A robot guitar may not injure a human guitarist, or, through inaction, allow a human guitarist to come to harm. A robot guitar must obey any orders and tunings given to it by human guitarists, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. All human and robot guitarists must enjoy guitar hardware, so long as such gear lust does not conflict with the First or Second Law. Gibson’s Robot Guitar – speaking of recent guitar innovations.

Science and art alike demand inquisitive exploration and experimentation. So, it’s encouraging that a discussion of the future of the digital guitar here on CDM brings impassioned reader debate. There’s some consensus if you dig through our comments: guitarists are compelled by adventures in new technology, and there’s widespread hope that new tech could expand guitar technique and expression, rather than (as the “Auto-Tune” name has unfortunately come to mean) a replacement for musicianship. And yes, there’s excitement about what Antares is doing – just as it’s possible to go beyond the status quo applications of their vocal tech.

But wait — there’s more.

Reflections on conservatism and guitar tech adoption Rich of Way Music sends over an extended, thoughtful rant, inspired by the discussion and directed at his fellow guitarists:
Amongst the guitar players: conservative fetishization and its discontents ;^) [Way Music]

The payoff of guitar research: Adrian Freed of the University of California Berkeley’s CNMAT research center reminds us that the research work with Gibson continues – and fruits of that research appear in products:

Thanks Peter for the mention of our work at CNMAT, UC Berkeley.
Our interactions with Gibson are ongoing and we continue to appreciate their commitment to innovation.
I am regularly confused by the lens used to talk about our research work, i.e., “Where is the product? Where are the adopters?” Good research rarely results in particular products although products are sometimes good demonstration vehicles for new ideas. Our work (as with much of UC Berkeley’s research) is more likely to sneak up on you over decades as an enabling part of the infrastructure, e.g. the first audio plugin, OSC (used in TUIO), pressure-sensing multitouch (next gen. Kindle?), Ethernet EVB, RISC (in ARM), BSD UNIX (part of OS/X), RAID etc. Watch out for how our work at the PARLAB will enable multicore efficiency for audio and music applications. There are lots of acronyms becoming part of mainstream tools already in that project….

I was going to start hyperlinking those acronyms, but I’m afraid you’ll have to Google them.

Why digital guitars matter: The Auto-Tune teaser brought about concerns about automatic intonation. (I do hear from guitarists that they’re really fond of the new automatically-tuning Gibson “robot” guitar!)

But there’s another side to the ability to track guitar pitch, and that’s the ability to combine the guitar with the sonic powers of the computer. Keyboardists have had the lion’s share of the fun over the years with software synths; just as wind, breath, and vocal controllers open up new possibilities, so, too, do MIDI guitars. While possible with any guitar that can send control, Starr Labs have posted some intriguing demos to their blog; see top and below. (I talked about Starr back in January as they introduced new controllers and guitars.)

Starr blog: http://starrlabs.blogspot.com/

And yes, you can play the digital guitar and still win a best beard contest with your more folk-oriented colleagues.

I really enjoy the Ztar guitar playing techniques. I’d love to see this in action in a performance, so readers – whatever make of MIDI guitar you may be using – do send those in.

I’m not as concerned about the conservatism, real or perceived, of any one artist. I’ll say this: regardless of the instrument, there’s vast untapped potential in new instruments and controllers waiting for brave artists to try to tap. And all of this can still draw upon knowledge and skill in traditional instruments. With a few thousand years of instrumental history at our backs, I’d say there’s no rush.

We just need a better term than “alternative controllers” or “controllerism.”

Maybe … music?

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  • Have you tried the Rock Band 3 Fender Squire (the real stringed guitar not the plastic one)? With its builtin MIDI pickup I'm curious to know how playable it is. 

  • As I seem to say on all these discussions, I love my Axon guitar to MIDI converter. They obviously spent years getting the tracking just right and it's an amazingly expressive and versatile  controller. Using an arpeggiator linked into a drum machine and holding chords is a great way of coming up with new patterns for example. Shame the Axon was discontinued just as I thought it'd start doing well.
    The problem I'm facing is making it work in a live setup. Everyone knows keyboards can play all sounds but the surprise my MIDI guitar has triggered in others makes me expect confusion or allegations of cheating somehow if I used it live. I've never seen one be used outside of YouTube videos. Anyone wwith 

  • Oops.. experience of live use?

