The GR-500 is a true piece of guitar-synth history and a fantastic collectors instrument. It was introduced in 1977, 5 years before MIDI technology was even standardised! The synthesizer module produced bass, solo synth and string sounds which were based on Roland's previous Orchestral and analog mono-synths.
Who Used it?
Jeff Beck was ranked fifth in Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" and has spanned genres ranging from blues-rock to jazz fusion and even blends of rock-electronica. Jeff appears with his GR-500 in the front cover of his unofficially released double album "A Battle Without Honor & Humanity" which was recorded live in Japan in November 1978.
Jeff Baxter, known for his stints in the rock bands Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, used the GR-500 for both studio and some live works.
The GR-500 has also been used by Tangerine Dream, Mike Rutherford of Genesis and Alex Lifeson of Rush.
How it works?
Early 'Pitch-to-MIDI' technology is at the heart of the GR500. A special pickup listens to the string sounds and sends signals to the synth module via Roland's own 24-pin interface cable. Magnets under the face of the guitar gives increased sustain. Sliders and knobs control CO, VCF, VCA, and LFO. Although performance and tracking was 'iffy', the GR500 offered a truly unique guitar playing experience for 1977.
The Verdict?Although the GR500 had 'iffy performance', for 1977 it was a true technological innovation. The GR500 paved the way for early guitar-synthesizer development and should be considered a wonderful piece of guitar history.