Willcox Atlantis HexFX Edition Review, Guitar Player May 2016
Tested By Michael Ross of Guitar Player Magazine
It is not often we see something truly different in the world of guitar pickups, but the Willcox LightWave Analog Optical Pickup System surely qualifies. The system uses infrared light to sense each string’s vibrations through separate transducers, resulting in no electrical or mechanical crosstalk. The HexFX Edition on review here featured a 13-pin output in addition to the mono ¼” output. This enabled synth access, modeling, or the use of a Fanout box (not included) to record each string separately. The 13-pin output follows the Roland GK Protocol, making it compatible with Roland’s GK synths and Virtual Guitar (COSM) modeling units like the VG-99, as well as Axon audio to MIDI converters and other devices.
The chambering of the Atlantis results in a very lightweight instrument. Nevertheless, the Les Paul-sized body balanced beautifully with the neck. The classical-guitar width of the nut will be a matter of taste. I liked it, and, as a Fender electric player, found the 25.5″ scale comfortable. The well-finished frets, shallow “C” neck shape, and low action made the guitar very easy to play. The lowness of the action cost some sustain when attacking the high E string, but that can be alleviated by shimming the bridge. Even with its strings close to the fretboard, there was no buzzing and the instrument evidenced plenty of ringing, acoustic tone.
The guitar part of the hexophonic pickup delivered a full-range sound that proved an excellent starting place for COSM modeling with a VG-99, or sculpting with EQ in a DAW. Pulling out the push-pull Volume knob scooped the sound a bit, quickly creating a more traditional acoustic tone. It was a little like going from a humbucker to a single-coil. The optical pickup was dead quiet and devoid of the “thwack” encountered when playing some piezo-equipped acoustics aggressively.
The pickup power was initially too hot for a GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer, but once I lowered the trim-pots in the instrument’s control cavity the Atlantis tracked as well or better than any hex pickup-equipped instrument I have tried. In my experience, virtual piano sounds are where synth guitars often have issues with false triggering, but the Atlantis produced a glitch-free, dynamic signal. I was able to play clean piano parts, whether produced by the GK-55 or by a sampler in my DAW, controlled through the GK’s USB output.
The pickup system is powered by a rechargeable battery that lets you continue to play while recharging. Thoughtful details like this, as well as metal inserts for the backplate screws and a rim around the Volume pot that makes it easy to pull out, mark Willcox as a company willing to go the extra mile.
If you seek a hex pickup instrument, place the Willcox Atlantis near the top of your list. But whether you go for the hex version or the standard Atlantis—which still uses the LightWave system—you will find a quality, versatile, and innovative instrument for stage or studio at a reasonable price.
MODEL: Atlantis HexFX Edition
NUT WIDTH: 1.75″
FRETS: 21 Dunlop 6260
BODY: Chambered mahogany with a European spruce top
PICKUP: LightWave Analog Optical Pickup System
CONTROLS: Acoustic pickup Volume, MIDI volume, Momentary Program Selector Switch, Output Selector Switch (Mono/ individual String/Both)
FACTORY STRINGS: GHS Bright Bronze, .010-.046
WEIGHT: 5-6 lbs
BUILT: Assembled, tested, and set up in the U.S. from components made in USA, Korea, and Canada.
KUDOS: Well crafted, innovative instrument for acoustic-electric work. Terrific tracking for driving devices requiring a hex pickup system