Review: Fishman TriplePlay / EastWest MIDI Guitar Series
Has the the great-white-buffalo that is the perfect MIDI guitar has been spotted on the horizon? EastWest and Fishman have teamed up to optimize a complete hardware and software solution to deliver a massive set of virtual instruments to guitarists. In this review video I share my experience setting up the system and playing through the packs.
Review: Fishman TriplePlay / EastWest MIDI Guitar Series
Sample developer EastWest Sounds have teamed up with Fishman to developer a complete MIDI guitar experience. Together the teams worked jointly to combining hardware of Fishman’s TriplePlay Wireless MIDI Guitar system while developing a new line of MIDI Guitar optimized sample packs.
Fishman’s TriplePlay Wireless MIDI Guitar Controller MSRP is $633.99 and can be purchased for about $400 from most music retailers. Visit Fishman for more details.
I was very excited to see the news that Fishman and EastWest had teamed up for the release of a new set of MIDI Guitar optimized sample instruments. As a guitar player myself, I have been eyeing the development on the MIDI guitar front, each year dedicating half a day at NAMM to see if anyone has captured the Great White Buffao that is the perfect MIDI guitar.
The good news is that the beast has been spotted. I believe that EastWest teaming up with Fishman and their low-latency TriplePlay Wireless MIDI Guitar system is the kind of forward-thinking combination of hardware and software that is needed for better MIDI Guitar. With the announcement, EastWest simultaneously released 5 sample packs, produced by Doug Rogers and Nick Phoenix as EastWest’s MIDI Guitar Series Volume 1-5.
These sample packs each focus on an area of instruments covering Orchestra, Ethnic & Voices, Soundscapes, Guitar & Bass, and Keyboards & Percussion. The EastWest and Fishman team set out to optimize the libraries for playback with MIDI Guitar.
Now Fishman is arguably the leader in the add-on MIDI Guitar hardware space and I am pleased to report that testing out the new TriplePlay Wireless MIDI Guitar System performs really well delivering passable performances for the most part. That is not a slight or slam, it is the nature of MIDI guitar. As a guitarist testing out MIDI guitar for the purpose of midi dictation for scoring, I have found you need to curb your playing style and focus in on playing as clean and simple as possible to capture the midi data. Holding back from the natural tendency of expressive vibrato, staying aware of slide and pitch bends can have unintended consequences if all your midi control settings interpret your playing one way with a certain instrument, and then produce unexpected results from a premium instrument I might eventually use for final playback.
The set up was a breeze. Installing the MIDI pickup and controller is non-destructive. There is no drilling, instead, the system uses some simple adhesive backed stickers to hold the MIDI pickup on the body. For the controller, magnets pull the controller to a mount, which can either be secured to the guitar via the bottom strap peg or with stickers with an adhesive. Overall, mounting the pickup and controller was a very simple process. My only critique here is that the magnet is a little weaker than I would have liked. Although the magnet does securely hold the controller in place while moving the guitar around for normal play, sudden and more abrupt movement can jar the magnets loose and leave the controller hanging from the chord which is secured to the guitar body via the pickup adhesive.
The controller is wireless via a USB receiver which I found to be plug-n-play on my Mac system. The marketing materials promise “Instant compatibility with most DAWs” through MIDI compliance and I found that to be the case. I was up and triggering instruments in Logic in seconds after pairing the devices.
The rechargeable battery is touted as having a charge that can last up to 20 hours. In the few days I spent getting to know the instrument, I did not have to recharge the controller so I feel like this is a big plus.
The Fishman TriplePlay does come with free downloads of everything you need to start using virtual instruments on your computer. The TriplePlay also comes with KOMPLETE Elements & GuitarRig LE by Native Instruments, PROGRESSION 2 by Notion Music, SampleTank 2 XT / AmpliTube Custom Shop by IK Multimedia and Studio One Artist (TriplePlay Edition) by Presonus. There are also “Try-Out” versions of EastWest MIDI Guitar Series libraries for registered EastWest customers.
I downloaded the TriplePlay software, which is standalone software that lets you adjust sensitivity, load instruments directly and control advanced features like split-fret triggering. Split Fret triggering can be a powerful feature allowing for users to trigger different instruments via different strings and fret ranges. For an example, at the 4:00 mark in the video portion of the review I showcase using split strings to triggering an electric bass guitar with the 2 lowest strings and a piano with the top strings.
Split Fret triggering can be a powerful feature allowing for users to trigger different instruments via different strings and fret ranges. For an example, at the 4:00 mark in the video portion of the review I showcase using split strings to triggering an electric bass guitar with the 2 lowest strings and a piano with the top strings.
