The Vo-96 Acoustic Synth Opens Up New World Of Acoustic Synthesis

This video looks at the Vo-96 Acoustic Synth – the newest instrument design from Paul Vo, the inventor of The Moog Guitar.

Vo’s approach to acoustic synthesis involves controlled modulation the amplitude of the harmonics in a vibrating object – in this case, guitar strings. So, instead of plucking a guitar string and the sound quickly dying out, you can shape how the various harmonics of the string  sustain or even build over time.

In the preview video, Will Rayan and Vincent Crow of The Electric Jazz Project try it and explore creating organ and sustained pad sounds using acoustic synthesis on Vo’s new guitar design. 

Here’s another video demo of the Vo-96 Acoustic Synth:

Acoustic Synthesis

While Vo’s first ‘acoustic synth’ design works with n acoustic guitar, acoustic synthesis is not limited to guitars. Here’s what Vo has to say about it:

With Acoustic Synthesis, any acoustic musical instrument – any object that makes a sound – can be enhanced to bring out its hidden acoustic voice. Think also of potential new instruments – playable objects of acoustic art.

So far I’ve worked mostly with vibrating strings. The musical instrument string is arguably the most ubiquitous means of making music. It’s also the most difficult to vibrate coherently using electronic control. One idea I had back in 1979 turned out to be a great solution. I was amazed to find it was still unknown and patentable 20 years later.

Over the past 50 years or so we have accepted and become familiar with using synthesizers to create an endless variety of sounds electronically. I’m saying we are now beginning to extend this idea into the physical realm. We can make the virtual become real. We can artistically create new sounds by bringing out modes of vibration that have up to now remained hidden within the material objects we call musical instruments. Through Acoustic Synthesis the same sonic exploration is possible for other acoustic instruments and even creative objects of acoustic art that no one has imagined – not just yet anyway.

Analog Synthesis. Digital Synthesis. Acoustic Synthesis: it isn’t empty hype, this really is a distinctly different and new method of voicing instruments, designing new sounds, and making music.

You can find out more about Vo and his inventions at his site.

via Chris Stack of experimentalsynth

32 thoughts on “The Vo-96 Acoustic Synth Opens Up New World Of Acoustic Synthesis

  1. This really does look like it could be the start of something very interesting.

    I’m sure he’s starting with guitar because of the size of the audience and limited number of strings, but imagine if he could apply the same technology to the acoustic piano! It might be hugely expensive, but it seems like the possible sounds would be even more vast.

  2. The problem with this is that guitarists are even more conservative than keyboardists – or audiences just want to see guitarists rocking out.

    The Moog Guitar hasn’t led to new styles of music, like Moog synths did, because of that.

    1. That isn’t quite fair, you could argue that fender and gibson guitars along with moog synths ushered in new eras of music, simply because electric guitars and synthesizers were brand new when the respective companies started up. The moog guitar is hardly the first guitar-synth hybrid, just seems like for the most part guitarists prefer guitars and keyboardists prefer synths. Just as every new synth innovation (digital, fm, granular, etc) has inspired new waves of electronic music, so too have innovations in guitar tech from amplifiers to pedal manufacturers to products like 12-strings, floyd rose whammy bars, e-bows, etc. been catalysts for stylistic directions in rock and pop music over the years. A true talent will find ways to make something groundbreaking regardless of their instrument.

  3. Interesting. I’d like to hear how else it can be used, beyond just an organy-pad follow. That would be a one-trick pony that could get old fast. Would like to try it with shorter following sounds that could be put through rhythmic treatments (fancy delays) and have those tones change over time.

  4. The Moog Guitar isn’t taking off, because the thing has sonic issues – the sound from the pickups is quite compromised by all the sustain energy. Only way i can use mine is through a VG-99/13 pin setup, otherwise tone is just terrible, and it’s quite noisy. I strongly suspect that’s why the new system is only on acoustic guitars – old-fashioned magnetic guitar pickups just don’t like the mag field put out by the Vo. I wonder if this new idea still requires special strings?

