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Programming the GR-700:

GR-700 Programming
Photos and Details
Steve Carnelli
Three Favorite GR-700 Patches

By Steve Carnelli

Guitar Player/June 1986

Guitar players are still feeling their way with guitar synthesizers, as I see it. The technology is still advancing, but solutions to tracking problems, controller design, pickups, and MIDI control are evolving quite nicely, as was evident at the Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California.

I use the Roland GR-700 synth and G-707 controller and have become rather familiar and comfortable with this system. I have used it in the studio for cartoons and some other TV shows but not in a live situation. If you prefer to use a different synth of controller, that's cool, because it's how good you with with you've got, rather than which one you've got. You must know, however, what will and will not work - especially if you're on a job and want to make a good impression. You wouldn't, for instance, take it out to play “Johnny B/ Goode” or “Purple Haze.” The more familiar you are with the capabilities and limitations of your synthesizer, the better off you'll be, because most composer and arrangers are unsure about what it can do and will rely upon you to tell them. Do you homework so you can give them accurate information that will make you both look good.

Perhaps the easiest and safest way to demonstrate your instrument's capabilities is to make a cassette of sound of the more impressive, useful, and practical sounds and submit it to the composer. If, however, the composer doesn't have time to listen to such a tape, then a verbal explanation may be your only shot. But don't lead him to believe that you pull off a Bach fugue just because you can get a nice harpsichord sound. When I first started using the synth, the composer pretty much stuck to the sounds I gave them on tape. As time went on, though, and they became more secure with it, I started to see indications in the music like “funny bass sound,” “low drone,” “bell-like sound,” “mysterious,” “ethereal,” “comical” etc.

A considerable amount of time spent learning to program your synth will give you many possibilities for indications such as these. I'll admit that there have been a few situation when I had to say, “Sorry, it won’t do that,” but usually I can get around problems. For instance, my synth does not track fast enough in the low register for quick bass figures. So, considering that I'm probably in a high-pressure situation with no time to spare, I might do one of two things: (1) mix in just a little straight guitar sound to accentuate the attack or, (2) switch into guitar mode and bypass the synth completely, run it through an octave divider, add some other effects to get an unusual sound, keep my mouth shut, smile a lot, and hope no one realizes that I've cheated a little to achieve the desired effect. (So far no one has - Tommy Tedesco would be proud!) Incidentally, I just run the synth mono through my rack monster, through I might add some delay, digital reverb, or EQ to fill out the sound - if necessary.

You will find that you must alter your playing technique, specifically your attack, when you use the synth. You can’t just pick it up and play merciless rock and roll. It requires finesse and avoidance of unnecessary finder-string contact. Supersonic chops, right-hand tapping tricks, and other aggressive contemporary gimmicks are, for the most part, taboo. You must also concentrate on extreme right-hand consistency. It definitely takes work. Why, then, would today's guitar player want to play the synthesizer? Quite simple, to achieve sounds you can’t get on the conventional guitar - like bells, brass, or low notes that sustain at the same level for 24 bars.

I have also found that the more adept you are with the Hold pedal, the smoother your performance. Again, this takes practice.

Programming is a trial-and-error process at first, but it’s really easy on the Roland when you learn what all the parameters do. I have hundreds of “personal programs,” many of which I've not had the chance to use yet.

Following are three different programs, or patches, with all the parameter settings for each. If you have the Roland GR-700 and an appropriate controller, you can use the Edit and Cutoff Frequency knobs on the guitar to get the exact settings for each of the parameters. Actually, I created these sounds with the Roland PG-200 Programmer, but you won’t need it to program these sounds.

Click on any image for larger view.

Copyright 1986 Guitar Player Magazine