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MIDI Pickups and Preamps

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Andy Brown, Feb 15, 2005.

  1. Andy Brown

    Andy Brown Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jul 23, 2004
    Rhode Island
    Founder/Owner: Wing Instruments
    After viewing Al Caldwell's NAMM video I have been inspired to include MIDI on my upcoming Nordy NX 6-string. Can anyone lend an opinion as to what the best pickups (triggers) are on the market? I'm also looking at using the Roland GR-33 floor unit as well (I've already heard good things about it).

  2. jvbjr


    Jan 8, 2005
    How about going the obvious route and e-mail Al or the builder of the bass, as I am sure they have used what they consider to be the best and newest technology currently available? There are plenty of options, the issue is which is the best one and why.
  3. elros


    Apr 24, 2004
    Proprietor, Helland Musikk Teknologi
    Appearently RMC makes the top-end piezo pickups / 13-pin Roland compatible thingys.

    But the web site doesn't have all the products - by far.
    E-mail the dude - or better yet, have Carey e-mail him.
  4. David Wilson

    David Wilson Administrator Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    Oct 14, 2002
    Lower Westchester, NY
    It's ok, but the axon 100 is the best guitar / midi convertor I've heard out there. The Axon has the least lag of the ones I've tried.
    If you look in the effects and pickups forums you'll find some good discussion on this.
    I've never used piezos, only the roland divided pickup, and the lag was still just too much for me on the low strings. What I would do would be to transpose down an octave on the convertor, and play more on the higher strings where the conversion time is much less.
  5. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    axon is the best choice for bass. al gets great success using the roland because the range of his strings that are midi-fied is higher than a standard 6. roland brains have a filter cut off at the c on the a string, and they can not convert anything lower. on my axon i get usable synth tones out of my low f# string.

    rmc is -the- choice for on-board CV conversion. it uses the same 13 pin jack as all the other roland and compatible synth products, and really has the best tracking/response short of a wired fret system. this is what al has in his bass, and i have it in 4 of mine as well.
  6. Andy Brown

    Andy Brown Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jul 23, 2004
    Rhode Island
    Founder/Owner: Wing Instruments
    I did ... still waiting.
  7. mikezimmerman

    mikezimmerman Supporting Member

    Apr 29, 2001
    Omaha, Nebraska
    I know that Carey has usd the RMC piezo units and 13-pin output circuitry in the past on Jeff Rader's SC5. The general concensus is that RMC is the cream of the crop in terms of piezos, though there are certainly other good products out there. Not all of them offer the same combination of great piezo tone and 13-pin output, though.

  8. I agree 100% and am happy with the Axon as well as the RMC piezo which is in my Warrguitar. But that being said the Axon is only taking the 6 high strings. So with a regular pickup don't expect the low B and to a certain extent low E, to trigger fast, but they do track eventually. My question and wonder would be what about lightwave pickups driving midi? Seems to me that would be a great solution. Perhaps in the same way piezo is so much better than a hex magnetic.
  9. luknfur


    Jan 14, 2004
    Yeh, have been hoping for something forthcoming on the Wave but when I talked to Keith (designer of optical system) a couple years ago he said they hadn't even recovered R&D on the optical system at that point. That's right when they started making their own basses with all costs involved in startup.

    I don't look for anything anytime soon.
  10. You know it's funny about 20 years ago I was visiting my uncle Passinwind, who you may or may not know him here. He had a hand made led based light pickup. The thing was amazing and way ahead of it's time. Acoustically it was very powerful and clean. At the time I had an old Korg analog to cv converter, to connect my bass to a minimoog. It worked well but when we hooked up the light pickup the difference was huge! I didn't get to keep the pickup, but he did mod the converter and it actually handled pretty well after that.
    I always give him trouble about not continuing that technology. :)
    Oh well, enough nostalgia for today.
  11. Frank Martin

    Frank Martin Bitten by the luthiery bug...

    Oct 8, 2001
    Budapest, Hungary, EU
    Gives new meaning to the term "TB Family" :smug: :D
  12. LOL,
    Yeah if it wasn't for him I would've never found this joint! :)
  13. mikestack


    Sep 17, 2002
    Thought I'd chime in here, a bit late..... this is nice because it'll give me the chance to de-lurk before posting pics of my shiny new bass.....

    Speaking of, the aformentioned shiny new bass is equipped with a Lightwave HexFX board, which does the 13-pin output. I've got four instruments with 13-pin output-- a guitar with a Roland GK-2A pickup, a guitar with an RMC pickup, a bass with a Lightwave/RMC hybrid, and my new bass with the Lightwave system. I also briefly had a GK-2B installed on a bass (an external one).

    While it may be comparing apples to oranges, the Lightwave has really great and even response, and is (I think) superior to both the GK and the RMC system. Mind you, I'd say the RMC is in turn superior to the GK, plus you get the luxury of having a piezo pickup.

    And finally, you might want to check out the GR-20, which has actually got software intended to operate with a bass (well, its got a firmware upgrade for it), unlike the GR-33, which was meant for guitars and last I checked lacks a firmware upgrade for bass.

    I'm hoping to have time to snap pics and post a review of my new axe tonight, but hope this helps a bit.

