I’ve been using computers to compose music since the early ’80s, so I’m a devotee of synthesis in general, and guitar synths in particular. In fact, I built my first system in 1980 out of an Imsai 88 8-bit computer that controlled a Serge modular synthesizer, and I can tell you this right now: I LOVE the EastWest/Fishman partnership and what it has done for guitar synthesis.
I know it might be strange for a reviewer to start off with a conclusion, but, you see, as a guitar player, I’ve been somewhat frustrated by guitar synths over the years—even as Roland, Korg, and other manufacturers have made great strides with some wonderful products. This is totally due to my personal playing style, but if you’re like me, you want an easy-to-use guitar synth that tracks performance gestures accurately and without glitches, and that allows you to strut around freely with all the “guitar star moves” that attracted you to the instrument in the first place.
The Fishman TriplePlay Wireless Guitar Controller—reviewed in the December 2013 issue of GP—remains a gamechanger in that it doesn’t ball-and-chain your urge to dance around and rock hard. But what really makes this system a sensational synthesis synergy is the EastWest MIDI Guitar Series. EastWest has produced brilliant sound libraries for years, and now the MIDI Guitar Series brings those incredible samples to guitarists with everything arranged and optimized for seamless integration, and virtually imperceptible latency, with the Fishman TriplePlay.
THE PRICE OF ADMISSION
Assuming that you already have a guitar and a DAW-based recording system ready to go, the EastWest collection is currently arranged in five volumes—Orchestra, Ethnic & Voices, Soundscapes, Guitar & Bass, Keys & Perc—costing $149 (street) each. A Fishman TriplePlay goes for $399 (street). So newbies can dip their fretting fingers into guitar synthesis for as little as $549 (a TriplePlay and one EastWest volume), or sound zealots can go all in for $1,144 (a TriplePlay and the complete EastWest collection).
GETTING TO WORK
There’s not much of a learning curve here. Load your selected Guitar Series patches into the TriplePlay software, and the virtual instruments are automatically configured with recommended function settings such as touch sensitivity, vibrato, and pitch bend. Although your personal approach may require you to tweak some parameters to match your performance needs, this “auto configure” feature gets you started right away.
Although users must load the EastWest instruments from the Fishman TriplePlay software preset menu to access the special programming for this series, the EastWest Play software inside is a system wide “mission control” for modifying the EastWest instruments, and there are tons of options (see Fig. 1). An 8-channel mixer lets you stack different sounds for tremendously cool textures, and the FX routing for each channel is so comprehensive your head just might explode. You get an SSL channel strip with EQ, compression, a transient shaper, and a noise gate/expander, as well as an SSL stereo bus compressor, an amplifier simulator, and a convolution reverb. It’s pure bliss for producers and audio-engineering geeks, but even if you’ve never messed around much with studio signal processors, the sound-sculpting options should make you dizzy in a good way (see Fig. 2). Just twist those virtual knobs and have fun!
The EastWest Guitar Series volumes—excepting some brand new electric and acoustic guitars—are collections of previously available sounds. Yes. The computer-music nerds got them first, but all the patches are astounding with richly nuanced timbres, life-like animation (in an aural sense of ambience, attack, and decay), and cinematic impact, so once you start playing parts with your guitar, you’ll cease caring about anything else but the wondrous sounds you’re constructing.
For example, I am currently scoring an indie Web series about gangs in Asia and San Francisco called Gold Mountain (ikeibifilms.com), and I need a lot of ethnic instruments. Using EastWest’s Ethnic & Voices volume, I not only found a guzheng and a shamisen (from China), as well as a tar (from Iran), I was able to blend the sounds together and use guitar vibrato to produce strange, yet organic underscores for the series trailer (which you can see at guitarplayer.com—just search for “gold mountain”). In addition, I found some taiko drums that I layered to produce a huge percussion part that really shook my innards. In the five volumes currently available, I wasn’t stumped for a sound once, and being able to add amp sims and aggressive EQ to, say, cellos and marimbas, is really inspiring.
As an independent composer and producer, I am often burdened with limited budgets from independent film and television clients who want a massive orchestral score, but who don’t have the money to hire an orchestra—or even a string quartet that could be layered and overdubbed. With the EastWest libraries in hand, however, I can deliver almost any sound imaginable—from large string ensembles to solo cellos, sitars to didgeridoos, astral pads to Gamelon boxes and Moroccan darubakas, nylon-string guitars to fuzz basses, and Mellotrons to glockenspiels—and create sonic visuals all on my own. And, of course, all of this happens with a guitar in my hands, which makes me a very happy composer. soundsonline.com