- SY-100 Expression Pedal Shoot Out! Comparing the Roland EV-5, Boss EV-30, Moog EP-3 and Mission Engineering SP-1
- SBC-1324 New Videos Posted!
- BX-13 Do-It-Yourself Cooper tracing and silk screen available for download.
- Roland Centerstage - Roland Makes !t Happen! 1984 Winter Namm - First time ever!
- Boss SY-1000 All About Program and Bank Change Commands - Boss SY-1000 Webpage
- Boss SY-1000 All About Program and Bank Change Commands YouTube Video
- Email Blast Archive! 4 Years Plus of Email Blasts Archived.
- Roland BC-13 Full review on YouTube
- NEW Interior Photos - First time ever!
- The Most Requested GR-700 Patch A breakdown of how to recreate the classic Roland GR-700 Factory Patch 3-5, "Lead II" as used by Glen Tipton of Judas Priest, adding a signature sound to the excellent track 'Turbo Lover'.
- High Res PG-200 Manual (NEW) NEW! I tracked down a mint PG-200 Owner's Manual, newly posted.
- Roland GR-500 MINT Stunning Photos As seen on Reverb! A really stunning example of a Mint Roland GR-500/GS-500 combination. Includes the very, very rare GR-500 case, never seen before!
- The Swallow's Dream is a performance piece made only using sounds from the Boss SY-1000 with an Epiphone Dove Pro equipped with the Graphtech GHOST Acoustic Steel String Midi Kit.
- Mastering Resynthesis with the SY-1000 This video shows how to record the master stereo output of the SY-1000 in the USB audio to a stereo track. In this way many tracks of guitar synthesizer can be recorded and layered to create a final composition.
- Epiphone Dove Pro with Graphtech GHOST Midi Kit In this video I share a few insights about a Epiphone Dove Studio Acoustic-Electric Guitar Vintage Burst I purchased with the Fishman Sonitone and Sonicore System and the Graphtech GHOST Acoustic Steel String Midi Kit installed.
- Roland GM-70 MIDI Polyphonic Expressions: Using the vintage Roland GM-70 with the Arturia Pigments Soft Synth with MPE MIDI Polyphonic Expressions
- Roland GM-70 Alternate Tunings and MIDI Continuous Controllers: Using the vintage Roland GM-70 alternative tunings, and assigning MIDI continuous controllers
- Roland Hardware GR-700: Vanguard to Synth Frontiers: Announcing the Roland GR-700! From the Roland Users Group, Volume 2, Number 4
- Boss SY-1000 On The Run Sequence - Step By Step Tutorial - EMS Synthi AKS - Analog Recreation: This is a step-by-step tutorial showing how to recreate the famous 'On The Run' sequence from Pink Floyd's album The Dark Side of the Moon.
- Boss SY-1000 Guitar Synthesizer Sequence Step By Step Dynamic Synth Tutorial: Tutorial on using the Sequencer in the Boss SY-1000.
- Jeff Baxter - How I Became An Electronic Musician: Read this interview with guitarist Jeff Baxter from the first issue of the Roland User's Group Magazine.
- Boss SY-1000: Resynthesis - YouTube Video: Multitrack Guitar Synthesis Recording
- Boss SY-1000 Reaktor 6 - DIY Build Your Own Guitar Synth YouTube Video: Use Reaktor with the Boss SY-1000 to build your own software guitar synthesizer.
- Korg MS-03 Forget MIDI! Forget the Hex Pickup! Direct Guitar to Analog Synthesizer with the mighty Korg MS-03 and the Arp Odyssey and Behringer K-2 (Korg MS-20)
- Korg MS-03 Video - Demo of the RareKorg MS-03 with the (Korg) Arp Odyssey and the Behringer K-2 (MS-20 Clone)
- Roland SPV-355 Guitar to Synthesizer Video - Roland G-303 Direct to the Roland SPV-355
- Behringer K-2 Guitar to Synthesizer Video - The hidden Guitar Synthesizer in the Behinger K2!
- GR-700 Tech Tips from Roland! Originally published in the Roland User Group magazine, Volume 2, Number 4.
- GR-700 Performance Tips! Originally published in the Roland User Group magazine, Volume 3, Number 3.
- Guitar Greats and the GR-700 Originally published in the Roland User Group magazine, Volume 2, Number 3.
- Roland Hardware - GR-700 G-707 Originally published in the Roland User Group magazine, Volume 2, Number 3.
- Synth Ethics Featuring the Roland GR-700 Tips on using the GR-700 from Mark Wood, Guitarist Magazine May 1985
- Three Favorite GR-700 Patches By Steve Carnelli, Guitar PLayer June 1986.
- Roland GR-700 Guitar Synthesizer Product Review By John Themis Guitarist May 1985
- Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays Interview - 1989 Pat and Lyle interviewed during the height of the popularity of the Pat Metheny Group in Music Technology Magazine.
- Pat Metheny Interview - 1985 Vintage interview from the era of 'First Circle', and 'The Falcon And The Snowman' - Guitarist Magazine
- Pat Metheny Interview - 1984 Vintage interview from the Roland Users Group covering Pat's early career as musician and highlighting the Roland GR-300.
