Regular readers may recall my enthusiasm for the You Rock Guitar used as a MIDI controller in my review back in August 2011. "[This] just might be the MIDI guitar controller you've always wanted” I wrote. It was certainly the one I always wanted, offering clean keyboard-like MIDI for recording into a DAW. MIDI guitar is one of those great polarising topics: some people think 'wouldn't it be great to be able to play all these wonderful keyboard sounds with the expressiveness of an electric guitar', whilst others, like myself, simply want to be able to record MIDI parts using keyboard sounds without going to the trouble of learning to be better keyboard players.
In a sense, the requirements of the two factions are significantly in conflict: the former group are forced to work with a language that simply lacks the richness of vocabulary to translate what they're trying to describe, while the latter are seeking to have the inherent nuances of the guitar locked down to become the equivalent of a controller keyboard. What most of us who have persisted with 'guitar synths' have been forced to work with for years, however, is pitch-to-MIDI — a technology perfectly adapted to disappoint both groups, providing neither expressive control nor reliable, clean MIDI. Recent times, however, have seen interesting developments both in the 'expressive' camp, in the form of Roland's VG-series COSM products (which derive synthesized voices directly from the behaviour of the strings), and in the 'plain MIDI' camp, too, in the form of innovations like the YRG, and the new, more affordable models from 'switch-based-guitar' pioneers Starr Labs.
The original You Rock Guitar, the YRG1000, has received a number of updates to its firmware and even the hardware, in the form of improved right-hand 'string' detectors, since its launch, resulting in the current model, the YRG1000 <Gen2>, but now there's an alternative neck on offer, too. The new Radius neck is far more like a conventional guitar neck, with a gently curved fingerboard, (13-inch radius) and the slimmer 'soft-V' or 'C' shape of a vintage Strat or Tele at the back of the neck. Logically, these features are partnered with 'normal' fret spacing and fingerboard width at the nut. It all makes for a more familiar feel when adapting to the instrument.
Perhaps even more significant, however, are the changes to the strings and the sensors beneath them. New hardware and materials have resulted in 'strings' that rise slightly higher from the fingerboard than in earlier models, whilst offering greater sensitivity to left-hand touch. The result, even more than the revamped dimensions, is a more playable neck, I find, with a significantly better ability to differentiate between wanted notes and stray fingers accidentally coming to rest somewhere. With a little more squash under the fingertips, you tend not to feel you need to press as hard, aiding speed, and complex chords tend to contain fewer spurious notes as you no longer need to get double-stop fingers as flat as possible against the board.
The Radius neck is available separately and is fully compatible with any YRG1000, although the original neck remains an option for those who prefer the greater width and fret spacing.
The YRG has seen a lot of use in my music work since I got it — I suspect it's going to see even more with a Radius neck on board. Dave Lockwood
£97 including VAT.