Ever since the first commercial guitar synthesizers were introduced back in the mid Seventies, I’ve been fascinated by the possibilities of controlling non-guitar sounds with an electric guitar. However, over the years, numerous idiosyncrasies of guitar synth design made that prospect not entirely ideal for me.
From specialized guitar controllers and invasive pickup installations to bulky proprietary cables and rack- or floor-mounted sound modules, a guitar synth seemed more like a separate instrument unto itself rather than something I could easily and painlessly integrate into my existing gear rig.
Recently, Fishman introduced a few products that may finally convince even the most skeptical guitarists to explore the vast world of sounds that exist beyond our beloved six strings. The Fishman TriplePlay Wireless MIDI Guitar Controller came first, which offers a hexaphonic pickup and controller that communicates with software on a desktop or laptop computer.
Fishman’s new TriplePlay Connect system goes even further for players who prefer the most compact and portable system imaginable, thanks to its app-based design. It’s also the least-expensive guitar synth solution I’ve ever encountered, costing about the same as a high-falutin’ boutique stomp box.
The Fishman TriplePlay Connect system consists of two items: a hexaphonic pickup and mounting brackets purchased from a retailer and the TriplePlay Connect app, which is a free download. The hexaphonic pickup is slimmer than a pencil, and it is tethered to a controller that is wonderfully simple, featuring only a pair of large pushbuttons for scrolling through various settings on the app.
Unlike the previous TriplePlay package, the TriplePlay Connect pickup is not wireless, but it connects directly to a wide variety of mobile devices via the included Lightning or USB cables. Several different brackets provide a variety of non-invasive mounting options for both the pickup and controller. The mounting hardware is also magnetic, allowing you to quickly and easily remove and attach the pickup and controller.
The app is laid out in a very easy-to-use and understand fashion. Once the pickup is properly installed and calibrated (the app walks you through this process), it’s truly a plug-and-play scenario, with a wide variety of available instrument sounds or “combis” (combinations of any instrument sounds that can be split; the split points between strings can be adjusted to be any of the strings, including limiting the range on the frets) arranged as icons on the left.
For each individual sound there are multiple programmable options that include transpose, dynamic response, EQ, MIDI FX arpeggiator, chord creator and auto key functions. In addition, eight different effects can be placed in any order to four audio effects slots, which can be put on each individual sound.
The app can be used for controlling sounds via the guitar, playing and arranging loops for practice and even for making multitrack recordings. Additional loops from Native Instruments and Big Fish in hip hop, EDM/electronic and rock styles are available as in-app purchases for $5.99 to $9.99, and users with TriplePlay Wireless MIDI systems can access the app via an in-app purchase for $19.99.
I’ve installed many hexaphonic pickups on guitars over the last three decades, but the TriplePlay Connect was by far the easiest and fastest. Once the pickup is in place and charged, the app automatically walks you through tuning, pickup sensitivity and picking strength adjustments. After this setup is completed, it’s smooth sailing for even the most tech-averse guitarists: most functions involve simply pointing at the desired function or instrument.
The selection of instruments is impressive and comprehensive, including keyboard instruments like pianos, organs and synths, a wide variety of acoustic brass, string, percussion and ethnic instruments, electric and acoustic basses, and drums. Available effects include amp simulators, chorus, phaser, tremolo, analog and modulated delay and reverb.
Because of its vast selection of sounds and loops, the TriplePlay Connect app requires almost 4GB of storage space on an iPad. Making new recordings and adding additional loops will require even more storage space, so the system is best for use on iPads with higher memory capacity than those on the lower end of the spectrum.
LIST PRICE: $306.99
MANUFACTURER: Fishman, fishman.com
● The hexaphonic pickup and controller are installed via non-invasive brackets, with magnetic surfaces to hold the pickup and controller in place.
● The TriplePlay Connect app is a free download that provides a comprehensive selection of instrument sounds and effects.
● You can play along with drum, bass and instrument loops and make multi-track recordings via the software.
● Additional loops are available as in-app purchases, and TriplePlay Wireless MIDI owners can also access the app via an in-app purchase.
THE BOTTOM LINE For guitarists who have always wanted to explore the capabilities of controlling new sounds with their guitars but were confused by guitar synth systems, Fishman’s TriplePlay Connect offers the most affordable and easy-to-use solution available.