Electronic Guitar:The Divided Fretboard

Sound splitting with Jam Origin MIDI Guitar 2
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A typical hardware guitar synthesizer, such as the Roland GK system or the Fishman Triple Play, allows you to play different programmed or sampled sounds simultaneously, based on which notes you play along the fretboard. You may have seen this demonstrated as a one-man-band effect: a guitarist sets up a guitar-synth triggering an upright bass sound on the low strings and an organ or piano sound on the upper ones. But there are other creative ways to use this effect and you don’t necessarily have to spend $400 to $800 on guitar-synth hardware to do it.

You don’t need any special hardware to use Jam Origin MIDI Guitar 2.

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For $99.95, Jam Origin’s software-based MIDI Guitar 2 (Mac/Win) lets you create a similar effect without requiring special pickups or add-on devices. By using the software’s Channel Split MIDI Machine, you can program certain sounds to trigger only when you play low notes on your guitar, while others will trigger only when you play high notes.

Fig. 1. Send low and high note messages as separate MIDI channels by using the Split Pitch, Lows Channel, and Highs Channel controls.

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The Lows and Highs Channel knobs let you send low and high note messages as separate MIDI channels, while the Split Pitch control sets the point at which the notes transition from low to high (see Figure 1). I set the low notes to drive Ableton Live’s Analog synth plug-in on Channel 6, with the guitar’s high notes driving Ableton’s Operator synth on Channel 9.

The controls are not as fine-tunable as on a hardware guitar synth, and you are restricted to only two zones, but it is still a lot fun. Ableton allows this only if you run MIDI Guitar 2 in its standalone mode, not as a plug-in.

Fig. 2. Creating a bass-note sample using Ableton Live’s Analog and Sampler.

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You can use MIDI Guitar 2 (or a hardware guitar synth system) to do other creative sound splitting using software samplers. I installed the MIDI Guitar 2 plug-in on an Ableton audio track and Live’s Sampler on a MIDI track (see Figure 2). I set the Sampler track to receive MIDI from the Jam Origin plug-in. I don’t own many samples, so I first created one by using MIDI Guitar 2 to play a bass note on Ableton’s Analog plug-in, and recorded it to a clip on another track. I then dragged that audio clip into the first zone in the Sampler’s Zone window. By dragging the bar under the piano keys at the top of the window, I set that sample to sound only when I played notes on the guitar below a certain range.

I used the same method to create a pad-like sound, also with Analog. I once again recorded it and dragged it to the next zone in Sampler. I restricted its triggering to notes above the bass sample so they wouldn’t sound at the same time. Just for fun, I dragged a sample containing audio of a preacher railing about “missiles and atomic bombs” into another zone that was set to sound when I played higher on the upper strings. The trick is to set all the trigger points close enough to reach on the neck, without overlapping.

Controlling a sampler with your guitar can send you down interesting avenues: I have audio files of my nerve endings being tested, a boat’s access ramp creaking, and Native American chanting that I drop into individual zones and play in real time for live “musique concrète.”

Whether you use a hardware or software guitar-synth setup is up to you and your pocketbook, but splitting your MIDI guitar-synth signal with either one can open up a wealth of creative possibilities.