The Gibson HD.6-X Pro brings to mind the old axiom “There's a first time for everything.” With this newest addition to Gibson's product line, the company has given its iconic Les Paul guitar — an all-analog stalwart for the past 56 years — a hex pickup that provides a separate digital output for each of its six strings. What's more, the HD.6-X Pro also provides mic and headphone facilities right on the guitar's jack plate, making it the nexus for a complete performance setup.
Guitar heroes, don't panic. This instrument can still play and sound exactly like an all-analog Les Paul; it just has a digital alter ego.
At first glance, the HD.6-X Pro looks the same as a Les Paul Standard with a blue metallic finish (see Fig. 1). A single-cutaway body, Tune-o-matic bridge, two humbucking pickups (each with its own volume and tone controls), 3-way-toggle pickup switch, and traditional neck and headstock all lend an air of familiarity. However, a closer inspection reveals a digital hex pickup (mounted between the bridge and the bridge pickup), a blue status LED parked just below the neck pickup, and a jack plate replete with connectors that are atypical for an electric guitar (all of which I'll explain shortly). Knurled cylindrical tuning knobs — nothing digital here — make a modern aesthetic statement.
Included with the HD.6-X Pro is a padded hard-shell case featuring a velour lining and an external, zippered storage pocket for accessories. This beauty also sports wheels on the bottom, protective skid rails on the back side, and an extra handle at its head, making it ready for the road.
Inside the case, an oversize accessory-storage compartment holds the HD.6-X Pro's companion breakout box, affectionately dubbed “BoB” by Gibson (see Fig. 2). BoB connects to the HD.6-X Pro using a supplied Cat-5 Ethernet cable measuring roughly 30 feet in length. The Cat-5 cable is bidirectional and transmits digital audio between the guitar and BoB by way of latching Cat-5 connectors on BoB's front panel and the HD.6-X Pro's jack plate. To learn how the system works, it's helpful to first look at signals sent from the guitar to BoB and then at signals sent from BoB to the guitar.
From Guitar to BoB
Connect a standard guitar cable between a guitar amp and the high-impedance, ¼-inch Classic mode output phone jack on the HD.6-X Pro's jack plate, and the guitar operates and sounds exactly like an all-analog Les Paul (see Web Clip 1). This output jack is always active.
When the Cat-5 cable is connected to the HD.6-X Pro's jack plate and BoB is powered up (using its supplied coaxial power connector and lump-in-the-line transformer), the blue status LED below the guitar's neck pickup lights. The hex pickup then sends separate digital signals from each of the guitar's six strings to BoB. BoB converts the digital signals to analog and outputs them in mono, stereo, or 6-channel format (or combinations thereof).
I'll now examine BoB's channel-output formats in greater detail. A Classic mode output jack on BoB sums all six strings to mono, effectively duplicating the function of the Classic mode jack on the HD.6-X Pro's jack plate. BoB's Classic mode output is always active (as long as the guitar and BoB are connected and BoB is powered up). BoB also provides six individual outputs (labeled 1-E, 2-B, 3-G, 4-D, 5-A, and 6-E) derived from the HD.6-X Pro's respective guitar strings. In this mode, only the guitar's Master Volume control (which doubles as the bridge pickup's volume control in Classic mode) is active; tone controls won't work. Outputs 1-E and 2-B can also be used to output summed signals from the top three strings and bottom three strings, respectively (more on this stereo format in a bit).
The guitar's jack plate also features a balanced ⅛-inch minijack input intended for use with a condenser headset mic (the kind commonly used for live performance). Its signal is sent to a balanced ¼-inch TRS mic output on BoB by way of the Cat-5 cable. The mic input is served by 5V phantom power that is always on.
All of BoB's analog outputs can be connected to your DAW or mixer using a supplied 8-channel Hosa snake fitted with ¼-inch TRS connectors on both ends and measuring 10 feet in length.
