CGI Slide Guitar

A perfect-for-the-studio variant on slide guitar that combines guitar and minimal keyboard skills.
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In the movies, CGI stands for “computer-generated imagery.” But, here, it stands for a “computer-generated instrument” that relates to slide guitar.

Yes, I can play slide. And I can play keyboards—sort of. (If my keyboard technique was a car, it would be a Yugo). But, for the studio, here’s a variant on slide guitar that combines guitar and minimal keyboard skills. Although traditional slide allows for far more nuanced playing, the keyboard-meets-slide approach produces unique sounds that recall steel and slide guitar.

To hear what this sounds like, go to https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/craiganderton, and click on the free preview of the song, “Play the Game, Spygirl.” (The solo at the end is a real guitar, by the way—keyboards can’t do that.)

CREATE YOUR INSTRUMENT

Open your recording software, and record a major and minor chord in all 12 keys. Let the chords ring out as long as possible, and leave a space between each chord. Split the chords into individual samples with a short fadeout (around 200ms) so that a chord fades out, rather than just stops dead. You might also want to record some individual notes, so you can have a few notes available that aren’t chords.

Next, map the samples to keyboard keys. How to do this varies for different programs. Sample One (Fig. 1) is fairly typical. You drag in the samples, specify each sample’s root note, and the note range over which it plays (which will be a single keyboard key for each chord).

Fig. 1—Guitar chords hosted by PreSonus Studio One’s Sample One instrument. The attack time in the
 Amp section affects all samples to give more of a steel-guitar sound.

Fig. 1—Guitar chords hosted by PreSonus Studio One’s Sample One instrument. The attack time in the  Amp section affects all samples to give more of a steel-guitar sound.

THE CGI SLIDE TECHNIQUE

Create the slide by moving the pitch-bend wheel. For example, start with the wheel rolled back, hit a key to trigger a chord, and then slide up to the chord’s original pitch by returning the pitch wheel to center. Or, hit the key and bend down or up before returning to pitch.

Samplers can specify a pitch-bend range. Narrow ranges (like ±2 semitones) make it easier to hit pitches precisely, but a range like ±12 semitones allows for long slides and pseudo-whammy bar effects. Of course, because you’re triggering the chords and bends with MIDI data, you can edit your playing after the fact if you have Yugo-level keyboard skills. You can also add an attack time so the sound fades in like using a volume pedal with steel guitar, and if you want to slide from one chord up or down to another, you can use glide (portamento) instead of the pitch-bend wheel.

Most synthesizer patches use the modulation wheel to add vibrato, but—hey—you’re a guitar player! Wiggle the pitch-bend wheel instead, which will sound more human than a synthesizer vibrato. Put this all together, and you’ll end up with a cool sound that has a guitar’s organic timbre, but the precision of an electronic instrument.

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