Latency, the delay between the time you play an ote and when the MIDI note sounds, has always been the issue preventing guitarist from embracing guitar synths. I’ve now spent a week with the incredible Fishman Triple Play
wireless MIDI guitar pickup and I must say it’s that issue is dead. There is virtually no latency whatsoever regardless of how fast I play.

The pickup is the work of Andreas Seleazy who was also the inventor of the Axon system, which was the previous champ as far as MIDI guitar latency*. Early MIDI pickups like the GK2 on on my mid 80s GR700 required at least two cycles to detect the pitch and then convert it to MIDI data. This caused all sorts of problems because not only was there a delay between attack and sound, but it increased as the pitch went lower. The delay on the low E string was 4 times the delay on the high E. It it made it nearly impossible to play in time. The Axon was able to detect able to detect the pitch much more quickly from just the transient or attack portion of the sound. This was playable, but still had some degree of latency. But, the TriplePlay has no latency to speak of and for the most part tracks great. And it does it wirelessly using Bluetooth. No more monster 13 pin cables. For unrepentant guitar synth aficionados like myself, this IS the guitar synth you’ve been waiting

2013-07-06 12.15.59Installation was very simple on my Les Paul Custom and completely non-invasive. There is a bracket for the controller that connects to the end pin to which the controller attaches using magnets. The pickup attaches to a bracket that fits under the Tune-o-matic bridge. Both controller and pickup are easily removed and can be installed on another guitar once Fishman begins offering separate installation kits. Adjusting the height of the pickup is accomplished with two screws on each end of the pickup. The whole process took about a half hour.

The receiver is a USB dongle. Plug it in to any USB port, even on powered hubs and it starts blinking looking for a controller. Pairing the two took only one try and they are now  permanently connected.

TPMainThe software bundle includes the Triple Play software, Studio One Artist, Progression notation software and free versions of Sampletank and Kontakt Elements. Of these the Triple Play software is most significant.  This works as a standalone or VST or AU plug in. First off, you set the sensitivity of each individual string. It took a little time to get it balanced, but once done, it’s done. There’s also a tuner, of course.

Within the software you can mix a combination of straight guitar, synth plugins and a pedal channel. You can load a VST plugin on each channel. The pickup comes with a free version of Guitar Rig that is fine, but I really wish it supported AU plugins as I much prefer the sounds in Logic’s MainStage. But fortunately there’s a workaround I’ll talk about later. Rewire support would also be nice.

Once you load a plugin, you select the sound and also can adjust the settings for sensitivity, dynamic response, pitch bend and poly mode (all strings on one channel) or mono mode (each string on a separate channel. TPParameters

The included synth plugins are rather disappointing. In particular, I found Sampletank to be near useless. Of all the synths and samplers I worked with so far, this was the only one that had tracking problems. Perhaps this can be worked out with some tweaks, but for the most part, the Sampletank patches missed pitch bends and slides and required very heavy handed hammers and pulloffs. This is too bad as it has the best collection of sounds. Kontakt Elements includes the Kontakt player with a limited sound set and Reaktor player with the famous Prism synth.  Tracking using these synths was impeccable and the Reaktor synth is programmable, which is nice for a freebie.

The TriplePlay software makes it easy to create up to four way splits. Simply drag boxes to cover a section of strings and frets. To create layers just overlap the regions.

In this way you can use up to four plugins at one time. You can also split the strings using mono mode. All of the plugins allow you to load up to six sounds (16 actually, but that would be pointless for guitar) one for each MIDI channel/string.

TriplePlay also functions as a plugin. This is where the real power comes in as you can combine TriplePlay with internal sounds from any DAW that supports VST or AU plug-ins. I mentioned a workaround and I found I could open TriplePlay as a plugin in Logic and play both that track and an audio track with Logic guitar settings at the same time. This also works in MainStage. You can also play Logic softsynths at the same time, creating some amazing layers.  For the most part, I can’t tell the difference in tracking and latency when playing through TriplePlay or just directly controlling the softsynths.  By the way, in Logic you need to load TriplePlay as a sound module, not in the FX slots.

The thing that really seals the deal is that you can use the TriplePlay pickup (but not the software) as a MIDI controller with the iPad. You’ll need the iPad camera connection kit to hold the dongle. The pickup worked great with Garageband for iPad, Notion for iPad and surprisingly SampleTank for iPad. With Audiobus and iRig interface, you can run synth and amp simulators simultaneously.

I’ve been trying and buying guitar synths for over 30 years now and they have always been lacking in someway. This is the first MIDI guitar synth that actually lets me play the way I play, pretty much right out of the box. And at $400 it blows the competition away.

*Roland GR  systems since the GR-30 have no latency when using internal sounds, but still have latency when connected to external MIDI devices.