So, why does a USB cable on a guitar make sense? While it’s not for everyone, basically it lets you plug and play your instrument without a need for clunky audio interfaces. High-quality audio, no muss, no fuss: for many people, that’s a very good thing. And, yes, while that eliminates the use of outboard effects pedals, the main draw is for people focusing on their computer for effects and recording.
As many have observed, one advantage here is not long transmission lengths. If that’s what you have in mind, Gibson’s Digital Guitar, due next year, does make some sense. By sending audio over Ethernet, the Gibson Digital Les Paul is able to acheive higher transmission distances than analog cabling or USB, and more reliably so than wireless. The Gibson also gives you the option of controlling the signal from each pickup (one on each string), if that’s what you want. The real problem with the Gibson is that it’s not quite digital. You need a breakout box at the other end, and that gives you analog outputs — meaning to connect to a computer, you need an audio interface, too. Maybe I’ve got something wrong, but if that’s the case, Gibson, get some real digital outs on there before you ship next year, okay?
USB is not going to supplant the 1/4″ jack any time soon. All the Brian Moore guitars have 1/4″ jacks (and additionally, RMC connectors, which also provide individual signal from each string). And computer-centered guitarists also have excellent audio interfaces in the form of Line6’s TonePort (which started shipping today), IK Multimedia’s StompIO hardware for AmpliTube, and Native Instruments’ new hardware in Guitar Rig 2. And while theoretically these are all competing solutions, NI, IK, and Brian Moore have one goal in common: getting guitarists to get over their computer phobia. The fact that you’re reading this site means you probably don’t have that problem, but much of the guitar market still does.
What many of us are waiting for in terms of real simplicity is audio and MIDI traveling over the same connection. My guess is, that’s not far in the future. NI’s Guitar Rig 2 is already carrying audio and MIDI as are many keyboards; guitars may soon, too. The technical problems are more likely in integrating audio-to-MIDI conversion than transferring them over USB — the latter is not a big deal.
While we wait for someone to figure out integrated MIDI (my money is on Brian Moore, since Yamaha and Roland seem to have lost interest), we’ve got some great software and hardware for guitarists. I still maintain that the computer is a superb accessory for many guitarists. Us keyboardists have been enjoying this computer revolution for a long time. Watch for lots more laptop-toting guitarists soon.
@AES: Digital Guitar Stompbox Smackdown (A look at NI’s Guitar Rig 2 and IK’s AmpliTube 2)