For decades, the conventional guitar pickup with its mono output hasserved us well. But today, hex pickups that generate a separate outputfor each string are starting to crawl out of their guitar-to-MIDIc onversion ghetto—they’re not only in Roland guitar synth products, but also in the Line 6 Variax, Roland/Fender VG Strat, and others. Andwhile sending hex outputs directly into a mixer or recorder remains rare, that’s starting to change too. Gibson’s Digital Les Paul and DarkFire guitars output the six strings individually as audio; and Keith McMillen Instruments’ StringPort processes the audio outputs from aRoland synth-compatible guitar.
Dark Fire conveniently uses a standard stereo (TRS) cable to plug in to a custom FireWire interface. The interface provides individual string outs (as well as a mono magnetic pickup out and mono piezo pickup out) to your host program. If you’re a DIYer and want to pull out the individual strings from a Roland 13-pin connector, pin 1 is the first string output, pin 2 the second string, and so on up to pin 6; pin 12 is +7V and pin 13 is -7V. But regardless of what kind of hex system you use, here are some ways to take advantage of all those outs.
Hex setups allow doing split and layering techniques formerly reserved for keyboardists. Check out the setup in Figure 1:
• Each of the bottom three strings goes through its own octave divider to give massive bass lines.
• The top four strings feed an aux bus with a chorus.
• The mono magnetic pickup output for all strings goes through heavy distortion.
This produces a huge guitar sound, with thundering bass, shimmering highs from the chorusing, and an overall layer of distorted guitar.
Octave-dividing each of the guitar’s strings gives bass sounds that are quite different compared to a traditional bass; mixing in some of the fundamental string sound produces an “eight-string bass” effect.
Feeding each string through its own distortion plug-in avoids the intermodulation distortion of conventional fuzz. The sound is almost synthesizerlike because each note of a chord, although distorted, sounds distinct. With Guitar Rig 3, I often follow the distortion with the Pro Filter lowpass synth filter module, and trigger its cutoff from the string’s envelope. It doesn’t sound like a Minimoog . . . but it doesn’t quite sound like a guitar, either.
Applying a chorus effect to each string can produce a lush, shimmering sound (try using a random LFO waveform) that’s more intricate than just putting the overall guitar output through a chorus unit.
Having a separate envelope follower on each string goes beyond the usual “funky filter” effect, as each note has its own separate, filtered attack. Strumming a chord while you hear all those filters rippling and popping is very cool.
While I’m not too much into panning strings in the ...