I originally intended to make this week's column a roundup of reviews of Microsoft's new tablets and operating system, but every single publication in the world has done something similar and I'd rather wait a little while to see how things are really going — first impressions being wrong a lot of the time. I've already purchased and installed Windows 8 on my now three-year-old laptop and I'll be picking up my Windows 8 phone — only available at Rogers at launch — in the next few weeks, and I'll let you know how that goes.
I also didn't feel like writing about the new smaller iPad or iPad 4 announcement, or the new 13-inch MacBook or slimmer iMacs, all of which, in my mind, are extremely cool but ludicrously overpriced. (Before you buy the iPad mini, I'd seriously consider looking at the competition because there are mini tablets with better screens, more storage and other features for over $100 less — and that's all I'm going to say on the subject.)
The truth is, it's hard to care about all this new technology when I'm holding what may be the greatest innovation of all time in my hands — a toy so mind-bendingly awesome, and so fun to play with that I lose sleep when I think about it.
Who needs Windows 8 when you have the You Rock Guitar (Gen II) — a MIDI-guitar that debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas back in 2010, and has been blowing minds for two years now. They're hard to find and production runs tend to sell out quickly, so fast that they haven't had the time to make it into most music stores. They're rare for a reason...
At first, it may look like a hunk of plastic to the average person, a gussied up Guitar Hero controller, but it's so much more than that. There are no "strings" on the fret board, just raised bumps where the strings should be.
There are strings where you pick and strum, as well as a few buttons, a volume knob, a whammy bar and a little analog "modulation" joystick that functions as a pedal or modulation wheel on a traditional keyboard. There are a variety of ways to connect your guitar as well, including a MIDI Out port, a USB port, a quarter-inch guitar cable port, a 3.5mm Audio Out port and a 3.5 mm Audio In port. You can power the guitar using four AA batteries or using the USB.
Those fake strings can't bend or slide, but if you use the whammy and joystick just right, or the "Slide" button effectively, you can replicate those sounds pretty easily.
The fake strings are also ridiculously easy to press and play, and never seem to miss notes.
What you need to consider at the outset is that this thing isn't actually a guitar; it's a MIDI music controller that was built with a guitar's form factor. Because it's MIDI you can use it to virtually play any virtual musical instrument, transposing your guitar knowledge onto a device in a way that's both familiar and new.
And it also works with everything. You can plug it into your laptop and use with any Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) from Garageband to Ableton Live. You can plug it into a soundboard or amplifier or stereo. You can plug it into your mobile device and play around, or just plug in the headphones. You can even use it with your game console to play Guitar Hero or Rock Band if you choose, although you have to buy a small add-on to use it that way.
It strums and picks like a regular guitar, or you can switch to tap mode and just play around on the fret board. You can tune it any way you want with a touch of a button, from open E to E-flat to drop "D" or any open tuning you choose. You can add hammer-ons and pull-lffs, slides, string gain, delay, damping, and more. There's even an educational "You Rock" mode that lets you play in the key of your backing track, where any notes that aren't in that key signature are blocked out.
There are a few preloaded tracks you can play along with, although with the ability to plug into computers and devices with the Audio In port, you can jam along with any song you choose.
The device comes preloaded with 15 professionally sampled guitar sounds, from 12-strings, to electric guitars to basses. There are 15 new professionally sampled synth sounds, including piano, strings, organs, drums and synth. You can play two sounds at once if you choose and add a Stereo Chorus effect. And this library of sounds in expandable almost immediately if you download apps or a free DAW to expand your library.
If you're a Mac user, the "YRG" is compatible out of the box with Garageband. With a small investment in cables and maybe a USB microphone, you can probably set up a decent home recording studio for less than $100. For myself, I'm purchasing the Reaper for $60, an affordable DAW that allows me to download thousands of MIDI instruments, loop tacks, add effects, select between amplifier types and more. If people are interested I'll review my experiences with Reaper in a future column.
Of course, all of these features are just scratching the surface of a device I plan to get know really well in the next few months.
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