Patrick Cummings, President of Brian Moore Guitars, conducted an informal clinic at Coffey Music in Westminster, MD on Wednesday evening 30 April 2003. Teen sk8trboyz (with decks and helmets in tow), middle aged professional hobbyists, and gray-bearded, pony-tailed bikers with plenty of ink and denim – about a dozen or so in all – all gathered to see and hear the presentation. With genuine warmth and enthusiasm (and major-league guitar chops in a number of styles!), Cummings talked about the use of technology as a tool to inspire creativity and expand musical and professional opportunities for guitarists.
Playing on a “three voice” I-series solid body, he demonstrated some of the various magnetic pickup configurations of the guitar’s electric ‘voice.’ Cummings used a Mesa Boogie Dual RectoVerb combo amp and produced tones ranging from a nicely balanced, warm rhythm tone on the neck pickup, to a springy, chicken pickin’ tone with tapped single coils. He told the audience that he didn’t bring a distortion pedal and joked that no one really needed to hear him bash out heavy metal licks. Unfortunately, he never got around to showing the guitars ability to ‘sing’ in a high-gain, sustain or ‘crunch’ in a rock rhythm role. This demonstration merely hinted at the versatility that one would expect from a guitar that lists for about $1000 U.S.
He then switched to a piezo pickup (by RMC) that is built into the bridge saddles to show off the guitar’s acoustic ‘voice’. After rolling off the magnetic pickup volume and turning up the piezo output, he strummed and arpeggiated a standard open G chord to reveal a very convincing acoustic presence through his “demo amp du jour”, a Crate acoustic amp. Finger-style chord / melody lines and single-note flat picking sounded equally solid when EQ’d and seasoned with a touch of reverb. The heart of this voice is the piezo transducer, made by RMC. Each string’s bridge saddle has a gold-tipped crystal unit that detects the full frequency range of the strings vibrations. The output of the individual strings are summed, and sent to a stereo output jack. This allows for the separate routing of electric and acoustic sounds because, as Cummings opined, playing an acoustic through an electric amp sounds “about as good as an AM radio”. This high quality piezo unit also serves as the pickup for the guitar’s third voice.
Lastly, he turned down the piezo output and turned up the control he referred to as the ‘fun’ knob (the volume control to the iGuitar’s 13 pin GK pickup output) to demonstrate the guitar’s third voice. Controlling a Roland GR-33 guitar synthesizer, Cummings played a handful of very interesting synth patches solo, blended in with the magnetic output, blended with the piezo output, and all three voices blended together. Showing that the technology of guitar synthesis has vastly improved over products from 10 or 20 years ago, he demonstrated what was, essentially, flawless tracking by blending a saxophone patch on the synth with the magnetic output. There were no noticeable delays or glitching as he ran scales up and down the neck at a considerable tempo. While simply finger picking an open G chord, a very nice wash of synth strings welled up underneath to generate a sonic palette that one teen player described as ‘all warm and fuzzy’.
Cummings suggested that a fully capable midi tool like the iGuitar could open up opportunities for guitarists to make some money by finding work more typically performed by keyboard players such as scoring video documentaries or commercials. His example of a ‘shark week’ promo was especially convincing in this regard.
Cummings then described a little about the Brian Moore line of guitars and basses. He talked about US custom shop guitars that are hand made in New York. He characterized these as professional quality instruments in the $3000 US range. He showed a gorgeous custom shop guitar with an “11” flamed maple top and a solar system inlay on the neck and indicated that many more custom shop creations could be viewed on the Brian Moore website. He also talked about his iGuitar line, made in a very high-quality factory in Asia with guitars starting in the sub-$1000 US range. While obviously very proud of his company and its products, he was very understated in his delivery and wasn’t at all the ‘pushy salesman’. More details about the entire Brian Moore line are available on their website, http://www.brianmooreguitars.com/
In addition to the sonic possibilities of the three-voice system, Cummings demonstrated a new software package by Sibelius that allows a guitarist to route the midi output from a guitar synth into a computer and have the computer transcribe the music to standard musical notation, tab, or both in real-time! Once captured, the music can be transposed, corrected, and notated with chord diagrams, lyrics, etc. the performance can also be played back as a midi file to drive any midi sound source. Coupled with sequencer or digital recording software, a guitarist could build up a multipart musical composition layer by layer all from their familiar fret board. Attendees were wowed by the speed, and accuracy of the transcription software as even the speediest single note runs showed up on the staff in a flash. Cummings’ jazzy finger style performance, with alternating thumbed bass notes and off beat chord stabs, almost immediately showed up on the screen exactly as performed.
Mr. Cummings concluded his informal remarks with an invitation to all in attendance to step up and take a test drive of the guitar and synth. As an inducement to overcome shyness of playing in front of strangers, he offered a pack of Elixir strings to anyone who played the guitar. The writer eventually gave it a try and found the guitar to be quite playable and the numerous controls very intuitive. The neck was fast with a thickness and width that felt somewhere in between a Les Paul and a Strat. Its shape felt more like a “C” than a “U” or “V”. The tonal varieties from the electric voice were substantial, yet responsively subtle and nuanced. (too bad there was no ‘lead channel’ available on that Boogie – I think it’s a misdemeanor in some states to play a Boogie without trying some Santana-esque sustain phrases). The acoustic voice was bright in its attack, but also remarkably warm in its sustain, without any of the “quack” frequently associated with piezo pickups. It responded very nicely to differences both in fretting-finger vibrato and picking-finger / flat pick attack. The synth voice was flat out fun to play, instantly conjuring a nearly endless vista of possibilities. From smokey Middle Eastern bazaars (tabla and sitar, mizmar) to outback walkabouts (didgeridoo and bamboo flute); from funky Fender Rhodes to gritty Hammond B3, warm string pads to wailing sax lines – one could play this thing for months and never run out of inspiration to create something new.