I'm not sure that where should I start to explain this instrument. There are too many functions... And also, there are many models for Ztar. So I will explain about only MiniZXS; which I have. I heard there are only three or four Ztars in Japan.
Ztar is developed and out to the market around 1993, as an ultimate guitar synthesizer; which I guess... (^^;
To assemble guitar synthesizer, one of biggest problem is how it convert the tone which is played to digital signal(I think, I never build one...). Ztar uses the simplest solution for it. It just equips switches instead of real strings and frets! However, these days, evolution of MIDI pickups and such, this method gain not much advantages. I believe real figure of the Ztar is keyboards for tapping players, and adding guitar emulation mode.
There are many unique features in Ztar and one of them is called 'Zone' feature. One to up to sixteen zones can be assigned in one configuration. And a zone shapes square or rectangle. For e.g., Zone start form first string at first fret to third string at tenth fret, is first to tenth frets of first, second and third strings. And these zones can be overlapped. Each zone can be assigned each MIDI patch(i.e., program number or instrumental number), velocity curve, key transpose (which can be change the tuning) and such.
Using this feature, Stick(TM) tuning can be done. For example, first to twelfth frets for base side, and thirteenth to twenty fourth frets for melody side.
Ztar is made by StarrLab.
This is whole view. It looks strange?
My Ztar is consists of Neck, 6 Drum Pads, 6 String Triggers, Joy Stick, Volume Control, LCD and accompanied switches (called Program Controller), Hot Switches, MIDI IN, MIDI OUT, Pedal Inputs, Thumb Sensor Strip, Octave Switches, CPU Board, Body and Power Supply. Now, ready explore each parts?
There are 144 switches; 24 frets of 6 strings. All switches are made of plastic and same size, and can be detect velocity; strength of pressure (actually speed of press). There are lumps between adjacent frets, they help not to press two switches at a time (but I do). The size of switch is wide enough for two fingers.
Ztar has mainly three playing modes. One is all switches are activated; piano mode. another is highest switch of each string is activated when string trigger is strum; guitar mode. And the last one is the same above except without string trigger; guitar tapping mode.
Actually, I haven't order drum pads but they were along. Lucky! They are just sensors with velocity sensitive and can be assigned many kinds of MIDI signals. Normally, used with percussions or chord up to 8 notes.
This model has real string triggers. Each string is the same about fourth string of normal guitar. Under the front cover, there are sensors under each string and convert its vibration to digital signals. In guitar mode, they work as triggers for fretted tones. In this case, velocity of fret switches is ignored and velocity of the string triggers is used. In other modes, many MIDI signals can be assigned as same as drum pads.
There is a brass bar at the end of string triggers. To touch this brass, sounding tones will be muted. Please refer at 'Guitar Emulation Mode' below.
Joy Stick is not only for pitch bends and vibratos. It can be assigned with many MIDI signals like drum pads. It is four directional sensor.
Volume control work for only assigned channel(s). Not assigned channel(s) can be control from Ztar but other external devices like volume pedals.
To edit the configuration, or to switch to other configuration, this is used. To maximum, 24 configuration can be hold in a backup ram.
There are eight hot switches. 'Patch +' increments the patch(i.e., program or instrumental number) of currently played. 'Patch -' decrements the patch. 'Rec' memorized the currently played tones to assign to drum pads, string trigger or joy stick directly. 'Write' writes the current configuration. 'TRIG' enable/disable the string trigger for guitar mode. 'Guitar/Poly' switches piano and guitar modes. 'PANIC' issues all note off. The last one 'SOLO' expand the zone which is played to all frets and disable other zones for solo performance.
No need to explain? MIDI In can be used to communicate with computer to exchange configurations.
There is volume pedal and sustain pedal. I haven't use them at all.
At the side of the neck, right thumb can press this and make pitch bends and/or vibratos. No picture is available.
Change the octave of the channel currently played. However, changed sound can be heard at pressing these switches, it can be used at playing time. Although it is useful for configuration time.
I think Z8 CPU is used (I sometimes heard about this CPU, but never seen. Therefore I am not so sure). There are many chips so it affect the radio near it. There are trim pads for sensors and can be adjust by the users.
Maple. A bit thick... I feel. The weight is a bit heavier than 3 Kg.
The power is supplied by unused line of MIDI cable.
If Ztar can be played completely like guitar, it would be a great benefit for guitarists. However, in this mode, there are several differences.
Since Ztar uses switches to determine the notes, unlike real strings, they cannot be muted with just touching the switches. When you strum the string with touching, not pressing, a switch, you will hear the tone of open fret of the string. For example, you want to use pinkie to phrase while other fingers to employ to holding F chord at first three frets, you will use the third finger to hold third fret of fifth string and mute the fourth string with your guitar. If you use same fashion, you will realize you are playing F7th.
The sound won't stop when the vibrato of the string trigger is stopped. It is understandable when you assign the sound of strings or organs. It will stop when you touch the string or brass bar, or releasing the fret.
It won't distinguish pulling-off the string or just release the string. So you will hear the open fret tone, when you play it as a guitar. It has switch to enable/disable pulling-off and hummering-on. When playing the guitar, there will be time rag with holding the fret and strumming the string. In this case, you will hear unwanted tone with pulling-off and hummering-on enabled.
This problems can be overcome with practice, I believe. And in spite of these things, still it is fun to use this mode.
Since I am Stick Player, this mode is I usually use as a Stick emulation mode. You will hear the highest tapped string, but in this mode, tapped tones will be all heard. It is not a problem for me at all. I believe if you are a Stick/Warr Guitar player, it won't be a problem, neither.
If you are tapping the guitar, it can be easily played with this mode. It depends on you to use pulling-off to open fret is enabled or not. I personally don't use this mode at all, since I cannot tap my guitar at all.