    1. As owner of a moog guitar and likely also other guitars, just how bad is the tone? Are there any good comparisons you can provide A/B testing the tone of a decent electric guitar running through the same chain of equipment vis-avis the moog? I’ve read about such complaints online, but never quite sure how seriously to take them given that guitarists can be very particular (and conservative) about what they expect from a guitar. I thought the moog guitar might still be awesome for experimental soundscapes (frippertronics and the like). It’s a shame you’re using yours as a luxury midi controller… do you regret the purchase?

      1. Well, it’s complicated. The actual tone of the instrument is not bad, I’ve gigged with it. I had the 13-pin option added, precisely so I could use it as a MIDI controller.
        I’ve done guitar/synth/MIDI stuff before, with ‘regular’ guitars.
        The issues are several –
        1. Frequent difficulties getting a non-noisy signal. It’s real touchy in that regard. Some setups work fine, sometimes it’s just Noise City. Mostly of the white-noise variety, kinda
        like playing though bad active pickups.
        2. The sustain system adds some odd high-frequency signal at times, especially when you are not using it. Sounds a little like a motor induction noise, like you are picking up a car starter somewhere.
        3. If you add the 13-pin, the piezo side will buzz, unless the 13 pin is plugged into something.
        4. Overall, it’s just a little dull sounding.

        As I said, it’s not a bad sound, it’s just very, very hard for me to get a *great* sound out of. Always a compromise somewhere. And not consistent. Some
        gigs, all would be great. Other gigs, same gear, sounded like crap. So for me, it became kinda a pain, because I could never count on it sounding good,
        could never dial in a pedalboard setup that would work more than once.
        Seemed like ever time I tried to track with it, I wound up spending too much time trying different preamps and pedals just to get something decent.

        The VG-99 solves the problem for me. It’s not MIDI, it’s the Roland v-guitar stuff, which works great. So, i get all the sustain/muting features,
        and I can quickly dial up a variety of really good-sounding guitar tones (or crazy non-guitar tones, ton’s of FX on board). It’s not quite like playing through a really great amp,
        but the flexibility of the Moog adds a lot to the sound/playing feel. The only thing I lose is the use of the on-board wah/filter, which
        no great loss for me, as the VG has multiple fine wahs. And a lot of the V-guitar models really open up when you can use the Vo power to change the envelope of
        the actual guitar. So, experimental soundscapes are much more possible with this rig 🙂 I’ve just started to use this rig, and it’s got me interested in using the Moog live again.
        So definitely not a shame, and not using it as a luxury midi controller neither. (Altho it’s great to use with MIDI, i think guitar is in some ways a much more expressive MIDI controller than a keyboard) Folks tend to ignore the muting side of the Moog (because sustain is so kewl) – it really creates some interesting tonal changes to use the mute.

        My experience is that it’s happiest running into a board/mic pre, rather than actual guitar signal chain.
        I think the issue is that the Vo system, which uses magnetic energy just shouldn’t be in a guitar with mag pickups. The piezo side sounds nice and clean, and piezo-y, and
        is very useable if you like that sound. The ideal would be to combine the Vo power with something like the Variax for sound, or anything other than mag pickups. So, I can really see why the Vo-96 is being deployed only on acoustic guitar.

        Here is a track I did awhile ago, that has the straight Moog guitar on the lead part, as you can hear it’s a bit dark.

        So, happy I have it, still finding ways to use it – but I can see why the first version of the Moog guitar failed to set the world on fire. Hopefully, they can do another edition, and ditch the magnetic pickups.

    1. Moldschool – not sure how you can say it’s “a really pricey ebow’ when they haven’t announced a price!

      But a couple of differences are pretty obvious:

      An eBow works on one string, this works on any number of strings.

      An eBow lets you electronically bow a string, so you can sustain it or fade the sound in or out. The Vo-96 lets you control what happens with the individual harmonics of the string over time, which, in theory, lets you create any sound possible. Realistically, the sound possibilities won’t be unlimited, because of the physical constraints of the string & guitar.

      They both can work on a guitar, though.

    1. Similar in that it sets the string(s) to vibrating. Possibly better than the synth because it can be physically manipulated for expressive performance. With an ebow you can instantly localize the effect to certain strings, vary the intensity by proximity, and even use the case to strike the strings or fretboard… The Vo-96 seems cool, but ironically my favorite parts of the demo were the places where it wasn’t droning away.

