Friday, January 09, 2009

MIDI Guitar: The Axon AX-100 Mk II

I've decided to get back into MIDI guitar and synthesis after about twenty years since I was a Synclavier guitarist back in the 80's. As with every new - or, renewed - technological change I make, I expect that it will take some time - about a year - before I'm performing with MIDI guitar again. The reason I know this will take time is, obviously, because of my previous experience with the Synclavier: You have to play very clean and deliberately to get the synth to accurately track what you play.

As with everything, this comes with advantages and disadvantages: It's great for your technique to have to concentrate on it so much, but expressiveness is bound to suffer, at least a little, and quite a lot at first. Hence, again, it will take time.

When I was in a power trio playing Synclavier, I used it on every song, but not in every section, necessarily - I controlled whether the synth was in or not with a pedal, and the straight guitar sound was always present. This time, at least, I'll only play MIDI guitar on selected pieces where it will work best, and again, I'll use my Lexicon MPX-R1 MIDI pedal to bring the synth in and out. And yet again, by "straight" guitar sound through my Lexicon MPX-G2's will always be on, so the synth will just be mixed in. This may hasten my being able to integrate MIDI into my set again (Hey, I can hope).

Nothing since the Synclavier has really aroused my interest until the Axon AX-100 Mk II came along. You really ought to watch the demo videos, as they are quite impressive. Some of them actually border on the mind blowing. It fits my requirements for a performance device, as it is a 1U rack mount unit, but it does have some limitations. First and foremost, to me anyway, it isn't a synthesizer. I became so good at programming timbres on the Synclavier that New England Digital actually distributed many of my timbre programs with the Synclavier, so I can synthesize, and I much prefer purely synthesized sounds to samples of real instruments. The Axon only has a General MIDI sound card in it, so eventually I'll go modular and have another rack that contains real, actual synths in it, or I may just use a Mac to run something like Native Instruments' FM 8: I love FM synthesis.

For my first foray back into the MIDI realm though, the AX-100 will do fine: I'll probably just use synth and string pads for background at first. So, for my Christmas present to myself, I built up an entirely new performance rig:

From top to bottom:

1] Behringer BTR-2000 Racktuner

Both the AX-100 and the Lexicon have built-in tuners, but they don't calibrate down to the A=432 philosophical pitch I tune to (And, I may have to tune to A= 440 with the Axon, I'm not sure yet), but there is nothing like being able to keep track of your tuning visually at all times.

2] Lexicon MPX-G2

I simply can't live without these, as my guitar sound is defined by them, and I have literally hundreds upon hundreds of hours invested in the virtual acoustic environments I've programmed into them over the past ten years. This unit makes 4 MPX-G2's I have now, and I still think it's the best guitar effects device ever (When someone makes something better, I'll switch, but I'm not holding my breath). In fact, nothing else really even comes close - the MPX-G2 is in a class of its own.

3] Axon AX-100 Mk II

Here's the new toy, and despite being an impressive piece of gear, it does have some semi-pro and toyish aspects to it. My bigest bitch gripe is that the device is powered by a wall-wart exterior transformer. I absolutely detest those things, and that's the reason the next device is where it is.

4] Furman AR-1215 Line Voltage Regulator

This is no rack mount power strip or conditioner: It actually regulates the output voltage through an isolated transformer (Not cheap, either). All of my performance racks have these, as the foundation of ANY good electric or electronic sound is clean power! When I plug in at a gig, especially if I'm running off of a generator, I never know what I'm going to be getting out of the outlet, so this is required, as far as I'm concerned. Yes, it also protects the gear from spikes as well as regulating the power. Expensive, but a wise investment, IMO.

5] Behringer RX-1602 Eurorack Pro submixer.

It may seem like overkill to have eight channels of stereo inputs when I only need two right now - one stereo channel for the Lexicon and one stereo channel for the Axon - but I'm thinking ahead to having MIDI synth modules in an auxiliary rack down the line.

6] Bryston 2b-LP power amplifier.

Brystons are the only solid state amplifiers that sound musical to me. This makes four Brystons I have now: two 2B-LP's, a 3B-NPB, and a Lexicon NT-212, which is just a THX Certified Bryston 3B-ST with a Lexicon faceplate on it.

The reason the Bryston is on the bottom for the time being, and not on top where it belongs, is because I can't get the damnable rubber feet off of the amp chassis! Bryston is not the only company that has fantastic engineering combined with retarded design execution, but really, if you have feet on a rack mount chassis, you ought to be able to screw them on and off with your hands! Seriously, WTF?!

The Furman is in between the Axon and the Eurorack because of the above mentioned wall wart transformer that the Axon requires. Serious BS for a piece of gear that is about eight Franklins in price, but oh well.


It will be a while before I can get to this, because my practice routine suffered a major setback with the move (But is coming back nicely), and then I have to do my metronome work and record a demo CD for my new San Antonio market. I'm going to do a five song demo, and kill two birds by also putting them on my MySpace page. Right now, I'm thinking of these five pieces, in this order:

1] Classical Gas - Mason Williams
2] Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen
3] Eu So Quero Um Xodo - Dominguinhos
4] A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani
5] Stairway to Heaven - Jimmy Page

Of course, I'll post MP-3's (Well, M4A's actually, since iTunes makes those now) here too.

My business plan is to hit all of the wedding planners, event planners, caterers, and art galleries first, and just not worry about the club/restaurant scene at all right now. I do "professional courtesy" prices for artists and art galleries because I love those gigs, and it's a great way to get in with the local arts crowd, and then, of course, the weddings and corporate events pay big bucks. It is very important to do these contacts in person and not by mail, by the way, as handing someone a CD and a press flyer personally makes all the difference. Besides, I need to relearn my way around San Antonio and see what's actually here (I graduated from Mac Arthur high school here, but have not lived in San Antonio for about twenty years).

I'll also wait on the lessons, as I really don't want a lot of students and so I plan to charge an arm and a leg. LOL!


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