Let’s face it: guitar synthesizers have been largely a bust. Honestly, how many times have you seen a guitarist on stage with a MIDI pickup controlling synthetic or sampled sounds? Once? Maybe? A few famous players have experimented with them: John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, etc. The general guitar public—not so much. Roland has been trying to make the idea user friendly since the Eighties to little avail, despite great strides in technology. Axon makes a terrific Audio to MIDI converter, which when combined with Graphtech’s Ghost system works very well. I have used them all, but when it comes to laying down a synth part I still reach for the keyboard: easy setup, no tracking issues. All the above companies are still in the guitar synth business so someone is obviously buying them, but for the most part it remains easier to get Charlie Sheen into rehab than to get a guitarist to play a guitar synthesizer.
BACK TO MONO
The first inkling that guitar synth might become more appealing came when I reviewed the Sonuus (not to be confused with PreSonus) G2M audio to MIDI converter a couple of years ago. This tiny box, smaller than an iPhone, provided tracking that rivaled the big boys with much less setup muss and fuss. It was only monophonic but that was easily worked around by layering parts and/or synths. What was less appealing was having to use a standard MIDI cable, in these days of USB MIDI, and having to use a separate cable to output audio.
Apparently Sonuus felt the same way and has now come out with the i2M musicport. Barely larger than the cables you insert, the musicport makes the G2M seem gargantuan. Despite its tiny size and plastic construction, the i2M feels solid. USB power lights up the Sonuus logo for more than decorative purposes. The light lets you know which of four Modes you have chosen by pushing the small plastic button below the first “S” in Sonuus.
Each Mode can be configured differently allowing for enormous flexibility. A quick example would be to configure Mode 1 for pitchbend and Mode 2 for chromatic response.
You can read all the specs on the Sonuus website, where you can download the manual and get the full picture of what this baby can do. Let me instead run you through my experience with the i2M.
The musicport is class compliant so there are no drivers to download. I did discover that I had to have it plugged in before I booted up Ableton Live or the DAW would not recognize it. If I complied so did the musicport and was recognized as both an audio and MIDI interface. I downloaded the Sonuus software and was able to configure the musicport to send pitchbend MIDI on three different channels to three differently configured instances of Ableton’s Operator synth. Through the i2M software, I was also able to adjust the pitch of each synth forming a chord. Playing a simple line I instantly had three moving parts each with its own sound. The audio interface exhibited relatively low latency for a device of this kind, and largely maintained the tone of the instrument.
HERE’S THE DEAL
Is the i2M musicport the answer to all your reservations about guitar synths? The simple answer is no. Similar to all guitar synths, tracking depends on precise picking, proper guitar and software setup, and varies with the synth, as well as the particular synth patch used. That said, if you set it up properly and pick cleanly the musicport’s tracking can be very fast. In pitchbend mode it followed my bends, finger vibrato, and whammy bar work beautifully.
As a studio tool for whipping off quick synth parts that are beyond your keyboard capabilities the i2M musicport takes the hassle out of audio to MIDI for guitarists. For live work adding monophonic synth parts to your arsenal of sounds should be easy. While I have never been a fan of synth solos—even by keyboard players—adding an evocative soft synth tone behind a guitar sound can greatly extend the textural options for lead guitar work, whether it is a string sound following a clean archtop tone, or a saw wave blended in with a monster metal grind.
Price: List $193.50 Street $149