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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Feature Creep On A Guitar

Although I love vintage guitars and instruments as much as the next person, I also like to see new innovations as well, which is something that's been totally lacking for a number of years in the MI space. But then there's Gibson.

It's amazing how such a venerable guitar manufacturer and maker of such fine vintage instruments can get things so wrong on a consistent basis over the last decade or so. Let's start with the "digital guitar" which allowed each string to have it's own separate output. What's the purpose? Can anyone tell me? Can't for the life of me see how that could be useful.

Then there's the "robot guitar" that tunes itself. The only people that need this are beginners who don't know how to use a tuner, and they can't afford the $3,500 to $5,000 it takes to buy one.

Now comes another example of including features on an instrument that no player really needs with the new Firebird X. Not only is this one butt-ugly guitar (Gibson, how could you?), but it's filled with "features" that most players don't need. Like what, you might ask? How about all your stomp-box effects built into the guitar, for one. The thing is full of switches and sliders to control distortion, echo and modulation in an effort to get rid of all those pedals on the floor.

On the surface this might seem cool except for two problems. First, how do you switch these things in while your playing? That's what makes stomp-boxes so useful - you just use your foot to switch it in. The second thing is that the guitar is a maze. I'm pretty tech-oriented, but I couldn't figure the thing out to save my life in the brief time (about 15 minutes) that I spent with it. Granted, I didn't look at the manual, but why should you have to for a guitar?

Then you have the issue of a guitar that converts the analog output of the guitar to digital so it can process it, then converts it back to analog again. The last thing you need is two conversions in your signal path. There was a lot of great sounds back in the 50s, 60s and 70s that came just plugging a guitar directly into an amp with nothing in between. I can't image how converting the signal from analog to digital back to analog again can sound anything like what we'd consider close to a "good sound" today.

Finally, the thing costs $5,570 retail. You can buy a new reissue Firebird for about $1,600 and 10 great pedals and still come out way ahead.

The Firebird X is the type of thing that gives tech innovation a bad name in the MI world. I do like the fact that Gibson is at least trying to think somewhat outside the box, but guys, your engineer's need to a measure of constraint. Just give the people what they want - a reasonably priced guitar that plays well and sounds great. When you come up with some new digital add on that makes it sound even better and is transparent to the player, give us a call.
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Mario said...

Amen to that. As for the James Tyler Variax line... now those are well thought out machines and they won't break the bank.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I thought the Robot Guitar was pretty cool! Lots of us write in different tunings, and the Robot would allow us to switch from one to the next without too much fuss. It's way out of my budget, but I'm guessing someone like Joni Mitchell would appreciate it.


Rand Bliss said...

Tsk tsk tsk... Shame on you Gibson for thinking well outside the box. And this is coming from a self-confessed/obsessed LesPaulaholic.

'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' should be tattooed on every Gibson employee to prevent further crimes against tradition. Like Keith Richards once said "the right amp with the right guitar". If you can't create the music you want like that, you're not focused on creating.

Steve a roonie said...

We all need to get off of Gibsons matter how lame a guitar they produce is. They've had enough crap recently with the EPA, who by the way, raided the Amish for producing raw milk.

Rand Bliss said...

Steve amigo, I LOVE Gibson, I drool over them, even in photos (especially and mainly Les Paul's) but some things in this world are literally a waste of everyone's time, and if they'd have taken perhaps one more minute of logical thinking about it, no time or resources would've been wasted on something so unnecessary and damaging to one's reputation.

An occasional mistake is one thing, but like Bobby said, Gibson's been making quite a few this past decade. Another example; a weight-relieved Les Paul? That's a crime against the holiest of solid bodies and a contradiction in terms (chambering!)

Get real Gibson and get back to what you do best, please.

MMI said...

Separate outputs for every string?

As somebody that is both into synthesizers and guitars, I've been thinking about my guitar as the oscillator section of a kind of modular synth. Since most synths only have 2 or 3, a guitar is like a super-synth with 6. And having an output per string offers simply adds a degree of routing flexibility to this model.

Musically useful? Who knows. But I do see fun potential.

Anonymous said...

Last I checked Gibson was still making the traditional Les Paul's etc. While these guitars are not for everyone, they do have some beneficial features. Why have automatic tuning? So you only have to bring one guitar to the gig.
Line 6 invented this with the Variax and you could make the same arguments except the Variaxs cannot be played without power and the Gibsons (at least the robot) sounds great just as a standard Les Paul (no power), then you have all these tunings and other guitar sounds available at the turn of a pot.

CaptainVictory said...

Come on, guys. Les Paul had some of the weirdest Les Pauls on the planet -- but he made it work. It's okay to criticize particular innovations, but don't criticize Gibson for making the attempt (and daring to depart from the classic formula).

Fred Decker said...

I have two thoughts:

1) According to Phil Lesh's autobiography he had a setup for his bass back in the 1970's where he had not only seperate output from each string, but a seperate stack of speakers for each string in the Grateful Dead's live setup.

2) I like simple Telecaster type controls--two knobs. I don't understand why better quality instruments should necessarily be more complicated. For example, I owned 2 Mesa Boogie amplifiers. There was supposed to be many wonderful sounds in them, but I would have been happy to get one consistently good sound. Then I found a 1961 Magnatone Twilighter, turned it all the way up, and ahhh!

As a final idea--why are guitars and amps designed seperately? Since the sound starts at the string and isn't finished until it comes out of the speaker, why isn't the guitar and amp designed as a system? Does it make sense to pay alot of money for only half the sound? I don't understand.


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