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Guitar-style MIDI Controllers: SynthAxe Redux?

We recently reviewed the i2M audio MIDI interface, which works amazingly well in a monophonic capacity. But if you need polyphony with perfect tracking all the time. The best solution is still a fretboard controller.

Perhaps you remember the SynthAxe: a synthesizer controller constructed roughly in the shape of a guitar, where notes were triggered by pushing down rows of buttons arranged like frets on a fingerboard? Between the average guitarist’s lack of interest in all things synthesizer and a price tag of $8-$13,000 dollars, it is no wonder it never caught on—Allan Holdsworth notwithstanding. But for the last couple of Winter NAMM shows, two companies have been showing products that recall this relic of the Eighties. Misa Digital and You Rock Digital are betting that the increased interest of guitarists in all things digital, combined with a lower price point can revive the concept.

Misa originally showed the Kitara, an instrument with built-in synth sounds and flashy moving graphics touch screen for over a grand. They too may have run into price point issues (the Kitara is now available for $899), or perhaps they realized that musicians who care about synths at all, care about particular synth sounds and don’t want to pay for someone else’s idea of same. Either way, 2012 saw them releasing The Misa Digital Kitara Era, which loses the synth-engine and touch pad graphics, while offering a cool MIDI controller for guitarists lacking keyboard skills.

It features:
24-fret neck with tactile buttons, instead of strings
Touch-sensitive rectangular pad that responds to three axis of movement (X/Y and velocity)
MIDI-out and USB MIDI
An internal rechargeable battery
A1024 x 1024 touch panel
Upgradeable firmware.

At press time there is no mention of the Era on the Misa site but here is some footage we shot at the 2012 NAMM show.

Misa Era Midi Controller from Michael Ross on Vimeo.

If synth sounds are more peripheral to your music and/or $399 is still more than you want to pay, you will be interested in the Inspired Instruments Inc. You Rock YRG-1000 MIDI Controller. It may look like a toy but is features:

25 real guitar & 50 synth sounds.
25 song & 50 drum loops.
Fast tracking MIDI via low latency USB & 5-pin DIN outputs.
Stereo audio input jack: play along with your mp3 player.
1/8″ headphone & 1/4″ guitar outputs.
Play Guitar Hero and Rock Band with optional GameFlex cartridge or Midi Pro Adapters.
Removable neck lets you take it anywhere.
USB & battery powered.

In this demo by Dan Mumm you can see the tracking is great. For a mere $139 you obviously don’t get as much control, but you can always automate parameters later.

GM hasn’t got our hands on either yet but we are excited to do so. Please let us know if this is a topic that interests you.

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5 thoughts on “Guitar-style MIDI Controllers: SynthAxe Redux?

  1. The You Rock looks interesting. I’m waiting until summer to see the Fishman Triple Play wireless controller. I’m thinking it will be better yet! You get to play a real guitar.

    • The Fishman looked interesting at the NAMM show. Still, it is apples and oranges – the point of the You Rock and Misa Digital is that there are no tracking issues ever. The Fishman will still be subject to all the issues in tracking strings, but true it will be also a real guitar.

      • I have only seen videos of the You Rock and Fishman. I wish there was a store to try out the You Rock. In the old days I had a Roland G707 synth and then a GR-1 with a GK pickup. So I’m guessing the guy demoing the Fishman has mad skills because I didn’t see or hear any tracking issues. I’m finding the You Rock tempting, and for the price, I suppose you could get both the You Rock and the Fishman for less than a Roland set up. The budget would like to choose one or the other tho…

  2. I have one of these guitars! Love it. I really only use it as a midi controller, so I can’t yet comment on the other aspects of this instrument. I do a lot of orchestral type composition, so being able to input my ideas on a familiar fretboard instead of a keyboard is a real plus for me. I just plug it into a USB input which supplies power, and it just simply works- no batteries needed!
    My only complaint is that while you can do hammer-ons/pull-offs, you can’t pull-off to an open string. Other than that it acts pretty much a like a guitar controller should.

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