I’m creating a song using cool music tech. We tackled drums, now it’s time for guitar.
Somnium's guitars allow you to swap out guitar pickups in seconds.
In the last article of this series, I started building a song by laying down the drums with Yamaha’s EAD10. The drums themselves weren’t anything new, but the EAD10 sensor box and processing module helped make the recording process much easier. Now I’m moving on to laying down the guitar. For that, I wanted to use the curious Somnium guitars and their ToneStorm pickup system. Somnium manufactures guitars with interchangeable, modular pieces that don’t require tools to swap. This means you can “hot-swap” or quickly change physical components like its pickups, the bridge, or (in select models) the neck.
The company’s modular guitars give you something other guitars don’t: quick and easy control over the shape, tone, and hardware of your instrument without having to think about wiring. Players can change up the guitars without removing the strings, which is huge. When you buy a guitar from a company like Fender, it has pickups pre-installed and can’t change the shape of the wood no matter how much tinkering you’re willing to do.
Somnium sent me their Vision model, which comes with an aluminum body and hardwood maple neck. That sounded good to me.
Installing new pickups—transducers that translate the vibration of the string into an electrical signal that can be played through an amp—in a guitar usually requires tools to solder wires. This can be time-consuming and requires specialized knowledge that’s tough to get from watching YouTube videos. Somnium’s modular ToneStorm pickups live inside self-contained cartridges that snap into place under the strings. The pickup cartridges are laser cut, and made out of aluminum and stainless steel. There are two styles for their Vision model: full size and half size. You can also order blank swappable cartridges and have your favorite pickups installed in them. If you install an active pickup—one that uses a preamp to boost the signal—the guitar has a 9V battery compartment to power it.
In the video above, the pickups are taken out while the guitar is still plugged in, without any feedback or crackling, which usually happens when you unplug a guitar. This allows you to drastically change the tone of your instrument without needing to switch guitars, pedals, or amps. As a touring musician, you can save space by bringing fewer guitars—plus theoretically you could change pickups in seconds between songs. When you’re done playing, you can disassemble the guitar, which makes it easier to transport.
What makes buying a speciality guitar like this difficult, is that you have little or no chance to try it out beforehand to see how it plays. So much of guitar preference is in how it feels in your hands. And, to be totally honest, I’d never purchase a guitar without playing it first. I doubt any guitarist would recommend that.
Still, I was pleasantly surprised by the Somnium’s smooth play and sturdy build. The swappable pickup system is what initially intrigued me, but the feel wasn’t bad either.
This guitar isn’t for the casual player—they cost between $1500-$2,000 and you don’t need to be able to change the pickups to learn how to play a G chord—but for touring artists, people who like to experiment with tones, or musicians that want more control over their instrument, it’s worth checking out. It would also be good for people who have an absurd amount of money to spend on toys.
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