The Gibson Dark Fire: The World’s Most Powerful Analog and Digital Guitar

(Gibson | Posted 2008-11-15)

The Gibson Dark Fire: The World’s Most Powerful Analog and Digital Guitar

The release of the original Gibson Robot Guitar in August 2007 caused a sensation the likes of which the guitar world has never seen, with stocks of these instruments selling out in most music stores within 24 hours. This self-tuning version of the hallowed Les Paul — capable of retuning itself in one second at the push of a button, and shifting to any conceivable alternative tuning with equal ease and speed — broke a long-standing natural law of the instrument, and was embraced the world over by pros and devoted enthusiasts alike.

Now, with the introduction of the new Dark Fire, Gibson takes the format exponentially further in a guitar with both analog and digital capabilities that would have been virtually inconceivable just a few years ago.

In a first-production run of numbered and strictly limited Dark Fire guitars, Gibson now combines considerably upgraded powerhead tuners, tuning brain, and battery functions with unprecedented analog and digital sonic abilities. A natural marriage, the melding of these functions gives the new Dark Fire stunning new levels of tonal and functional freedom, enabling you to release your full creative abilities — put simply: you play, the Dark Fire does all the grunt work.

Analog or digital, the Gibson Dark Fire gives you an infinite number of tonal possibilities to let you change the tone of the Dark Fire to match your environment – a concept otherwise known as Chameleon Tone Technology. Never before has one guitar been able to produce every imaginable guitar sound.

To top it all off, each new Dark Fire also comes with Gibson's new Robot Interface Pack (RIP for short), a small box about the size of a pack of playing cards that functions as a studio-quality preamp, firewire computer interface, digital hex-pickup breakout box and so much more. The Dark Fire can be played straight into a standard amplifier with a standard 1/4" mono cord and still provide a broad range of analog electromagnetic and piezo pickup tones and switching combinations, or routed through the RIP to a computer-based recording system, PA or multi-amp system for unprecedented control over your soundscapes. Or just play it through the RIP alone, using the dedicated stereo headphone output and level control, to set up your sounds in privacy before the gig or session begins, or simple to practice.

Perhaps the most important consideration of all for any serious guitarist, however, is the fact that the new Dark Fire is built on the most solid, toneful, and playable bones in the industry. Based on Gibson's 2008 Les Paul Standard model, it has a solid mahogany body and carved maple top, solid mahogany neck with super-fast asymmetrical neck profile, and two of Gibson’s finest pickups: the new P-90h in the neck position and a Burstbucker III in the bridge position.

Also, without even tapping the full capabilities of the hex-pickup-based digital system, the new Dark Fire II offers acoustic tones via its improved, sleeker looking Tune-o-matic bridge with six individual piezo-pickup saddles.

Added together, these industry-leading features are crafted into a whole far greater than the sum of their parts, and rendered to optimum playability with Gibson’s Perfect Setup™ from the world renowned computer-controlled PLEK system, acknowledged as the most precise guitar set-up technology in the industry.

To further set this exclusive run apart, Gibson is producing the Dark Fire in a new Dark Fire finish, with a headstock inlaid with Gibson’s traditional flower pot inlay, and a striking white formfit hardshell case.

There's a mammoth amount of playing power on tap here, so let's break down the Dark Fire’s functionality a little bit to see what's hiding in some of the details.

Robot Tuning Technology

As with the original Robot Guitars, the Dark Fire’s tuning capabilities are tapped at the Master Control Knob (MCK), although this control now also oversees myriad tonal functions too, which we'll delve into below. This powerful control has been totally redesigned with improved user-intuitive ergonomics and clear, well-defined full-color matrix display, and it accesses an upgraded Robot brain (with onboard software) that can now contain a full 500 different tuning presets, so virtually any conceivable open or alternate tuning is available at the touch of a button, in addition to the popular preset tunings loaded in at the factory.

Simply activate the MCK, strum the strings lightly, and in one second the Dark Fire's digital brain and Powerhead tuners work together to put you perfectly in tune. Or to achieve any open or alternate tuning, rotate the MCK to the desired preset, strum, and you’re ready to play in Open E, Dropped D, DADGAD, Open G, Hendrix Tuning (half-step down) or any of your own custom tunings.

At the other end of the instrument, the Powerhead tuners that do all the muscle work are now both lighter and stronger than those of the first-generation Robot. They achieve your desired tuning faster, and can now also be used as standard manual tuners without first needing to be engaged and disengaged between modes. In addition, all six tuners now zip into action simultaneously when the MCK is engaged with your desired setting, so your re-tune now occurs several times faster than before — so fast, in fact, that you can retune or change tunings mid-song, with no interruption detectable from the audience's perspective. To keep it all running longer, the battery that powers this brain now holds a longer charge, providing the Dark Fire with around 500 retuning cycles before recharging is required.

Standard (Electromagnetic) Tones

Used "merely" as a standard (analog) guitar with high-quality electromagnetic pickups plus acoustic-like tones from its piezo-pickup bridge saddles, the Dark Fire already packs a staggering wealth of tonal capabilities. The P-90h and Burstbucker III are wired to allow each individual coil to be used in a switching matrix that provides over 20 separate combinations, all easily accessed by the player from the guitar's own deceptively powerful onboard control section.

