Bass guitar as midi control- Latency solution: FretTrax or Wilcox Hex FX

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by younggun, Aug 2, 2017.

  1. younggun


    Jul 19, 2008
    San Antonio
    I currently have a bass set up with a Roland GK-3B pickup that I use for outputting to a Roland GR-55 and also some synth modules. This set-up works decently, but not perfectly for midi output. There are issues with latency in the lower note ranges, and also some lesser issues with harmonics and sympathetic string vibrations being picked up as notes and triggering sounds (I know, I know, work on muting technique, but I'm not perfect).
    So, I'm considering one of 2 things. One option I was thinking of, is having one of my basses modified with a FretTrax system. The other is purchasing a Wilcox Lightwave HexFX bass. I'm hoping for some input from people who have one or other of these.
    Technology-wise I think the FretTrax it is the best solution, but there are a couple of drawbacks. First is that there is physical modifications involving cutting and drilling that are necessary to install it, and that's something I'm leery of doing on my high end very expensive bass. Secondly, the cost of the mod is actually more than the cost of buying a new HexFX bass.
    The HexFx SEEMS like a good solution and is more economical, but the technology is based on reading an actual sound, instead of the more sophisticated tech of reading a signal directly from the fret like the FretTrax does. The FretTax system has the added advantage that it does not actually read open strings, thus eliminating any unwanted accidental note triggering from string vibration or harmonics.
    I'm hoping someone on here has a HexFX bass they are willing to share their experience about, particularly with regard to latency. I want the midi triggering to be lag free.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2017
  2. charlie monroe

    charlie monroe Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2011
    Buffalo, NY
    The light wave does not reference sounds made by the strings.

    The light sensors accurately measure the frequency of the string's vibration.

    I have one of the originals. It is very accurate in reminding me of how rusty my chops can get.

    I think it could work in this situation, however I don't use any midi effects so don't have any anecdotal evidence of it working.
  3. younggun


    Jul 19, 2008
    San Antonio
    Thanks for the input. True about the "sound", what you said is more accurate than what I did..but the problem with inadvertent note activation remains. My concern is that the light sensors would equate to the same problem as a regular magnetic or pickups. Those read the vibrations of the strings also (magnetically instead of through light) and that signal is then transmitted and converted to a sound. The FretTrax system does not read the string vibration at all, but instead simply senses if a string touches a fret which then triggers a midi signal. It essentially turns every fret into a type of button. The part I'm interested in regarding the HexFX bass is, exactly HOW sensitive the pickup system is, and does it pick up as much inadvertent note activation as magnetic pickups do.
  4. Honch

    Honch Guest

    Sep 7, 2006
    The drawback with FretTrax is just that. If you must have a MIDI system that doesn't indadvertently misstriggers or translating pitch-to-track, you have to keep in mind that bends and vibratos, can't be done. FretTrax reminds me of the very old Hagstrom Patch 2000 system which did fret sensoring too. Perfect for legato players, but absolutely no use in dynamics because it didn't rely on picking nuances either. No matter where you pluck pick along the string on FretTrax will the synthesized sound change.

    As you can see in the following vided, mr Nathan Navarro test drives one of these at a music fair. But listen carefully, while watching his fast runs and lands down on vibrating is fingers, and listen if the sound does .... well...erhh... no.

  5. Honch

    Honch Guest

    Sep 7, 2006
    And here comes the real dig/diss on FretTrax:

    Sorry but someone has to be the straight guy. How many of you have seen any demonstration of it (including the one above) where it shows it can play and track OPEN STRINGS....


    Bet you didn't see that one coming, due to all wowing the audience with no latency speed. It's just a ripoff - albeit polyphonic - of the Hagstrom Patch 2000 bass/guitar of 1977. Imagine this, 1977 (I repeat it again if you think it's a typo). Lots of wires under the frets... that was monophonic and it went like this...too:

  6. Honch

    Honch Guest

    Sep 7, 2006
    ... oh those platform shoe days are long gone...
  7. I might be concerned that the Frettrax site "recent activity" section contains only a post labelled "off and running" from 2016. Someone from the company did comment on that post in January 2017 though so that's pretty recent.

