August: July 2018
YouTube Logo

The Roland G-303 Guitar and the NED Synclavier:

Pat Metheny and NED Synclavier

Pat Metheny with Custom Roland G-303 Guitar and NED Synclaiver II


New England Digital briefly made a guitar-to-Synclavier interface using the Roland G-303. Both Pat Metheny and John McLaughin were shown playing this system. As shown on this page, Pat's G-303 was modified to blend the Synclavier remote into the wood work for a more elegant appearance. From all reports, this early system did not work any better than the Roland GM-70. It was slow, and prone to tracking errors.

But for most Pat Metheny fans, the Synclavier is invaluable to the Metheny cannon, as it gave birth to one of the most loved Lyle Mays/Pat Metheny compositions, "Are You Going With Me?" Pat created this moving composition early in his work with the Synclavier. The basic comping/rhythm track of AYGWM is nothing more than a simple FM synthesis track, trigger by the the internal Synclavier sequencer.

Advertising - Pat Metheny with Roland G-303 and Synclavier II Digital Guitar Option

At its heart, the Synclavier was a FM synthesizer, with the addition of sequencing. The Synclavier was expanded later to offer the ability to sample and playback sounds pitched on a keyboard. This introduction of sampling in the early nineteen eighties was revolutionary. Along with the Fairlight CMI, these systems were the Mt. Olympus of music technology, promising new musical horizons, but priced in a range that made them accessible only to elite musicians and top recording studios.

Check out the YouTube clips below, the first is a rare interview with Pat, featuring the Synclavier. The next clip shows Pat playing the Synclavier with an early custom Synclavier controller.

Pat Metheny - Synclavier Videos


synclaviar details synclaviar details synclaviar details synclaviar details
Click on any image for larger view.
NED G-303 eBay auction from 2011
Roland G-303 - NED Synclavier II Digital Guitar

McLaughlin's Synclavier

"It’s A Revolution"

By Jim Ferguson, Guitar Player, September 1985

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN owns two Synclavier Digital Music Systems made by New England Digital. The company's Digital Guitar Option enables the polyphonic array to be controlled by any instrument equipped with a hexaphonic pickup. John uses a Roland G-303 guitar, outfitted with NED's remote button panel (mounted near the cutaway), which gives him immediate access to the Synclavier's functions during live performance. The particular software John is using allows him to play synthesized sounds, as well as resynthesized ones (altered timbres derived through the sampling process, where recorded sounds are converted to digital code, and then synthesized).

An essential link in John's system is the Digital Guitar Control Unit, an interface module that converts the guitar's pitch and dynamics information into digital code (Certain new and advanced features of NED's current model, the Enhanced Svnclavier, will be noted in the following text.)

McLaughlin's Synclavier

The Synclavier Digital Music Svstern combines the features of a multi-track recording studio with those of a powerful computer-based digital synthesizer: the computer is NED's ABLE 60. (In fact Pat Metheny recorded the soundtrack to the movie The Falcon And The Snow bed room with a Synclavier). The system's other components include an ABLE 16-bit minicomputer, a 61-note kevboard, two floppy disk drives, a Winchester hard disk drive, a VT 100/640 graphics a dot matrix printer, and in John's case, a Guitar Interface Module.

Sounds are created with the Synclavier, through the partial timbre [tone color] method of synthesis, which allows exacting control over a sound's harmonic content. Up to four partials — parts of a sound — can be combined to create complex timbres. The volume and harmonic envelope of a timbre can be extensively modified, and effects as chorus, vibrato, and portamento can be added.

Synclavier Remote
Synclavier Remote
Synclavier Remote
Synclavier Remote
Click on any image for larger view.

Once sounds are created, they can be played polyphonically with either the keyboard or the guitar, and then recorded in the system's 16-track memory recorder. Once in the recorder, sequences can be edited, transposed, slowed down, or speeded up without changing the pitch. Once a composition has been recorded and edited, it can be printed out in standard notation with NED's Music Printing option, a strong compositional tool. The Synclavier has many possibilities for guitarists, and the following outline is but a brief description. Up to 64 special tunings can be stored in memory and then accessed at the remote button panel while playing. From the panel, you can split the fretboard and, for instance, employ a different timbre for each string in any combination. In addition, you can sample any sound (analyze its components), resynthesize it, and play it back on the guitar.

Synclavier II Digital Guitar Sontrol Panel
NED's remote button panel (each switch has three positions); upper row (L to R): Bank and Timbre Recall permit timbre recovery from memory; Tracks 1-8 (9-16) enable you to select a particular track: Sequence Recall retrieves program sequences from memory; Transient Filter assists in deriving a fundamental signal under severe conditions, such as wild string fluctuations; Quantize allows instant tuning; Dynamic Volume regulates volume, regardless of pick attack; Monophonic String can be used to program novel tunings, as well as other functions. Bottom row (L to R): Start and Stop activate the recording function or programmed sequences; Record is used in conjunction with Start and Stop; Continue allows you to pick up where a specific sequence has left off; Loop enables you to repeat a sequence indefinitely; Transpose enables you to transpose a sequence by any interval; Erase is for deleting sequences.

In live performance, straight guitar can be blended with synthesized sounds. Foot pedals allow you to mix Synclavier-generated sounds with the straight guitar signal, and a "hold" switch sustains a chord indefinitely while you solo over the top. A guitar that is out of tune (by less than a semitone) can instantly be put in perfect adjustment by activating the quantize mode, which simulates the fixed tuning of a keyboard. In this mode, you can bend a note, and hear the pitch move through the quantized steps. When the function is bypassed, you hear the raw pitch as you would on a standard guitar. The Enhanced Synclavier brings the system to a new level of sophistication. Standard components include a high-speed processor, improved software, a velocity- and pressure-sensitive 76-note keyboard, an expanded keyboard button panel, an expanded real-time effects controller, and super floppy disk drives.

Several new options provide increased capabilities. High-fidelity samples can be played back polyphonically on the keyboard or the guitar. Among other things, this allows you to play an orchestral score and have it sound like an entire symphony orchestra. In addition, samples can be combined with synthesized or resynthesized timbres to create unique composite sounds. For example, you could sample your voice and combine it with a synthesized violin sound and then, using this composite sound, play chords on the guitar. Also available are film and tape syncing options. This fall, Synclavier will offer an option that allows you to record any natural sound (say, an acoustic guitar) into memory over existing tracks.

(The price of a particular multi-component system depends upon its combination of modular elements.)

Photos: Roland G-33 Bass with NED Synclavier V with Digital Guitar Option

Roland G-33 bass Roland G-33 bass Roland G-33 bass
Click on any image for larger view. Thanks to Pablo Leocata for the G-33/Synclavier photos.

John McLaughlin (Roalnd G-303 and NED Synclavier) with Jonas Hellborg and Billy Cobham - LIVE