Which guitar synthesizer is best?
Since the introduction of the electric guitar, synthesizer pedals have used filters, oscillators and envelopes to embellish their sound with a transformative palette of tones and effects. Many guitar synthesizers are eminently portable, hardwearing and guaranteed to greatly expand the sonic capabilities of any guitar player’s pedalboard. In particular, the Boss SY-300 is a fine example of a guitar synthesizer that works equally well in both live and studio settings.
What to know before you buy a guitar synthesizer
Polyphonic vs. monophonic synthesizers
Monophonic synthesizers are notable for their vocal qualities. After all, the human voice is the most prolific monophonic instrument there is. Simply put, these produce one note at a time, and as such, are limited in their functionality. With that said, early synths were monophonic, and those looking to recreate that cool retro sound often favor these.
Polyphonic synths expand upon this technology to play multiple notes simultaneously, and individual filters and envelopes can be applied to each. The played notes blend and fade upon release, creating a smoother sound.
Analog vs. digital models
Analog guitar synthesizers often produce sounds reminiscent of classic models such as the Moog and Arp Odyssey. They create variable waveforms that can adopt any shape and usually have a smoother tone than their digital counterparts. Digital guitar synths can be more reliable, with more parameters to play with and greater processing power than analog models. They may also have a slightly processed tone that is less fluid than their analog equivalent.
What are its limitations?
Some synths provide an array of tones that transcend genres and can sound either modern or retro, according to their configuration. Others are based on classic synthesizer models or have a niche sound of their own, with fewer parameters with which to experiment. It is important to consider your ideal palette of sounds as well as your switching requirements if you plan on using a guitar synthesizer for live performance. Take a look at the BestReviews buying guide for the best guitar amps to use with your chosen guitar synthesizer.
What to look for in a quality guitar synthesizer
The durability of your synthesizer pedal is all the more important if you plan to take it to gigs and practices. Stomp box-style pedals usually come built into steel or die-cast shells, which fare well when subjected to knocks and scrapes. If you favor a multi-effects board, then due care must be taken as these are often encased in plastic or have plastic footswitches. All effects pedals contain many delicate electrical components, and this is especially true of guitar synthesizers.
Tracking refers to how the guitar synthesizer responds to the plucked note or chord, according to pitch and response time. The pitch must be as accurate as possible, and the response must have as little latency (time delay) as possible. This is determined by the quality of the synthesizer’s processors and the amount of processing power it carries.
Guitar synthesizers vary in the tasks that they perform and the extent to which they can perform them. While some brands like Electro-Harmonix and Boss mostly cater to those looking for excellent tone with limited sonic capabilities, others like Korg and Roland specialize in multi-effects systems that deliver innumerable tonal possibilities with complete control over their programming and playback.
How much you can expect to spend on a guitar synthesizer
Synthesizers are among the more expensive guitar effects, due to their reliance on processors and intricate circuitry. While cheap guitar synthesizers can be purchased for $100 or less, a high-quality but basic unit will cost between $200-$400. A high-quality floor unit with multiple channels and programmable effects can set you back $700 or more.
Guitar synthesizer FAQ
What are the fundamental parameters of a guitar synthesizer?
A. Most stompbox-style guitar synthesizers are fairly straightforward once you understand their basic functionality. In most cases, this simply means selecting your choice of oscillator waveform as the foundation for your sound, then manipulating the envelope and filters to alter its amplitude and tonal qualities.
Are guitar synthesizers easy to use?
A. Once you understand their basic parameters and dial in your settings, using a guitar synthesizer can be as easy as switching it on and off at the crucial moment. However, some multi-effects units require some programming, which is usually quite intuitive, once you have familiarized yourself with that particular model.
What’s the best guitar synthesizer to buy?
Top guitar synthesizer
What you need to know: The SY-300 combines rugged stompbox styling with multi-effects functionality to create a versatile tool that is equally at home when playing live or in the studio.
What you’ll love: This is a synth lover’s dream with a seemingly limitless choice of instruments on offer. Performance-wise, there is lightning-fast processing and zero latency to distract from your playing and there are even several amp simulators to embellish your tone.
What you should consider: While it represents excellent value for money, the many available options might be surplus to many guitarists’ requirements.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top guitar synthesizer for the money
What you need to know: This handmade unit boasts exceptional build quality, excellent tone and a user-friendly interface.
What you’ll love: If you love the music of the ’70s and ’80s, this is the pedal for you. Its vintage tones are complemented by excellent tracking and dual outputs to provide impressive results. It is also easy to operate with one rotary selector and four parameter knobs.
What you should consider: While its array of sounds is excellent in quality, there is a limited number of nine synth presets to choose from.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This quirky model is like having an entire modular synth packed into an easy-to-navigate pedalboard with limitless tonal possibilities.
What you’ll love: Not only do you have 80 onboard presets and modules to choose from, but these are all customizable, so you can have fun creating a whacky library of sounds. Once you are ready to save your work, there is plenty of storage available.
What you should consider: This guitar synthesizer requires a good working knowledge of subtractive synthesis if you are to get the most out of this formidable machine.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Luke Mitchell writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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