  • Blob

    Great stuff. I would really like to get my hands in one of these.
    Funny, the design in the model on the second vid kind of reminds me of the Eigenharp.

  • Blob

    FYI as far as live use is concerned – Pat Metheny has used MIDI guitars live since 1992, if memory serves me ("Secret Story" album and tour).
    You probably already knew this, but in case you didn't I can try to look up some videos.

  • Jamsire Ernoir

    eh. Love the AXON all day. Love my completely tweaked GR-30 and all my synth access Godins. They just all work!

  • Tele-Pet

    Though I wish Ztar would team up with a synth maker and have onboard sounds, my more realistic wish is that they could come out with a consumer (cheaper) guitar model.  I've heard they have a Rock Controller in the works, which might be a good entry level drug. 


  • Filip – I used the Axon live a bunch, wonderful machine.  Used it for horn parts with a reggae band.  One of my main tricks was to set up 
    a main patch that was silent, then use the hold patch for the sound – allowed me to switch the synth off/on with the hold footswitch so I could just stomp when I wanted synth. Also used the pick position sensing to control my FX – had delay mix mapped to pick position, very useful for dub/reggae delay tricks. /me luvs the Axon, haven't seen anything close to it since. I really hope someone picks it up from Terratec. 

  • I have to say – if you don't want all the fancy mult-zone/multi-channel goop, the You Rock Guitar I bought for ~$100 works durn near as good as the old Ztar i sold for ~$1200 🙂 
    — Big caveat — i understand Star has updated the fretswitches on newer models, mine was quite old.  But if you like the Ztar but don't have the cash, the YRG is worth a look. 

  • My only guitar is an Casio MG-510 I've had for decades. Multichannel MIDI from a guitar is a good starting point, there's more info in an unprocessed guitar sound than just pitch, amplitude and a few knob/ whammy bar controls. 

  • Anyone out there get their hands on the Misa Kitara?  I think that looks pretty cool as a midi controller… I wonder how it plays?

  • Nicolas

    Hey, I didn´t read all the comments (here nor the other discussion). But I´d very much like to get my hands on an seven-string-auto-tuning-seven-output-endless-sustaining-moog-filter guitar (yes kids, a gibson moog hybrid if you will).
    I´m not afraid of change, as are most guitar players. I just think not many of us post here (or read) on CDM.

  • RichardL

    I've got a Godin Freeway SA (a nice Strat-like guitar with SA) and a couple Roland boxes, and it was novel for a while, but the thrill is gone. I've come to what I believe is an inevitable conclusion that guitars just don't make very good MIDI controllers. 

    That's not to say that all digital guitars are a waste of time. I'm still very impressed with the Line 6 Variax system. 

  • I have an Axon with my Godin LGXT guitar, while it's ok I still find it's too much latency and one has to play with too much care to not have it mis-detect certain notes. Currently I do use it though with Omnisphere where I basically have synth pads going on in the background while I play with a regular guitar sound on top. One of the reasons I picked up the Eigenharp was to be able to expressively play software instruments with a very low latency and a high precision, and keep the traditional instrument feel. I personally think now that MIDI guitar convertors are a dead-end street and that instruments that are electronic and expressive from the get-go are the way forward.

  • Freddy

    The discussion comparing a Ztar to a YRG has been beat to death on various boards and forums, and I'm not trying to re-hash it here. They are not to be compared. They're more a study of contrasts. I'm not dissing anyone's positive experience with how and what they use their YRG for, but a Ztar is a professional MIDI instrument while the YRG is more akin to a fun plug and play instrument/toy, a step up from that Fender thing for Rock Band. (I'm sure I'll catch heat for that, but I ain't the first to say it by a long shot) If all you want is to do some sort of tracking etc… well, I suppose a YRG is ok, but even then it's faults are well documented. The string trigger systems are worlds apart and the depth of programmability and customization found within a Ztar is worth the extra exploring, especially for guitarists who are looking for precision and speed and accuracy and expressiveness within a familiar format, i.e. a guitar. The price argument doesn't hold much sway when you realize that a Ztar is made much like a custom guitar, in-house from start to finish, while the YRG comes from over-seas. We'd all love the price of gear come down these days. Heck, I can't afford a Ztar myself, but when I had a chance to play one it seemed well worth it. I could simply tell that it was more of an instrument than a controller… a robust MIDI instrument hybrid. I sound like a salesman…ugh. Anyways, I've played that Misa thing too and imho it's an even more expensive step up from the YRG but w/o string trigs. and the lack of tactile interaction was a total put off. I had an overall feeling of hokey-ness by the end of my demo-ing it. Of course someone will make some great sounding music with the Kitara as well as with a YRG, and that both are a means to an end just like any instrument in a musicians arsenal. Yet I find it odd that products like YRG and Kitara are coming out with little market demand (though the YRG initially was aiming for the music gaming market I guess), which simply reeks of novelty to me. That said, I feel a Ztar is itself a bit of a boutique instrument. Would love to see more persons giving it a real workout. Someone like Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) could give it a proper rinse.

