Sonuus V2 (Version 2) G2M Guitar-to-MIDI Converter
By Anderton |
The second generation G2M offers some major improvements
$129 MSRP, $99 street, www.sonuus.com, www.petersontuners.com (North American distribution)
By Craig Anderton
Last April, I reviewed the original G2M guitar-to-MIDI Converter; I’d suggest reading that review before getting too far into this one, as it gives quite a bit of background. Normally I wouldn’t do a review of a second-generation update, but I find this to be quite an improvement. If you want to get into MIDI guitar at a reasonable price, the Version 2 G2M (which we’ll call V2 G2M for short) is a step up from the original, and definitely deserves a look.
WHAT’S THE SAME
The V2 G2M remains a monophonic device—forget about converting chords to MIDI, as this accommodates single-note lines only. On the other hand because of this, the guitar doesn’t need any kind of special hex pickup. You plug your guitar into the V2 G2M’s audio input, then patch its MIDI output (Fig. 1) to a hardware MIDI synth (or if you want to drive software synthesizers, to a computer’s MIDI interface). Also note that a Thru output is available so you can send your guitar to a tuner, amp, etc.
Fig. 1: The rear panel has a standard, 5-pin DIN MIDI out jack and a 1/4" guitar audio thru jack.
As with any guitar-to-MIDI device, you have to learn how to adapt your playing for the best tracking, and take the time to find out what settings on your guitar work best (generally a neck humbucker pickup with the tone control rolled back a bit gives the best results). You’ll need to play articulately, and often slower than you might otherwise, so the V2 G2M is far more likely to find a home in the studio than playing live.
Another issue is that the type of synthesizer patch you feed with the V2 G2M matters. Just changing the instrument’s response from polyphonic to monophonic (e.g., like a hardware Minimoog) can improve tracking dramatically, as can switching in legato mode (if available).
Physically, the second-generation version is almost identical to the first: The small plastic case includes built-in LED indicators for clipping, MIDI out, power, tuner, and low battery. However, the Boost switch is now the Chromatic switch (which we'll cover shortly).
Overall, the tracking is more accurate, faster, and less glitch-prone. Fig. 2 shows the raw MIDI capture from the V2 G2M in Cakewalk Sonar X1.
Fig. 2: The original, recorded part.
The thin, vertical lines in the main piano roll represent glitches. If you look at the Velocity strip, where the vertical lines represent velocity, you can see that the glitches are considerably lower in amplitude than the “real” notes. There are a few other issues, like a missed note or two, or a note that was bent enough to register as a different note, but overall this is quite clean. The strip on the bottom shows pitch bend.
Fortunately, Sonar has a “deglitch” option (Fig. 3) where you can specify that notes below a particular velocity, shorter than a specified duration, or out of a particular pitch range are deleted. In this example, deglitch will nuke all notes with velocities under 10, or shorter than 100 ticks.
Fig. 3: Sonar's Deglitch dialog.
Fig. 4 shows what happens after applying deglitch; there’s a lot less that needs to be cleaned up. Sonar isn’t alone with this kind of editing option, but note that the implementation varies somewhat from DAW to DAW.
Fig. 4: The same part as Fig. 1 after "de-glitching."
Another change that helps create a cleaner part is the Chromatic option. This is a switch (Fig. 5) that replaces the “Boost” switch found in the original model, which frankly, I never used anyway. Chromatic switches off pitch bend information, which is desirable when playing instruments that don’t bend pitch (piano, marimba, organ, glockenspiel, drums, etc.).
Fig. 5: The Chromatic switch can clean up tracking with some instrument sounds.
But the most noticeable change to me was that the new version seems to translate gestures, like pitch bending, with more accuracy. As a result, I was able to reach what I feel were more expressive parts because more of what was in my fingers made it into the tracks.
THE PROOF IS IN THE LISTENING . . .
It’s one thing to say the V2 G2M is more responsive, but it’s another thing to hear it in action. So, I threw together a little 12-bar blues sequence in Sonar using Steven Slate drums for the drum backing track, and playing sax, synth, bass, and organ parts with the Sonuus. Let’s listen to the audio example.
The bass part is a Minimoog-type bass part played through the Rapture LE synth included with Sonar X1. This particular part was set for monophonic operation (you need the full version of Rapture to be able to change from monophonic to a particular number of voices, but several of the LE patches are monophonic, and highly suitable for MIDI guitar).
The sax and synth parts are from Cakewalk’s TTS-1 synth, which is basic but allows switching any sound from polyphonic to monophonic response. I included the sax to show how a “real” instrument responds to the improved tracking. Even though it doesn’t sound like a human sax player, to my ears it sounds more expressive than what you might hear if played with a keyboard. The synth part, on the other hand, was intended to sound like a guitar solo but with a very different timbre. To me, this is arguably the best use of the V2 G2M—not to create the sounds of physical instruments, but to play synthetic sounds that are more expressive because they're being played from a guitar. (Note that the V2 G2M doesn’t handle long slides too well, but there’s not much you can do about that.)
The organ part is also from the TTS-1, but here I laid down several MIDI tracks to build up polyphony. It’s awkward to create chords this way, but it works in a pinch.
One of the most important aspects here is that editing was minimal. The sax and synth parts are almost exactly the same as recorded, except that I inserted a MIDI plug-in on each track to compress the velocity data, thus evening out the dynamics a bit.
As I said in the original review, “MIDI guitar isn’t about replacing guitar, but supplementing it with new choices.” The V2 G2M makes that process easier and more foolproof. (Also in that review, I said “I wouldn’t be surprised if Sonuus’s next product turns out to be G2M USB"—and now there's the i2M).
I always try not to present any illusions about MIDI guitar, because it’s an extremely difficult task to make a guitar string look like a series of switches to a synthesizer. If you expect to just pick up a V2 G2M, plug in your guitar, and start sounding like a piano, you’re going to be disappointed. However, the more I play with the V2 G2M, the more I feel this is the real deal—sure, it’s not perfect, but with some practice and editing, guitarists can lay down monophonic synths lines with minimal bank account damage. You really have to try one for yourself to gauge if guitar synthesis is for you, but listen to the audio example—there's hardly any editing, and it’s at least somewhat representative of the kind of results you can expect.
Props to Sonuus for continuing to refine the guitar-to-MIDI conversion process--V2 G2M is definitely a step forward compared to the original.
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.