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How To: The Electronic Guitarist

May 12, 2017

When Source Audio debuted the Hot Hand Motion Controller Ring over a decade ago, it was marketed as a way for guitarists to modify the parameters of the company’s filter pedal by waving around a ring fitted on the picking hand. Unfortunately, guitarists were slow to warm up to the technology, myself among them, as the need to somewhat restrict that hand seemed to outweigh the advantages of the ring as a controller.

Once I started playing guitar through a laptop and using it to trigger soft synths I became interested in how I might employ the (at the time) new Hot Hand USB to control filter plug-ins, synth parameters, and so forth but again, there was still the pesky picking-hand problem.

The Source Audio Hot Hand USB Wireless MIDI Controller.

Finally, a light bulb went off: Where was it written that the Hot Hand ring need be worn on the finger? I realized I could just as easily attach it behind the guitar’s nut, and then use it to control any MIDI receiving effect parameter by moving the guitar neck up and down, or back and forth, rather than removing my picking hand from the strings. Waving the neck to change the sound also offered a dramatic visual link between what I was doing and what the audience was hearing. I quickly began using the newly guitar-mounted ring to control filters on soft synths, delay feedback (for dub effects), and for filtering EBow drones.

Fig. 1. Using Source Audio’s freeware editor, you can set the MIDI channel, message type, mode, Continuous Controller number and range for each Hot Hand axis.
Fig. 2. Here, the Hot Hand is controlling the Auto Filter in Ableton Live based on movement in its x-axis and within a limited frequency range.

The Hot Hand USB Ring employs a 3-axis accelerometer (X, Y, and Z) that can detect motion and tilt (the ring’s position relative to the ground). Source Audio’s free editing software makes it easy to set each axis to work on any MIDI channel and CC#. In Fig. 1, I have set the ring to send messages only from the X axis (the green dot in the MIDI 1 box signifies it is sending MIDI). The Hot Hand permits very complex, multiple-control routing but I am just sending MIDI on Channel 2, CC number 31, to the frequency parameter of Ableton Live’s Auto Filter plug-in (Figure 2). I have adjusted the range of the message to stay within certain frequency limits as I move my guitar neck up and down.

I can now filter drones as I keep an EBow over the strings, or create color washes of reverb while my right hand is free to simultaneously swell the guitar volume; and the list goes on. The only tricky part is remembering to shut off the signal from the Hot Hand when setting MIDI message sends from another controller, because if the ring moves while MIDI Learn is enabled, it will take over control.

Visit emusician.com to see a video of the author controlling Ableton Live with the Hot Hand attached to the neck of the guitar rather than his hand.

If playing through a laptop is not your thing, the Hot Hand 3 Universal Wireless Effects Controller can control pedals by Source Audio, as well as those equipped with a ¼" expression input by Boss, Eventide, Line 6, and other developers. Moving the neck of your guitar can potentially modify not only filter sweeps, but also delay regeneration, drive levels, modulation, wet/dry mixes, and more.

As it turns out, the Hot Hand doesn’t actually require your, well, hand. I highly recommend guitarists take another look at this expressive tool.

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