Step right up, guitar players—and plug into your laptop, plug into a synthesizer, or for that matter, play a synthesizer on your laptop from your guitar. (All prices are MSRP.)
CEntrance AxePort Pro ($149.95,
The MicPort Pro (which converts XLR mic signals to USB) has served me well, and the guitar version, AxePort Pro, is just as good: It’s a cigar-shaped interface with a 1/4", 1M impedance connector. Plug in your guitar at one end; the other end has jacks for USB and headphones.
The sound quality is excellent—you can get serious level in the ’phones (both the headphones and guitar input gain have their own knobs), and Axeport also does 96kHz recording. Two cool software features are an applet that lets you mix the processed sound with zero-latency dry sound, and the ability to aggregate AxePorts and Mic- Ports in ASIO mode—add a MicPort if you’re a singer, or another AxePort if you play a stereo instrument like Chapman Stick. For eye candy, you’ll love the white ring around the jack that lights up when you plug in to USB (you can turn it off, though).
AxePort Pro needs no drivers for Windows XP, Vista (32/64), or Mac OS X 10.4. Also included: ASIO drivers and software extras on a 1GB USB stick (check the website for Vista-64 drivers), a 6' USB cable, and carrying pouch.
There’s stiff competition from compact devices like NI’s Mobile I/O and IK Multimedia’s Stealthplug, both of which include excellent amp/effects sim software. But for the sweet spot of small size and big sound, AxePort delivers—and the multi-driver aspect is a plus.
Sonuus G2M Guitar-to-MIDI Converter ($129,
The G2M fills a unique slot in the market: It does monophonic (single-note) guitar-to-MIDI conversion for under $100 street, and doesn’t require a special pickup—just plug and play. It’s also cute and small, with a hi-Z guitar in and boost switch on one end, a 5-pin DIN MIDI out connector (not USB) and guitar “thru” jack on the other, and LEDs on the top that show power on as well as tuning, low battery, clip, and MIDI activity. The G2M requires a 9-volt battery; the company claims about 70 hours of battery life.
As with other converters, you’ll need to adjust your technique for the best results—strings and frets weren’t designed to be switches, yet MIDI wants clean, unambiguous notes. Don’t play more than one note at a time, and use the palm of your hand to deaden the harmonics for better triggering. The G2M prefers flat picks with a fairly light touch; if you’re a basher or use a thumbpick, dial back a bit on the dynamics.
Your first attempts will probably be glitchy, but once you adapt you’ll get good results (also try adding EQ and/or compression before the G2M). I found the G2M ideal for bass lines, strings, brass, and interestingly enough, drum/percussion overdubs.
Don’t expect miracles, but given the low price and daunting task of guitarto- MIDI conversion, the G2M opens up MIDI guitar—and MIDI’s editability—to a far wider audience.
Applied Acoustics Systems Strum Electric GS-1 ($229,
This plug-in/stand-alone virtual instrument (VST, AU, RTAS, Mac/Windows) is a tough product to review, because I really like it—but maybe not for the reasons AAS would expect. No, it doesn’t replace a guitarist, although you can come surprisingly close. Where the GS-1 excels is in creating “idealized” guitars (the engine is based on physical modeling), as it can provide “guitaristic” sounds you can’t get any other way.
If you want to emulate “real” guitar, read the manual—your success will depend on how well you take advantage of the mappings AAS has done to relate notes and gestures to a keyboard (e.g., hit a single note, and that’s what you hear; hit a chord, and it’s voiced like a guitar—but you can also do upstrokes and downstrokes, program strums, link parameters to MIDI, and the like). There are plenty of useful presets to get you started, but still, you need to learn to play them.
Things get really interesting when you edit parameters for individual strings—everything from pick/finger characteristics to hammer-on, pickups, and amps. (However, note that while GS-1 includes amp simulation, it’s not on the same level as full-blown amp sims.)
If you want to bring something new to your music, Strum GS-1 is intriguing, versatile, clever, and fun. Is it for you? Fortunately you can download a demo version, and decide for yourself.