Updates: November 2017
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Roland G-808 Version A

Roland G-808 Guitar Synthesizer Controller

Features and Specifications:

  • Body: Ash and Walnut
  • Finish: Acrylic (natural)
  • Neck: Maple and Mahogany, thru neck
  • Fingerboard: Select Ebony
  • Frets: 22
  • Bridge: Fixed, adjustable
  • Nut: Polycarbonate
  • Tuning machines: Gotoh
  • Pickups: Two Roland PU-114H Humbuckers
  • Scale: 24 3/4"
  • Truss Rod: Adjustable
  • Neck Width: 1 11/16"
  • Body Width: 13"
  • Body Depth: 1 3/4"
Roland GR-300 and G-808 Vintage Guitar Synthesizer System
Roland G-808, GR-300 and FS-3

Introduction to the Roland G-808:

The Roland GR-300 and G-808 guitar combination was the original flagship of the early 1980s Roland guitar synthesizers. It was this combination most prominently featured in advertising promoting the breakthrough Roland guitar technology. While more people are familiar with the G-303 guitar, thanks to Pat Metheny, the G-808 was the premium guitar, with complete through-neck construction, gold hardware and more. The G-808 was simply one of the best guitars available at the time, and sold with the GR-300, the finest guitar synthesizer system ever designed.

In many ways, the original GR-300 and G-808 combination was a continuation of the earlier GS-500 and GR-500 guitar and synthesizer combination. These two systems used the same 24-pin cable, but the GR-300 is a simpler system than the earlier GS-500/GR-500. Notably, the GR-300 and G-808 offered a level of playability that had been promised since the introduction of the guitar synthesizers. When players picked up a GR-300 and G-808, they did not have to adjust their style to play this expressive system. And with the G-808, players did not have to compromise of their choice of guitar. The G-808, with its high end hardware, through-neck construction, and ebony fret board, was as good as any mass-produced guitar on the market.

Links to more information:

Version History - A Tale of Two Bridges, Electronics, and Pickups:

Version "A" High Mass Bridge
Early Version High-Mass Brass Bridge

Curiously, the G-808 seems to have shipped with two different styles of bridges. By far and away, the majority of G-808 guitars that I have seen have what looks like a standard Tune-O-Matic type bridge and stop bar tailpiece.

However, early G-808 guitars have a larger, high-mass brass bridge that seems to be more typical of the Ibanez Musician guitars coming from the Fujigen factory. Also, almost all G-808 guitars have a unique stop bar tail piece with a nice piece of decorative wood glued to the top.

Check out the photos below. I have an enlargement from the 1982 Roland Guitar Synthesizer brochure that clearly shows the larger, unique bridge and tailpiece. Also, the guitars in the Roland brochure have the same speed knobs as those found on the Roland G-505 guitar. The majority of G-303 and G-808 guitars have knobs similar to a Les Paul, and this is the same style knob found on the Roland G-202.

I saw one eBay auction, from March of 2007, that has a G-808 with this unique hardware, both bridge and knobs. The center photo below is from that auction.

G-808 bridge close up from 1982 Roland brochure. Note the bridge hardware and knobs. March 2007 auction with a G-808 guitar sporting the same hardware as the 1982 brochure. Typical Roland G-808 guitar with Tune-O-Matic style bridge and wood decorated tail piece.
G-808 bridge close up from 1982 Roland brochure. Note the bridge hardware and knobs. March 2007 auction with a G-808 guitar sporting the same hardware as the 1982 brochure. Typical Roland G-808 guitar with Tune-O-Matic style bridge and wood decorated tail piece.
Click on any image for larger view.

Comparing the Roland G-303 and G-808:

Roland G-303 and G-808 Neck Profile
Click on image for larger view. G-303 (top) and G-808 (bottom)

While the G-303 and G-808 are very similar guitars, there are some distinct differences between these two highly sought after vintage guitars.

Body: The G-303 has a maple top and mahogany body, the G-808 has an ash and walnut body.

Fret board: The G-303 has a rosewood fret board, while the G-808 has an ebony fret board. Ebony is highly regarded as a fret board material for guitar synth controllers. Both the Ibanez IMG2010 and the Godin LGX-SA use ebony for the fret board.

