Guitar Synthesizer 101

I still remember the first time I heard someone play the guitar synthesizer. It was a 1984 release on Warner Brothers Records by John McLaughlin called Mahavishnu. One of the credits on the liner notes readů very special thanks to New England Digital for the creation of a revolutionary instrument: the Synclavier II digital guitar. From the very first note, I was awestruck by the sonic possibilities now available to guitar players.

Many years later, I purchased my first guitar synthesizer. It consisted of a Roland GK2A pickup and GI-10 guitar-midi interface, a Yamaha MU80 tone generator, and an old 286 computer with an early version of Cakewalk music sequencing software. I eagerly began work on my first composition for guitar synthesizer, entitled "Legends". It can be heard at my MP3 website:

I quickly discovered that mastering this instrument would require many old and new skills. Many guitarists have difficulty getting the sounds to track properly without glitches. To me, extreme accuracy in all stages of execution is paramount. Clean playing technique is an absolute necessity. I had a few minor problems with tracking, but all in all, many years of practice with a metronome, playing lots of scales, and countless hours of finger exercises seemed to pay off.

The next hurdle was selecting sounds. The tone generator had literally hundreds and hundreds of sounds to choose from. I finally came across a sound from the Yamaha DX7 keyboard, labeled DX Legend (hence, the name of the composition). It sounded so incredible, I couldn't believe that kind of sound was being triggered by my Les Paul. I began to play chord progressions. Am, Dm/A, G/A, Am, I liked what I heard, I recorded it, and I was on my way.

Next, I added a church bell part. After that, piano layered with strings. Then, some percussion parts. Middle C was the kick drum, E above that was the snare, A,G, and F above that were the rack and floor toms. Again, I couldn't believe it. I was playing the drums with an electric guitar! Fretless bass, harp melodies, even cimbalom sounds followed (I had heard Alan Parsons use this instrument before). A quasi electric guitar solo even found it's way into the mix. In my more recent pieces (like "Isys" or "Chardon Road"), I've started to use my guitar and a Line6 Pod for the solos. At the time I recorded "Legends", the ability to record digital audio along with the midi tracks was not available to me. Before I knew it, I had a complete song, with dozens of tracks, all performed on the electric guitar.

In the years that followed, I've found the incredibly diverse sound palette offered by the guitar synthesizer to be very rewarding. A good grasp of basic fundamentals, an open mind, and a willingness to work hard at something new, can pay big dividends towards a very satisfying musical experience!