I chose mono response for two reasons: It allows getting glide effects with the Minimoog V, and as the G2M produces only one note at a time, I figured it was a better match.
I recorded several parts into Sonar: Bass lines, leads, percussion, etc. Of these, I thought the lead was where the G2M was most appropriate, so let’s look at that in more detail.
Fig. 3: The MIDI note was recorded about 20ms after plucking the note itself.
The screen shot in Fig. 3 shows the delay between playing the guitar into a track and the MIDI note it produces. The latency is about 20ms, which is actually pretty good. Interestingly, this seemed relatively constant over the guitar’s note range; I expected it to get longer on low strings, and shorter on high strings. The fact that it didn’t likely indicates that Sonuus is using a different type of pitch detection technology than other MIDI guitars.
Fig. 4: Screen shot of the original solo, as played, without any editing.
To work with a “real-world” situation, I tried to play cleanly but not ridiculously so. Fig. 4 shows the results: Most of the part is relatively clean, but there are some little glitchy notes. Listen to the audio example “Original Lead” below to hear the part as recorded.
Here's the way a lead guitar part played back originally from the MIDI data, prior to editing it and cleaning up the glitches.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about MIDI guitar over the years, it’s that you better get ready to do some MIDI editing. I didn’t want to go overboard, but Fig. 5 shows the result of spending a few minutes editing the part. You’ll note it’s cleaner, and if you listen to the audio example “Edited Lead,” you’ll hear that the part is considerably tighter and less glitchy.
Here's what it sounded like after doing some MIDI editing.
MIDI guitar takes effort, no doubt about it. But don’t make it any harder than it needs to be: Use the neck pickup and pull back the tone control to reduce highs, as this emphasizes the fundamental and makes tracking easier. Be careful that you’re not standing too close to transformers and other sources of interference that can get into your pickups, as this can confuse the tracking – even if you don’t use the audio Thru out, use it to audition the guitar sound and make sure all is well. Also, some synth patches work better than others; it’s almost impossible get pads to screw up, but highly percussive patches are quite sensitive to little glitches. Finally, I found that resting the heel of my hand against the bridge to deaden the strings somewhat helped tracking considerably. When I get a chance, I’m going to try using flatwound strings to see if that helps even further.
Speaking of the audio Thru, I didn’t really find it that useful because I needed to turn the level down on the guitar to avoid clipping, and the bassy tone wasn’t always what I wanted anyway. I got very good results by splitting the guitar signal with one split going to an amp, and the other to a DigiTech RP250, whose output went to the G2M. I created an RP250 preset that pulled back the highs and added a tiny bit of compression, which helped the tracking.
I don’t want to paint a rosier picture than is justified; every MIDI guitar I’ve played takes some effort to get good results, and the G2M is no exception. In fact, it’s a little tougher than, say, a typical Roland GR-series device because it’s monophonic. You need to play carefully and deliberately; there will likely be some mistracking, and if you try to do some fast shredding, the G2M probably won’t be able to keep up.
On the other hand, we’re dealing with a true guitar-to-MIDI converter that does a credible job of opening up the synth world – and at a bargain price. As long as you don’t expect to play with the same level of abandon as a standard guitar, you’ll be fine. Best of all, you’ll be able to add textures to your music that would normally require having keyboard technique. If you’ve ever wanted to try out MIDI guitar, the G2M is a fine place to start.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.