  • I have several videos which feature me playing the Ztar. My approach combines Rock with Classical influences. Here's an example:
    "Canon Rocks"

  • This guy makes me smile. Great approach!

  • There has been some great discussions happening here at Create Digital Music about guitar technologies, the guitar as an instrument in general and how it and it's players fit into the realm of modern music making gadgetry and innovation. Guitarists can be some of the most 'purist' musicians out there. Let's face it, it can be hard to compare the tactile interaction and expressiveness that can be harnessed with a guitar in the hands of a master, to someone pushing buttons and turning knobs. Yet why the hesitant nature of some of the most progressive guitarists to openly embrace true innovation in their chosen instrument? Is it a matter of having to learn or re-learn techniques and concepts found within this new technology?
    Guitarists have manipulated their instrument over decades, creating new and exciting tones and sounds full of subtleties and high expressiveness, and they've done this with generally few technological advancements to their rig (amps, pedals, pick-ups, strings etc…). Enter the realm of synthesis and MIDI, and many guitarists quickly turn the other way and head back to their tried and tested ax. I suppose what I'm getting at is the importance of actually creating and sculpting a sound and how its characteristics directly pertain to its performance and expressive capabilities, regardless if its being triggered by a keyboard or guitar. A lot of the MIDI guitars/guitarists out there, both past and present, seem to only take on the roll of a 'controller' versus that of an actual expressive instrument used in composition and performance. To say it plainly: using an instrument's inherent values and characteristics to create/express/sculpt one's sound and music, not simply trigger it.
    We here at Starr Labs are constantly asked to show a Ztar playing, of all things, guitar samples. While this is all fine and good, it still speaks to the overall importance of the sound's characteristics, and what you can do with it other than simple sample play-back and amp/rig emulation, i.e. triggering speed, accuracy, precision, velocity sensitivity, bends, pull-offs, hammer-ons etc… BUT, 'If its guitar sounds you want, why not play a guitar?' is the rebuttal from those persons interested in alternate MIDI instruments/controllers who want to hear serious synthesis manipulation and performance innovation. Sampling/emulation hardware and software have improved immensely since the dawn of MIDI, with decent products such as Sampletank and Orange Tree providing realistic guitar sounds full of expressive qualities that are right at home when played on a Ztar. On the other hand, we're quite excited about the innovations in modal and additive synthesis hardware/software such as Prism and Razor from Native Instruments, or the amazing engine found in the Nord Modular G2, and the resurgence of the Karplus-Strong algorithm! We're indeed fans of pure synthesis and the creation of new sounds, and how these unique sounds can be expressed through a Ztar.