- Boss SY-1000 Recreating the Pat Metheny GR-300 Solo Sound YouTube Video detailing tweaks to recreate the dramatic Pat Metheny GR-300 solo sound with the Boss SY-1000.
- Pat Metheny - New England Digital Synclavier Demonstration YouTube Video Old Grey Whistle Test - Roland G-303
- Pat Metheny with NED Synclavier Prototype YouTube Video Early Guitar Synthesizer Controller
- Pat Metheny and the NED Synclavier Read Pat's notes on using guitar synthesizers and the New England Digital Synclavier.
- Van Halen Michael Anthony Roland GR-33B G-33 Bass Guitar Synthesizer Solo YouTube Video From 1982 Largo and 1983 Devore In Concert Live Performance! FILTER SWEEPS!!! DELAYS!!!
- Spicetone 6Appeal Guitar Processor Analog Hexaphonic Distortion Pedal The Spicetone 6Appeal is a modern take on the poly distortion, hexaphonic (hex) fuzz pedal.
- GR-100 GR-300 Power Supply Repair New video on the one GR-100 or GR-300 or GR-33B power supply mod you MUST do!
- Roland GR-D Interior Photos: First time on the web! Interior photos of the Roland GR-D!
- Gibson Les Paul Custom LPK-1 Repair In depth step-by-step repair of the Gibson Les Paul with LPK-1 kit.
- Roland G-303 A Fresh Look! Trevor Harley sent me these photos of his Roland G-303. The guitar was refinished with a flame maple top and back by the Canadian Luthier George Furlanetto. Note that the touch pads have been relocated below the bridge pickup.
- Steinberger Time! Newly posted photos of a White Steinberger GL-4T-GR
- Ultimate 24-Pin Custom Guitar Stunning photos of the most amazing custom built 24-pin guitar ever made! The solar system on the fret board and more!
- More PINK Please! Hamer Phantom A7 Nothing says vintage 80s guitar styles link a solid pin finish! Samuel Cuevas sent me a few photos of this very, very rare pink Hamer Phantom A7 Roland-Ready guitar.
- Boss SY-1000 with Roland G-33 YouTube video with a demonstration of all 200 Bass patches for the SY-1000
- BAK-1 Videos A new video on the BAK-1 Electronics card, plus comparison of the G-88 and G-77 electronics
- BAK-1 Photos Newly posted photos of the BAK-1 Bass Guitar Synthesizer Installation Kit
- Roland G-33 G-88 G-77 BAK-1 Vintage Analog Bass Guitar Controller Assembly - Comparison
- G-77 Fretless First time on the web! New photos from Skylark of his pristine G-77 Fretless bass.
- Clone 24-Pin Cable At long last there is a quality clone of the impossible to find Roland 24-pin cable. This is a quality, made in the U.S.A. cable produced by 'MagicTrashMan' in North Carolina. Check out the description and video on the cables page.
- Roland GR-500 Mods - Part 1 Thanks to the Phantastic Jimi Photon who pointed me to the March April 1981 Polyphony magazine with the first list of Roland GR-500 modifications.
- Boss SY-1000 All Bass Patches! Complete on YouTube (no talking)!
- Read The Full Interview The year was 1983, and the Police were exploding on the charts. The inventive and adventurous Andy Summers was busy rewriting what a rock guitar player could be. The smash hit "Don't Stand So Close To Me" prominently featured the Roland GR-300, played by Andy with the Roland G-808. Volume 2, number 2, of the Roland Users Group magazine featured a great interview with Andy, reproduced for the first time on the web!
- Read The Full Review Roland shifts direction in 1987, releasing the Roland GK-1 and GM-70. This combo said goodbye to Roland guitars and dedicated guitar synthesizers like the GR-300 and G-808 in favor of a system that could be mounted on any guitar, and used to control any MIDI synthesizer. Read Warren Sirota's review of the GK-1, GM-70, and the MKS-50 and MKS-70.
- Roland GR-500 Mods and Tips! Electronic Musician magazine started life as Polyphony magazine, edited by young writer named Craig Anderton. Seemingly produced by on a single typewriter in the early eighties, this Polyphony article features insights and modifications for the Roland GR-500!
- History of the Guitar Synthesizer Travel back in time, before MIDI, before the Roland GR-700, to the early 1980s, when the Roland GR-300 was the pinnacle of guitar synthesizer technology.
- Steve Howe and Steve Hackett Prog Rock Guitar Titans Teamed up for GTR, Chart-Topping Band Centered around the Roland GR-700!
- Steve Howe Roland Profile A detailed profile of Steve Howe, his Roland G-505 and GR-700 from the 1984 Roland Users Group Magazine
- Boss SY-1000 Tutorial Videos New vidoes on setting up Guitar-To-Midi and blending normal guitar sounds with modeled sounds.
- Washburn JB100 Profile A look at the Washburn Roland-Ready JB100. Detailed photos and videos!
- Lyle Mays Remembering Lyle Mays - New YouTube Playlist with Unreleased Tracks from live Radio Broadcast
- Boss SY-1000 Interior Photos and Unboxing Photos
- Parker NiteFly SA with Factory Internal GK-2A Just Added! A profile of a Parker NiteFly SA with factory Roland GK-2A. Demos with Roland GR-100, GR-300 and GR-700.
