November 20, 2014

Roland GR-700 & Roland G-707 Guitar Synthesizer (1984)

Courtesy of Roland Corporation

The GR-700 is a stomp-box guitar synthesizer with the same synth engine as the JX-3P. it's basically an Roland MKS-30 without the MIDI input circuitry, jack, wiring, or firmware support. The G-707 is the flashy guitar controller which connects to the 700 via 24 pin cable. On the 707 guitar are knobs for the cut-off edit and LFO modulation. So you can play synth sounds with the guitar instead of a keyboard. If you want to control parameters and edit patches, you use the PG-200 programmer by Roland.

The GR-700 is a six voice polyphonic with two DCO's per voice which means analog oscillators and sounds with digital stability and control. The typical assortment of a resonant lowpass filter, ADSR envelope, LFO and oscillator sections are here with easy and straight-forward programming.

The GR-700 is classic Roland 1980's analog synthesizer technology. Released in late 1984, the GR-700 is the pinnacle of early Roland guitar synthesizer design. The distinctive and futuristic GR-700 features both a digital CPU for guitar tracking and a warm, fat hybrid digital/analog synthesizer engine for lush sounds.
A look at articles written about the GR-700 demonstrate the enthusiasm in the belief that the long anticipated age of the guitar synthesizer had finally arrived. The GR-700 launched just as the MIDI standard was being introduced, and musicians were entering a brave new world of electronic music where relatively inexpensive CPUs made possible instruments like the Simmons Drums, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 and the GR-700, instruments unimaginable a decade earlier.

Generally speaking, the GR-700 has not held up as well as its 24-pin brethren, like the GR-100 or GR-300. But for a guitar player in 1985, the GR-700 offered an astonishing range of sounds that could never have been triggered from a guitar: strings, basses, electronic effects, synths, and more. It was assumed that guitar players eventually would become fluent in programming, and that the great silver box could become as ubiquitous as the wah-wah pedal.

Like the current generation of Roland guitar synths, the GR-700 controls the internal synth engine directly for faster response. But, make no mistake about it, when it comes to tracking the GR-700 is not a GR-300. Of all the products Roland has ever made, the GR-700 has the trickiest and most erratic tracking. The GR-700 is certainly better than equivalent products made by other manufactures at the time, but it is inferior to the GR-100, GR-300 or Korg Z3. The GR-700 has a MIDI out port for controlling other MIDI modules, but the MIDI output is erratic and unreliable. In addition, no pitch bend information is sent via MIDI.

Stand alone converters like the GM-70 became more popular toward the end of the eighties. They were faster and more accurate than the GR-700, plus via MIDI the range of sounds available to guitar players expanded considerably. The GR-700's combination of clunky pitch tracking, married to a limited synth engine, boxed up inside a huge, heavy foot pedal crammed with complex electronics made it more of a curiosity than a must-have piece of gear for the gigging musician. Still, for those who love the GR-700, nothing else sounds or responds quite like this unique guitar synthesizer.

The GR-700 Synth Engine

The GR-700 has six, independent, analog synth voices, two oscillators on each voice. Roland digitally clocked these oscillators and called them "DCOs", as a response to the fact that the earlier Roland oscillator’s pitch had a tendency to drift in performance. The DCOs on the GR-700 generate classic analog waveforms: sawtooth wave, square wave, and pulse width modulated wave, as well a noise for special effects.

The oscillators on the GR-700 can also be synced with cross modulation for hard, biting analog sounds or with ring modulation for metallic sounds. The GR-700 has a sweet Low Pass Filter with Resonance on each voice, with an additional High Pass Filter. And of course there are complete LFO and Envelope controls. To top it all off, the GR-700 adds a classic Roland analog Chorus circuit! If you like that expansive Roland Chorus found on early 80's products, you will love the Chorus on the GR-700.

The synth engine in the GR-700 is the same synth engine found in the Roland MKS-30 and JX-3P. And, like these synths, the Roland GR-700 can use the PG-200 as a programming tool. You will need this optional programmer if you want a real hands-on experience with the instrument.

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