SynthAxe: back to the future of guitars

We've now officially reached the day Marty McFly and Doc Brown visited in 1985's Back To The Future II - so, we thought it an apt time to revisit the future of guitar playing in the mid-80s, courtesy of the SynthAxe.

In the demo above, Allan Holdsworth, Lee Ritenour and Guitar Techniques' own Neville Marten take you through this revolutionary MIDI controller.

Marten, who left his job at Guitarist magazine to work for SynthAxe, recalls: "I didn't think SynthAxe was 'the' future of guitar but did believe it was 'a' future. I loved it, even though the playing compromises were huge.

"It didn't make any sounds of its own, but 'talked' via MIDI to any compatible synth. In this demo, the big synth pads are Oberheim Matrix 12 and the single-note lines and piano are mostly Yamaha DX7."

The price is wrong

The SynthAxe offered a guitar-like fretboard that was continuously scanned to send signals to synthesizers for sound reproduction; it featured two sets of strings - one for fretting, one for picking - which could detect string bending, and offered an electronic tremolo bar for whammy effects.

Unfortunately, the SynthAxe's original price tag of £10,000 ($13,000) resulted in limited sales and production numbers - allegedly, only 100 were made, so if any do crop up for sale, you can expect to pay around $20,000-$25,000.

Michael Astley-Brown

Mike is Editor-in-Chief of, in addition to being an offset fiend and recovering pedal addict. He has a master's degree in journalism, and has spent the past decade writing and editing for guitar publications including MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitarist, as well as a decade-and-a-half performing in bands of variable genre (and quality). In his free time, you'll find him making progressive instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe.