After all that fuss with USB and FireWire guitars carrying audio, what a lot of guitarists want to be able to do is just to plug their guitar into MIDI so they can trigger soft synths without a keyboard. Aside from instruments like the Brian Moore iGuitar, as of last week you have a new option:

Hoag Guitars Optical Guitars MIDI-Max, via

I mentioned the optical guitars in my Unusual New Guitar Tech roundup in January, but since then Hoag has added MIDI capabilities to his guitars. You’ll notice that’s not a MIDI jack in the photos; it’s a 13-pin connection as found on the Brian Moore instruments. You’ll have to plug this into a box with MIDI out, but that’s generally the most flexible solution (even if it does mean you have to carry another device like the Roland GI-20).

The Website is a little hard to follow, but here’s my big question: has anyone gotten to play these? Are they any good? The only guitars of this type I’ve seen in the wild are Brian Moore’s.

  • DHM

    Godin offers many of its guitars with 13-pin outputs. Around here they're much more common than the Brian Moore instruments.

  • Yes…I own a couple of Godins and they are highly recommended. The synth tracking is the best I have experienced (IMHO), but like all synth-guitars it really comes down to a clean technique. Ultimately, it would be nice to ditch the Roland interface, but the technology has improved so much (and come down in price) since I started playing synth-guitar that I am not really sure what would be gained. I can't really see any more converts to synth-guitar because anyone who wants to play one is probably already playing one (instead of buying another Marshall stack) – the only way I would ditch my current set-up is if it could be proven to me that these new technologies improve on note tracking, etc. (i.e. allow me to play with sloppier technique!). As an aside, The current Roland GI-20 interface already has a USB output (which I prefer to MIDI) to control my computer soft synths.

    My (CDN) two cents.

    P.S. Props must go to Roland for keeping the faith that at least some of us guitarists are still interested in the guitar to MIDI (USB) connection

  • Tom

    There's also the Fender 'Roland Ready' strat, and the Parker Midi Fly.

    The Ron Hoad stuff just seems to be one guy, with one guitar, and optical tech that he patented in the '60s. If you look at this press release:
    and this one:
    it's exactly the same guitar. Between April 26 and June 2, he's put in the MIDI pickup and sent out another press release.

  • It's definitely just one guy. But then, one guy can make a fine instrument — I just don't know, not having heard of anyone who's used them.

    Thanks for the info on the Godin!

    And from what I've heard from Roland, they are very committed to this solution. I mean, it would be potentially nice to have MIDI onboard (I think Brian Moore said they were even looking at that), but you get some additional versatility out of going through the GI-20 box, and it works, so if it ain't broke . . .

  • Mies van der Robot

    To take things one step further, I play a 6-string electric cello that has the 13-pin Roland interface.

    And speaking of versatility, I have a fanout box made by RMC pickups that can split and route the individual string signals in a variety of interesting ways.

  • richardl

    Another plug for Godin. I use a Godin Freeway SA ax with a Roland GR-20. It's a great guitar and not very expensive, and a great combo with the Roland box.

    In addition to the Roland GK to MIDI interfaces, the AXON AX100 is back in production by Terratec Producer now as the Mk II. The AXON supposedly does analysis of the picking transient as well as pitch detection like the Roland. The AXON also allows you to custom map different parts of the fretboard and different strings.

  • maiz

    Yamaha ez eg and ez ag

    From the bargain bin

    (If synth and not guitar is your priority)


  • I also used to have a Godin and their Synth Access technology they've worked with Roland was excellent the times I've had access to their effects boards.

    Yes you can split the strings into different sounds, and the tracking is relatively good.

  • Tom

    The Parker Midifly seems to have on-board MIDI, at a fairly spectacular price. I'm not sure they're still in production, but I know the Chemical Brothers play one:

  • Glitch

    For flawless MIDI tracking, you just can't beat the various "ultrasonic" (and similar) guitar interfaces introduced during the late 80's and early 90's, such as the Yamaha G-10/G-10C, Beetle Quantar, or SynthAxe. Of course, the downside is that these are all pure MIDI controllers and make no sound on their own, so many guitarists dislike them.

    I regularly use the G-10, and it performs superbly; no "pitch-to-glitch" whatsoever. It tracks as quickly as I can play, with no whacked notes. And while the SynthAxe still goes for silly prices due to its reputation, the Yamaha can be seen on Ebay occasionally for much more reasonable costs.

    And, to give Roland its just due, I do use one of their 13-pin GK-3's on my Chapman Stick. However, I use it in conjunction with Roland's VG-series Harmonic Restructuring technology, which is fricking genius. Like the dedicated MIDI guitars I mentioned previously, the VG stuff also tracks lightning fast with no glitches (and, why not, it's merely restructuring the waveforms my strings are already generating). And all the standard performance tricks — bends, harmonics, double-stops, Ebow/Sustainiac, etc. — they all translate perfectly. Unfortunately, it's never been nearly so popular as their standard GR/GI-series MIDI stuff.


  • brad

    I have a Godin ACS nylon that tracks quite well, but definitely has that wide neck classicla feel – good for piano and string parts, but when you cut back to the guitar pickup it's all nylon, no string bending.

    My main guitar for MIDI is a Jay Turser 335 copy. The neck and frets are amazingly straight and accurate, so I gutted the stock pickups and pots, and put in some Seymour Duncan 59's, then added an RMC saddle w/ a 13 pin output. It's fantastic! I play it with a GR-33,and gig with it at least 2 times a week, either in a duo with a sax (walking bass on strings 6/5 and playing keyboards, vibes, organ, etc., on strings 4/1), or with a trio or quartet, swapping between keyboard parts and guitar parts. You can even lay down string pads and stuff behind your guitar solos. I love it!

  • Would it be possible contact with Mies van der Robot ? Anyone has his email to ask to him about electric cello and working about midi ?