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Am I remembering correctly? 80's era MIDI Bass conversion?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by kirkdickinson, Aug 4, 2017.

  1. kirkdickinson

    kirkdickinson Supporting Member

    On another thread, someone posted about the FretTraX system I was curious and looked it up. Cool stuff.

    It sparked a memory. When I lived in LA in the 80's there was an article in one of the local musicians magazines about a luthier at Guitar Center (or another shop?) that was doing a midi conversion for basses. The conversion required the removal of the fret board for wiring. They redid the frets and cut them between each string to isolate them electrically and I think they either cut the bridge to isolate it, put mono bridges on, or maybe they had a custom bridge for that conversion.

    The design was that when you pressed the string down to the fret, it made an electrical connection and that was converted to a MIDI note that was sent out a midi cable to your choice of devices. If I remember correctly, the latency was zero because of the simplicity. At that time any type of guitar to midi had horrible latency. I don't think it had the capability to bend the notes.

    I wonder if anybody else remembers that? Am I crazy?
  2. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Peavey did a bass using a system like that. Each note had an individual fret that was wired to the electronics.
    I'm sure there were custom builds and one-off retrofits prior.

  3. kirkdickinson

    kirkdickinson Supporting Member

    Wow, what a mess of wires in that sucker. :)

    Did it work well?
  4. fhm555

    fhm555 So FOS my eyes are brown Supporting Member

    Feb 16, 2011
    The thing i remember most about the rise of MIDI was Guitar Player mag featuring Allen Holdsworth on the cover with his "ground breaking" MIDI controler equipped guitar. in that same issue was an editorial asking if the increasing popularity and versatility of MIDI spelled doom for "traditional" instruments. Who needs a horn section when you could have one under the fingers of a keyboard player type of speculation. The other thing i recall about early MIDI experiences was seeing Chris Knight and him having a pedal steel player who in addition to the usual double neck knee lever piece, had a MIDI rigged single neck straight steel and him doing a near perfect immatation of a Hammond B3 on it as he switched between the steel and organ sound with a foot switch. I also recall reading about the MIDI-fied Peavey bass, but down at the local level a few keyboard players were experimenting with MIDI modules, but i never heard of anyone else in the trenches doing much with it.
    kirkdickinson likes this.
  5. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Not just the wires, but the giant circuit board. Which got covered with a backplate the size of a hubcap.

    If I remember right, the tracking and latency were better than you got with the magnetic midi pickups of the time, but still not perfect.
    And it was really expensive. Plus I believe you had to have a big floor pedal unit to plug it into for the midi to work.
    kirkdickinson likes this.
  6. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    That was the system Steve Chick designed. Chick was from Australia and made a few of these MIDI systems under his own name, then licensed the technology to other companies. Note, the electronics combined the wired fret sensors with a magnetic polyphonic string-sensing pickup similar to the Roland MIDI converters, because wired fret sensors don't provide good detection of plucking dynamics. The electronics combine the data from the fret sensors and the string sensors to generate pitch-to-MIDI plus dynamic info.

    Yep, the Peavey MIDIbass and DataBass both licensed the Steve Chick wired-fret technology.
    kirkdickinson likes this.
  7. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    My friend had one. It was neato but there was some latency involved.
    kirkdickinson likes this.
  8. I remember that era well. Allan H with the Synthaxe, UK luthier Bob Wilkes was involved in that one. Casio had a MIDI guitar unit too. Before Peavey built the "midibase",no spelling mistake that was it's name, Wal were using the Steve Chick system.

    At the British Music Fair a bunch of us were watching the Wal MIDI bass getting demo'd and out of the blue the fella handed it to me :jawdrop: Doubt I'd even been in the same room as a computer back then so I promptly handed it straight back :laugh:

    Years later I got over my tech fear and bought the Peavey version. Latency isn't so much of a problem but getting it to talk to other synths is what I have trouble with. I will say the Peavey's a sturdy build thing,it was sitting in the passenger seat when the car got totaled. I'm in the UK so passenger side was the impact side. You can see just how well it survived :thumbsup:
    Car Photos (3).JPG Midibase-Palaedium.
    TrevorR likes this.
  9. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    What I recall (not too fondly, either)-

    Guitarists wanting to sound like Keyboardists.
    Keyboardists wanting to sound like Guitarists.

    Woodwind players wanting to sound like Keyboardists.
    Keyboardists wanting to sound like Woodwind players.

    Keyboardists wanting to be bassists...

    I also recall the day my Keyboardist friend got his new Ensoniq Mirage...he played some great bass sounds-
    Fretless, slapped, popped, plucked, etc.
    Then he said, "...see, you can be replaced".

    Eventually, though...the whole friggin' band was replaced. A couple of yahoos with a computer/sequencer = less payroll for the club owner, less BS from band members, etc.
    My myopic friend never saw that coming.
  10. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    I still have that issue.

    Lee Ritenour also played the Synthaxe.
    When Roy Wooten did his thing with the Synthaxe...I was pretty blown away.
  11. Bob_Ross

    Bob_Ross Supporting Member

    Dec 29, 2012
    The thing I remember most about the SynthAxe, and Holdsworth in particular, was an article where Allan admitted "I had to sell my house to be able to pay for this instrument." :(
    JimK likes this.
  12. Don't know why I said Bob Wilkes when the man's name is Doug :D

    He had a few meetings with Bill Aitkens,inventor of the Synthaxe,and built a bass version. The prototype and production jigs are still in his workshop today.

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