Awesome Stuff: MIDI Where You Need It

from the strum-away dept

The “one-man band” has come a long way. What used to require an elaborate (and heavy) suit of instruments can now be accomplished with central instrument and a handful of digital devices — but this we’re looking at something that takes yet another step: the ACPAD, an “electronic orchestra” for your acoustic guitar.

The Good

The standard approach for a guitarist who wants to incorporate the endless world of digital music into a live performance involves either an elaborate setup of looping and effects pedals, an iPad, or both — but the ACPAD puts such capabilities right on the guitar itself. It’s an extremely thin, adhesive control board that attaches to the face of the guitar so it’s easy to rapidly trigger controls between strums. It connects to a computer either via USB or wirelessly, and communicates using the MIDI protocol so it works with all standard music software (Ableton being a popular choice) and all the buttons and controls can be assigned to custom functions. It’s not cheap, but that speaks to the quality of its construction, especially the buttons that manage to be highly pressure-sensitive despite the device being so thin (it’s easy to envision a much cheaper version of the ACPAD that is too clunky and unresponsive to be practical). The possibility for experimental guitarists, who are always pushing the envelope of sound and song construction, are huge.

The Bad

This isn’t exactly a “bad” thing, but it’s an important thing to keep in mind: as with all MIDI devices, the capabilities of the ACPAD come down to what you’re plugging it into. With a fast computer and good music software, it’s a powerhouse; without those things, it’s a very thin brick. The digital music world commonly splits itself up into two camps: those who focus on using MIDI to run everything through a central computer, and those who prefer standalone digital devices like pedal-based looping stations. The ACPAD is definitively a tool for the former.

The Complimentary

Apart from a computer running Ableton or something similar, there’s another piece of the puzzle that isn’t required but unlocks far greater capabilities for the ACPAD: a MIDI pickup for the guitar (which converts your acoustic string vibrations into additional MIDI signals) or a separate microphone piping the guitar’s sounds into the computer. With one of those things, the ACPAD does more than just bring additional sounds like drums and samples under your control — it becomes a fully-functional effects and looping station, letting you program the buttons to modify the guitar’s sound on the fly, or capture and layer multiple recorded loops.

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