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Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

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Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby ZfM » Mon Feb 15, 2021 12:40 am

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mISvoHKMl0U

It'd be especially helpful if they made it easily detachable so that one pickup can be used with multiple guitars.

Still, no one seems that intrigued, the company Light4Sound having just 347 subscribers! Really, I'm thinking of buying one as a matter of priority in case the company goes bust through complete lack of interest.

https://youtu.be/vMPv_RdXvRI = just 5K views since Apr 2018
https://youtu.be/1gzW6geV_0U = just 6K views since Jul 2018 (SOS)
https://youtu.be/aOSq10rGqzc = just 17K views since Oct 2019
https://youtu.be/4ZMHW529EAs = just 17K views since Apr 2020

Personally, I think this could be a truly transformative technology, not as a substitute for existing pickup types, but for the new sonic possibilities, the full extent of which have probably yet to be discovered.

It's not only the ability to use nylon strings on any type of guitar (which would be amazing), but to have the clearest possible transmission of string vibration to an amp or recorder, string-by-string level & tone control, tuning adjustments, MIDI controlled synths (like 'Hex' pickups), and to amplify all string instruments, including bowed instruments and keyboards, not to mention pickups for mouth organ reeds & plucked lamellae instruments if the technology is adapted. They offer the possibility of providing truly viable amplified string instruments for classical & folk styles of music, i.e. acoustic sounds that can be transparently amplified, perhaps with nonlinear convolution IRs of instrument bodies or in addition to a conventional microphone.

I'm not sure if this is a 'You can bring the horse to the water...' type scenario or if there's some insurmountable problem with them that I'm missing.
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby Sam Spoons » Mon Feb 15, 2021 12:49 am

That looks amazing :thumbup:
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby Folderol » Mon Feb 15, 2021 1:08 am

Seriously impressive :thumbup:
I was completely unaware of this, yet it's been around for a couple of years now!
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby zenguitar » Mon Feb 15, 2021 1:50 am

I've not been following this development, although if memory serves me correctly I do recall 1980's MIDI guitar prototypes that used optical string sensing.

In principle optical pick-ups offer massive opportunities. However, the experience of hex pick-ups for MIDI and general individual string output systems are a salutary reminder that guitarists are, in the main, a conservative bunch.

Having ideas is all well and good, but having ideas is remarkably easy. The difficult part is what you do with those ideas; how you communicate them, whether you can identify a killer application for them, can you bring a product to market with the resources to give it a reasonable chance of success.

Hexaphonic guitar synth/MIDI is a mature technology. I first owned one 30 years ago and had wanted one for a good decade before that, I've made custom installations for hex pick-ups. The current Boss SY1000 is a remarkable piece of mature technology, but it remains a niche product. And once I have access to a suitable workshop I fully intend to build a guitar with MIDI pick-up and purchase an SY1000.

But there are reasons why it remains a niche product. And the biggest one of all is that it doesn't play nicely with a traditional guitar amp. You either have to have a 2nd amp/FX rig for the synth or you have to rely on FOH/studio monitors to use alongside your guitar rig.

Yes, there are plenty of hardware/software options to put together a live/studio rig but they involve so many compromises or expense.

Of course, I could spend some time and effort watching those YouTube videos and demonstrations. But what's the point? Where's the product? I've been tempted far too many times over the decades with innovations that don't deliver or turned into evolutionary dead ends. Making YouTube videos is trivially simple, but why haven't they approached Sound On Sound with a product to review, or even a prototype with a technical article about the technology and its potential? What haven't they done the same and engaged with Guitarist magazine?

When, and if, they come to market with a viable product (including practical ways to integrate it with my existing guitar rig) I'll pay attention. Until then there's nothing to get excited about.

Andy :beamup:
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby Music Wolf » Mon Feb 15, 2021 7:44 am

zenguitar wrote:Of course, I could spend some time and effort watching those YouTube videos and demonstrations. But what's the point? Where's the product?

That pretty much sums up what I felt.

The nylon strings on a Strat thing was very impressive but, for the cost of a cheap Strat + pickup, I could buy a Yamaha SLG200N silent guitar (to sit along side my 200S). Of course I don't even bother taking my Yamaha to practice anymore (when we are allowed to practice that is) because my Helix does a good enough job of simulating an acoustic sound without the need to change guitars.

Now if someone could invent something to make a steel strung electric guitar sound like a nylon strung guitar, without the need to change strings, then that's a product that I would be interested in.
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby Sam Spoons » Mon Feb 15, 2021 10:09 am

Music Wolf wrote:Now if someone could invent something to make a steel strung electric guitar sound like a nylon strung guitar, without the need to change strings, then that's a product that I would be interested in.

Interesting point, I wonder how close the Tone Dexter could get or, I guess, a custom IR in the Helix (unless you mean unamplified)?

The problem with midi guitar is the processing latency. AFAIK the SY series get around this by using the guitar signal as the basic waveform rather than digitising it before processing. As Andy says it's a bit niche...
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby CS70 » Mon Feb 15, 2021 10:19 am

ZfM wrote:Personally, I think this could be a truly transformative technology, not as a substitute for existing pickup types, but for the new sonic possibilities, the full extent of which have probably yet to be discovered.

Saw it a few years ago when I was looking for a nylon-string electric to use on stage and stumbled on the nylon stringed strat.

