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This article was originally published in issue #29
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Livid Instruments has been producing innovative MIDI controllers with a modern visual style since 2004 and the Guitar Wing is the company's latest, Kickstarter funded, controller designed to attach directly to your guitar and give you a unique way of controlling MIDI based effects or parameters at the tip of your fingers. You might initially wonder why anyone would want a MIDI controller that is designed to be used with your hands when, for years, guitar players have been using floor based units to keep their hands free for performing, but the Guitar Wing has some very interesting controllers that work best when used with the hands. Indeed, this device actually won an award from Popular Science magazine, earlier this year!
The unit attaches to the lower horn or bout of your guitar via a clamp system with protective rubber housing, ensuring your precious finish won’t be damaged. The design fits to the majority of common shapes and can be adjusted in numerous ways or strapped on to create the best fit for your guitar. Once attached, the Guitar Wing communicates wirelessly with a small USB dongle that attaches to your computer or wireless MIDI receiver in order to control any MIDI compatible device or piece of software.
The unit itself has numerous types of controller on board, from the four velocity sensitive pads along the top to the three touch sensitive ribbon controllers and 3D motion sensor, you’re certainly not left wanting for mappable controls. In all there are 18 mappable controllers that can send note on/off data or, in the case of the motion and ribbon controllers, continuous controller data. Livid Instruments claims a battery life of around eight hours which is more than enough for a good few gigs or studio sessions and the unit can be recharged by plugging it into a USB power port or computer using the provided cable.
The build quality of the Guitar Wing is as good as anything you’ll find on the market, with a reassuring weight and solid feel that would suggest it will survive all but the most violent of knocks or falls. Each of the controllers feels solid and responsive and the matte finish prevents dirt or finger prints from building up on unit. Some real design hours have gone into the final product, which is well laid out with easy access to each of the controls given its small footprint. The only downside comes when sitting down with the Guitar Wing attached to your guitar, as it can move around a bit and feels odd sitting on your knee, making the guitar feel a little unbalanced in some instances. This is something you’ll get used to over time however, and while stood up the unit is very comfortable and you’ll almost forget it’s there until you need it.
Installation on OSX or Windows is a simple process as the device is class compliant, meaning it will be recognised without having to install drivers. The bundled software however, was less simple to install and caused quite a few issues on my Macbook Pro, requiring some workarounds that the average user would have big problems with, however, these difficulties should be ironed out by the time of the Guitar Wing's official release.
The Guitar Wing ships with MIDI maps for all the common DAW’s such a Logic, Cubase, Digital Performer and Pro Tools with installers allowing the user easy access to controller maps for transport controls and mixer functions. This is super useful for guitar players, being able to control your DAW directly from the guitar, and is an obvious benefit of having the controller attached to your instrument. Controllers can also be assigned to any parameter using the MIDI learn function available in all of the big DAWs on the market, making assigning a control very simple indeed, although this is dependent upon the method used by each DAW and will still require a decent knowledge of MIDI in order to get the best from the controller. As an example, for our review, we assigned each of the pads to switch on and off various effects within Logic Pro X that our guitar was running through and used the ribbon controllers to control a wah effect and tremolo speed. Assigning the controllers was easy enough and there are guides for each DAW within the help files shipped with the Guitar Wing to help you out.
Once assigned, the controllers work flawlessly and accurately. Having access to the controls directly from your guitar is both a liberating and unique experience that allows for very creative effects that would be much harder to achieve with a foot controller. For example you can instantly switch to different wah or filter positions with your finger on the ribbon controller to create cool rhythmic effects whilst sustaining a chord or single note. You can also use multiple fingers to control multiple parameters at a time offering far more simultaneous controllers than when using just your two feet. The 3D motion control offers some interesting possibilities although was less accurate and predictable than expected at offering serious and reliable control.
Since it sends note data from the pads, the Guitar Wing can also work to trigger samples or virtual instruments offering a great way of integrating synths and samples into your performances. In many ways MIDI has become such a versatile protocol that the uses of the Guitar Wing are only really limited by your imagination and offers a huge array of potential uses in a musical context. The unit can also be used with any MIDI compatible hardware using your computer as a MIDI interface or one of the readily available USB-MIDI interfaces on the market, opening up all kinds of possibilities for hardware effects or synths. Livid Instruments are kind enough to ship a stand alone effects program called Wing FX to get you started and, upon release, a fully featured editor will be available allowing the user to assign each controller to any given MIDI command or note, although this wasn’t available for our review.
Being compatible with any MIDI device out there and the unique nature of its attachment to your instrument mean the Guitar Wing is a device that could really change the way some guitarists think about controlling their effects and synths. It offers a huge array of possibilities at a price that certainly won’t break the bank and is well made enough to survive even the roughest of gigs. It definitely won’t appeal to everyone and requires a decent knowledge of MIDI protocol to get the most from, and the fact that you have to use stop playing to free your hands for a controller may make no sense to some, but for others this may be the coolest guitar device they’ve ever seen. Worth checking out for sure!