As part of the package, Gibson has honed nine super sweet tones that have been fine-tuned in-house to allow the Dark Fire to produce virtually every desirable guitar tone — all available with a single twist of the MCK. Furthermore, the Tone control and the CPA are designed to yield significant yet intuitive tonal changes from just slight rotations of the knob, and all of this is achieved via studio quality circuitry with much lower noise and signal loss than ever before achieved on such a guitar, so the full authentic Les Paul tone — along with its many new pickup combinations — comes through unhindered.

Acoustic Tones

As the gateway to the Dark Fire's digital abilities, the six individual piezo pickups in the redesigned Tune-o-matic bridge offer far more dramatic electro-acoustic capabilities than standard piezo-loaded bridges on the market. Not only are these pickups wired through an onboard active studio-quality preamp that ramps them up to a stronger, more natural acoustic sound, they can also be routed to your recording device or amplification system in three different ways:

With the guitar plugged in with a standard cord with 1/4" phone jacks, the acoustic tone from all six piezo pickups can be blended with the electromagnetic pickup sound via a revolutionary new potentiometer that is built into the pickup toggle selector switch. You can roll smoothly from 100% magnetic pickup tone (with 0% piezo added) to 100% piezo pickup tone (with 0% magnetic), or any blend in between. Plug a stereo cord with tip-ring-sleeve (TRS) connector into the Dark Fire to split the piezo pickups' signal to one channel or one amp, and the traditional electric guitar signal to another. Send your piezo-based acoustic tone to the PA or an acoustic amp, your full Les Paul tone to your favorite tube amp, or route them to suite your taste. Or, the six individual piezo signals can be transmitted over the stereo guitar cord using analog multiplexing (with no digital processing or delay whatsoever), and decoded to six balanced outputs via an optional breakout box, from which each individual string can be routed to a separate channel for individual EQ and effects treatments.

So turn up with your favorite old standby amp and standard guitar cord, and you've still got a wealth of both acoustic and electric tones on tap, or route the piezo capabilities out to their own channel, or six individual channels, and the sky is the limit.

Digital Tones

Hold onto your hats... This is where the Dark Fire really launches into the stratosphere. While the heart of the Dark Fire's capabilities lie entirely within the guitar itself, the small Robot Interface Pack (RIP) that's included with each one provides the means of routing all this staggering sonic versatility to your desired live performance or recording system. The RIP's front panel carries a single 1/4" stereo input for the Dark Fire, an 1/8" headphone out with level control, and a pilot light (changes from yellow to cobalt-blue when the Dark Fire input is detected).

The rear panel carries two balanced 1/4" line outs, a FireWire connector to link to your PC or laptop, and a hex connector that carries the outputs of each string and a composite piezo output. An optional adaptor provides easy connection from this hex output to popular MIDI guitar interfaces such as those made by Roland and Axon, or allows you to divide out the six individual signals to their own balanced 1/4" connectors. Finally, there's the 12-volt DC connector for the RIP's power supply, which both powers the RIP itself, and recharges the Dark Fire's battery when required.

While the RIP can act as a connecting point between any guitar and your computer-based recording or sound processing system, its built-in hex decoder circuitry comes to life when the Dark Fire is injected. Of course, you can use the RIP to connect to your favorite DAW (digital audio workstation), but you don't even need to be in possession of such a system to begin making the most of the Dark Fire's digital capabilities.

In addition to the RIP itself, each guitar comes with easy to install software with pro-quality low-latency driver to process the Dark Fire through a well-stocked library of effects, which is packaged with a Gibson-modified version of the popular Guitar Rig III processing software. Through the RIP's connection capabilities you can route these effects to your live outputs, your recorded outputs, or both. Tap into Guitar Rig III's versatile selection of effects box, amplifier, and speaker emulations, and instantly achieve the most desired guitar tones in the history of popular music.

Naturally, Dark Fire owners will also be able to connect to the internet through their RIPs to download firmware updates along with upgraded functions and software features as they become available from Gibson's R&D department.

Fully Upgradable, Always Cutting Edge

The Dark Fire that you purchase today is designed to remain current with any upcoming developments from Gibson; the electronics can be removed from the guitar quickly and easily, and new electronics installed should the time come to upgrade to a future generation of Robot technology, or to change your pickups out of personal preference. The well-crafted, Les Paul-based core of the instrument retains its integrity whatever electronics you use with it, and therefore will retain its value whatever is done to alter its technological functions.

Also, Gibson is already developing a range of audio equipment designed specifically to work with your new Dark Fire, some of which is already scheduled for release in early 2009. One of these is a small transmitter module designed to work with Bluetooth wireless technology, which will allow you to connect wirelessly to your computer or laptop.

And these incredible advances aren't limited to owners of the Dark Fire. Gibson players who bought the first generation Robot will soon be offered an opportunity to convert the self-tuning technology on their guitars to the self-tuning specs of the new Dark Fire.

The new Gibson Dark Fire – the most advanced guitar system ever developed. Tap its power, and tune in to your creative freedom. Available Dec. 15, 2008.

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