From BoB to Guitar
In addition to outputting signals transmitted from the HD.6-X Pro, BoB can also send signals to the guitar. BoB can accept a stereo cue feed (from your DAW or mixer, for instance) patched to its separate left- and right-channel input jacks. This cue feed is routed to a stereo minijack (⅛-inch TRS) headphone output on the guitar's jack plate. Think of the guitar's headphone output as a substitute for an outboard headphone amp you would use in a recording session or onstage. (It doesn't monitor the guitar's output directly.) The guitar's jack plate provides a continuously variable headphone-output level control, which I found to be plenty loud when fully cranked.
All of BoB's analog I/O is on balanced ¼-inch TRS connectors that also work with unbalanced lines. According to Gibson, you can use a Cat-5 cable up to 100 meters long with the system without losing signal quality or incurring latency — a big plus for live performance on a humongous stage. Studio use receives equal favor: a copy of Cakewalk Sonar 5 Producer Edition (Win), a feature-packed DAW with a 64-bit audio engine, is included with your purchase of the HD.6-X Pro.
In the Mode
I mostly used the HD.6-X Pro with a MOTU HD192 High Definition I/O box, which interfaced perfectly with Gibson's system in terms of delivering optimal levels to my DAW. Recording the output of each string to a separate track in MOTU Digital Performer (DP), the sound quality was very good. I measured channel crosstalk (that is, the amount of signal bleed between two strings' separate outputs) to be approximately -33 dB, which is pretty darn impressive. This crosstalk had negligible effect on stereo imaging when outputs were panned; stereo-field localization for individual strings was pretty crisply defined (see Web Clip 2).
Routing each string's output to a separate track in DP, I could give each track a unique volume, pan, and EQ setting. I had tons of fun adding different plug-ins to each string's track. In one session, I added MOTU Echo to the first string; MOTU Tremolo to the second string; Universal Audio Nigel and Waves MondoMod and TransX to the third string; Waves MetaFlanger to the fourth string; DaD Tape to the fifth string; and Universal Audio Nigel to the sixth string. I combined those tracks with a simultaneously recorded track of the amplified analog output of the guitar, miking a guitar cabinet with a Royer R-121 mic routed through an SSL Alpha Channel channel strip. I then added a chorus effect from my Yamaha 02R mixer and multitap delay from a Dynacord DRP 20 hardware processor to all seven tracks, creating a wild montage that would've been impossible to produce using a standard guitar (see Web Clip 3).
BoB's stereo mode (which Gibson calls 2×3 mode) was also a gas. It allowed such custom-effect treatments as adding a chorus to the top three strings and panning them hard left while applying Universal Audio Nigel to the bottom three strings and panning them hard right (see Web Clip 4).
As I am a studio engineer and not a live performer, I didn't have any condenser headset mics on hand to test the HD.6-X Pro's mic input. Gibson was smart to aim this feature toward live use, however, because that's where the mobility it provides is needed. On a minor down note, I was a bit frustrated by the guitar's owner's manual, which omits a lot of important information.
It's a Winner
The HD.6-X Pro is an awesome-sounding analog Les Paul, a string-warping multichannel digital guitar, and a central station for headphone output and mic input all in one. Throw in the Sonar 5 Producer Edition DAW, and the system is a good value, even considering its hefty price. For studio recordists, the HD.6-X Pro kicks butt.
EM contributing editor Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, Oregon. Visit him atmyspace.com/michaelcooperrecording.
multichannel digital guitar
PROS: Retains full analog functions and sound of a Les Paul Standard. Mono, stereo, and Hex modes. Headphone output and mic input on jack plate. High performance with a long cable. Includes case, Cat-5 cable, breakout box, multichannel snake, and Sonar 5 Producer Edition.
CONS: Output levels not equal for all strings in Hex mode. Weak documentation. Pricey. No Mac recording software included.
FEATURES 1 2 3 4 5 EASE OF USE 1 2 3 4 5 AUDIO QUALITY 1 2 3 4 5 VALUE 1 2 3 4 5
»In our reviews, prices are MAP or street unless otherwise noted.