Neck Design: The G-303 has a set neck, while the G-808 has thru-neck construction. The G-303 has a "chunky" profile, while the G-808 has a "slim" neck profile. See the photo at right for more details.

Hardware: the G-303 has Silver/Nickel hardware, and the G-808 has Gold/Brass hardware.

Early G-808 Bridge Design: as previously noted, the early G-808 guitars had a high-mass bridge also in use in Greco guitars made by Fujigen at this time. At some point in the production run, the high-mass brass bridge was replaced with a more conventional tune-o-matic style bridge. The G-303 has also sports a tune-o-matic bridge.

Photos - Natural Finish:

Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar Roland G-808 Guitar Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar Roland G-808 Guitar Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar Roland G-808 Guitar Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar Roland G-808 Guitar
Roland G-808 Guitar
Click on any image for larger view.

Photos - Rare White Finish:

Roland G-808 White
Roland G-808 White
Roland G-808 White
Roland G-808 White
Roland G-808 White
Roland G-808 White
Click on image for larger view
Rare Roland G-808 White Finish Rare Roland G-808 White Finish
Rare Roland G-808 White Finish Rare Roland G-808 White Finish
Rare Roland G-808 White Finish Rare Roland G-808 White Finish

Videos:

Origins of Roland Guitars - Fujigen:

Greco GO1000Roland G-808 Advertisement

Roland guitars were not built by Ibanez, or Hoshino, as is often erronously posted on various websites! Ibanez does not make every Japanese Electric Guitar!

In 1977, through a joint capital investment between Roland Corporation and Fujigen, FUJI ROLAND CORP is established, based in Matsumoto. Together they developed the world's first guitar synthesizer (GR-500).

Some have noted the the Roland basses have the logo "F Roland" on the headstock, for Fuji Roland. And the Roland guitars have "GR" on the headstock, perhaps for "Greco Roland." The 1981 Greco Catalogue shows every Roland guitar synth product in production at that time. The Roland G-808 is a modified version of the Greco GO1000.

Fujigen Gakki built a lot of guitars, for a lot of people, including Greco Guitars. Greco Guitars were sold almost exclusively in Japan. Fujigen Gakki also built guitars for Ibanez, Fender, Fender/Squire, Yamaha, and of course Roland.

Contractors could provide their own designs to Fujigen Gakki, but often they would consult with the Fujigen Gakki engineers, and make modifications of existing designs. This explains the similar designs and features of Roland and Ibanez guitars of the same era.

Fujigen Gakki built a lot of guitars, for a lot of people, including Greco Guitars. Greco Guitars were sold almost exclusively in Japan. Fujigen Gakki also built guitars for Ibanez, Fender, Fender/Squire, Yamaha, and of course Roland.

Contractors could provide their own designs to Fujigen Gakki, but often they would consult with the Fujigen Gakki engineers, and make modifications of existing designs. This explains the similar designs and features of Roland and Ibanez guitars of the same era.

Catalog 40-41
Catalog 42-43
Click on the above images to download these four pages from the Greco 1981 catalogue featuring vintage Roland Guitar Synthesizers

Modifications:

Original Anderton GR-300 Modifications, by Craig Anderton, Guitar Player, January 1984:

Improving hex fuzz high-frequency response

The hex fuzz section of a Roland G-series guitar (which is built into the guitar) mixes the fuzzed signal from each string into a single output. Note, though, that this hex fuzz mixer starts rolling off high frequencies around 2k Hz. To eliminate this roll-off, remove the metal plate on the back of the G-series guitar'ts body (the one on the other side from the controls and switches). Next, orient the guitar'ts circuit board so that the lettering is right side up, and look for the capacitor labeled C72 (470 pF). On my guitar, this cap is located a little to the right of center of the board, in the upper middle section. Once you've found the cap, snip one of its leads with a diagonal cutter - you will be rewarded by a brighter fuzz sound with more presence.

roland g-3030 modifications roland g-3030 modifications roland g-3030 modifications roland g-3030 modifications
Interior G-303 guitar. The clip is attached to C72, located just below the ribbon connector. Interior G-303 guitar. The yellow arrow points to C72. C72 is a flat, ceramic capacitor. Interior G-505 guitar. The yellow arrow points to C72. The layout is similar to a G-303. Interior G-505 guitar. Note C72 in the lower left corner. The op amp IC8 is part of the hex fuzz.

