Review: Fishman TriplePlay Wireless Guitar Controller

February 5, 2014
The most popular MIDI guitar systems tend to be those with ready access to a good set of sounds and minimal bells and whistles. Most are floor units that basically let you connect any guitar and instantly enjoy playing lush pads, a brass section, or a Fender Rhodes piano—all without having to delve into any of the geekery that MIDI is heir to. Things get more complicated when you want to sequence and play virtual instruments, not to mention the hassle of being tethered to an audio cord and the obligatory 13-pin DIN cable.

Fishman’s TriplePlay Wireless Guitar Controller system represents an alternative that is not only more capable than typical MIDI guitar rigs, but provides as close to instant gratification as electronic music will allow, and dispenses with the cable clutter. As with many MIDI guitar-and-synthesizer packages, TriplePlay combines a pickup, MIDI converter, and a generous library of high quality sounds. Just add your guitar and a computer with a USB 2 port (Mac OS 10.6.8 Snow Leopard or later; Windows Win 7 or later, 32-bit or 64-bit). Fishman touts an effective wireless range of over 100 feet. I tested it out to about 35 feet, and it worked flawlessly at that distance. The main components of the system are the hexaphonic magnetic pickup—which houses the transmitter and the control unit—and a USB module that incorporates the receiver and the converter. Unlike some hex pickups, TriplePlay’s does not carry an audio signal, although the software lets you route and process audio.
The package also includes mounting paraphernalia and a small, illustrated pamphlet detailing mounting and proper setup of the unit on the guitar. Included are a bunch of pads of different thicknesses for surface-mounting the pickup at the right height beneath the strings (a gauge is provided to confirm the proper distance). If the curvature of your guitar surface makes flat mounting difficult, Fishman provides additional mounting hardware, including an adjustable bracket that mounts on Tune-o-Matic-type bridges; this was my choice to mount the pickup on my recently purchased Epiphone Genesis Deluxe Pro. The pickup controls can also surface-mount or sit on one of two endpin-bracket mounts, which is a desirable option if you want to avoid messing with your guitar’s finish.

Fishman bundles several useful programs to get you started, including a small handful of nice virtual instruments. These are directly available from the Fishman website, once you register. Native Instruments supplies Komplete Elements: basically pared-down versions of Kontakt and Reaktor, along with Guitar Rig LE. The included synth patches have been tweaked to work well with guitar technique—a bonus, if you’ve ever tried to tame a synth’s response to MIDI guitar. You also get IK Multimedia SampleTank 2.5 XT with a useful complement of sounds.

Fishman sweetens the pot further with optional, free downloads of Notion Music Progression—a notation and tablature program—and Presonus Studio One Pro 2 Artist, a remarkably full-featured DAW. Because of its intuitive operation and general ease of use, the latter is a great choice for bringing guitarists into the MIDI sequencing fold.

You download the Fishman TriplePlay application, which can only be installed after loading the Native Instruments and IK Multimedia software. Already having a full version of Komplete on my computer, I became a bit impatient that installing the synths was a prerequisite, but in fact, it is Fishman’s way of ensuring that TriplePlay hooks into a viable, plug ’n’ play sound library. One slight hitch: the SampleTank library must be stored on the system drive; a drag if you want to store the supporting samples elsewhere. Hopefully, IK Multimedia will remedy this in a future update. Pairing the pickup and receiver is easy: Power up the pickup, hold down the red, flashing button on the receiver or the flashing button on the pickup until the receiver button stops flashing. Thereafter, getting the receiver online when powering up the pickup is instantaneous and reliable. The pickup draws power from its USB connection, and has a mini-b USB connector for charging. A full charge lasts about 20 hours, so there’s little chance that you’d ever lose power during a gig.

While waiting for the software to download, I jumped the gun, and launched Applied Acoustic’s Lounge Lizard 4 (a physically modeled electric piano) and started to pluck away with no access to the TriplePlay software that tweaks the tracking of the pickup. Nevertheless it tracked beautifully— faster than my other MIDI converters, and with perceptibly less glitching.

Installing and registering of the instruments was simple, and subsequent installation of the TriplePlay app was equally easy. TriplePlay works as a standalone program and also as an AU and VST plug-in. Once you launch TriplePlay, the program instantly scans for the pickups, and a colorcoded meter in the center of the user interface adjusts each string’s sensitivity. Pick a string, and its meter provides a visual index for any adjustments you need to make. The idea is to get each string hitting in the bottom range of the red lights of the meter for a good overall dynamic response.

Just below the graph are indicators for battery charge, and a pair of lights indicating sustain- pedal messages and MIDI data, respectively. Below that, you can toggle the display between the pickup levels and a tuner. The patch you’ve selected is on the left, comprising a slot for processing the guitar’s audio signal, four synths, and a control-pedal input via an external MIDI controller. File menu options and patch-selection menus appear as highlighted icons near the right corner of the left panel.
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