- Behringer Deep Mind 12 The New Roland GR-700? Vintage Sounds in a Modern Analog Synth
- GR-300 Case Rare spotting of the Original Roland GR-300 Case!
- Roland Ready Les Paul Photos of Bob Welch's Custom Shop Les Paul Paul with Roland electronics.
- Peter Frampton With Roland G-303 Thank you Eric Fisher for finding this rare live video!
- Picture This 30th Anniversary Release - Wayne Scott Jones Album from November 1989.
- Converting the M-16C into an M-64C - Detailed tips on converting the M-16C into a M-64C with four times the memory capacity!
- Roland G-33 Major Update! 18 new photos, PLUS 4 YouTube videos!
- Switch Roland-Ready MIDI Guitar Complete details on the Switch Wild-IV, PLUS all the Switch Guitars!
- Boss GP-10 and Hex Fuzz Details on great hex fuzz sounds from the Boss GP-10
- Steve Hackett - Roland GR-500/GS-500 Performance - Please Don't Touch From the 'Please Don't Touch' tour, November 8, 1978. Great GR-500 showcase!
- Vintage Roland GR-300 Review from Electronics & Music Maker - Nov 1981
- Roland GR-77B for Reaktor - Download a modeled Roland GR-77B for Native Instruments Reaktor 5!
- Roland GR-700 Blue - Remake with 'GR-300' blue finish, new handles, and handsome natural wood end blocks! Thank you Chuck Nin!
- PG-200 - Updated NOS New-Old-Stock photos of the Roland PG-700, programmer for the Roland GR-700. Thank you Eric Rusack!
- G-707 White Ever wonder what a G-707 would look like redone in a brilliant white finish? With Steinberger folding leg rest!
- 3D Printing Vintage Roland Guitar Parts - 24-to-25 pin Plate - Courtesy of Jusin Casey
- David Gilmour - Solo with Roland STK-1 and GR-700!
- Moog Voyager XL (with Casio MG-510 Cameo) Space Music - Melodic Downtempo, Ambient, Ambient& PsyChill Mix.
- Roland GM-70 Guitar-to-MIDI Converter - Review by Paul White, Music Technology Magazine, April 1987
- Theme from M*A*S*H. Arranged using only the ARP Odyssey for all sounds, synths, drums, efx, etc.
- Ibanez IMG2010 - Owned by George Benson. Rare 'Endorsee' finish with Silver hardware.
- Arp Avatar Review by Paddy Kingsland. Vintage review of one of the very first analog guitar synthesizers, the Arp Avatar - Competitor to the Roland GR/GS-500.
- 24-to-25 Pin Mounting Plate. You can download the newly posted '24-25.dxf' CAD file to make your own 24 to 25 pin mouting plate. I used the company Big Blue Saw to make my 24-to-25 plates from aluminum. The price for a single piece can be expensive, but if you order in quatity the price will drop considerably. Plus, they have specials from time to time!
- Roland GR-100 Samples Sounds. The Roland GR-100 Owner's Manual has a list of "Factory Presets", Sample Sounds, at the end of the Owner's Manual. These sample sounds were intending to give some direction on how to use the GR-100, using features such as Filter Modulation, Chorus, and Vibrato, all served up with the classic hex fuzz sound the GR-100 is famous for. Check out this new YouTube video I posted which goes through the Sample Sounds to get a little flavor of what this vintage 'electronic guitar' synth sounded like!
SBC-1324 Roland 24 or 13 Pin Input to 13 and 24 Pin Output
Back in 2009 I was approached by a very talented Canadian guitarist who wanted to be able to control both vintage Roland 24 pin GR-series synthesizers and modern Roland 13 pin GK-series synthesizers with one guitar, either a 13 or 24 pin guitar.
The SBC-1324 is the unit I built to meet this need. The unit has both 13 and 24 pin inputs, and a master analog switch to select between the two. There are six amplifiers for each string input, used primarily to boost the 13 pin signals to the 24 pin format, but they can also be used individually to amplify any single string input, whether 13 or 24 pin.
Artist Highlight: Neal Schon
Journey guitarist Neal Schon was frequently seen in the early eighties playing a Roland G-505 guitar paired with the GR-300. Schon is not usually thought of as a 'Strat' player, much less a guitar synthesist, but he makes great use of the G-505/GR-300. An outstanding track is the tune 'Valley of the Kings', using the 'Duet' mode of the GR-300.
- Roland SIP-300 Fresh Photos! Super clean photos from an auction by Tone Tweakers.
- Roland GR-300 Emulation with Kontakt 5 or Roland SR-JV80-04 / SRX-04 Ultimate Keys / INTEGRA-7. Download a complete Kontakt 5 patch and trigger a GR-300 with MIDI! Or check out a demo of the Roland GR-300 patch created by the legendary Scott Summers.
- UX-20 - 13-Pin Splitter/Distributor with Buffered Guitar Input Schematic
- Pat Metheny writes about on using the NED Synclavier Digital Guitar Option - First Time Online! From the 1984 NED Owner's Manual.
