Dod/IVL Pitchrider 7000 Mk.2
IVL's Pitchrider assessed
MIDI Guitar gains a new contender from Canada. Jerry Uwins investigates.
The original IVL Pitchrider first made an appearance — as a mono unit, I believe, primarily for brass and woodwind instruments — some two or three years ago. Whether by design or coincidence, those pre-production efforts presaged the outward signs of committed investment by various manufacturers to develop workable guitar-to-MIDI systems not requiring a dedicated controller guitar. Today the market offers three such systems: the German-made Shadow (also OEM'd by guitar manufacturers such as Takamine and Ovation), Roland's GM70 MIDI Converter module and GK1 Synth Driver unit (either of which can also be used with Roland's already well established and dedicated Guitar Synthesiser/Controller system) and, now, the IVL Pitchrider (Midimaster) 7000 Mk.2. Visitors to the British Music Fair will recall that a Mk.1 was put through its paces on the Rhino stand — IVL's UK distributor.
So it was in mid-November that Rhino hosted a trade launch of the upgraded Mk.2 system. Due to the vagaries of transatlantic flight schedules (the IVL is made in Canada), and zealous Customs procedure on this side of the water, the new package wasn't on hand for me to see and hear played in anger. However, the differences between new and old are easy to identify, so we can at least give a reasoned appraisal, if not an in-depth critique, of what the Mk.2 is all about. Covering first its physical identity, the Pitchrider 7000 Mk.2 consists of two basic components. There's the control module - a 19" 1u depth rack unit - which processes the converted signal data and sends same via MIDI to the external sound source(s). And the pickup system. This, like the Roland GK1, requires no butchering of a much loved guitar, and consists of a height-adjustable magnetic pickup surface-mounted by sticky tabs between the bridge pickup and the bridge itself, connected to a small preamp box located in likewise fashion at the base of the instrument. Three pickups are available, according to the string width and spacing of the host guitar, and, simply stated, line up with either Gibson or Fender style instruments.
The system can be wired up in either of two ways. First, the guitar output can be routed to the preamp and onwards with the signal data to the 7000 module using the DIN cable supplied. The module's rear panel connections then send the MIDI data to the external sound source and the guitar sound via Line Out to the amplification system. Alternatively, the preamp can carry just the data for MIDI conversion, the guitar sound going direct from its normal output jack to a separate amp.
Spec-wise, the Mk.2 has some significant upgrades. Most important is the doubled speed of track recognition; i.e., how long the module takes to latch on to the pitch of note being played, etc. From a previous worst of 12ms, the Mk.2 will respond no slower than 6ms (that's down at the bass end of things), and when playing in the mid to upper registers delays will will be minimised to as little as 3ms. Whether this is now better than, worse than or the same as competitive systems isn't clear, but in isolation it must be regarded as a substantial and necessary improvement. The other modifications include string transpose limits upped from ± 1 to ± 3 octaves, hold, sustain and preset chain facilities, also accessible via optional footpedals; and battery memory backup to save performance parameters and MIDI assignments when tne unit is switched off.
A plus for IVL — which can be proved or otherwise when review samples become available — is the apparent user-friendliness of the system. Front-panel graphics are simple and easy to understand (no alien high-tech language to cope with), and the number of function buttons is kept to a minimum: just four in fact, working in conjunction with related banks of LED indicators and a central display. And for performance, the Pitchrider Mk.2 seems to offer all the expected facilities of current generation systems. For instance, the aforementioned ±3 octave string transpose can be assigned to individual strings in semitone increments for open tunings and overall pitch-shift intervals against the guitar sound, and the module can control (subject to bank balance) up to 16 external MIDI sound sources. In practice you'll probably stick at two or three, which would allow pretty versatile combinations of voice assignment to different strings or separate-string pitch bends. The range of pitch bend is up to 12 semitones, either chromatic or continuous. And when used with velocity sensitive devices the IVL has variable dynamics scaling not only to suit picking techniques but also to determine how much touch sensitivity you want translated to the guitar strings.
When powering up any guitar-to-MIDI system, it's essential (to avoid hospitalisation through stress-induced illness) to adjust string input sensitivity. IVL's way of doing it seems pretty neat. After switching on, you strum your guitar a few times with the level of attack more or less equal to your normal playing technique. The module interprets this and adjusts the sensitivity accordingly. If necessary - say for fingerpicking styles - fine adjustments to individual strings can be made via the front panel. The IVL also features a Sustain Limit facility and, like all such units, a master-tune (A440 to 460Hz) and individual string-tune reference. Of the latter, unless you're thrashing away or actually in the process of changing a parameter, the reference is always displayed in the central LED; hence quick tuning checks are straightforward, with no need for button-pushing. What you do is play any open string — the module senses which string is being plucked — and adjust tuning until two vertical LED bars are showing, which denote perfect pitch. Single vertical or horizontal bars to the left of centre denote degree of flatness; to the right, sharpness.
To complement performance capabilities, optional footswitch controllers will be available in due course. Apart from being able to use any momentary switch to control MIDI on/off or patch changes, there will be two versions. The MFS-40, coming on stream more or less at the same time as the 7000 itself (which is imminent, we understand), will look after MIDI bypass, sustain, hold and stepping through chains of up to 64m reset voices and patches — in banks of 16. The MFS-41 (no date on this one yet) will enable the user to foot-select type of pitch bend, transpose, MIDI on/off and start-triggering of external sequencers, rhythm machines etc.
What about prices? Well, the 7000 Mk.2 rack module hits the high street at £995.95 RRP, and you'll need to part with a further £99 or thereabouts for the pickup/preamp package. Footswitch controller prices have yet to be announced in detail, but the MFS-40 is expected to retail around £200. A monophonic version of the 7000, the Midimaster 4000, is also being launched with a price tag of £695. Looking to the future, IVL expect to be able to offer a pickup system for pedal-steels (that's an intriguing one!) and, in due course, a complete package for bass guitar.
How the IVL performs against its rivals remains to be seen. In its favour appears to be operational simplicity and up-to-par range of performance facilities — the former of which may find many friends amongst more analogue-minded guitarists. Its position in the price table looks, on paper at least, less favourable. At almost £1100, the IVL is some £200 more expensive than the Roland system (comparing like with like, excluding foot controllers) and up to £100 adrift of the Shadow — which does include a pedal board. Each system, however, will undoubtedly attract its own proponents amongst both dealers and players, and perceived prices may even out somewhat when it comes to parting with the readies, especially if it's all wrapped up as part of an overall offer including a MIDI synthesiser or expander box. Whatever the outcome of this chapter in the everyday story of guitar-to-MIDI folk, to the observer it's going to be an interesting contest to watch.
RRP £995.95 + extras (see text)
More on the IVL Pitchrider from Rhino Distribution Ltd,. (Contact Details).
Review by Jerry Uwins
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