Casio MIDI Guitar
Mark Warford reluctantly hangs up his Kramer for Casios new MIDI controller-and is pleasantly surprised
A musician's paradise, from Dire Straits to Debussy to AC/DC, at the touch of a button and the turn of a dial. It sounds too good to be true, but it's all possible with the CASIO PG-380 MIDI GUITAR - 64 on-board sounds, a further 128 available with RAM Cards and the facility to tap into a whole wealth of external sound sources thanks to the MIDI OUT port.
With an affection for guitars normally limited to vintage Fenders, I approached this instrument with apprehension but, after having tried other guitar synths in the past, two hours of one on one changed everything. I was surprised at the overall sound and playability of this guitar.
Taking the guitar in its basic form, it provides the player with everything the modern guitarist needs. According to a Technical spokesperson (who introduces himself as 294), the pickups are Floyd Rose and comprise two single coil (middle and front) and one PAF Humbucking (bridge). The actual guitar is manufactured by a Japanese company, Fuji.
Casio have bought in a Strat copy and added the guitar to MIDI circuitry and the internal sound source.
Unlike most Guitar synths on the market, the PG-380 is also quite a respectable guitar in it's own right with all the standard controls you'd expect to see. Switching is accomplished by a standard Strat-type five way selector, giving the player access to a whole range of sounds from soul to hard rock. Of the three control knobs the top and bottom refer directly to the guitar in its passive state, while the middle knob controls the volume of the synthesizer. The bottom tone control was fitted as a coil tap and had only a minor treble effect when switched.
The guitar also comes with a Floyd Rose tremolo unit as standard, although given the high cost of the unit it would be nice to have a choice. At the other end of the neck, Schaler-type machine heads provide the tuning before immobilising the strings with a locking nut. Construction-wise the guitar is solid and heavy, so bench pressing 100 lbs before a gig is a good idea.
The four bolt maple neck and ebony fingerboard are beautifully finished and although the review model I received was strung very high, playing the instrument was never hard work and allowed for great sustain and clarity.
The on-board MIDI equipment is more than adequate for this type of instrument. As well as the eight program buttons, the front panel contains an angled LED indicator for easier pre-set selection - really useful if you are playing sitting down. Foot switching has to be the obvious choice in this case but is sadly omitted. Something for future models perhaps. Also included is an octave selector and a chromatic tuner, the latter of which is a blessing if you've ever wanted to check your tuning in the middle of a song while receiving deathlike stares from the keyboard player (who, as we know, never goes out of tune!).
The octave selector is of main use on the string sounds where, for example, a cello sound played at the third fret can become a violin just by shifting the pitch up accordingly.
The presets are grouped in blocks of eight, comprising variations on the same sound, such as eight bass sounds, eight string sounds, etc...
The tracking delay makes life very difficult when using the bass sounds. A definite and uniform attack is needed when striking the strings to prevent notes disappearing.
However, playing technique is not so restrictive on the other sounds, such as strings and brass, because the sustain on a note is that much greater.
Additional sounds can be added very neatly by inserting RAM Cards in a clever trap door located on the back of the body. Although the sounds are very rich on their own the best sounds are achieved when the guitar in its straight form is rolled up and mixed with string backing from the sound generator.
As a recording tool, this instrument is invaluable to guitarists who want keyboard sounds, but just cannot get on with those little black and white keys. In its own right the drawbacks are its weight and the tracking delay on a few of the sounds.
As a sequencing tool it could prove invaluable for guitarists who of synths. Plus of course you have access to a whole wealth of voices and samples thanks to the inclusion of a MIDI OUT socket. Shame, though that there was no MIDI IN to go with it as you won't be able to play back from the sequencer. If that's what you had in mind for this set-up then make sure you have enough money left over for a MIDI sound expander (a Roland MT-32 for instance).
Also be warned that using a guitar as a MIDI input device will use up your computer's memory like nobody's business due to the extra use of pitch bending and modulation effects as each variation in pitch counts as one step to a sequencer.
Having said that, it is by far the best of the avalanche of guitar synths we've seen over the past six of seven years. The price is high but the creative possibilities are endless. It's never going to conver the die-hard player of the old school but it is definitely going to recruit a new generation along the way.
Product: Casio PG-380 MIDI Guitar Synth
Supplier: Casio Electronics
Review by Mark Warford
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