- Steinberger XL2-GR Guitar Synthesizer Controller - Vintage Roland Ready Bass Guitar Synthesizer Controller
- Pedulla MVP-S Guitar Synthesizer Controller - The phantom Roland Ready Guitar Synth Controller!
- GK QuadBox Schematic Build your own GK QuadBox, 1 input, 4 output 13-pin Guitar Synth Signal Distributor - Combined US-20 and GKP-4 clone!
- RC-1324-VR Roland 13-in to 24-pin Converter Detailed schematic on the acclaimed RC-1324. Control vintage 24-pin Roland guitar synths like the GR-700 and GR-300 with modern 13-pin controllers like the GK-3, GK-2A or the Godin series of guitar controllers
- Modulus Graphite Blackknife Special Guitar Synthesizer Controller
- Roland GR-700 Operating System Upgrade New Sounds! Faster Response!!
- Do-It-Yourself DIY Roland and Ibanez Guitar Synthesizer Control Panel Overlays
- The summer NAMM 1985 show was the year when MIDI became accepted as a standard across the industry, and guitar manufacturers unleased a variety of MIDI guitar products not seen since. From Roland to Steinberger to Ibanez to the ultra rare Octave-Plateau Voyetra MIDI guitar, MIDI was everywhere.
- Detailed information on the vintage IBM-PC music production software from Voyetra. Voyetra is the same company that produced the Kat and Kitten analog synthesiers, the ground-breaking Voyetra Eight polyphonic analog synthesizer, and the ultra rare Octave-Plateau Voyetra MIDI guitar.
- WBRA Public Television Music Video featuring Wayne Joness using Voyetra Sequencer Plus - Live Performance.
- Vintage Interview with Jazz Fusion pioneer John McLaughlin about using the Roland G-303 guitar synth controller and the New England Digital Synclavier with Digital Guitar Option
- Details on the amazing Synclavier II Digital Guitar
- East Side West Side by John McLaughlin From the Album Mahavishnu - Transcribed by Steve Vai.
- Vintage 1980 Full Page Roland G-808 Advertisement featuring Bernie Marsden (Whitesnake) - Who knew? Hard rock icon Bernie Marsden with a Roland G-808!
Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul "Studio Custom" Roland Ready Synthesizer Controller Update
More pictures on the Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul Roland Ready Synthesizer Controller page, plus an update on the number of models built.
- Musico Resynator | Hexsynator - 1980s Pitch and Envelope Tracking Synthesizer with Roland 24-pin Guitar Synthesizer Input - Detailed photo gallery from November 2017 fundraiser at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, CA.
Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul "Studio Custom" Roland Ready Synthesizer Controller
Beyond the standard Roland offerings in the G-X0X series, there are vintage 24-pin Roland-Ready guitars for just about every niche: the Hard Rock Hamer A7, the traditional player's Zion Strat, or the cutting edge Steinberger GL-2T/GR.
But the classic, eternal, "Cadillac" of the series has got to be the Limited Edition 1985 Gibson Custom Shop Les Paul with the Roland LPK-1 Electronics. Every guitar was the product of Gibson's acclaimed Custom Shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Kalamazoo made Gibson Les Pauls have been called the 'Holy Grail' of electric guitars. These vintage guitars combine all the craft and musicality with the feature-rich Roland LPK-1 electronics package, the same electronics found in the G-303 or G-808 guitars.
- Jazz and the GR-50! Acclaimed Jazz Guitarist Brad Rabuchin rocks the Roland GR-50 in this track 39 Steps: A Spacewalk. This is Space Station MIR, a collaboration with Flugelhorn Horn genius and composer Michael Wetherwax, with Wayne Joness on keyboards and programming. Watch Now on YouTube.
- BX-13 Micro Schematics Yes! At long last! The final schematic for the BX-13 Micro is available on the website! This design incorporates a VCA (voltage controlled amplifier) with an option to select either guitar or hex fuzz as the guitar signal, plus using controller 2 (resonance) as secondary control source acting as a EV-5 pedal.
- At long last the Vintage Roland Guitar Synthesizer Resource site has a full profile on the Steinberger GL-2T/GR Guitar Synthesizer Controller, with unseen schematics, photos and video, with additional information on the GL-3T/GR and GL-4T/GR.
- Musico Resynator | Hexsynator - 1980s Pitch and Envelope Tracking Synthesizer with Roland 24-pin Guitar Synthesizer Input.
- Korg Z3 Patch Editor Adaption for the Korg Z3 - Thanks to Korg Z3 user David for this free software download.
- GS-500 Video Playlist featuring Terje Rypdal - Luc Bertels hipped me to videos of Terje Rypdal using the Roland GR-500 and GS-500.
- Roland GR-700 and GR-77B AB-700 Case - Image gallery with 12 photos of the rare official Roland factory road case.
- Xotica EA-1 with Roland Ready Guitar Graph Tech Ghost Pickups - Detailed information on this very rare, Rland ready 13-pin Acoustic/Electric Roland guitar synthesizer controller.
- Factory Blue Roland GS-500 - Last year while visiting Japan I stumbled upon a factory BLUE Roland GS-500 in a Tokyo music store! Check out the exclusive photos published for the first time.
