Sunday, November 22, 2009

Roland Guitar Synthesizers

Roland Corporation has led the field in producing electronic music products. In the decades of 1970 and 1980 Roland began researching a way to use a guitar as the controller for a synthesizer. They had already produced a successful line of keyboard synthesizers.

The GR500 system in 1978 was Roland's mass produced guitar synthesizer. The GS500 guitar controller was made by Ibanez and fitted with Roland electronics. It used a 24-way cable to connect it to the GR500 synthesizer unit.
In 1980 Roland designed the GR-100 system. The line included three types of guitar controllers in many different finishes: the G505 which was a Strat style with three guitar pickups.
Another version was named the G202. It featured dual humbuckers was designed to look like a two pickup Strat. All of these controllers could operate the GR100 synthesizer.

They could also be used on the next synthesizer Roland developed and named the GR300. All of the guitar/controllers utilized a 24 way cable to connect to the synthesizer.

The biggest downside of these early guitar controllers was tracking. If you played too fast the synthesizer could not read the signal in real time. There was definitely an art to playing these early instruments.

The GS808 was an upgraded version of the GS303. The unseen electronic circuit boards mounted within the guitars enabled signal processing to interface with the synth unit. The most visible part was the hex pickup which was mounted between the bridge and the bridge pickup. Roland designated this unit the GK-1.

They also produced a stand alone version of the GK-1 that was sold separately and could be mounted on any guitar to make that guitar into a controller. This has evolved into the modern version called the GK-3.
In 1984 Roland came up with a new design based on keyboard synthesizer technology. The GR-700 utilized a Digital Sound Recognition (DSR) system which allowed the guitar controller to convert the guitar sounds into synthesizer sounds without loosing track of the player’s picking style.

This was uniquely different than the style one would find on a keyboard. All of the guitar controllers prior to the GR-700 utilized a hex pickup and hex fuzz to sustain the notes. The DSR system was Roland’s first step to MIDI or musical instrument digital interface.

This unit enabled the player to a world of new options that were never before found on traditional electric guitars. You could use the internal sound bank or create and save your own sounds. A player was able to utilize different strings for different purposes.

For example you could play a chord on the bottom three strings and press the hold switch to sustain the chord. You could then play a lead part on the top three strings.

To match this new guitar synthesizr was a new guitar controller that was unlike the other units. It was the G707. Like a keyboard synth, there was a bend feature on this unit that would drop or raise the note. The player had new control over dynamics and color of the sound.
Additionally the chromatic function enabled the player to play a complete chromatic scale similar to what could only be done on a keyboard. The G707 added a stabilizer bar running from the top of the neck to the bottom.
This was designed to defeat "dead spots" on the guitar where a neck might not send full tracking info to the floor unit.

Whether it was useful or not...who knows? But it sure looks cool!

For this series Roland also developed a bass synth controller called the G77 which matched the bass synthesizer, the GR77B.

Here is The Guess Who with Randy Bachman playing a Roland GR505   

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