Gibson GD.6X-Pro Digital Guitar

So what is a Les Paul guitar doing in EQ magazine? Sure, you can play it live. But what interests me is how it fits into the modern, computer-based studio.First things first: Yes, it’s a Les Paul. It’s not a MIDI guitar or a modeling-based guitar, nor does it replace them; it uses digital technology to network the guitar over Ethernet (you can have a 300 foot cable without signal degradation), and to provide six individual string outputs, suitable for (among other things) feeding into a computer’s audio interface. You can create true stereo mixes, and use plug-ins to process the strings individually, do surround effects, and warp the sound beyond all recognition.The package — and it’s a classy one — includes the full edition of Sonar 6 Producer Edition, a very sturdy case (padded inside and out) with roller wheels, breakout box, and snake with eight balanced phone jack leads.
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MAKING THE CONNECTION

The guitar has a standard mono analog output from the two humbucker pickups; you can treat it just like a standard Les Paul. What’s more intriguing is the Ethernet connector, a mic input, and a headphone output. The Ethernet connection is truly a network, and carries the mic signal to the breakout box as well as routes monitor signals back into the headphone out on the guitar. It seems sacrilegious to have a headphone out and mic in on a $5K Les Paul, but guitarists who use in-ear monitors and headset mics will likely embrace this concept.

The other end of the Ethernet cable connects to a breakout box that provides mono, stereo (strings 1-2-3 and 4-5-6), and six individual balanced outputs, which come from the hex pickup located between the bridge and treble pickup. (There is a little inter-string leakage, but sonically, this can be a plus as well as a minus.) And of course, you can layer these outs with the guitar’s “classic mode” mono out.

To take full advantage of the hex output in a computer environment, you’ll need an audio interface with eight ins but these don’t have to be “instrument” inputs; line ins will work. I would love to see a way to hook the computer directly into a computer’s Ethernet port, or if that’s not possible, an Ethernet card designed specifically for the MaGIC interface. That would sure simplify the cabling and interfacing. On the other hand the current hardware-oriented breakout box is essential for live use, if you want to patch (for example) an AdrenaLinn on each string, or use any other kind of hardware-based hex processing.

SO HOW DOES IT PLAY?

Like a Les Paul. It also looks like one, but the blue metallic finish with silver top binding is stunning. Guitar geek data: 24-3/4" scale length, ebony fingerboard with 22 frets, mahogany neck, stopbar tailpiece, Tune-o-Matic bridge, speed knobs, and platinum plated hardware.

SO HOW DOES IT SOUND?

Like a Les Paul. . . .

That is, until you start applying creative computer mojo or hex signal processing. Put distortion on each string for a beautiful, laser-clean distortion with minimal intermodulation issues. Patch an envelope follower or light chorus on the top three strings. And when you pan strings in interesting ways, add pitch transposition for cyber-12-string sounds or NIN-type basses, or start overdubbing multiple layers with this degree of processing, you’re in totally virgin sonic territory. It’s a fun place.

CONCLUSIONS

Let’s get real: The HD.6X-PRO is expensive. It had a long and difficult gestation, as pickup designs were tried and discarded, network issues had to be resolved, and the concept was greeted with skepticism both from within and without Gibson (myself included). And coupling the term “digital” with “Les Paul” was seen by many as, well, heresy.

But you don’t get anywhere by standing still, and the Les Paul digital guitar is proof. Forget pre-conceived notions: Send each string to a separate channel and throw on your favorite plug-ins. Get sounds that range from filthy raunch to sweetly angelic. Have pitch-transposed sounds fade in from the background while the main out screams out of your favorite tube amp. Listen to some of the audio clips at www.eqmag.com. Then — and only then — will the digital Les Paul truly make sense: Hearing is believing.