- Sounds of the GR-77B! New video posted featuring a layered bass combination of the Roland MKS-70 (same sound engine as the GR-77B) and the GR-77B.
- Pat Metheny Extended Interview - I tracked down the original Guitarist Magazine, May 1985, and have posted the complete interview with Pat Metheny. The previous interview was an abbreviated version.
- GR-300 Synthcheck - A detailed 2000 word review from "The Complete Music Magazine", dated November 1980
- Gibson Explorer - Finally! A home for one of the rarer custom Gibson vintage Roland guitar synth controllers
- Jimmy Page - Vintage 1985 magazine ad featuring the guitar legend and his G-707/GR-700 rig!
- LPK-1 Installation Diagram thanks to John Doucette for emailing the scans.
- GK-20 Schematic - 13-pin Guitar Switcher, Schematic ready for download
- Filter/Buffer Schematic - Schematic ready for download.
- Roland GR-700 and GR-77B Updates: From the Roland User Group Archives, a complete MIDI guitar and MIDI bass system profile!
- Roland GR-77B Updates: Finally! The Roland GR-77B and G-77 pages have been updated. Be sure to check out the G-77 page as well.
- Vintage Roland G-505 and GR-300 combination magazine advertisement.
- GR-700 One Step Beyond!: From the 1985 Roland User Group Magazine
- GR-700 4x Memory Expansion!: Easy to do, super DIY Memory Expansion!
- Ibanez IMG2010 and MC1: Updated! High-Res Brochure from 1985
- G-707 Steve Hunter: Vintage Product Review from 1985, Part 2!
- G-707 Steve Hunter: Vintage Product Review from 1985, Part 1
- GR-500 Steve Hackett: Vintage Product Review from 1978!
- GR-500 Patch Sheet: Original Blank Patch Sheet
- GR-500 - Solo Voice Tuning : Adendum on Tuning the Solo Section
- GR-300 Filter Mod: LFO to Filter Modification
- GR-300 Output Mod: Increase the output of your GR-300!
- GR-55 Schematics, Service Notes: Full factory service notes for the Roland GR-55
- Ibanez MIU8: Specs, photos, details on the rarest of rare!
- MIU8 Schematics: Schematics and Service Manual (pdf)!
- Korg Z3 Product Page: From early Product catalog!
- Hamer A7 Guitar: Added to the guitar pages, a tribute to the Hamer Phantom A7! Tubo Lover rocks!
- GR-500 24-pin Connector Change: Documentation of the change from the original, pin-type C24 connector to the much more common C24 positive (locking frame) connector.
Metheny and Mays:
The Music, Mechanics and Marketplace
Photography Jesse Frohtnan, Interviews by John Diliberto.
Volume 4, Number 1
While you might hear the Pat Metheny Group over a supermarket sound system, their music (and attitude) is definitely more sophisticated than meat and potatoes.
PAT METHENY DOESN'T make the kind of music you usually hear in a supermarket between the soft rock and broccoli. But recently, I heard 'Last Train Home' from his last album, Still Life (Talking), right after an announcement for a two-for-one sale on economy-size boxes of Pampers.
"That's one of the least weird ones," says Metheny, unfazed by this revelation. "I mean, there's actually Muzak versions of some of our tunes. That is weird."
Weird, but perhaps not surprising for one of the most popular instrumental groups in America. Since his solo debut on 1977's Bright Size Life, Metheny has continued to ride a line between popular acceptance and experimentation. In his solo albums - New Chautauqua, 80/81, Rejoice and the critically acclaimed 1986 recording, Song X with Ornette Coleman - he pushes the limits of jazz improvisation and freedom.
In the Pat Metheny Group, he's created a melodic, texturally inviting, rhythmically compelling music that has drawn a cross-sectional audience. Pat Metheny and his long-time cohort and keyboardist, Lyle Mays, find themselves in a nether region between the straight-ahead jazz that they grew up with, and the easily seductive music they make with the Pat Metheny Group.
"It tickles me," laughs Lyle Mays, thinking about the Pat Metheny Group as supermarket music. "I could have an attitude that 'this is not background music,' but it's kind of fun to hear it seep into the culture."
"I think the cross-pollination is inevitable," asserts Mays in the offices of his managers in Brighton, Massachusetts. Mays is like Billy Strayhorn to Metheny's Duke Ellington, or perhaps Mr. Spock to Captain Kirk. His quiet background role has forged the group's underpinnings for years, and like his contribution, Mays is understated and sedate next to Metheny's well-known, boyish exuberance.
"Personally I don't see our music as background music at all," says Metheny. "I see it as important to me. This is the music that I feel strongly about. It's designed to be listened to closely, preferably through headphones, really loud."
Metheny grins from beneath his thick mane of salt-and-pepper hair. Sitting in a New York City hotel room, barefoot and in leather pants, Metheny is at the top of his game as the architect of a music that blends rock, jazz, Brazilian music and classical impressionism.
Both musicians have become increasingly involved with synthesizers, although with different philosophical points of view.
Looking back, Metheny is almost embarrassed by some of his earlier, naively enthusiastic comments like "The Synclavier is a breakthrough that makes the guitar look like nothing," or "The guitar synthesizer makes everything possible as an improvisor."