Moving on to the EastWest MIDI Guitar Series the first thing you should know is that the majority of these sample sets are up-cycled from previous EastWest virtual instruments. Two notable exceptions are the new Acoustic and Electric Guitar libraries included in the Guitar and Bass virtual instrument pack.
The EastWest MIDI Guitar Series libraries respond quickly while performing with the MIDI controller.
Pizzicato String Ensembles are easy to play and respond naturally as do mallet and key instruments. EastWest’s Guitar and Bass virtual instruments are a great extension while playing MIDI guitar with the majority translating very naturally, triggering corresponding velocity dynamic layers. In general, any melodic virtual instrument that is plucked or struck seems to respond naturally when playing MIDI guitar. These instruments seem to translate well when triggered playing the way a guitar player would play naturally, whereas other instruments required more control and discipline to obtain from vibrato, slides, pitch bend etc.
I really would have like to have seen more legato instruments included in the MIDI Guitar Series. Although there are a few legato instruments supplied, not having complete orchestral section legatos will limit the amount I use the libraries.
Other highlights include the Ethnic & Voices pack. It could be because the majority of these instruments are pluck or string instruments, but I found these world instruments to be naturally expressive when triggered on MIDI guitar and a pleasure to play. I also noticed this pack seemed to have more of the “Live” instruments. These Live instruments were originally released by EastWest as a way for keyboard players to play expressively for live performances. Live patches playback different sampled articulations via velocity sensitive triggering. I found playing guitar with the Live instruments to be expressive and would have liked to have seen more of these instruments throughout the MIDI series guitar packs.
It is also important to note that the developers optimized hardware/software adjustments for playback of the instruments as long as you are loading your MIDI Guitar Series instruments into the TriplePlay software. When loading the libraries up through TriplePlay, the EastWest virtual instruments are paired with suggested functionality controls. Depending on the instrument and patch type these controls contain information on how pitch-bend and vibrato are interpreted as well as sensitivity settings adjustments.
When I was originally posted my review of the MIDI Guitar Software/Controller, I was loading patches inside PLAY through the PLAY browser. Because of this, I had originally missed this powerful preset feature.
Another note on playback of the virtual instruments is that although it appears that many of the instruments are setup to adjust your playback input range (about an octave to better cover the instrument range), some of the virtual instruments load with it being impossible to play the instruments full range. For example, on the Orchestra/Double Bass library, I would have liked to have seen note triggering shifted up an octave, making the low C playable from the guitar (transposing input automatically).
There are a lot of things to like about what Fishman and EastWest are doing.
For live MIDI guitar performance, I can see why Fishman is the MIDI controller of choice. For my purposes as a composer, looking to dictate MIDI to DAW with the setup, I can see how getting ideas down and getting inspired by performing parts my that my poor keyboard chops would never discover will be a big advantage using the MIDI guitar and virtual instruments. That said, I will still be needing to go in and clean and adjust MIDI data to get cleaner output from the virtual instruments for final performance when creating tracks.
Speaking much more broadly, a perfect MIDI GUITAR is my Great White Buffalo. I mean near-zero-latency, really nailing it. I’m looking for with the ability to detect slides and vibrato intelligently. That would be a game changer for guitarists and composers like myself trapped in a keyboard dominated world.
The latest physical hardware by Fishman and their refined triggering system are another step closer to the MIDI capabilities. As a working composer, I am looking for a MIDI guitar as a scoring tool. The nature of the technology seems to lack the ability to interpret some subtle guitar playing techniques, which are the keys to performing expressively in the physical world. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but much like growing up watching the world of the Jetsons, the cartoon space age family, the promise of flying cars and talking robot butlers may not become a reality in my lifetime. In the same way, the promise of a perfect MIDI guitar has been a dream since the the 1980s.
As I reviewed this combination of hardware and software I couldn’t help but think about the way we are seeing developments with MPE instruments like the ROLI and Roger Linn Designed Linnstrument, and also how other software developers are jumping on board with the MPE standards of 5-dimensional expression.
After first publishing the review, I was informed that the hardware software combo does support MPE, and it looks like you can load each patch once for all strings (not 6 times, one instrument for each string, as was done in past MPE workflow) which is a welcome improvement. I’ll have to revisit and test it out again with an MPE compatible instrument!
Hardware and Software working together in harmony. That’s the ticket. With the EastWest Fishman partnership, I see 2 companies attempting to make that happen and I commend them for committing to the task.
As with all of our reviews be sure to check out the other review videos and manufacturer/developer video playlists we have shared below to learn what you can and make sure the product is right for you and your needs.
About the products
Fishman’s TriplePlay Wireless MIDI Guitar Controller retails for $633.99 and can be purchased forr about $400 from most music retailers.
Visit Fishman for more details.