Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Electronic Guitars: The Future of Electric Guitars?

Purists may scoff at the concept but are electronic guitars, with their 9-volt PP3 batteries and solid-state IC op-amps, the future of electric guitars?

By Ringo Bones

It all probably started with the 1998 era EMG DG-20, a prewired pickguard with onboard preamplifier and two active tone control circuits which back then costs 350 US dollars. It was marketed as the same set-up allegedly used by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour and was squarely aimed at the modern guitar player who wants single coil pickups / Stratocaster-based sounds but isn’t afraid to forgo tradition in the interests of technology. Strange on how David Gilmour would use such a set-up given that he was busy hoarding pricy NOS Mullard EL34 vacuum tubes during the Ronald Reagan era vacuum tube shortage all the way through the 1990s.

Short of using a 1980s era “keytar” – i.e. keyboard guitar – one of the main advantage of using a 9-volt PP3 powered electronic guitar is the elimination of the need of string grounding for 60-cycle hum avoidance and thus no more nasty shocks onstage when you opt to play barefoot like Cindy Lauper. In contrast to the traditional passive roll-off low-to-high single-knob tone control, an electronic guitar’s two active EQ circuits let you boost predetermined frequencies. One lets you punch the midrange, while the second simultaneously increases the lows and highs for a huge, scooped tone.

Peculiar to this model, the EMG DG-20’s SA pickups have a flat bar magnet, so you can raise them close to your strings for an in-your-face sound. With their rod-magnet pole-pieces – and stronger magnetic field – standard Stratocaster pickups create damping and intonation problems when raised too close to the strings. This particular topic on Strat pole-pieces adjustment was discussed by Eric Clapton during his Guitar Player and Guitar World interviews during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Other obvious advantage of the electronic guitar set-up is the buffered preamplifier – powered by the 9-volt PP3 battery – removes electric guitar cord capacitance from the tone equation which allows you to run a 50-foot electric guitar cable with impunity. Sadly, electronic guitars, with their solid-state and integrated circuit (IC) op-amp based circuits are scoffed at by purist. Maybe EMG will make one with 12AX7 vacuum tubes or nuvistors powered by a beefy pack-of-gum-sized lithium-ion battery.