"Oh boy, I must have really been in an optimistic mood when I said that," he laughs, rocking back on the couch. "I take it back. I take it back. There is this one guitar synthesizer, and I would put it in quotes, which is the Roland GR300. It's this sort of primitive thing that a lot of people use. It's basically one sound that you can sort of turn the filter up and down on, and sort of move it up an octave or down an octave or wherever you want it. That one I love because you look at it and it knows you are looking at it. Anything you do, it does a sound that's analogous to it."
Mays, on the other hand, has always looked at synthesizers somewhat askance, even though he's played them since he bought his Micromoog in 1975. He currently uses a Macintosh with MIDIPaint software to run a Kurzweil 250 and other synthesizers, including his favorite Oberheims, to compose and arrange his own music.
"I feel that I have the freedom to say derogatory things about synthesizers, maybe because I've explored them for quite a while and have used them in all sorts of settings," he declares. Piano remains Mays' personal voice, and while he lives with synthesizer technology, he's not quite ready to take it to bed.
"There is the aspect of different personalities and what they bring to the music and there's also the actual complexity of the sounds," he says, revving up the standard argument that synthesizers can't replace the true feeling of musicians. "Acoustic instruments are just more interesting, on the sonic, acoustic level."
Metheny has come around more to Mays' way of thinking. "Synthesizers want to sound bad," he proclaims. "They do sound bad. So for me, the easiest thing is to play straight-ahead jazz with just a regular electric guitar, acoustic bass and drums. Adding synthesizers to that makes it twice as hard. Adding a guitar synthesizer to that makes it twice as hard again. Adding a sequencer to that makes it twice as hard again. So the music has to be seven or eight times better than it would normally be."
On '5-5-7' from Letter From Home, Metheny opens up a window to his Wes Montgomery/Jim Hall jazz roots. "Yeah it's funny, that's the first time with the group that we've actually come out and played like tang-a-dang," says Metheny, who's contemplating a recording of jazz standards in the near future. "We're all thinking much more in those terms than we are into pop music or whatever, even though with this record and the last one, we're dealing with the sort of pop environment more than we are with the straight-ahead jazz environment. I spend more time thinking about how what I do measures up to the standard set by Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall than I do about anybody else. I think that for Lyle it's Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. For Paul (Wertico), it's Roy Haynes. For Steve (Rodby), it's Ron Carter and people like that. Even with the stuff that we do that's more rock-oriented, it's still coming from that other point of view."
Nevertheless, don't expect either musician to be giving up their synthesizers any time soon. Both use them extensively as composing and orchestrating tools. Lyle Mays may have hired a chamber ensemble for his second solo album, Street Dreams, but they were mixed in with a lot of electronic sounds and ambiences. Metheny, who is planning a solo album of guitar and synthesizers and takes credit for the synthesizer programs on the new Metheny Group album Letter From Home, is still prone to enthusiastic claims for his Synclavier.
"It takes the limits off of your imagination," he explains. "I was a jazz guitar player and anything in the world of jazz guitar was conceivably available to me if I practiced long enough and hard enough. But now any music that I hear, I can put that into my immediate world."
Mays, who has more traditional, classical training than Metheny, also looks at synthesizers and computers as an orchestrating and composing medium. "Yeah, the process is all mixed up," he agrees. "'Cause I learned to write music the old-fashioned way, where you just had to imagine it and write out the scores. I still find that graphic representation to be a real aid, but it's also a great help to have a sonic sort of sketch. I view a lot of the sequencing things as just sketches for how the real thing will happen. I can get close enough with samples to let my imagination fill in the gaps, but for me the music doesn't happen until the end with the combination of the acoustic and electric instruments. And in the process of copying, I realized that there were all these things that acoustic players can do that you just can't do on a synthesizer, so my imagination starts taking over. In the process of actually writing out the parts, I got closer to what the music would finally sound like."
MAYS AND METHENY also share a common interest in Brazilian music, which became dominant on 1984's First Circle with the introduction of Brazilian musician Pedro Aznar. His sultry percussion and sweet, Milton Nascimento-inspired wordless vocals brought the Metheny Group closer to a pop-jazz-Brazilian sound. Even before that, Nana Vasconcelos brought that sound to the group in the early 1980s. Metheny now lives part-time in Brazil with a Brazilian girlfriend, and to hear him talk about it, the sounds of Brazil have always been a part of his music.
"The first songs that I learned that had any kind of complicated harmonic structure at all were (Antonio Carlos) Jobim tunes," claims Metheny. "Like a lot of kids who pick up the guitar and get interested in harmony, one of the first tunes I learned is 'Girl from Ipanema' with that wild bridge that goes all over the place."
Metheny reduces his music to a simple formula. "To me, every record I've made is full of what are essentially bossa novas. I've often said that this whole thing about me being completely taken by Brazilian music in 1981 or whatever it was when Nana joined the band is really a myth. Because if you were to overdub percussion and somebody singing along with the melody, even on Bright Size Life, it would sound essentially the same as what I do now. The thing of having people in the band who are from Brazil certainly brings out that aspect of it."
Lyle Mays interpolated some Brazilian breezes into his own album, Street Dreams. One piece, 'Chorinho,' sounds like a computerized Brazilian samba via Switched-On Bach.
