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.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.
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 Electronics.
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.
Using MIDI Designer, you can easily access features for the AT-200 from your iPad. 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.
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 are installed.
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 Y-cable.