Armed with 18 wooden buttons (16 for the “piano” keys and 2 for mode/waveform/octave changes), 4 knobs, a jack for an external power adaptor, ¼” mono audio output, two LED’s and a built-in 3 watt speaker the original Pocket Piano first caught my eye late last year and after coming across the more recent Pocket Piano GR with it’s super sexy green anodized aluminum enclosure and extra sound I was sold ($220.00). So what is it?
The Critter and Guitari Pocket Piano GR (PPGR) is a small digital synthesizer that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Each mode that the PPGR offers (vibrato synth, harmonic sweeper, two-octave arpeggiator, octave cascade, mono FM synth, FM arpeggiator and MONO Glider) also has a subset of functions depending on the patch. These functions vary from LFO rate and depth to glide rate to arpeggiator speed and gate time. All modes have two knobs dedicated to volume and pitch control (a 2 octave range). Additionally 5 of the modes offer alternate waveforms while the remaining 2 offer an octave “jump” function. For the patches that are polyphonic you have a 4 note polyphony. So how’s it sound?
Perky, bright, dark, gloomy, glitchy, nasty, pretty, video gamey. For a tiny little box the PPGR is more than capable of delivering a wide palette of playable tones. The built-in speaker is surprisingly good and after a couple of months of playing the device I never really found myself needing much more than that unless I was recording or routing through external effects. The PPGR aliases all over the place but that really is part of the charm. A lot of people get their panties all up in a bunch about aliasing and digital/analog etc etc.. this thing is noisy and I’ve had a ton of fun playing with those aspects of the instrument. Push the LFO too far in some modes and yer in straight up glitch land. It’s super fun because the PPGR has in spades what so many other devices are lacking: CHARACTER. Which bring me to… TINY WOODEN BUTTONS.
They are so amazing I’ll say it again… TINY WOODEN BUTTONS. These are your keys to musical expression on the PPGR. No velocity or after touch or anything.. they are simple on/off switches and they are a blast. They have a pleasantly tactile “plop” when depressed and clack and rattle a bit when moving the instrument around. They look fun and generally when an instrument looks fun I tend to play it more and the PPGR is no exception to that rule. It has lived in my backpack for a couple of months now and I routinely pull it out at work, home, on the train… wherever. The PPGR was meant to be used and the build quality does nothing but underscore this fact.
The build is nothing short of SUPERB. The body is wood and aluminum, the wooden buttons are firmly in place, the power switch feels solid, the audio out and all 4 knobs (metal stemmed potentiometers) are mounted to the chassis. No need to be gentle here. My only gripe about the construction is the battery compartment. Located underneath the unit, the battery compartment is basically a hole in the body of the instrument with a snap in 9 volt casing. It isn’t inherently a “bad” thing but as it is an open hole I can’t help but feel like something is eventually going to slip in there while I’m toting the instrument around that could potentially be a pain in the ass to deal with.
The Critter and Guitari Pocket Piano GR is awesome. $220.00 might be too steep for some as an impulse buy and for others a hard sale over a VST which for the same dollar value could have 1000’s of more options as a synthesizer. You DO get what you pay for though. A fun, good sounding, solidly constructed instrument that is entirely unique in presentation and SCREAMS to be played with. A co-worker has pleaded with me to stop bringing it into work because he insists it prevents him from getting anything done. The thing is, the only time I get anything done at work anymore is when HE has it. As far as problems with instruments goes, this is a pretty good one to have.
More info and demos on the Critter and Guitar website: http://www.critterandguitari.com