"Well, Brazilians, of course, will think it's very stiff, which it is from a Brazilian standpoint," says Mays sardonically. "I wasn't attempting any kind of authentic Brazilian sort of feel. It has a very Baroque element combined with the more Brazilian kind of harmonic scheme that seemed interesting to me. It was more of an etude, more of a study in a way. But it also had a kind of playfulness. It's more complex than the average little ditty."
Sometimes they're influenced by Latin music even when they don't know it. Metheny is surprised when I suggest that the opening of 'Every Summer Night' from Letter From Home, with its bandoneon-like melodica and the tango rhythm, sounds inspired by Argentinian new tango master, Astor Piazzolla. "Wow, tango," Metheny exclaims with surprise. He laughs, "Well to me it sounds like Burt Bacharach. I never thought of that as a tango, wow. I suppose it is kind of a tango. To me, it's like real pop. But yeah, why not. I mean, I'm a huge Astor Piazzolla fan, so maybe there's some kind of subliminal something in there that's happened. In fact, we are probably going to do a piece together sometime in the next few years. He wants to write something for me to play with his group."
Even as the group has gotten more and more electronic, they've infused more and more percussion, beginning with Nana Vasconcelos. "Yeah, it's true," says Metheny. "I think that as you increase the electronic elements in the group, you have to balance it with other things. It's not just percussion, it's the voice too, which really is a nice antidote to all of the technology that we use. It kind of balances things out."
Lyle Mays disagrees, however, countering with the example of the four-part title suite to Street Dreams, especially the energized second second part of Street Dreams there's an awful lot of machine percussion," he reveals. "It wasn't my original intent to use machines, but I had some trouble getting the written-out parts played. It's a tough thing sometimes without adequate rehearsal or adequate money for adequate rehearsal. It's tough sometimes to get very complex things played in such a way that they don't sound complex or they don't sound awkward. I ended up having to use a lot of machines, but I don't feel necessarily that percussion is a balance to the synth. I think that acoustic instruments in general provide more of a balance to the synths and that the rhythmic aspect of music is just something that is intrinsically interesting."
The Pat Metheny Group has set the standard for both longevity and style in contemporary jazz fusion. Despite the sometimes soft-focus pop ambience of their compositions, they've rarely sacrificed the traditional improvising basis of their music. The group tours relentlessly after each album release and, for Metheny, that's where the music comes alive. "All the different things I get to do are really fun," he exudes, "but to me it's all peripheral to the main activity of playing, which is what I became a musician for in the first place, to face it and come up with some new stuff each night."
IN RECENT YEARS, the Metheny Group has been facing it more and more with sequencer backups. "We use the Synclavier as an orchestration device to play woodwind parts and string parts and stuff so that Lyle can really concentrate on the piano. So in essence, we do play with the Synclavier a lot, live and in the studio. It's very similar to a big band, and using the Synclavier as an orchestration device is exactly analogous to hiring a horn section. You are still going to write the parts for the guys and expect them to play the same every night. And what you play around that as a soloist or whatever is completely different from night to night. It's just a matter of setting up a world to play in as an improvisor and the Synclavier for me is our band. It's part of the band.
"We've been doing this since 1981," he reveals. "I don't feel the need to keep it secret. I've never really advertised it that much. But 'Are You Going With Me,' one of our most popular songs, the basic groove part of that is played by the Synclavier and that's like 1980 or '81."
"Using sequences enables us to really get a lot more parts in the music, a lot of information, and it's something we've been using more and more," affirms Mays. "It's a way of enabling complex things to happen in the course of the music that wouldn't happen with six people."
They both see no contradiction in an improvising, interactive ensemble playing with pre-programmed sequences. "We don't feel any kind of restriction from that at all," asserts Metheny. "Because everybody can really do it. I mean, I've heard people play with sequencers and it sounds so bad, you know, there's eighth notes all over the place. But Steve and Paul have a way of grabbing the machine by the horns and saying, 'Okay, this is it,' making it swing like I've never heard a rhythm section do. Rodby uses an analogy which I think is so perfect: playing with the Synclavier is like playing with somebody in the band who's got perfect time but can't listen. He's got no ears. You've just got to take that into account and make it swing. And the guy is going to lay it in the pocket every time."
"It's like playing with a musician who's incredibly stubborn," amplifies Mays, laughing. "Very accomplished in some areas, but very dense and inflexible in others. It can be frustrating if you're used to really mixing things up and really having a lot of interplay, but then again if you compare it to playing jazz with an orchestra backing the combo, it's much more flexible than that, and it certainly doesn't lag as much."
The arrival of sequencers parallels their interest in more complex, multitimbral, multi-layered compositions, which began in their pre-sequencer days of 1980 with the Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays recording, As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. For most listeners, Wichita is an evocative landscape that shifts through clouds of synthesizers with wistful melodies and Nana Vasconcelos' almost subliminal, yet earthy percussion.
"For me, it's about harmony," laughs Metheny, recalling all of the exotic imagery people have attached to the piece. "It's about chords. I think this is probably true for Lyle too. Even though I know the music has the potential for imagery etc., when I hear it, I hear notes and I hear chords and I wish I played better. I wish there wasn't so much reverb."