Schematics - Repairs - Service Bulletins:

There are no known service bulletins from Roland addressing any G-303 problems

Repairs - Roland G-202/303/505/808 Opamp Failure

You suddenly notice that one string on your guitar synth system stops working. The first thing you want to do is try another cable! Cable failures are the most frequent GR-system problem. If you do not have a spare cable, try jiggling either end of the connector, though the problem is most likely to be the end that plugs into your guitar. If the sound comes and goes, then you need to fix your cable. If not, then you most likely have a problem with an op-amp inside the guitar electronics. A more remote possibility is that you have a damaged pickup.

If you have a GR-700, an easy way to determine if you cable is working correctly is to press the EDIT foot pedal, followed by 4 and 8. This puts the GR-700 in tuning mode. Play each string on the GR-700, and you should see the display change for each string. The displays shows "1" for the high E string, "2" for the B string, down to "6" for the low E string. If the GR-700 responds to all six strings, then your cable is good, and most likely you have a failed 80017a chip.

Unless you have been moving the synth pickup around a lot, they usually do not fail on their own. Instead of a synth pickup failure, you possibly could have a problem with the electronics. Inside every GR guitar are a lot of small, integrated amplifiers called "op-amps." These due tend to fail over time. If you have a G-303, G-505 or G-808, you are in luck! These guitars are easy to test, and easy to repair. The other models of guitar synths are a little bit more difficult to troubleshoot, since they do not have hex-fuzz. While the G-202 has hex fuzz, it actually uses the same circuit for both the fuzz and clean signal, so the hex fuzz test will not work.

To find out if you have an op-amp failure, listen to the hex-fuzz output only. If all six strings work in hex-fuzz mode, and you know your cable is good, your pickup is working fine, then your op-amp is most likely bad. If you get all six stirngs to output a synthesizer signal, but one string looses the hex fuzz sound, then it is almost certain that you have a bad op-amp.

The GR guitars use 4558 op-amps, available at any decent electronics shop, and they typically cost just a dollar or less.

Typical replacement part: STMicroelectronics 4558 operational amplifier at Mouser.com.

Here are some photos of a op-amp replacement I did on a G-303. Notice I installed an IC socket on the G-303 circuit board, to make future repairs or upgrades easy.

opamp repair opamp repair opamp repair
G-303 Electronics interior, the arrow points to the failed op-amp. Underside of the electronics. Arrow points to the pads to de-solder. The new 4558 was mounted inside a socket, for easy replacement in the future.
Repairs - Roland G-202/303/505/707/808 Divided Vintage GR Synth Pickup

If you remove the guitar electronics for repair, it is quite possible to crack the divided hex synthesizer pickup ribbon ever so slightly. These ribbons become very brittle as they age. The conductive metal traces are layered on to the plastic ribbon, and are fragile. Fortunately, there is a possible fix for this problem, but be forewarned, this is the most difficult and tedious vintage Roland repair.

Before you start this repair, it is important to check that the ribbon is the problem. Remove the ribbon connector from the circuit board, and using a multi-meter, check the impedance between contacts. You should read either approximately 80 or 160 ohms for a "narrow" pickup, or 800 to 1.6K ohms for a "wide" pickup. See the information above on measureing the impedance in your hex pickup.

Since there is no way to repair the ribbon connector itself, you will cut the ribbon connector off the hex pickup, remove the potting wax around the pole pieces, and then solder replacement wires to a new ribbon connector. I have successfully repaired a half dozen pickups this way. It can be done with patience and the right tools. Allow and hour or two for the whole procedure.

  • Dremel Tool with basic attachments.
  • Low wattage soldering iron and solder.
  • Replacement Roland 12-position Ribbon Cable.
  • Masking tape.
hex pickup repair hex pickup repair hex pickup repair
Hex pickup ready for surgery. The ribbon connector has been removed, and tape is placed around the pickup to protect the casing.
Enough potting wax has been removed to allow soldering access to the pole pieces You only need to expose seven poles.
New wires attached to the hex pickup. The top pin is green (common) and the lower row is high E to low E (left to right).
hex pickup repair hex pickup repair hex pickup repair
Close-up detail of wires attached to the pole pieces in the hex pickup. The bottom green wire is the common lead shared by all the elements. The pickup with replacement wires attached, soldered to a spare Roland 24-pin ribbon cable. The original ribbon connector is also in the picture. These are the Dremel attachments I used. The last repair totally destroyed three of my brushes, as the epoxy was very, very hard.

