A guitar synthesizer is a system consisting of a guitar controller interfaced with a synthesizer sound-module.
Such instruments afford the guitar player access to not only synthesized (or sampled) emulations of guitar sounds but also to a vast array of electronic tones and instrumental simulations. In this way, the guitarist can bring techniques, such as string bending, to the playing of synthesized sound, adding a new level of musically expressive control.
Early guitar synths
Early examples tended to be specially built instruments with proprietary electronics connecting them to analogue synthesizers, whereas modern systems offer guitar-to-midi pickups that can usually be retrofitted to any standard electric guitar. Adoption of the universally implemented industry-standard MIDI means that guitar players are able to connect their instrument to a wide variety of sound sources and devices.
The guitar synthesizer pickup is, in fact, an array of six monophonic pickups that track the vibration of each string independently. The challenge facing the designers of guitar synthesizer pickups is to capture all the nuances of electric-guitar playing technique, while rejecting extraneous sounds such as strings buzzing or unwanted finger-scraping noise.
There have been many different guitar synthesizers over the years, including the ill-fated, cumbersome and extremely expensive SynthAxe – not really a true guitar but a collection of controllers, grouped around six string sensors, fashioned to look like a bizarrely angular, futuristic guitar. One company, however, is particularly associated with guitar synthesis – Roland. Their first guitar synthesizer, the GR-500 appeared in 1977. Subsequent models, such as the GR-300, became classic instruments – mainly due to their use by innovative jazz guitarists such as John Abercrombie, Bill Frisell and most notably, Pat Metheny.