Here’s What Pat Metheny’s Synth Guitar Is Really Like

Almost synonymous with synth guitars, Pat Metheny wouldn’t be able to pull it off without his tech, Andre Cholmondeley. He’s the man who keeps things in order with Pat’s live rig, which also includes his double-cutaway synth guitar.

Of course, things aren’t that simple. The dual-cutaway guitar that you see in videos and photos, featuring that natural finish, is essentially just a controller. But Andre explained this in more detail during his chat with Premier Guitar for their “Rig Rundown” series.

Pat Metheny Rig Rundown

“If there ever was a signature sound,” offered Andre while talking about Pat’s GR-303 guitar. This controller, which can also act as a conventional guitar with its regular pickups and electronics, has been with Pat for many years now. And it’s a signature part of his studio recordings and live shows. Andre explained (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“For all the guitars he has changed, in and out of his arsenal, his toolbox of guitar… Wow, this has really been around.”

Looking back at Pat’s use of guitar synths, Andre also added:

“1982. And the big Metheny fans will know the ‘Offramp’ album. And that album opens up with this incredible-sounding guitar. And a few people played these Roland synths over the years. But Pat has kept it as part of the pallet.”

Pat Metheny GR 300 solo

“As a fan, you put on a Pat album, and you’re listening, and it’s going this direction, that direction… And there it is! That sound.”

“And sometimes you don’t expect it,” he added. “It’s right after Michael Brecker sax solo, right after a beautiful piano solo. And you go ‘Alright, got me again!’ It’s just as valid of a voice — in my opinion — to his nylon-strings, to his jazz guitars.”

The term “synth guitar” isn’t all that straightforward. These days, you have pickups that turn your instrument into a MIDI controller, which can then be used with digital devices or plugins in form of software. However, with GR-303, it’s a little different. The guitar is a controller for a unit called GR-300, which is an analog synth. Yes, just like those old-school keyboard-based synths that used transistors to help you get all those wacky sounds.

Roland G303/GR-300 Guitar Synth, Don't Stand So Close To Me

GR-303 has a hexaphonic pickup. Each string has its individual pickup where the saddles are, and each is used to control an individual voice on the GR-300 unit. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities. GR-303 was just one of the guitar controllers compatible with GR-300 and stuff like GK-1 pickup systems that Roland released later and made backward compatible.

“So this is one of them,” said Andre while holding this old synth guitar. “He’s got a number of them, of the guitar controller. This is the Roland GR-303 and the synth itself is the [GR-]300.”

“And it’s an analog synth. It’s a polyphonic analog synth. So I have to tune it every day, like a Minimoog.”

Roland GR-300 G-808 Guitar Synthesizer - Pat Metheny Tone 2

Analog synths require actual physical tuning or calibration of the oscillators in order to keep things working properly. Going more into the guitar controller, Andre said:

“This is a hex pickup so it’s got six little pickups, all six strings go into the synth. There’s actually switches — you can turn off any of the strings if you want. So you can really control what’s happening.”

“Otherwise, you’ve got controls on here, typical synth controls for controlling LFO and vibrato depth and whether there’s fuzz or not, and a filter sweep.”

Is This The Best Synth Guitar EVER?!

He also added:

“So a lot of the typical things on any synth. And then you can blend guitar and synth. He leaves it at 100% and leaves the filter kind of open. And he plays it as a guitar too. It’s a pretty nice guitar.”

Of course, this is an old piece of technology. So the next obvious question was how one keeps 40-year-old technology in working conditions and where they get the parts. Andre explained:

“The good news is… Just like there’s Fenders and different things, that the parts are still pretty good — this is newer, so knock on wood.”

Pat Metheny Group - To the End of the World (Live)

“There are some people who work on them. There’s a guy named Wayne Joness. He is the genius on this whole world of stuff. But he does repairs, he’s got parts, he knows who has parts. I talk to him all time, he will tell you ‘There’s this company in Japan that makes the exact replacement.'”

You can check out one of Wayne’s videos on GR-300 in the embedded player below.

Roland Vintage Analog Guitar Synthesizer Adjustment Setup GR-300 G-303 G-808 Max Performance

“I’ve studied his stuff for years,” Andre said. “Just working for other artists too  — Adrian Belew, Steve Howe… Al Di Meola used the VG-88. And I used to go to this guy’s website to get manuals and info.”

“There are people who repair them and there are parts out there,” he concluded. So, thanks to the people who are still keeping this old technology alive, we still get the chance to see musicians like Pat Metheny put them to good use.

Photo: Matt.mac (Pat Metheny Venice)

Author

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.