NO MATTER how long you’ve been playing guitar,
quickly and accurately tuning your strings
is always a challenge. How much time and
money have you wasted in the studio, and
how many audiences have had to endure long
BREAKs between songs while you tuned up?
Another problem facing guitarists is that no
matter how expertly you set up your guitar,
chords that sound perfectly in tune when you
play them close to the nut can sound less in
tune as you ascend the neck.
|Peavey’s new AT-200 is the first guitar with Antares Auto-Tune built right in. Now you can instantly tune your
guitar and, with optional Feature Packs, apply a virtual capo, select alternate tunings, and a whole lot more.
Enter Antares Audio Technologies, a
company whose fortune was built on its Auto-Tune software, which ensures that live and
recorded vocals never sound even slightly off-key.
In 2011, Antares announced Auto-Tune
for Guitar, and the first instrument to offer
the technology is now available from Peavey
A Good Guitar Based on Peavey’s basic model
Predator Plus ST, the AT-200’s pleasing
tone, build, and playability belie its entry-level
platform. The AT-200 has a solid basswood
body, two ceramic humbucker pickups, a nicely
adjustable bridge containing a hexaphonic
pickup, and string-through-body anchoring.
The bolt-on maple neck has a 25.5-inch scale
and a rosewood fingerboard, and the cutaway
allows easy access all the way to the 24th fret.
Inside the guitar’s body, four AA batteries
supply enough power to the Auto-Tune for
Guitar DSP system for about ten hours of use.
Plugging a cable into the output turns on the
electronics. To avoid draining the batteries,
you can pull up on the tone knob to disengage
Auto-Tune when you’re not using it.
Alongside the 1/4-inch output jack, an
8-pin female DIN connector connects to the
optional AT-200B BREAKout box ($80 list, $60
street) via the included 15-foot cable. The box
provides phantom power for the electronics,
a redundant 1/4-inch output for the guitar
signal, and MIDI In and Out ports. Even
without the box, you can plug a standard MIDI
cable into the DIN connector, which then
serves as a MIDI In port.
Instant Intonation New capabilities that
Auto-Tune gives guitarists include String Tune,
which quickly tunes all six strings, and Solid-Tune, which monitors each note’s pitch and
corrects it as you play. Solid-Tune effectively
compensates for intonation problems and excess
finger pressure. Additional features can be
added via downloadable Feature Packs, which
include collections of alternate tunings, virtual
capos, string doubling, modeled simulations of
different guitars, MIDI control capabilities, and
the ability to store and recall presets.”
Automatically tuning your guitar couldn’t
be simpler. Just strum all six open strings and
press down on the volume knob. Not only will
your guitar be in perfect tune, but intonation will also remain perfect all the way up the
fretboard. Do you have trouble playing difficult
chords without slightly bending one or two
strings? Auto-Tune makes them sound perfect.
Want to play full chords with heavy distortion?
Auto-Tune makes those sound perfect, too.
Ears Wide Open Auto-Tune affects only
the amplified signal, of course. If you aren’t
playing with headphones, your amp has to
be loud enough to completely drown out the
acoustical sound of your strings. Otherwise,
unless you’ve manually tuned the guitar
perfectly, you’ll hear the acoustic sound of the
strings beating against the amplified signal,
often resulting in a chorusing effect (or worse)
that anyone close enough may hear.
Auto-Tune for Guitar wouldn’t be very
useful if it didn’t accommodate string bending,
and it does this beautifully. When you play a
string, as long as it stays within a very narrow
range of pitch, Auto-Tune will correct it. The
moment you push the string beyond that range,
however, either by bending or by applying
vibrato, Auto-Tune no longer tries to correct it.
|Using MIDI Designer, you can easily access features for the AT-200 from your iPad.
As I played, I listened carefully for signs of
latency and couldn’t detect any. ADC and DAC
latency are about 1 millisecond, according to
Antares, and processing latency is no more than
one cycle. Bending and vibrato both felt and
sounded perfectly natural. I couldn’t hear any
artifacts as I often do with Auto-Tune on vocals,
but Auto-Tune does change the guitar’s tone
by rolling off some of the top end. Use EQ to
compensate if you prefer the guitar’s original tone.
Features Aplenty Features are divided into
several categories. By installing a Feature Pack,
you can select any of several alternate tunings
such as open-A, double drop-D, or DADGAD.
You can also transpose the entire fretboard up
or down as much as an octave using the virtual
capo feature, making it much easier to play in
difficult keys. I especially enjoyed transposing
down an octave and playing the guitar like a
bass. Doublings take advantage of Auto-Tune for
Guitar’s ability to produce two string sounds at
different pitches from a single note; emulating
a 12-string guitar is just one example. Another
feature set lets you choose from ten models that
make the AT-200 sound more like a Stratocaster,
a Telecaster, or a Les Paul, among others.
In addition to String Tune and Solid-Tune,
three free bonus features are available for
download for the AT-200: an open-E tuning,
a virtual capo at the fifth fret, and an acoustic
guitar model. For more features, you’ll need to
buy an optional Feature Pack. At the time of this
review, installation requires a Windows-based
computer and either the AT-200B BREAKout box
or a unique MIDI Y-cable unlike any I’ve seen
before. Antares says it’ll have a Mac solution
later this year, but in the meantime suggests
using either Boot Camp (which means you’ll also
need to buy a copy of Windows) or a friend’s PC.
If you have at least one Feature Pack
installed, you can save favorite features or
combinations of features as presets. The
Essential Pack ($99) gives you a selection of 16
features, the Pro Pack ($199) gives you 32, and
the Complete Pack ($299) gives you 64.
Once installed, the most direct way to
enable features and presets is by Fret Control.
To select a feature, press a particular string at
a particular fret with one hand and then play
the string while pressing down on the volume
knob with the other. For example, select
drop-D tuning by playing the A string at the
first fret, or capo up a perfect fifth by playing
the G string at the seventh fret.
You can also turn features on and off using
MIDI Control Change messages. If you’re an
iPad user, a free controller layout for MIDI
Designer Pro ($25) or MIDI Designer Lite (free)
from Confusionists (mididesigner.com), lets
you instantly access features at the touch of a
button. To use it, you’ll need a MIDI connection
between your iPad and the AT-200. For most
users, that means Apple’s Camera Connection
Kit and a class-compliant MIDI interface (one
that doesn’t require a specific driver).
Even if you don’t spring for one of the
Feature Packs, it’s possible to create your
own transpositions and alternate tunings by
simply fretting as you engage String Tune.
For drop-D tuning, for example, just hold
down the bottom string at the second fret
while tuning. To transpose down an octave,
barre across the 12th fret while tuning. You’ll
have to do this every time, though, because
you can’t save presets unless Feature Packs
Stay Tuned Auto-Tune for Guitar technology
works, and it works well. You can be sure
that more guitars will follow in the AT-200’s
footsteps, and a luthier’s kit will soon be
available for retrofits. When you consider
the cost of adding Auto-Tune to a guitar, the
expense of the Feature Packs, and the near necessity
of buying the optional BREAKout box,
it isn’t cheap, but your guitar will let you do
things you’ve only dreamed of until now.
Former senior editor Geary Yelton has been
writing for Electronic Musician since 1985.
He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.
STRENGTHS: Instant tuning. Perfect
intonation. Unprecedented versatility.
MIDI control. No batteries needed with
optional BREAKout box. Full chords with
heavy distortion have perfect intonation.
LIMITATIONS: Most features are
optional purchases. Can’t save presets
without optional Feature Packs. Installing
upgrades requires Windows and either
the BREAKout box or a non-standard MIDI