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The Glory of the Toy-Like Stealth MIDI Guitar Controller

May 15, 2012
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The YRG -1000 looks like a game controller because it is one. But its secret identity is a stealth MIDI guitar controller.
When I first saw the YRG -1000 You Rock Guitar, I thought it was a toy. But despite looking like a refugee from the Guitar Hero video game, it’s a surprisingly accurate and inexpensive MIDI controller. The neck’s “frets” and “strings” are raised plastic, although they do feel quite comfortable and string-like. You pluck the YRG-1000’s six short strings to trigger notes, and as there’s no need to detect string pitch, there’s no significant latency. You can’t bend the “strings” or do natural vibrato, but there’s a vibrato tailpiece that’s a guitar version of a keyboard pitch-bend wheel, as well as a joystick that’s like a mod wheel.

Some guitarists will be forever put off because the YRG-1000 ($199 street) is not a real guitar, but it’s very cool for triggering virtual instruments—if it’s tweaked properly. Here are some tips…

USB vs. 5-pin DIN. The YRG-1000 can output MIDI over USB (ideal for computers, and also powers the guitar), or a standard 5-pin DIN connector for triggering hardware synthesizers.

Read the manual. Seriously. Multiple adjustments allow customizing the response to your playing style. It may take a couple of hours of trial-and-error to get these adjustments right, but setting them properly can make the difference between frustrating triggering problems and nearperfect response.

 
Six guitar instruments have been loaded into Native Instruments Kontakt 5. As the YRG -1000 is in Mono mode, the six instruments each respond to one channel, which corresponds to one “string” on the controller. For the best response each “string” is limited to playing only one note, like a real guitar string.
Tap mode.
This playing method suits the YRG-1000 very well, as the “frets” and “strings” are essentially switches. Again, adjust the response for best results.

Set up your synth properly. How you set up a synthesizer is crucial, and very few MIDI guitar players seem to know this. The YRG-1000 has four Mono mode presets, where each string transmits over its own MIDI channel. These can be channels 1-6 or 7-12, or the reverse (channel 1 or channel 7 can be either the first or sixth string).

There are two mono-mode advantages. First, you can assign a separate synthesizer sound to each string—such as a bass for the lower strings, and a piano for the upper strings. Second, if you can restrict each sound to allow only one note at a time (like a real guitar string, but not all synths let you do this), the result is a more guitar-like feel and better tracking.

The limitation of the YRG-1000’s Mono mode is that the virtual whammy bar doesn’t send pitch-bend data over all six channels at once (a planned firmware update will address this). But as the controller can save presets, you can create some Mono mode presets for instruments such as piano, vibes, pads, and the like where you tend to play chords without bending. Then, you can create other presets that send all data over channel 1 (with pitch bend messages) for solo instruments such as wind, brass, and the like where pitch-bending is an important part of the playing style.

If you’re into MIDI guitar—or want to be—don’t ignore the You Rock Guitar. It does indeed rock.

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