The above photos show the conversion of a "narrow" older-style hex pickup. A Dremel tool was used to remove the epoxy-type potting wax around the pole pieces of the hex pickup. When removing the epoxy-type potting wax, you only want to remove just enough to solder on to the pole pieces. Removing too much will permanently damage the pickup. Also, the Dremel brush can damage the casing of the pickup, so to be on the safe side I taped up the edges of the pickup to prevent damage. I would work a little bit, then closely inspect the pole pieces. When I felt I was close enough, I used a multi-meter to test for conductivity, in a "narrow" pickup, you should read around 80 ohms between the element and the common, or ground. With a "wide" pickup, you should read about 800 ohms.

You will note that one row of six pins are common, or ground. You only need to uncover one of the common pins for this repair. Refer to the photos below to orient your epoxy removal to access the six lead pins and one common pin.

When I was finished with the Dremel tool, I cleaned everything up and carefully soldered seven wires to the pickup, one for ground (the common for all six elements), and one wire for each element. Then everything was tested again. The resistance between two elements (not between the element and ground) should read 160 ohms for the "narrow" pickup, and 1.6K ohms for the "wide" pickup. I have tried different Dremel brushes for this work. The video clip below shows a repair using a nylon brush.

WARNING:

The last repair I did had particularly difficult epoxy. The repair destroyed three of my Dremel brushes, and as the metal brush disintegrated, tiny metal wires went into my face. GR user Peter Kulich reported a similar experience to me, but then he is Canadian. Anyway, when I was done, it was up to my wife pulled these tiny wires out with tweezers. Fortunately, I was wearing eye protection and a breather which covered most of my skin, but it was an important reminder to protection at all times.

hex pickup detail
This is a "wide" hex pickup with new wires attached. The top row of pins are all ground, or common.
hex pickup detail
This is a "narrow" hex pickup with new wires attached. The top row of pins are all ground, or common
Restored Divided Vintage GR Synth Pickup Installed in Pedulla XJ-S:
pedulla hex pickup repair pedulla hex pickup repair pedulla hex pickup repair
This is a photo of a wide pickup set to be installed in a Pedulla XJ-S with Roland electronics. In this installation, the ribbon connector was cut down to seven traces. This ribbon will be used with the remaining ribbon part. New wires attached to the hex pickup ribbon. Refer to the G-303/G-808 schematic for the wiring order.
pedulla hex pickup repair pedulla hex pickup repair pedulla hex pickup repair
Close-up detail both ribbon parts inserted into the ribbon connector on the circuit board. Distant view with wire leads shown as well. In the Pedulla XJ-S the electronics are in a very narrow cavity, with barely enough room. Here is the entire assembly in the guitar, with black masking tape added around the connectors to prevent shorting.
Craig Hara's Excelllent Page on Restoring Divided Synth Pickup

Dating Early Vintage Roland Guitars:

dating Roland guitars

The top G-303 was made in
November, 1982,
"K82", the bottom in
January, 1980 "A80"

dating Roland guitars

The top G-808 was made
in December, 1980,
"L80", the bottom in
July, 1980 "G80"

Have you wondered what year your Roland controller was built? I located some excellent information on dating guitars produced by Fuji Gengakki. This information is from an ebay page called Ibanez Does Not Make Every Japanese Electric Guitar

"Guitars made at FujiGen from about 1976 through 1985 use a signature serial numbering system. All Ibanez-branded guitars from 1976-1985 use it, as do Grecos and the other Hoshino-associated brands I discuss below. This serial number system makes it very easy to date the guitar. The serial number is made up of a letter followed by six numerals, for example, B781234. The letter corresponds to the month of the year (A = January, B = February, etc.) and the first two numbers correspond to the year (in the example I give, 78 stands for 1978).

Later Roland controllers uses a metal plate attached to the headstock with serial numbers only, and no letters.