Auto-Tune for Guitar?

Has anyone checked out this video for axes equipped with Antares’s Auto-Tune for Guitar?

I haven’t tried one of these myself, though my pal Art Thompson at Guitar Player gave Peavey’s Auto-Tune-equipped AT-200 a glowing review.

I’d heard of the product, but must admit I hadn’t given it much thought, assuming it was chiefly a pitch-correction tool. But as Antares’s videos make clear, it also does many modeling tasks, and can no doubt be used in some very creative ways. According to the Antares site, the Peavey is the only currently available guitar pre-fitted with the system, though they hint at pending partnerships with other guitar companies. They’ve also announced the upcoming release of a Luthier Custom Kit, which means a) you’ll be able to install the system in a guitar of your choice, and b) there’s a product picture that reveals much about how the system works:

Coming soon: the Auto-Tune for Guitar Luthier Custom Kit.

Coming soon: the Auto-Tune for Guitar Luthier Custom Kit.

Well, well, what have we here? A circuit board hosting the Antares processor, a hexaphonic pickup of the sort used in MIDI guitars, a bunch of switches, and an old-school MIDI cable for connecting your guitar to your computer or iPad, which can serve as controllers for the Antares hardware. (I don’t know for certain why Antares opted for a retro MIDI cable, though I have a guess: Brian Moore Guitars, creators of the iGuitar, have a patent on the very notion of putting a USB connector on a guitar, regardless of how it’s deployed. Anytime you see a USB jack on a guitar, rest assured that Brian Moore is earning a royalty. No disrespect to Moore, a true innovator, but this strikes me as an absurd misapplication of patent law.)

I suppose I was imaging this product would involve some sort of advanced polyphonic pitch correction tool, perhaps some mind-blowing descendent of Celemony’s Melodyne. But no — it’s six monophonic processors. And that’s probably a good thing. Judging by the videos (and Art Thompson’s comments, which I inevitably trust), the system is remarkably glitch-free, and performs quickly enough so that most players barely perceive any lag.

Antares has also announced the upcoming Guitar Floor Pedal. Here the processors reside in the pedal. You still need a hexaphonic pickup, but here you can use any Roland-style pickup with a hardware connector, and you can add these to most guitars without permanently altering the instruments. (It looks as if the system won’t work with Fishman’s upcoming TriplePlay wireless MIDI guitar pickup.)

I can’t offer many definitive comments about the product till I try it, but I can pass along a few impressions based on Antres’s videos and my experience with other hexaphonic-equipped instruments, such as Roland, Yamaha, and Fishman guitar synths, Line 6 modeling guitars, and the Roland V-Guitar system:

  • The Antares system seems to track extremely well. But actually, all these systems have tracked really well for a long time. Yes, there is some lag, but this has less to do with with any hardware or software shortcomings than with the physics of a plucked string. It simply takes a few milliseconds for the chaotic transients to settle into a definitive note that can be perceived by pitch-detection tools.
  • Most vocalists can’t sing while monitoring real-time pitch correction — it just freaks them out. But I don’t believe that’s an issue for most guitarists. However, sensitive players definitely perceive the fact that the instrument doesn’t vibrate in the same way as when played organically. How much of an issue this is varies from player to player.
  • The main thing that prevents all these systems from sounding 100% authentic is the lack of interaction between the strings. Each individual string actually sounds quite authentic, but the strings don’t “hum” or “sing” together in quite the same way. When heard solo in some of Antares’s demo videos, the tones seem a bit cold and stiff. But as with all such processors, it’s all about the musical context. Some tones that sound stiff played solo work just fine in a mix.

So has anyone tried out the Peavey AT-200 yet? Would you have any interest in such a system if you could install it on the guitar of your choice? Do you have any hard-won wisdom about working with hexaphonic pickup systems? Heard any good Auto-Tune jokes lately?

22 comments to Auto-Tune for Guitar?

  • Oh lord. Now we will have talentless people playing guitar! I wonder if it does the Cher thing? I wonder what that would sound like on guitar? Might be kind of cool.

    Next up will be the auto quantize drum set!