Mays won't go anywhere near an image for Wichita, nor his other, more impressionistic, extended works such as 'Alaskan Suite' from his eponymous debut or Street Dreams. "I don't think of them as landscapey and I don't really want to address them from that standpoint," he insists, clearly trying to avoid anything approaching the New Age tag. "I do think that one of the things that we've not explored in the group with Pat is more extended forms, and different kinds of structures for the music. The music with Pat is very song-based. And that's very much in the jazz tradition. The more impressionistic stuff, as you call it, is not always song-based. I think it's much more through composed and that's the main difference from a structural standpoint. You know, when you stop the rhythm section and you have the time to float for a minute with some other instruments, you are leaving the jazz realm."
Mays is trying to bring the worlds of composition and improvisation closer together. "There's a very curious connection and also a disconnection between written and improvised he explains. "All written-out music is improvised at some point. You have to conceive it or just spontaneously do it or whatever, so it's improvised at that moment. There's also a lot in the various improvising forms that is not improvisational. There are licks the players have, there are devices that they use time and time again that one might call compositional elements. But I think that the biggest diversion is in style. I mean, thoroughly composed music for English horn and bass clarinet just sounds different than walking bass and saxophone. There are all sorts of stylistic elements that are different. And I think that when you try to bridge that gap, it gets more difficult."
Mays created impressionistic, almost classical forms with guitarist Bill Frisell on 'Newborn' and the Miles Davis-influenced 'Hangtime.' "I think that there's a spectrum in what I'm doing with composed music that may not always be as apparent as composed music. But I've been trying to put as many compositional elements as I can in the more jazz-based music that I've done. For me, one of the ways of bridging the gap is to not really try to bridge it stylistically. Not trying to make an English horn swing for instance, but rather trying to organize more jazz-based music, trying to put another level of organization into it, another level of architecture. I think when that's done well, it's not all that apparent. And it's part of my continued exploration into a little more abstract, 20th century style."
Metheny took his own excursion into 20th century music when composer Steve Reich wrote Electric Counterpoint for him. It consists of ten pre-recorded electric guitar parts and two bass guitar parts, all played by Metheny, to which he adds a live guitar part. It's a work that evolves and transmutes in Reich's distinctive style, with melodies given births and rebirths.
"It was also incredibly difficult for me," confesses Metheny. "It was the first time I'd ever played anything that was written from start to finish with no improvising at all. And also just technically it was hard. It was a difficult piece to play." A longtime fan of Reich's music, it wasn't until he played it that Metheny began to understand the complex nature of his seemingly simple compositions. "What you hear and what gets played are two different things," he says. "In the composite thing that you hear, no one thing is playing. Which I sort of knew. But it wasn't until I started to hear this part that I just played an hour ago and the part I was playing live and then realizing there was this other part in the middle of my head that wasn't one single part playing, it all clicked."
Like Mays' music, Electric Counterpoint was an attempt to merge a jazz and classical feel. That's one of the reasons that Reich decided to write it for Metheny rather than a classical guitarist. But Metheny thinks it didn't quite work on that level. "My idea was to play it a bit looser rhythmically rather than the way his music usually gets played," he explains, "which sounded great on paper to me. It's just that what I ended up doing was making this rhythmic curve in things that I then had to follow as I kept adding parts to it. That not only wasn't spontaneous after a while, it was difficult for me to follow my early parts. If I had it to do over again I would play it in a straighter way."
This merger creadted somethig of a dichotomy for Metheny. He's essentially a performing musician, playing in the jazz tradition of improvisation as composition. In the Metheny Group, that side is less evident than in his solo recordings, particularly Song X, recorded with his longtime hero, alto saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman, along with drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Denardo Coleman.
Playing toe-to-toe on freeform blow-outs like 'Endangered Species' with Ornette's saxophone joining Metheny's guitar synthesizer in a frenetic squall of passion and daring is a shock next to the more controlled atmospheres of the Metheny Group. "It wasn't about notes anymore," recalls Metheny. "And when you can get to that point, that's when you know you've crossed the line. The thing is, Ornette is at that point about 99% of the time and that was the tune on which I could consistently cross the line with him. To me, that song is melodic, but to an extreme degree. It's a certain kind of melody playing that's a little hard to understand sometimes. But it's about the shape of melody."
Of course, Song X is the kind of record that wins critics polls instead of readers polls and sales charts. Metheny, in particular, seems to save his outside playing for outside dates, like a forthcoming Jack DeJohnette record with Herbie Hancock and a reuniting with his old boss, vibraphonist Gary Burton. But the Metheny Group has nothing if not an ear for the limits of the commercial marketplace. Their skill lies in taking music from the inside out on even their most popular songs, like the searing solos on 'Are You Going With Me?' which is continued on the Mays composition, 'Are We There Yet?' on Letter From Home.
"We have to survive. We are on the fringes of the music industry, even being pretty successful playing this kind of music," says Metheny, thinking about his presence on supermarket sound systems and New Age radio playlists. "We need every possible source of exposure that we can get, because the everyday person in America is not going to hear our music, ever. It's got to get played while you are picking out your asparagus. Because it's us against Madonna or whoever it is this week. And we are going to lose."