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'PENTASYSTEM' TAKES A GIANT MUSICAL STEP VALLEY PAIR CRAFT NEXT-GENERATION GUITAR.

Byline: Brent Hopkins Staff Writer

NORTH HOLLYWOOD - When asked for details on his company, Alex Gregory pleads the fifth.

Not in the legal sense, but in a musical one. Gregory, a classically trained maestro and instrument designer, has given up on the old system of guitar construction. His new design scheme, patented under the name Pentasystem, takes string instruments ranging from guitar to sitar, tunes them in fifths, gives them five strings and allows them to cover five octaves. And, with the confidence he perfected as a heavy-metal axeman in the '80s, he predicts nothing short of a total revolution once the instruments make their way into the music community.

``Guitar is dead,'' he said, strumming at his self-created ``pentatar'' and whipping off a flurry of classical solos. ``There are millions of them in the world, so how many more do you need? This is fresh, man.''

A bold statement indeed, but Gregory's system does make sense once he shows it off. When compared with a traditional guitar, tuned in fourths, chords fall more naturally onto the fretboard and scales fall into logical patterns. Players accustomed to regular tunings need to adapt, but aficionados catch on quickly.

``Once you start playing these, you don't like the sound of guitars,'' said Wayne Prunty, a Las Vegas-based rock musician who's been playing the pentatar for two years. ``They just sound clearer. It's easier to play them, too, because everything lines up perfectly.''

Reared in Windsor, England, and trained classically in Milan, the 40- year-old Gregory plugged into the dominant metal scene that sent guitarslingers like Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen to prominence. Leaning back on his training, he envisioned an orchestral album, but with electric instruments. The process became frustrating, however, as his sensitive ear picked out the dissonance that comes from amplification. No matter how he tuned his guitar, he couldn't avoid unpleasant tone overlap.

Then, in a manner that could have been lifted from a thousand blues songs, the inspiration materialized to tune the instruments in fifths.

``I just woke up one morning,'' he said. ``And I thought, Oh ... that's it! I had the idea in five minutes after trying to figure it out for 12 years.''

He went to work on the new system, suggesting the design of its striking multiplane headstock to keep strings tense and in tune. With the help of bass player and friend Robert Calkin, prototypes soon took shape.

In 1998 they formed Pentasystem and by 1999, they had viable instruments and began shopping them around to dealers and manufacturers. The line encompasses deep tones with its pentabass to high, light ones on the pentalin, a fifth-tuned cousin to the mandolin.

According to Calkin, the ease of the system comes from its scientific organization - perhaps not evident to the average shred-happy guitarist, but the underlying principle of all music.

``(The Pentasystem) is more mathematically correct, so it's a lot easier,'' Calkin said. ``You can learn this in a third of a time. We actually had a major rock star tell us that he was afraid to play the pentabass because he thought he'd forget how to play his regular one.''

Though no major rock stars have come out to endorse the product yet, the duo thinks this will change very soon. A mass-production deal, currently being shopped to manufacturers, would bring the price down from its current $4,000-plus per instrument. As early as next year, Gregory predicts, the instruments will be in wide distribution, with a list price in the $800 range.

To get where they want to be, with every kid asking for a new pentatar for their birthday and guitars relegated to music history museums, Gregory and Calkin have their work cut out for them. But, the maestro asserts, this shouldn't be a problem.

Then again, with his skills, he says, anyone could do it.

``It's very unusual that I have the design skills, the orchestration ability and the chops, too,'' he smiled. ``If you had another musician with my skills, which is rare, he'd probably come out with some pretty amazing stuff, too.''

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Maestro Alex Gregory, left, and Robert Calkin have patented a new tuning method for stringed instruments, called Pentasystem, and plan to turn the musical world on its ear.

(2 -- 3 -- color) The headstock - which helps keep the strings tense and in tune - of the Pentasystem pentatar is multiplanar. At left, visitors to www.pentasystem.com can get a CD sampling of music made with Pentasystems musical instruments.

Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 28, 2002
Words:763
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