As more and more of the guitarist’s rack goes virtual, there is a greater need for something to control it all. MIDI-controlled effects offer unprecedented ways to alter guitar performance, and programs such as Native Instruments Guitar Rig can be used to build elaborate guitar-processing setups, with almost every knob and button accessible via Control Change messages. Modern DAW software apps typically include a wealth of guitar-oriented plug-ins, in addition to sophisticated recording and mixing capabilities— all crying out for MIDI control. On top of that, tons of synthesizer plug-ins are just waiting to be played from your four- or six-string axe.
Guitarists, like most humans, have a limited number of appendages to handle all of the opportunities to alter, modulate, and automate. Pedals are fine, but they are generally lacking in the precision afforded by our fingers. Clearly, we need a controller that we can use with our hands, that minimally intrudes on our instrument and technique.
The Livid Instruments Guitar Wing brings the finer control of a keyboard controller to your electric guitar. What’s more, it is a Bluetooth device, eliminating the need for a wired connection with your computer: The package includes a USB-type receiver.
Fig. 1. The Guitar Wing attaches to the lower horn of your electric guitar or bass. Spacers are included to fit the device onto instruments of various sizes. Guitar Wing fits onto the lower horn of your electric guitar or bass by means of a plastic, rubber-covered clamp attached to the bottom of the control surface (see Figure 1). The included spacers can be used to accommodate guitars with different dimensions, and you can adjust the angle of the wing to one of three positions. The unit fit snugly on my Epiphone Genesis.
Guitar Wing’s surface is covered with pads, buttons, and channels that serve as touch faders. With the exception of four switches on the side of the unit, all controls are illuminated, color coded, and animated to indicate activity. A micro-USB port—strictly for charging the unit’s Lithium Ion battery—sits on the side next to the power switch. The power switch feels stiff and unyielding, and with its knurled edge lying flat against the side of the wing, it makes it difficult to toggle. An easy-to-grasp, protruding switch would make it easier to access, especially in live performance.
By default, all control objects (with the exception of the accelerometer) send MIDI Note On messages, and the pads can send a combination of notes and Control Change (CC) messages. Guitar Wing’s accelerometer enables motion control, sending independent messages over X, Y, and Z axes; you are free to send CCs, Pitch Bend, After-touch, or no message, if your movements require no extraneous output.
A WING AND A PLAYER
Livid supports Guitar Wing with a host of useful apps as well as downloadable templates and installers for many popular DAW and standalone programs, including Apple Logic and Mainstage, Bitwig Studio, Native Instruments Guitar Rig, and Propellerhead Reason, among others. Ableton Live is particularly well supported, with controls for the transport and tracks as well as scripts for Max for Live and other effects plug-ins.
The feature that I find to be most significant is the ability to remotely control transport, track arming, recording, location, and all of the core DAW features that go into the recording process. If you’ve ever tried to type in commands or manipulate a control surface while wearing finger picks, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The Logic X recording and location features worked like a charm. I could quickly create and locate to markers, set up the click track, set up punch points, control the channel volume from one of the fader strips, move to the next channel, enable playback and pause—all using the last couple of digits on my picking hand.
Fig. 2. The standalone version of the WingFX software offers a great preset for any solo guitarist performing with loops. The screen shows each button, switch, and fader’s assigned function to keep you from getting lost. For near-instant gratification, Livid offers WingFX, a standalone and plug-in app that is useful for playing audio loops, overdubbing parts, processing guitar, and altering pitch on-the-fly, among other features (see Figure 2). Engaging the software’s help button clearly labels every control. In the default preset, the four rectangular buttons loop audio files and let you browse for new material on-the-fly.
You might want to do some file organizing in advance, because the browser has no file-audition feature. Buttons toggle a host of built-in effects, including distortion, bit crushing, delay, reverb, and motion-controlled wah-wah, which is fun to use. Anything you want to manipulate with the DAW's plug-ins is easily accomplished with the MIDI Learn features.
Guitar Wing makes an irresistible pairing with Fishman’s wireless TriplePlay MIDI guitar. It was hard to tear myself away from using my guitar as a complete MIDI controller to play an Arturia Matrix 12 V soft synth. One of the Guitar Wing fader strips divides into two separate functions, so I taught one half to alter filter frequency in a soft synth and the other half to alter resonance, all while using the TriplePlay to hit rich chords. Possibilities abound for audio and MIDI recording using the Guitar Wing.
Fig. 3. I’ve combined two screens of the Guitar Wing Editor showing assignments for the pad, as well as setting up control using the motion sensor (indicated by a trident-like icon). Notice that each axis of the motion sensor has an independent menu. The Guitar Wing Editor is in beta, but it is surprisingly stable, well implemented, and readily available (see Figure 3). The user interface provides a graphic representation of each of the gadget’s control features. Clicking on one provides a window with drop-down menus of MIDI messages and color-coding options for the selected button, switch, or fader’s on/off state, and the physical button immediately reflects the change. Global amenities include file saving and loading, factory resets, and toggling the editor between advanced and basic parameters.
The main problem I had with the system had to do with pairing the Wing with its receiver, which was occasionally problematic and often required the separate Guitar Wing Connect utility app. By the time you read this, the editor and the WingFX will have that capacity built in.
WINGS OVER THE WORLD
Nonetheless, the Livid Instruments Guitar Wing is just what every 21st Century guitar and bass player needs; a versatile, ergonomic, and, most importantly, easily played controller for all the things you can do with strings and a computer.
Easily attaches to most electric guitars and basses. Versatile. Lots of downloadable resources to adapt to many music software apps. Brilliantly ergonomic.
Power switch is difficult to engage.
Former Electronic Musician editor Marty Cutler regularly writes reviews and articles, while working on a book of digital guitar applications and honing his progressive bluegrass chops.