      1. If this works like the Moog Guitar, the big difference it that it can either add or _remove_ energy from the partials. The Ebow adds energy, but doesn’t remove it. And the muting part (at least on the Moog) is quite different from the normal muting techniques used by guitarists.

  5. The Vo web site is down right now. I would really like to know what how it works; Vo briefly mentions some DSP processing, but what exactly is it (and does this drive some sort of ebow like device?). Sounds cool, though. I like playing steel string acoustics; this would be a very fun addition.

  6. While other scoffed, I fell in love with my VG-8 system. I have the ability to create new sounds as well as emulate others. This looks like something similar and different.

    Where can I purchase one? The web site is not really up, so is this high tech guitar vaporware?

    Whatever it is I WANT ONE!

  7. Wow, I was totally unaware that designing sounds, from scratch in a totally digital environment were two steps from “real”, I’m very disappointed that I don’t make any “real” sound.

    1. Analog is the signal inside the wire representing the sound in voltage and frequency fluctuation. Digital is the representation of an analog signal in bit form at specific intervals.

      NEITHER sound can be heard without further equipment being utilized…however an acoustic or “real sound” that does not need anything for your ears to hear is what this instrument produces.

  8. For everyone who is going to make an ebow comparison: You don’t understand what is happening. Find out what this thing is doing before you start talking about a technology that doesn’t remotely compare.

    This is an acoustic additive synthesizer. I’ll say it again: acoustic additive synthesizer. If you don’t know what those words mean, or why this is revolutionary… you need to learn a bit about physics.

    Analog and digital are irrelevant in this face of this. Being able to move air molecules in the ways you design is the culmination and goal of 113 years of synthesis.

    1. I am a 3rd year Physics student and I am not sure what acoustic additive synthesizer means. I would agree that I need to learn a bit more about physics, but who doesn’t. Point is, instead of posting something not so constructive, why not explain what “acoustic additive synthesizer” means and what it does. No offence, I am legitimately curious.


    2. what a pickup does: picks up the changes in its magnetic field caused by a thing vibrating nearby

      what an ebow does: blasts a shitton of emi at whatever its pointed to which may have the effect of causing those things to vibrate

      what the moog guitar does: basically have the same thing as an ebow built in along with teh reverse thing of an ebow (a pickup senses the string freq and aims a continuously phase inverted emi at it) and let you mix them or use one more or whatever.

      what the vo-96 or lev-96 or whatever does: same as moog guitar with modulation, more fine grained control (more harmonics it can single out and do something with) and more control surface. also more impressive cause folks don’t immediately write it off as another electric with some wacky effect built in.


    3. I’m fairly sure you mean it’s an acoustic *subtractive* synthesizer; additive adds individual harmonics together (no starting waveform). Subtractive synthesis alters or removes harmonics. It would be a real trick to pull off additive synthesis on a physical string!

      1. “It would be a real trick to pull off additive synthesis on a physical string!”

        And that is why Vo’s technology is interesting!

        His system uses electromagnets that can vibrate the string at the fundamental or at different harmonics, in a very controlled manner.

  9. My question is, does it work with Acoustic/Electric guitars? Does the sound carry through the electric pickup? If not, then it makes little improvement in the way of convenience. Mic-ing my guitar is just not as convenient as plugging my guitar into my sound system if I want to be heard.

  10. I second the idea that this is NOT a really pricey e-bow. Although many of the sounds that I’ve heard are comparable to each other, just the subtle difference in the harmonics demonstrated in the second video as he adjusts the synth because it is “too busy” show that he’s added an entirely new dimension of sound to an acoustic instrument. I have never heard any sounds like that coming from a mere e-bow, and it seems that as usual, people are discounting a device that we haven’t even heard fully explored yet. Not to mention the possible variations when applied to other acoustic instruments. If you’re not interested, don’t invest in one. As far as this being a “one trick pony”, what is a distortion pedal? Or a delay, chorus, flanger, etc. each of those individual effects does one thing with parameter adjustments that make subtle variations of the sound possible. The VO-96 is ground breaking in that all these sounds are made WITHOUT any amplification. If you don’t recognize that, you are akin to the people who eschewed electric light because candles and gaslight already lit a room.

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