January/February 2006

Tascam CD-GT1mkII Portable CD Guitar Trainer

I'm not old enough to remember the days when transcribing a solo meant slowing down a vinyl LP; I've only heard wiser elders go on about how easy us kids have it today. By the time I became crazy enough to attempt unraveling dense melodies by Barney Kessel or breaking down Johnny Smith's dumbfounding chord work, CDs had long replaced LPs and the musicians' market had a few machines that slow down a disc's music to tempos that make for more manageable riff-robbing.

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Tascam CD-GT1mkII Portable CD Guitar Trainer

In contrast to the dear old charming phonograph and cassette versions of these machines, CD-based units not only slow down the music but also can preserve its pitch at the slower tempo, meaning it remains in its original key. The market's top-drawer units cost a few hundred dollars and offer handy features like built-in CD burners. For more budget-conscious musicians, Tascam has stepped in with a series of portable trainers that cut out some of the bells and whistles but can be had for about 150 bucks.

The CD-GT1mkII is the second version of Tascam's CD guitar trainer. It boasts the official endorsement of one Dave Mustaine, the shredmeister who has made so many memorable musical moments with his band Megadeth. Back in junior high, my metal-head friends had a saying: If it's good enough for the mighty Mustaine, hell yeah, I want one. So I gave the CD-GT1mkII a test spin.

A certain passage from the intro of Barney Kessel's 1956 recording of "Easy Like" for the Contemporary label previously had me in fits as I tried to replicate each of the guitarist's sliding passing tones and perky chord melodies. Without cracking the CD-GT1's manual, I managed to slow Barney down to half-speed by pushing clearly labeled buttons on the unit's surface. CDs slowed to such a pace don't sound wonderful, and Barney's half-speed band was a groggy group playing in a studio under the sea. But that's the nature of the technology and it doesn't affect your ability to hear what's on the disc.

Adjusting the tempo while preserving the music's original key can be done only in specific increments: +16, +12, +8, +4, 0, -4, -8, -16, -32, -50 percent. You can alternately drop or increase the tempo in one-percent increments but that changes the pitch as well. There is also a key control that allows for changing the key plus or minus six semitones in one-semitone increments as well as plus or minus 50 cents for extra-fine tuning. That becomes especially useful when dealing with a disc that features music that's not in perfect standard tuning. To keep you in tune, there's an onboard tuner, as well as an onboard metronome to keep you in time.

The manual is easy to understand. It reveals how to adjust the mix between the input signal and the CD, creating a playback loop, and how to operate the unit's onboard effects--and those are the features that make the CD-GT1mkII especially valuable. The looping function lets you specify a section of a track, like the intro to "Easy Like," and repeats it for concentrated study and practicing. With a bit of patience and a trained hand, these loops can be made seamless and the rhythm remains consistent from the end of the loop back to the beginning. That is the CD-GT1mkII's best added feature, but running a close second is the library of 57 effects, including distortion, reverb, delay, vibrato and compression. Naturally, the effects on such a device aren't ultra-sophisticated, but they are plenty good for the purpose of matching your tone to what you're playing along to. Additionally these effects make the CD-GT1mkII a great general practice tool; just selecting a nice reverb setting and playing without CD accompaniment is possible.

New to this second version of the CD-GT1mkII is the guitar cancellation feature, which ostensibly gives you the option of eliminating a center-panned guitar track from a song for a Music Minus One-type experience. In some cases this can wipe out a guitar track altogether. More often than not the cancellation is more of a heavy reduction of the guitar-track's volume, which is still helpful, as the sound of your own ax playing will generally overpower any lingering trace of the guitar on the CD.
Tascam bills the CD-GT1mkII as a "portable" device. Yes, at roughly the size and weight of a hardback book it certainly fits snug in backpacks and gig bags, and it runs on four AA batteries. But alkalines won't get you but an hour-and-a-half of play time. I found that rechargeable batteries gave about three or four hours of operation (it all depends on which functions are in use), but the best option for power is Tascam's PS-P5 AC adapter--sold separately, natch, for $20 or so.

If you're a guitarist with an earnest practice habit on the lookout for a CD-based phrase-training device or an old-timer tired of repositioning your phonograph needle, the CD-GT1mkII sets you up with a simple and affordable solution. And if you happen to play a wind instrument or bass, checking out Tascam's other CD training units is likely well worth the trouble.

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