  • smgear

    I’m totally against auto-tune…. unless I’m mixing a tune with a couple pitchy notes…. in which case I friggen love Antares. Modern guitar manufacturing techniques are so good that intonation isn’t nearly the problem that it used to be. The story here for me is more about having a possibly cool platform for modeling than about a nifty device for tuning your instrument. This last generation or two of modeling guitars have been pretty spectacular. I am really impressed with the L6 JTV line for example (despite them not going that tiny extra step and putting some tuning leds on there). But what I want most of all is a good piece of software that will let me easily dig in and program highly customized and unique models/effects/tunings without having to get my binary conversion calculator out. Some of the companies are partway there, but none of them let you get very creative. So I think that this is another cool entry into the marketplace, but I’ll give my money to the first company that gives me easy access to the engine.

    • joe

      Yeah, I agree with pretty much everything you just said. :beer:

      Especially about interfaces that let you dig in. I wish I had time to knuckle down and learn Max/MSP so I could make cool stuff from the ground up. But I love, love, love working in MainStage, where you have spectacular creative control, but in more of a drag-and-drop, plug-in-oriented way. But it doesn’t do “guitar modeling” or other hex-pickup stuff.

      I’d love to hear more about what you’d look for in an ideal piece of music-creation software. So would other people — in my experience, the folks at all those music software companies would be eager for your input. One or two of them may actually read this blog. 😉

      • smgear

        Cheers Joe, Well, I don’t want to give too many ideas/designs away (to date, startups that I’ve helped have gotten $110m+ for my ideas without compensating me), but I’ll give my quick ‘vision’ and your industry friends are welcome to hire me to design/develop the thing properly 🙂

        Basically, the problem is that the majority of the manufacturers seem locked into old paradigms. The bulk of their new designs are intended to mimic something else (Line 6), combine/integrate technologies (Roland) or make the ‘art’ less rigorous (Antares). Those are all fine pursuits and have resulted in some great tech, but they’re basically locking everyone into a pre-1980 palette of sounds, functions, and expression. Quite honestly, after my momentary enthusiasm has passed, I just pick up one of my no-name beater acoustics or electrics and dig in because every day I find a new sound, attack, approach, or whatever that allows me to express something in a new way. It’s true that I could do that playing through those tools, but I don’t need them and they are specifically designed to conform my sound to specific realms rather than to let me explore new spaces.

        So with regards to this batch of hex-based modeling tech, my general requirements are fairly simple. I want clean and discrete signals from each string (check), I want a serious multi-core processor AND a couple programmable on-board control knobs/switches (semi-check), and I want an easily accessible and intuitive interface that gives me full control over how each particular string or any group of strings is processed/routed (no check).

        For example, wouldn’t it be sweet if I could program the lower two strings to have a drone-like building-sustain, set the width of the effect, and have percussion triggered when I pluck them. Or maybe do that on the second and third strings and leave the bottom just for a percussive trigger and the top 3 strings are normal. Or maybe those top 3 strings are set to ‘12-string’ timbre. Or whatever.

        I can sort-of do all of that with the current batch of tech, but it would require components from several companies and about a week to configure each setting – and it would almost certainly fail on stage due to a cable or midi failure somewhere in the line when I trigger it.

        Given the processing and touch screen capabilities we now have, I don’t see any reason (other than over-reaching patents) why one of these manufacturers wouldn’t just create an app that will allow users to have total control of the processing. Think of it in stages:

        1. select a string(s)
        2. select a tuning
        3. select a timbre model (instrument/synth)
        4. select a pickup model (pickup or mic)
        5. add effect 1 (ambient, traditional pedal-based, distortion, etc)
        6. add effect 2 (…)
        7. add percussive trigger (select sample – static or variable to pitch)
        (repeat for other string(s) )
        8. add midi trigger
        9. assign desired effects settings to controls
        10. save patch

        The pro-version would also let you dig in and design your own effects – simple enough to do if you have the processing power and an easy way to split/chain the signal and base effect types in the interface.

        That would take some serious programming and processing to get that sorted, but seriously, why would any company be investing R&D in anything less? We don’t need more of the same. Give us something new to play with already!! And remember that our goal is to make music, not spend our practicing time screwing around with cables, interfaces, and indecipherable control displays.

        Feel free to email me. Seriously, I have a lot of this spec’d out and need both the cash and the mental exercise 🙂

        • Dirtbagg

          smgear, you could always try to program on using a Rasberry Pi and let us know how it works out. the Pi should have enough power to do what you want and is small enoough also. :oogle:

          • smgear

            Yeah Dirtbagg, that’s a cool platform, but the issue is interfacing that with a hex pickup. There is no onboard DAC, so you’d need an external usb connected 6 X 2 dac to be able to process channels discretely. If one of these companies who are making their own processor boards would provide a digital i/o or have a usb control protocol, then it would be feasible. I don’t think that’s the case, but I haven’t really checked them out lately.