  • JonYo

    For me, when it comes to bleeding edge guitar tech, it all falls under 2 categories:
    1. Stuff that makes my guitar sound like it can't sound without the tech
    2. Stuff that allows me to use playing techniques that I can't use without the tech
    Obviously, there are combos of the 2, but most things are primarily in one category or the other.
    All the MIDI guitar stuff goes under #1, whether it's the basic Roland hex pickup pitch-to-MIDI stuff, or the more advanced Starr Labs stuff.  These are all about using the existing guitar skills I have, on an object that I interact with like I do with a traditional guitar, but producing sounds that I can't get with just a guitar and effects on that normal guitar signal.  (Maybe some knobs or a ribbon controller or whatever are added to put it partially in category #2, but still a guitar with strings and frets that I put my hands on)  So, even though the Ztar thing doesn't have normal vibrating strings, and whether or not it uses a built-in or custom non-MIDI sound source that allows for more subtle and intricate mapping of gesture to sound than is possible over MIDI alone, it's still about using the existing guitar paradigm to make non-traditional sounds.  That all fine, and I have a Roland GI-20 that I like, and would likely enjoy using a Ztar if I could afford one or knew of anywhere I could go to actually try one.  (The lack of relatively easy access to try one out for yourself unless you happen to live near where they're made is a serious problem for boutique or more specialized instruments, where the feel is paramount and the price is too high to just buy it blind hoping it'll be great, but that's a whole other discussion.)
    However, while things in category #2 that are new, interesting and really expand the playing palette seem to be far more rare, when they do come along, I usually find them far more exciting than thing in category #1.  I've tried out all kinds of wacky low tech approaches to adding new types of playing, like custom string-selective capos, and weird bridge systems for mechanically changing string tuning per string on the fly in a way one could incorporate into their compositions and playing technique (which never worked worth a damn, although that might change with the auto-tune coming at it from an all-software direction).
    Detour: I've always found the guitar to contain more expressive possibilities than most other instruments, mostly because of the closeness the player has to the sound source.  Your hands are right there touching the sound source, the strings.  A piano has an inherent layer of abstraction between the player and the sound source, as one's fingers press keys, that swing hammers, that then hit the string sound source.  I'm not knocking pianos, but I think it's easier for someone who's not any sort of virtuoso on any instrument to find their own voice on a guitar than a piano simply because there are so many ways to touch a guitar that just happen instinctively even for a beginner.
    However, one of the main spots where I always found a guitar to be inferior, not in timbre but in musical usage, was the inability to sustain a note indefinitely as one can on an organ or wind instrument.  So, because of that inability, I was sooooo psyched about the idea of controllable, switchable infinite sustain available with the Fernandes Sustainer system that I first read about waaay back when, at least 15 years ago,  However, when I finally got to try one out, I was very disappointed when it acted like an ebow with a severely depleted battery on each string.  It basically sucks.  However, I'm all excited about the idea all over again these days with the arrival of the Moog guitar.  From what I can tell via youtube videos and such, it's what the Fernandes Sustainer *should* have been, plus a bit more.  I wish I could afford one, or even find a place that had them available to try out.
    Other things in category #2: knobs, ribbon controllers, touchpads, and other such thing that you fiddle with while fretting or picking or whatever, although many of these things have seemed to me like novelties that would be better done with foot pedals or infrared beams or whatever doesn't involve your hands that are busy on the guitar's traditional controls, the strings.
    So, short version, while category #1, alternate non-guitar-string sound sources controlled by a guitar are cool, and I'd love to see (A) things like tracking improve on the hex systems, or conversely, (B) things like the Ztar feel more guitar-like to better apply my existing guitar skills to a new thing, I'm much more excited by things that fall into category #2.
    Ug, sorry I'm so long winded, it's crazy late, I'm having an uber-insomnia night, and I lose all ability to be succinct when I'm this tired.

  • Interesting personal take on what you're looking for JonYo. Most of the musicians, guitarists and/or otherwise who use a Ztar would unequivocally say it falls into both of your categories. Case in point: a master Flamenco guitarist/composer used a Z7S to competently play/compose huge grand piano parts, though they aren't a piano player by any means. His guitar technique and understanding of what a Ztar can do translated perfectly to the large octave range of a grand piano spread out on the fingerboard of the Ztar.

  • I'm the first owner of a mini Z and I've been happy many years now. It's allowed me creative expression that I would not have dreamed of playing guitar. I tried quite a number of midi instruments including the yrg and ez-eg and all the 13 pin stuff. While there is a slight adaption period nothing compares to a ztar. The potential of the instrument goes far beyond that of anything on the market including the as yet to be released misa digital kitara.

  • correction… I meant to say baby z not mini z

  • JohnYo quote:
    "1. Stuff that makes my guitar sound like it can’t sound without the tech2. Stuff that allows me to use playing techniques that I can’t use without the tech"

    #2 is my category of choice and is the basis of my entire approach to the Ztar. In particular, while initially driven by owning something that could truly deliver "one man band" results, I've since found other doorways which lead to places I didn't know existed. That alone has been worth the investment of time and money.

  • Pretty cool man. Looks difficult to play though?