SLG200 Series Developer Interview

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SLG200 Series Developer Interview

The behind-the-scenes story of the development of the SRT Powered Pickup System

Profile: Hidenari Kim

Hidenari Kim joined Yamaha in 2007 as a signal processing expert on the development of acoustic compensation systems for use in halls and theaters. From 2012, he participated in the development of the SLG200 series, which was equipped with the SRT Powered pickup system. He worked on everything from element technology development to sound creation. Hidenari was also involved in the development of software used in acoustic electric guitars such as the A Series, TransAcoustic guitars, and the FGX5.

The Silent Guitar has a long history, doesn’t it?

The Silent Guitar made its commercial debut in 2001, with every successive model thereafter boasting improvements to sound quality, playability, and design. The release of the SLG200 series in 2015, which introduced an entire new lineup of models, afforded a great many guitarists the opportunity to enjoy authentic acoustic sound through headphones or a line output.

Why does the guitar have only a frame rather than a full body?

The purpose of using only a frame is to reduce the volume of the guitar. In an acoustic guitar the strings vibrate, causing the hollow body to resonate and deliver a full sound, but the SLG’s frame-only construction means the volume of the sound is reduced to 10-20% of that of a traditional acoustic guitar.

Doesn’t eliminating the body alter the sound and reverberation?

Yes. Without a body, the resonance and reverberation that normally emanate from the guitar into the surrounding air is lost, as is the live quality of the sound. We wanted to represent the deep reverberation of a guitar body while retaining these silent characteristics, which led us to create the unique Yamaha SRT (Studio Response Technology) Powered pickup system.

Can you give us some more detail on this system?

Sound collected from the onboard pickup is blended with the resonance from a guitar recorded in a studio, resulting in a system that can reproduce the sound of the guitar itself as well as that of the reverberation from the surrounding space.

The Silent Guitar uses the pickup to convert the vibrations of the strings into an electric signal, which goes to the headphones or the line output.

On its own, it produces the characteristic bright sound of a pickup. By adding modeled elements, we were able to recreate the rich airiness of an acoustic guitar.

Players can use the controls to make fine adjustments to the blend between the modeled sound and the pickup sound, enabling them to have a fuller sound when playing alone at home, or a brighter sound when playing together with other instruments in a band.

Is this system unique to the Silent Guitar?

This system was originally developed for use in acoustic-electric guitars, and then adopted for use in Silent Guitars. SRT technology reproduces exceptional guitar sounds that were recorded in the best possible studio environment. We created the sound of the Silent Guitar based on the sound source we recorded when we developed the SRT.

Let’s talk about your process in creating the Silent Guitar sound.

We made fine adjustments to obtain a pleasing, natural sound, whether heard over headphones or through the line output. However, with the Silent Guitar only having a frame for a body and thus no inherent natural body sound, it also had no “correct” sound. That gave us the unique opportunity to decide what the Silent Guitar should sound like.

Our goal wasn’t to ‘recreate’ the sound of other guitars so much as it was to express the nature of the Silent Guitar, so we focused on a sound that would naturally suit the shape and size of the instrument, the tension of its strings, etc. However, there was one standard we did maintain – the sonic characteristics of a vintage microphone were an important element in deciding the sound of the Silent Guitar.

How did you arrive at the decision to go with ‘this sound’?

We asked a number of people to evaluate the sound and we considered their input when making our decision. We sought the opinion of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and nationalities – professional guitarists, studio musicians, recording engineers, and those with experience playing previous models of the Silent Guitar. We also asked people who play acoustic instruments but who had never played a guitar before. We then applied what they told us as we finalized our sound.

How did you arrive at the decision to go with ‘this sound’?

Left: Lee Ritenour / Right: Daniel Ho

So, in the end, human sensitivity played a large part?

Evaluating sound is very subjective, and I think that any ten people will demonstrate a preference for ten different sounds. For example, one person might suggest that we fix a harsh sound, but “harsh” can have many different nuances and the specifics on how it should be remedied may vary according to the person. What was really interesting was that once people heard the final sound, they all immediately liked it.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties in developing the SLG200 Series?

Sound creation! When we were ensconced in the studio working on sound creation, my ears would gradually tire, and I would lose the ability to discern exactly what sound we were looking for. At such times, I would go back to the beginning and listen to the sound source again or I would listen to my favorite music to refresh and reset my ears before returning to the task.

Did you encounter any particular difficulties in developing the SLG200 Series?

The design emphasizes the warmth of wood beautifully.

The sound quality of a guitar is influenced by the type of wood used in its construction, and many guitarists view this as very important. Although Silent Guitars don’t have a body to speak of, the frame and neck are wood, and the shape of the instrument is both aesthetically attractive and takes into account the fit and playability of the instrument.

The design emphasizes the warmth of wood beautifully.

Does the SLG200 Series guitar come with any built-in functions?

It has built-in studio-quality reverb (two types) and chorus effects, and each can be applied according to the user’s preference. The onboard tuner also makes tuning simple. Since earphones are included as well, you can do everything from tuning to sound creation and performance on a single Silent Guitar without buying any additional equipment, which I think is a major advantage of these instruments.

What kind of guitarist would you recommend a Silent Guitar to?

First, I think that all guitarists should try a Silent Guitar at least once. Unplugged, it is very quiet, which means that you can play to your heart’s content without disturbing your neighbors or the family members who live with you. I can also recommend it as a travel guitar, since one side of the frame can be detached, and the instrument placed in its compact case. Some professional guitarists also use it on stage, such as Lee Ritenour, who helped us with sound evaluations, and Daniel Ho, who plays the Silent Guitar on tour. The line out makes it easy to connect to external equipment, and the bodiless structure of the instrument makes it resistant to feedback even at high volumes on stage. I would really enjoy seeing the SLG200 Series used in an increasingly wide range of scenarios.