  • I say nay…. Having a tuning system like the Gibson’s Robot series is ok because they are mechanically tuned, thus letting the play actually know the difference in string tension and how that effects the playing style etc. But have an auto-tune… Totally no if there is gonna be an auto-tune guitar why would you have strings on the guitar in the first place? having this I reckon is no different from playing guitar hero

  • Oinkus

    Friend had a VG Strat was very nifty thing, would love to get my hands on it still just for the 12 string option.

  • jeremy

    I’ve nothing against technology in the slightest, but imagine if Hendrix had this system; we’d never have been able to enjoy a magic moment like 1:24 into this…

  • Digital Larry

    I could play in tune if I wanted to. I just don’t want to.

  • mngiza

    An amazing thing. I like the “12-string” tones.

    But it kind of misses the point of playing guitar, doesn’t it? I mean, part of the deal with our instrument is exhibiting to an audience how well we can play an inherently flawed instrument in tune – or play it “out of tune” in an interesting, charming, individualistic manner (Joseph Spence, Jimmy Page, etc.) Do we remember and celebrate top musicians for their equipment?

    Ultimately, this clever technology will succeed or fail depending on how effectively players use it to move the hearts and minds of audiences.

  • mwseniff

    Tho’ I am not a big fan of auto-tune except for misss using it as an FX, I think that there are folk that need them. I know a few pianists that are sheet music players, put the sheet music on the piano and they can play almost anything very well. But if you take the sheet music away they are at a loss, they couldn’t jam or play anything by ear even if you pointed a gun at them. Many of these same pianists are terrified of the idea of tuning any instrument so they never try anything but keys. A self tuning guitar would give them great confidence and allow them access to it,rather than be afraid of it. It would also be a great aid to beginning guitarists as well. Learning to play on an accurately tuned guitar is easier and more rewarding. I bought my first tuner in 1978 when I got seriously into guitar, it was the most important piece of guitar gear I ever bought IMHO.

  • AndrewT

    Really depends on the kind of music you want to make I suppose. Me, I’ll continue to wait for the one that tunes your guitar like the Hubert Sumlin riff in ‘Spoonful’.

    I remember Joe mentioning how Tom Waits said ‘no Strats’ for one of his sessions.

    ‘How ’bout I bring the autotune guitar, Tom?’

  • Dan

    So it’s basically a guitar synth? I’m assuming there’s more to it than that due to the extra circuit board, but am I right in assuming if you install this on a guitar, you are trading that guitar’s sound for the sound generated by the synth? Ok, I guess I’m using the word synth in a very general sense. Maybe software is the better term. Will the auto-tune software be compatible with other modeling software? Sorry if I’m coming off a bit ignorant here, I don’t know much about the digital guitar stuff. Although, at the end of the day, I’m not sure how much fun this will be to listen to. I still cling to the idea that our brains somehow know a sound is artificial and that dead-perfect intonation and tuning will somehow ring false to a listener.

    • joe

      Well, with all these systems, I think, you still have the sound of your conventional pickups. The role of the hex pickup varies. Sometimes it’s just MIDI. Sometimes it’s dry audio to be processed in modeling software. I’m still hazy about where the Auto-Tune system checks in.

  • Peter

    The few milliseconds that it takes for the chaotic transients to settle into a definitive note are some of my favorite milliseconds.

  • joe

    Did I type that? Oh — you did. I just WISH I did.

  • Erik

    Gibson’s Robot guitar is so awesome as if invented by Captain Nemo who got his hands on modern days electronics. The more fun could only be if there were a mechanical hand coming out of the guitar body and rotating the tuning pegs. :smirk:

  • Robert

    I laugh when people say things like “talentless people can now play guitar…”

    All this thing will do is play wrong notes in perfect tune!

    It won’t make you a better guitar player…

    And for the seasoned players, the models, and the fact that you can alter tuning with a click of a switch should open up your creativity in ways never before seen…

    I wouldn’t close your mind to it, but open your ears and listen for yourself…

  • I wonder how it copes with the fact that real guitar notes begin sharp at the attack and gradually drift down in pitch as they sustain? I guess most instruments do that, so any auto tune system has to either emulate it, or ignore it and hold the notes at perfect pitch as they die away. Or did somebody say this already (Its a long thread and I’m ashamed to say haven’t read all of it).

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