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NATIVE INSTRUMENTS GUITAR RIG 1.1 (MAC/WIN)

January 1, 2005
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Following in the footsteps of their hardware counterparts, more and more software developers have been putting out products that feature guitar-amp and effects modeling. Recently, Native Instruments added a new twist to the genre by releasing Guitar Rig, a product that not only includes modeling software, but also a programmable foot controller. Guitar Rig is positioned as more than just a personal-studio recording tool: a laptop-equipped guitarist could also use it as a portable rig for both studio and live applications.

The Guitar Rig software can operate either as a standalone application or as a plug-in (VST, RTAS, or DirectX on Windows; VST, Audio Units, or RTAS on Mac OS X). It offers four different amp models to go along with a wide range of cabinet, effects, and microphone models. The software also includes a tuner, a metronome, and two “tape decks,” which are actually digital recorders — one equipped with pitch and tempo controls — designed to be used as practice and learning aids.

Guitar Rig is a tweaker's dream come true. It gives you the power to easily configure complex rigs with complete control over the order of the effects, and offers options for splitting signals and setting up parallel signal chains.

INSIDE THE RIG

FIG. 1: You add components to your rig by double-clicking their icons in the Left View or by dragging them into the right frame at any spot in the signal chain.

I installed Guitar Rig on my dual G5/2 GHz Mac, and ran it successfully as a standalone application and as an Audio Units plug-in in MOTU Digital Performer 4.12, Emagic Logic Pro 6.41, and Apple GarageBand 1.1.

Once you've installed and opened the software (either in standalone or plug-in mode), you see the main screen, which is divided into two large sections and a third smaller one above the right-hand side (see Fig. 1). The large section on the right represents the virtual rackspace.

When you open Guitar Rig for the first time, the right frame contains what Native Instruments calls the Fixed Rack components: the tuner, the two tape decks, the metronome, and the Input and Output modules. It's here that you can drag in additional components from the Left View, and arrange their order in the signal chain. You're limited only by your processor's power.

The Left View has three main functions. It's where you choose the amp models, speaker models, and effects by double-clicking them or dragging them into the right frame at the spot in the chain you want them to appear. If you decide you don't want a component that you've installed, just click and drag it to the Left View and it disappears from your rig.

FIG. 2: Guitar Rig offers extensive file management and search features to help you keep track of your presets.

When you click on the file icon on the upper left, the Left View transforms into a place to manage your presets and banks (see Fig. 2). The unit comes with 250 presets (including several for electric bass), which are broken up into a number of banks. You can look through a master list of all the banks, and below it is a listing of the presets in whichever bank is currently selected. There's a search function that lets you hunt through the entire collection by type, keyword, author, and other attributes.

You can copy presets into other locations or into banks by Option-dragging them (Ctrl-dragging on the PC), and if you're modifying a preset and want to save it to another location while keeping the original intact, you press the Append button and the tweaked preset is saved to the next open space on the list (each bank is limited to 128 presets). The Left View's other function is for setting preferences, and configuring the Rig Kontrol Pedal.

Above the two frames is the Control Center, which gives you buttons to show or hide some of the Fixed Rack components; dial up, rename, and save presets; check CPU usage; and turn on or off the Virtual Rig Kontrol, which is a software version of the Rig Kontrol pedal. At the very top are input and output meters, a main volume control, and a switch for turning off the global limiter.

EMULATE, EMULATE, EMULATE

Although Guitar Rig has only four amp models — less than many other modelers — the ones it does have are both good and deep. My favorite is called Instant Gratifier, which is designed to emulate Mesa/Boogie tones. It offers four channels — Clean, Raw, Vintage, and Modern — and can give you a wide range of fine-sounding tones (see Web Clip 1).

The Plexi amp model produces some fat and crunchy Marshall-type sounds. It offers a Bright channel and a Warm channel, which can be mixed together. Like the other components, it offers a row of additional parameter controls that can be accessed by clicking on the plus sign on its upper right hand corner. Like the other amp models, these expert controls include emulated variac and bias adjustments, among others.

The Twang Reverb model gives you Fender emulations. Its front-panel controls include Speed and Intensity for its vibrato effect, and Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble, Reverb. I wasn't initially that impressed with the Twang Reverb, because of the factory presets that make use of it. To my ear, they didn't capture the nuances of Fender tone, especially the clean sounds (frequently the Achilles' Heel of amp modelers). Once I got familiar with the editable parameters and started programming my own presets, however, I was able to dial in some pretty convincing Fender-style tones, both clean and distorted (see Web Clip 2).

