In Your DAW
Luckily, a retro-fitted pickup or dedicate guitar isn’t the only way in which we can utilise our six-string friend into a bastardised MIDI controller. The clever guys at Jam Origin might just have the solution: the unimaginatively named but perfectly descriptive, MIDI Guitar.
They describe it as a, “revolutionary piece of software that converts your guitars analog signal into MIDI” and, “the worlds first low latency, polyphonic software solution, allowing you to play both chords and single notes with instant audio feedback” – and I would largely agree with those statements!
MIDI Guitar can run in standalone or inside your DAW as an Audio Unit or VST and apparently there’s also an app for iOS. Currently it retails for £82.90 (~$100 but I can’t keep up with these volatile currencies).
Before using MIDI Guitar in our DAW we need to run it in standalone mode. Here, set the correct soundcard input (I’m using input 1) and enable or disable any articulation (more on this later); I’ve opted for enabling pitch-bend and aftertouch but not legato.
N.B. I’ve been corrected by Jam Origin that this isn’t entirely necessary and can be done within the AU or VST itself. Read more here.
It’s a good idea to adjust the noise gate to suit your playing style and reduce any hum or noise you might be getting from a less than optimal signal path. I saved this patch and moved on to my DAW. Let’s start off with Logic.
MIDI Guitar in Logic
I’ve kept MIDI Guitar running at standalone so it acts like a MIDI interface, intercepting your designated input; however you can also run the plug-in within your DAW instead. Once I was in Logic it was dead easy to get moving. Straight away any armed software instrument was responding to my guitar.
Here’s an example of some open string chords. I set up a six-voice polysynth using ES2. It’s made of a sawtooth and a square tuned one octave below and running into an envelope modulated 12dB / octave low-pass filter. I’ve enabled velocity modulation for both the filter and amplitude envelope.
I tried really taking the pick across the strings to emulate things harder to do with a MIDI keyboard. Here’s an audio recording of the guitar and the synth together:
…and here’s the synth on its own:
As you can see we have a nice range of velocities but a few gremlins that would need removing. Sometimes the odd string noise can trigger the soft synth, so be prepared to go in and sort out that afterwards. Notice we’ve also got a lot of erroneous MIDI CC data here, which in the context of a track I would also go through and tidy up.
Here I’ve run into a patch I’ve made in Massive. Again, MIDI guitar basically nails it but you can see I’ve highlighted a few gremlins where I’m either changing chord or my finger has nearly given way:
N.B. this example has my guitar running through Guitar Rig, just to butter it up a little bit with some dreamy shoegaze styled patch.
Let’s see what we can do in Ableton Live.
MIDI Guitar in Ableton Live
Ableton was just as easy. As soon as it was loaded I could see my guitar triggering the MIDI inputs on blank tracks. I loaded up an instance of KV331’s Synthmaster and started recording into arrange mode:
I just used the default preset, disabling the pitch-bend amount for both layers. It tracked really well. Probably more care on my part should have been paid to the noise gate threshold.