Convince me I'm wrong for going GK-3 (plus GKC-AD converter box) over GK-5 ?

Started by Soulfistication, December 09, 2023, 05:56:10 PM

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Hi wonderful folks, I rarely post but have read quite a bit on this forum over the years - thank you for all your expertise.  I'm noting the new GK-5 serial pickup design, and while it looks interesting, and certainly with some upside for certain use cases, I have concluded initially that it is not for me.

However, I could use some input please from the experts to make sure I've got this conclusion correct FOR MY USE CASE (described below) and also I figured others might be thinking about this issue, as demonstrated by several posts.  I've tried to read them before posting, and I will link a few here for reference/consolidation, so please forgive me if I missed something at:

I welcome other links, but one of the things I am noting is that some of the comparison discussion seems to be bleeding over to considerations about the pros and cons of the end-devices (SY-1000 v serial, etc), which to my mind is a secondary consideration in the signal chain.  Also, notwithstanding some extra money, the fact that Roland have also introduced converter boxes would seem to imply that evaluating devices should be later in the thought process, and the order of consideration should be 1) the nature and integrity of the signal flow, 2) the downstream effects and use of such flow, 3) the pros/cons of converter box features and technology, and then finally 4) the pros/cons of the sound devices.

If that thesis is correct, then this is where I am getting stuck on the GK-5.  While the idea of a single TRS sounds great, am I correct in essentially saying that the cost-benefit is that you are immediately losing analog string signals right at the source?  In other words, if you choose the GK-5 you have subjugated yourself to Roland's AD conversion process, right?     Now, if that is true it might not be the worst thing, if Roland's process is really good, and if you've got a converter to ship things back to analog - but this is where my lack of technical expertise is tripping me up, as I am unclear about the possible limitations, latency, and/or other issues that would accompany a signal path that involves analog playing, immediate conversion to digital, and then conversion back to analog.  Could someone please confirm how/whether that conversion would or would not impair the original analog performance and all analog attributes of playing?   My gut tells me that something gets lost in translation FOR MY PURPOSES.

As background, I typically use analog signals for eurorack, re-amping, and also to do some SY-1000 work, with eventual conversion to digital for the DAW.   I tend to play with a fair amount of speed, and I tend to play more for a real guitar sound (with plenty of strumming, ghost notes, artifacts, rhythmic flairs etc in addition to just pure notes) and so MIDI and synth are secondary for my use case but great to use as well (either in isolation or mixed with analog), and of course a ton of fun IF they are clean and track well !  Perhaps I am a dumb purist that just assumes analog signals are the best default for speed and purity, but it just seems to me I'm best off sticking with a GK-3 and buying a converter box if I ever want to go serial and then choosing WHEN to have the analog to digital conversion take place (or even if I prefer a totally different manufacturer entirely for digital and/or midi conversion).  For further context of my use case I no longer gig live much, and so the premium for me on favoring a TRS cable to protect a fragile 13 pin in bar fights and late night stupidity is pretty low, and so is the premium for me to go A > D > A into a live analog mixer/monitor.   I could certainly see that a frequent live gigger might favor the GK5 for these reasons.   However, I would really be interested in links to data or comparisons showing whether A >D > A via a GK-5 is a bad idea. It just seems to me something must get lost in translation.  And it seems worse to me to go A > D > A and then back to D a second time when my analog stuff finally heads to the DAW - but perhaps I am overthinking that and a second digital conversion can be avoided.

Side note, I would also be interested in any form factor analysis of the GK-5 which shows that it is a vast form factor improvement over a mounted GK-3.  Losing physical controls seems like a step backward . . . but is the actual pup much smaller and/or lower for example under the strings?  I thought I read it was a similar form-factor to the mounted GK-3, and if so then no additional points awarded for the new GK-5 in this category.

So, in conclusion  -  am I off my rocker, do I have something wrong?  Please kindly let me know if I am missing or stating something obvious here ?

PS - not that I'm butthurt or anything, but in terms of "voting my wallet" I also sort of prefer sending a message to Roland that says "hey, you're not taking my money until I see you do some more SY-1000 updates . . ."   But since I know they are probably not listening, and my vote is tiny and irrelevant anyway, I am discounting that viewpoint for the most part.  Again, is that wrong?

Thanks kindly for your thoughts, and please school me gently for the long post with maybe some dumb questions.  :)


Based on the use case you seem to be describing it might be helpful to look at this from a different perspective - specifically, as an existing user of legacy Roland gear (I am including the SY1000 as legacy here) why would you switch to the GK-5 and/or GKC converters? There are really only a few good reasons that I can think of:

1) To integrate a GM-800 with 13 pin legacy gear.
2) To future proof a new GK guitar installation for use with Roland's new serial technology
3) If there are problems with existing GK pickups and cables that might be addressed with a GK-5 and serial cable

If none of these apply then I am struggling to see any reason to change anything. The question of analogue performance would only be a consideration if one of these applied. For completeness, some thoughts though on this:

a) Some users have observed differences in sound between GK5 serial and 13pin use. This is not entirely surprising, in the same way that there are differences between existing options (graphtec vs RMC vs Roland) and even between different GK pickups (GK-2a vs GK-3). Roland devices recognise this with specific hardware settings to compensate. It is likely that Roland have prioritised performance for use in their future devices so it is possible that users of legacy VG/SR/GR systems will experience differences/compromises compared to the p13 pin systems these devices were designed to use - others who have used the various converters would be better able to comment on their actual experiences.

b) The GK-5 pickup once and for all addresses any concerns about negatively affecting normal pickup tone by keeping it completely outside the GK path. TBH I cannot recall anyone complaining that these systems negatively affecting the normal tone and most people here seem to find it more convenient to combine the two in one cable anyhow. Personally I keep them separate, mainly for convenience when switching guitars in the studio and also because I very rarely (actually never) use the Roland gear for amp modelling of my 'normal' signal path so see no upside in sending this the GK pickup/Roland hardware

c) These devices are all doings some serious mangling of the individual string outputs so I don't see the typical 'rules' of analogue tone really apply in the same way to the individual string signals once they hit the device. Yes, the SY and VG do sound different according to the signal fed in but as far as the sound coming out is concerned, even for the guitar models this is as a result of serious digital signal processing - look at the outputs on a spectrograph if you want to see just how much is going on there.

d) The reality is that the given the sheer number of AD/DA converters in these devices that at this price point Roland are not exactly using boutique studio converters - this doesn't cause any issues in normal use but if having high fidelity analogue individual string outs are important there are numerous 3rd party breakout solutions that could be added before GKC-AD conversion.


Oh wow, I really appreciate your time with all those comments - very helpful !

Yes, I am noting the last comment d) on breakout solutions - definitely part of the set-up (again, for just my typical use case)

I had not thought much about your b) regarding signal separation considerations, so again, thanks for mentioning because my rig has both active and passive mags depending on the guitar I grab.  I had forgotten that this affects the decisioning as well . . .  namely, the need on the passives to perhaps get a radial dragster or some other device in the signal per post#22 at    . . . or, to your point, just separate them completely via a different cable.  I do tend to like having one cable - but I suppose my original list on signal path decisioning would need to be updated, as the pros and cons could change based upon the type of mag pup.  I may end up discounting this issue and staying with one cable and favoring my EMG pup guitar (which is typically the "workhorse" anyway on most of the final sound recording) - but definitely good to consider.

In any event, your comments have helped to underscore my current disposition.  Very apprecaited.   THANK YOU IMH1234 !!