Native Instruments USA
Tel.: (866) 556-6488 or (323) 467-5260
Email: info@native-instruments.com
Web: www.native-instruments.com

The most recent addition to Guitar Rig's amp collection is called AC Box, which closely mimics a Vox AC30. It includes controls for Normal and Brilliant volume, Treble, Bass, and Tone Cut. I wasn't that impressed with it at first either, but after downloading some killer Vox presets from the Native Instruments Web site (the Dark Horse presets that are used in the Guitar Rig tutorial), I started to appreciate its sonic potential (see Web Clip 3). Overall, the factory presets that come with Guitar Rig do a good job of demonstrating its various bells and whistles, but they don't showcase the best sounds that the software is capable of producing.

WHAT'S IN THE CABINET?

In a real amp, the speaker cabinet plays an important role in determining the tone. The same is true of Guitar Rig, which has extensive cabinet-modeling features. You can choose from 14 cabinets, ranging from 1512 models with virtual Alnico magnets, to 4512 behemoths that you might find in a Marshall stack. You get default configurations for each of the four amp models, but you can mix and match any amp with any cabinet.

There's even an option to change the virtual size of the selected cabinet model, reducing it by a maximum of 30 percent or increasing it up to 40 percent. It's a less dramatic effect than you would expect based on the size of those percentages, but it does give you some additional sonic flexibility.

You also get a choice of five mic models, four of which have names that describe the type of mics they emulate: Dynamic 57, Dynamic 421, Dynamic 609, and Condenser 87. The fifth, called Tube Condenser, can be identified from its accompanying picture, which looks a lot like a Blue Bottle. The mic emulations succeed in giving you at least the flavor of the mics after which they're modeled.

You also can choose from five mic-placement options: On Axis, Off Axis, Edge, Far, and Back (Back works only for open-back cabinets). Mic placement in Guitar Rig, as in the real world, has a big effect on the sound.

You can have multiple cabinets on an amp, and for each you can adjust volume, bass, treble, and pan. If you're using two cabinets and you pan them opposite each other, it's possible to produce some very full stereo sounds. Air and Distance are two other cabinet parameters. Air adjusts the virtual early reflections, allowing you to add some simulated room sound. Distance, which is only available when you're using multiple mics on a cabinet, lets you adjust the simulated space between the mics.

I WANT MY WAH-WAH

The effects modeling in Guitar Rig is extensive. Like the amp models, effects are organized into categories in the Left View, from where they can be dragged into your rig. The Distort category includes Skreamer, obviously modeled from an Ibanez Tube Screamer; Distortion, which appears to be based on a Boss DS-2 pedal; and Treble Booster, which is patterned after the effect of the same name made popular by Brian May, Eric Clapton, and other British guitarists. All three emulations are quite convincing. (Version 1.2 of Guitar Rig, which was just released at press time, offers four additional distortion models.)

The Mod (Modulation) category components include Tremolo, Stoned Phaser (based on an Electro-Harmonix Small Stone), Chorus + Flanger, Ensemble (similar to old Boss CE-1 pedal); Oktaver (which resembles a Boss OC-2 pedal), and Rotator, a rotating speaker effect that Native Instruments took from its B4 Organ plug-in. They all sound good, but I particularly liked Rotator, which can produce some striking stereo Leslie effects (see Web Clip 4).

The Filter category contains five components. The first two are WahWah Pedal and TalkWah, which can both be controlled from the Rig Kontrol's pedal. The other three are equalizers: EQ Shelving, which offers two adjustable shelving filters; the two-band EQ Parametric; and the eight-band EQ Graphic. Between the EQs and the tone controls on the various amps, you have a huge amount of tone shaping available.

The Volume components include a volume pedal, limiter, noise gate, and compressor, all of which are handy. The category called Other contains mostly ambient effects. There are two reverbs to choose from: Spring Reverb, which offers an effective emulation, and Studio Reverb, which provides smooth-sounding hall and room effects.