I had no idea about the tech, but I wanted to try one! Don't remember looking at the price but it would have to compete at least with the Yamaha and Godin nylons which I think are already fairly expensive for what they do. I then preferred to prioritize recording equipment as in the end it's just two/three songs in a 15 songs set that I'd use it for (and of course right now, no sets) .. but I still want one :D

Not sure about "transformative" (it would be still me doing the playing, and that's 99% of it) but definitely an interesting idea and it would very usable on stage - just the form factor.

I think part of the low response is that there's very few people who, like me, do occasionally rock/pop songs on nylon string guitars. I suspect most of the guitar-handling crowd is either firmly classical and flamenco (and thus uninterested in Stratocaster looking guitars and untraditional things) or have never put their hands on a nylon-string guitar.

But I'd love to get one to try!
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby Music Wolf » Mon Feb 15, 2021 11:08 am

Sam Spoons wrote:a custom IR in the Helix (unless you mean unamplified)?

I must admit, I haven't looked specifically for a Nylon IR (the steel acoustic IRs are very good if you get the right match for the pickup / guitar)

Sam Spoons wrote:The problem with midi guitar is the processing latency. AFAIK the SY series get around this by using the guitar signal as the basic waveform rather than digitising it before processing. As Andy says it's a bit niche...

Yes, the SY-1 and SY-300 filter the guitar signal. I have the SY-300 and it is effectively zero latency. The results are along the lines of an analogue synth, don't expect to get piano sounds out of it. The SY-1000 also has a GK pickup input which I guess is needed to access the full range of features / sounds.
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby CS70 » Mon Feb 15, 2021 11:15 am

Sam Spoons wrote:
Music Wolf wrote:Now if someone could invent something to make a steel strung electric guitar sound like a nylon strung guitar, without the need to change strings, then that's a product that I would be interested in.

Interesting point, I wonder how close the Tone Dexter could get or, I guess, a custom IR in the Helix (unless you mean unamplified)?

The problem with midi guitar is the processing latency. AFAIK the SY series get around this by using the guitar signal as the basic waveform rather than digitising it before processing. As Andy says it's a bit niche...

I think a lot is not the sound, but the feel of strings and the way you make them "bounce" of a nylon that just doesn't happen with steel strings (at least for me) when using fingers. It all depends on the material of course, lots of stuff works just as well. Rasgueados and triplets for example, you can do them on a metal-string no problem.

That's what interested me in the nylon strat - metallic strings respond differently enough that it's worth its own physical device imho.
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby BigRedX » Mon Feb 15, 2021 12:36 pm

I used to own a Lightwave fretless bass guitar, with optical pickups.

The sound was amazing and because the string detection system doesn't rely on magnets you can use any string material so lots of opportunities for experimentation. That's the theory.

In practice setting up the system for different string types was massively complicated - IIRC the first time I changed strings it took me two evenings of fiddling about with allen keys for the string height, intonation and sensor position as well as adjusting several micro potentiometers in the circuitry - that once I had found a set that I liked the sound and feel of (TI Jazz Flats) I didn't bother experimenting any further.

In the end I sold it when I did my big clear out of instruments I wasn't using, partly because it only had four strings, and partly because I wan't playing any music that required fretless bass anymore. However should those circumstances change I would most definitely consider buying a 5-string version.
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby Folderol » Mon Feb 15, 2021 1:58 pm

I would guess that another point in its favour would be zero hum pickup - even if it stood up leaning against an elderly valve amplifier :lol:
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby blinddrew » Mon Feb 15, 2021 2:28 pm

Can't help but feel that Andy nailed this with his second paragraph. Guitarists, as a bunch, are still buying the guitars and amps that were designed 50-70 years ago, we're not exactly progressive...
Might be better to target bass players actually.
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby shufflebeat » Mon Feb 15, 2021 2:43 pm

blinddrew wrote:Can't help but feel that Andy nailed this with his second paragraph. Guitarists, as a bunch, are still buying the guitars and amps that were designed 50-70 years ago, we're not exactly progressive...
Might be better to target bass players actually.

Somewhat ironically it's the acoustic Beardies that are embracing the new wave of SBT/IR technology and spending Bare Dollar (I had that said to me last night and almost wet myself) on the fresh units.

:)
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby blinddrew » Mon Feb 15, 2021 5:33 pm

Actually that doesn't surprise me that much, because there's an actual problem to solve - i.e. making a plugged in acoustic sound like an actual acoustic without that horrible piezo noise.
Whereas if you want an electric guitar to sound like a proper electric when it's plugged in...
;)
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Re: Anyone excited about Optical Pickups...?

Postby Sam Spoons » Mon Feb 15, 2021 6:08 pm

blinddrew wrote:Actually that doesn't surprise me that much, because there's an actual problem to solve - i.e. making a plugged in acoustic sound like an actual acoustic without that horrible piezo noise.
Whereas if you want an electric guitar to sound like a proper electric when it's plugged in...
;)

Absolutely true, but there are ways and means (usually involving a heavy chunk of digital processing).

My favourite acoustic pickups were Fishman Rare Earth (I have three, one of each flavour) until I bought my Tone Dexter preamp. Even the Fishmans have an element of spikiness reminiscent of piezo quack so it's not just the transducer, maybe it's because they are sensing the string only and not the body of the guitar?
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