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Native Instruments Guitar Rig 2

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Guitar Rig is from a long line of excellent virtual instrument plug-ins, by the good people at Native Instruments. It recreates in software hundreds of different hardware amplifiers, speaker cabinets and effects processors used by bass players and electric guitarists.

 

As a musician I am constantly writing down ideas and recording. Until recently though, when recording guitars, it was still necessary to mic up an amplifier to really get the sound right.

 

Over the years I've used many stomp boxes and effects processors which have attempted to replace this often time consuming and cumbersome, not to mention noisy, process. Some of them have had a unique sound of their own, but have never really truly replaced the sheer tone of using actual, physical amps, speakers and microphones.

 

Guitar rig comes as close to doing that as anything I've seen in all my years as a session player and touring musician. From simple configurations, such as a Fender Twin into a 2 x 10 cabinet, to complex tap delay effects and split signal routing - everything Guitar rig is designed to do, it makes a more than pleasing, often sublime attempt.

 

There are hundreds of preset sounds to choose from which rarely need anything more than minor tweaks here and there to really get the sound you want. Everything from Steve Vai type super screamer distortions to subtle Larry Carlton tube warmth clean tones.

 

You can pick up and move the position of any individual bit of gear in the rack just like manually handling the actual hardware. So if you want to put three Vox AC 30 heads in serial with each other into a 4 x 10 cabinet, that Angus Young / Brian May 'British clank' is as easy as pointing, clicking, dragging and dropping the graphically well drawn control panels into your desired configuration.

 

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Presumably for licensing reasons none of the various bits of gear in the virtual rack have the names of the manufacturers who make them. The designers of the interface have been very clever, though, in colouring the interface so that they are very similar to their actual hardware representations.

 

For example the stomp-box style distortion pedals look like, without being named like, an Ibanez tube screamer, or a Boss DS-1. The power amps and cabinets look like a Marshall 100 watt or a Mesa Boogie Dual rectifier. This makes it easy to Google your favorite guitarist's preferred set-up and set about recreating his or her rig virtually.

 

There is also an optional hardware controller which uses MIDI controller data to alter whichever parameter you want from a floor standing unit. So you can rock back and forth on a virtual wah-wah pedal at the same time as affecting the cut-off frequency on a band-pass filter.

 

The hardware controller also allows you to change patches and assign distortion and chorus delay effects to each stomp switch for use in a live environment. This could be particularly useful to anyone wanting to take a light weight rig on the road - although I'm not sure I'd trust the success or failure of a gig into the hands of software, even if it is running on a Mac.

 

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There's also some very impressive post-power amp studio effects and noise filters which can be intelligently linked to a number of different input modifiers.

 

For example, if you want the softness or hardness at which you play the guitar to affect the envelope depth of a cut-off filter you can, simply by linking the input level monitor modifier to the input of a Sequential Prophet style filter - taken from Native Instrument's own Pro-52 virtual synthesizer.

 

Naturally all of this real time processing is dependent on how low your Mac's chip allows you to have the audio latency settings, before unwanted distortion occurs. My Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 gig of RAM doesn't protest in the slightest at running 5 or 6 instances of the Guitar Rig plug-in in Logic Express, but older PPC systems might need a little more time to process everything and so increasing your system latency.

 

This can be a big problem with virtual instruments which require live performance input, because any latency above a certain amount increases the delay between playing the note and hearing the sound - but if you're clever with it you can perform your part with a simple rig loaded up and increase the latency for playback later on.

 

Conclusion. Simply put, Guitar Rig 2 is the best bit of software I own for quickly getting ideas down, without having to wake the entire neighborhood to do it.

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What I would like to know is what hardware requirements does guitar rig have? Oftentimes, people who use the product have a better idea than what the software box says. As a guitarist who is preparing to do some amateur recording, this looks like a nice option. However, I find that noise is a big issue when using software effects, especially when using anything that boosts gain. The other important part of the picture that needs to be filled about this product is price. Sam ash lists this software at $500. That's ridiculous for anyone who is not professionally recording. Having already spent money like that on equipment I already own (amplifiers and cabs, basses, guitars, over a dozen effects, rack delays, etc.) I'm much more likely to stick with what I have as it's already cost me a mint. I buy stuff that's used to bring down cost. This doesn't seem like such a great option for someone like me. Between the three guitars I own, the three amps, all of the effects, and being smart with an eq, I bet I can get all the sounds I need. I'm sure I don't have to resort to expensive software when I want that british clean with a plate reverb, etc.

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Good point well made, firewalk13. I never said it was cheep, but at the end of the day the speed and convenience pays for itself. If I want to record a Santana style screaming Boogie head into two 4x12 Marshall cabinets at four in the morning, I can - whereas before I had to wait until daylight (urgh!) to peel the paper off my neighbors bedroom wall all day long.

 

Distortion and high gain gear does, by definition, produce a lot of hiss and can be difficult to control. There are some very well done noise reduction and noise gates in the virtual effects rack, but you still have to be careful.

 

The nice thing about Guitar Rig is that, because it models the various bits of amplification gear so faithfully, you don't have to drive the nuts off it to get great tone - in fact just like the real thing, often times less gain and more pain is a much better way to get a full tone.

 

Something I didn't mention in the review is the cabinet simulation. You say you can get "all the sounds" you want from your gear and I don't doubt you have good kit - but putting microphones in the right place is a black art, especially with guitars and Native Instruments have been very clever in designing the presets which place the right mic in the right place for the various speaker and power amp combos and stacks. You really do feel like you're playing with an SM 57 up-close to the cone and an out of phase 57 in that mystic sweet spot away from the open back cabinet.

 

The other thing I should have mentioned is that the guitar makes all the difference too. I use my Yamaha SG a lot, but the Ibanez Jem - naturally - gets an entirely different sound from the same presets and the Strat is different again. This too is testament to the flexibility of the software - many emulators I've tried only respond well to particular types of input, whereas Guitar rig is open enough to cater to all needs and indeed playing styles.

 

As for the cost, there is, of course, a full working demo (universal binary) on the NI site - so if you get something you're happy with you can always bounce it down within the 30 minute trial period, if you want to keep THAT take.

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