    Didn't know the frets-as-keys principle went back to the 70s. I have a Peavey Midibass that works this way. If you prefer that approach but want to use open strings Industrial Radio Industrial Radio - Fretsenseâ„¢ MIDI Guitar, Fretsenseâ„¢ MIDI Bass, RadioPickâ„¢ is I believe a modern version of that technology but will cost more than the Wilcox.
  8. younggun


    Jul 19, 2008
    San Antonio
    Sorry, I should have updated this post with what I ended up doing.
    First let me address the FretTrax. I actually had quite a bit of correspondence with them. They are up front and honest about how the system works: it's a wired system to each fret, open strings are not playable, and yes, there is no nuace control (its basically like pushing a button, the note is either "on" or it is "off"). The process requires them to route a small channel in the neck to run the wiring, and they usually have to rout an extra control cavity in the bass for the midi-electronics and controls. They are legit and produce a quality product from what I can see...Victor Wooten let them modify his Fodera, which he probably wouldn't have done if there was some question as to workmanship. However, after getting the facts and weighing the options, I did not end up going with the FretTrax, and ended up purchasing the Wilcox HexFX.

    The cost of the FretTrax modification to one of my 5 string basses would have been pretty much the same cost as a brand new Wilcox HexFX. Wilcox offers a 15 day money back guarantee on their instruments if you ware not satisfied. I figured "what could I lose", if I purchased theHexFX and wasn't satisfied with the midi performance, I could just send it back and then fall back to getting the FretTrax system installed. Also, even though I'm pretty certain they wouldn't have messed anything up at FretTrax, I was still loathed to have one of my high end custom basses cut. modified, and routed on.

    So, I ended up ordering a HexFX, and once I got it was satisfied with the way it performs. Besides using it for midi and synth functions, the bass is also very well built, playable, and the non-synth tonal aspects are great. Overall the lightwave pickup system does work well for use as a midi controller, it sends very accurate information. I am using it in conjunction with a Roland GR-55, which I use for it's sounds and also to run the midi out to a couple of other synth modules. It does take some tweaking and a pretty good learning curve to get everything set right on the GR-55. Once things are set up well though, latency and false triggering issues are pretty minimal with the HexFX. I wouldn't say they are perfect, but the trade off is that open string playing is available, and you can set up the triggering for your style regarding how nuanced you wish to play: hammer ons, pull-offs, slides, vibrato, and string attack can all produce different results depending on how you adjust your settings. This is something that wouldn't be available with the FretTrax system.

    The are few of drawbacks to the HexFX, but they are manageable. One, like I said above, is the learning curve and set-up. It takes some dedication and time, but there are also advantages to being able to adjust the output to your playing style.
    Another drawback is muting issues that tend to trigger false notes. Open strings like to vibrate and send a signal. I have mitigated this some by adding a fret-rap to help cut down on open string vibrations, and adjusting string thresholds and sensitivity settings on the GR-55. The HexFX has no magnetic pickup; the pickups are in the bridge. If you are like me and are used to resting your thumb on a pickup, while relying on your plucking fingers for a good amount of muting technique, it can take some adjusting of playing style. I am actually considering adding a fingerboard ramp or thumb rest to help with this, but just haven't got to it yet.
    Finally, you do have to get a device that converts the string output to midi, like a GR-55 or an older midi converter like a Yamaha G50 (unlike the FretTrax system which converts the note signals onboard and transmits midi data directly from the bass). So that's an added cost and learning curve to consider.
  9. I've not tried either but FretTrax seem to be making a bit if a splash at the moment. Both systems are outside my area of expertise. I think I saw that Victor Wooten has recently got a FretTrax system, you're in good company!
  10. glennq

    glennq Glenn Quader

    Sticking with the Graph Tech system and my AXON AX100, still the best in my book for the technology we currently have for bass..great success with this system! And it handles, bends, velocity and of course open strings...the AXON runs to a Mac Mini/Mainstage and all of its yummy synths...
  11. glennq

    glennq Glenn Quader

    Here's a link to some short sound clips using the GT/AXON/Mainstage system...also a short demo video on one of my other this system!

    Glenn Quader :: Conductor | Bassist
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