  14. elros


    Apr 24, 2004
    Proprietor, Helland Musikk Teknologi
    Hi there,

    I've got a question for those who have experience with MIDI on bass.
    My new Benavente 6-string fretless will be done soon (Real Soon Now (tm)) and it'll have the GK output.
    And I'm wondering how the different MIDI converter units handles pitch bend, or sliding, or vibrato - those things we sometimes like to do on a fretless bass.
    I imagine that some instruments (patches) would only play "proper notes" - like piano and organ, there is no in-between pitches on those instruments. But others are more "fretless" in their nature - I'm thinking particularly of the trombone and the blues harmonica - on patches like that I want to be able to do vibratos, blue notes, slides and such with my fingers on my bass and have it translate to the MIDI instrument.... do you understand what I mean? I'm not sure if I explain it properly....

    Initially I am concidering getting the Roland GR-20 to go with my new bass, but I'm not sure if it reacts to my fretless playing the way I think it should. (I've been reading the manual for the GR-20, but couldn't find an answer there.) If it doesn't, are there others that do?

  15. BruceWane


    Oct 31, 2002
    Houston, TX
    Bending notes via pitch-to-MIDI conversion is generally a very bad idea. It basically results in the electronics attempting to divide your bend into 100's of individual notes sequentially, which results in attempting to cram 100 pounds of data down a 1 pound pipe - the result usually reads "buffer overflow", which means data overload.

    For these same reasons, I would think that fretless is not the best choice for a MIDI equipped bass. Your electronic gear is trying to interpret the pitch of the notes you're playing, and when your intonation is less than perfect, it's going to cause tracking delays. Aside from that, since bends and vibrato don't work so well, there's little reason to use a fretless anyway.

    (Caveat - I have never played a MIDI equipped fretless; my experience comes from guitarists attempting whammy bar gynmastics on MIDI equipped guitars (it don't work). The eventual solution was to make a pseudo-whammy bar that sends pitch bend information to the MIDI converter rather than actually bending the strings.)

    If you really want to do bends and vibrato well, you'll need to get a pedal that sends MIDI data - usually referred to as an "expression pedal" - and do a little programming. It's not terribly difficult. Basically what you're doing is setting up a pitch bend and/or modulation wheel that is typical on electronic keyboards, but built to be operated by your foot.

    Once you've got that, you'll realize that there are all kinds of very cool things that you'll be able to do far beyond simple pitch bends and vibrato.

    If you're going to get into this stuff, you'll get a lot more out of it if you study the concepts behind tone synthesis and MIDI. I've been into it since the debut of MIDI years and years ago, so I don't really know what current books/info are out there right now, but any book on those subjects should get you a basic understanding of what's going on and how you can manipulate it.
  16. elros


    Apr 24, 2004
    Proprietor, Helland Musikk Teknologi
    That's exactly what I was hoping to avoid.
    Perhaps then I'll have to go for something different for the melodies, something not MIDI - like this or this... Not exactly blues harmonica :meh: but the important thing is that I'm able to have the nuances of the fretless translate to a different tonal pallette.

    ... I'll probably get the GR-20 anyway though, for string pads and such.

    Thanks for the insight, BruceWane.
    Anyone else have some thoughts? Fretless and MIDI? :confused:
  17. vene-nemesis

    vene-nemesis Banned

    Jul 17, 2003
    Bilbao España
    I was told by Jerzy Drozd that in order to use midi you also need something else besides the midi pickup, but i dont know if that is a synthetiser preamp or something. Can anyone tell me Im courious(sp?)?
  18. BruceWane


    Oct 31, 2002
    Houston, TX
    You might want to give a Roland V-Bass a try. It works by taking a bass signal and running it through modeling software; it doesn't do the pitch-to-MIDI thing at all, although the results sound somewhat similar. You are limited to using the sounds within the V-Bass unit - you cannot hook up to any MIDI compatible sound source like you can with a pitch-to-MIDI conversion system. The upside is that it "tracks" pretty much flawlessly, because technically it doesn't "track" at all; it's a very sophisticated digital effect.

    edit - I see you linked to it, there. Try one out. If it's got sounds you're happy with, that's your best bet with fretless. But understand that you are limited to what you can do within that unit - you cannot use the V-Bass to drive other sound sources. I'm pretty sure it has MIDI In/Out jacks, but those are for program change information only, not pitch information. In other words, you could use the V-Bass to change patches on a MIDI-compatible effects unit.
  19. BruceWane


    Oct 31, 2002
    Houston, TX
    You still must have a pitch-to-MIDI converter. Something like an Axon AX-100, or a Roland GI-20. With these units, you still then need a MIDI sound source, such as any of these.... The Roland GR-20 and GR-33 are pitch-to-MIDI converters combined with a synthesizer module built in, so you don't need additional MIDI sound sources to make noise.
  20. BruceWane


    Oct 31, 2002
    Houston, TX
    Let me add something here.........if you're considering taking the jump into this stuff, keep in mind that if you're planning on reproducing violins and trumpets and buzzsaws and lots of other very non-bass type stuff, you're typical bass amp setup is not really going to be up to the task. You will basically need your own small PA system to amplify a MIDI system.

    Some bass rigs will do fine -the very "flat" and "transparent" type stuff, like Acme, Accugroove, EA, will do OK, but you're not going to get very good results running a trombone sample through an SVT.