You get two delay choices. Quad Delay offers a 4-tap stereo delay that can be synced to the host tempo when Guitar Rig is in plug-in mode, or to the metronome when the program is in standalone mode. Psychedelay is a true-stereo delay that can also produce cool backwards delay effects.

FIG. 3: As this example shows, the Split component gives you lots of control over the signal flow in your rig.

Split is the final component, and it opens up a lot of routing possibilities. It lets you divide the signal path into two at any point in the chain, sending a split signal (which can be split again and again) to parallel groups of components (see Fig. 3). If you use the Dual Mode function, you can have two parallel rigs, plug two guitars in at the same time, and process them separately.

Only your processor's power will limit the complexity of the rigs you program. Bear in mind that Guitar Rig does use a significant chunk of CPU power, so don't expect to be able to easily use multiple instances of the plug-in unless you have a really fast computer.

Another nice touch is the pull-down menu of internal presets called Templates that are found in each component. You can save your own Templates and even set up your own default templates for any or all of the components.

During all my testing of the software, I discovered only one bug. Guitar Rig's bypass function didn't work in Digital Performer. Though not a fatal flaw, it was an annoyance; I hope Native Instruments will address it in a future update.

WHAT ABOUT THE PEDAL?

FIG. 4: The Rig Kontrol pedal gives you four programmable on-off switches and a programmable expression pedal.

Although it's not essential for the software's tone-producing functions, the Rig Kontrol pedal is what really sets Guitar Rig apart from its competitors (see Fig. 4.) Featuring an assignable pedal and four on-off footswitches, the blue-and-black pedal serves as a bridge between the virtual amps and processors and the real-life guitarist. As a result, the experience of using Guitar Rig closely resembles that of playing through a hardware-based guitar multi-effects pedal, but with more possibilities. The pedal lets you control effects like wah and volume and gives you a huge range of parameters for all the components.

FIG. 5: The Virtual Rig Kontrol and the Rack Controls window make customizing the pedal setup easy.

Configuring the pedal took a little getting used to. The pedal outputs both the guitar signal and a control signal that is used to send controller information into Guitar Rig, and you have to set everything just right for it to function. The Rig Kontrol, which also functions as a preamp, is powered by a 9V battery, but it has an input for an AC adapter (you have to find a compatible third-party adapter). You setup the Rig Kontrol using the Virtual Rig Kontrol display in the Left View (see Fig. 5), and you can map a huge range of parameters to the pedal and the switches. Parameters can also be controlled with external MIDI controllers.

RIG IT UP

All told, Guitar Rig is impressive. You get four quality amp models and a huge range of excellent-sounding cabinet and effects models, all with plenty of tweakable parameters. Add to that the flexibility of the Rig Kontrol, and you have yourself quite a package.

If you're a guitarist who records into your computer, you'll want to give Guitar Rig a test-drive. (You can download a 30-day demo of the software from the Native Instruments site.) Now that I've had a chance to use Guitar Rig for a while, my external-modeling processors may have just become irrelevant.


Mike Levine is an EM senior editor who's been known to pick up a guitar every now and then (or every five minutes, whichever comes first).

Minimum System Requirements

Guitar Rig

MAC: PowerMac G4/733 MHz CPU; 512 MB RAM; Mac OS 10.2.6; VST, Audio Units, or RTAS compatible host for plug-in.

PC: Pentium/700 MHz or Athlon XP/1.33 GHz; 256 MB RAM; Windows XP; VST, RTAS, DirectX compatible host for plug-in.

Rig Kontrol Specifications

Audio Inputs (2) ¼" TS
Audio Outputs (2) ¼" TS
Input Impedance 1 mΩ
Output Impedance 100Ω
Gain Controls 2 (0 dB-21 dB range)
Programmable Foot Switches 4
Programmable Expression Pedal 1
Power 9V battery (included) or external AC adapter (not included)
Dimensions 11.9" (W) 5 2.4" (H) 5 8.3" (D)
Weight 4.2 lbs.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Native Instruments

Guitar Rig amp-modeling software with control pedal $499

FEATURES 4.5
EASE OF USE 4.0
QUALITY OF SOUNDS 4.0
VALUE 4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Innovative integration of modeling software and control-pedal hardware. Rig Kontrol pedal gives you real-time control over numerous parameters. Accurately emulated amp models. Plentiful effects. Flexible signal chain that's easy to configure. Included tuner, metronome, and digital recorders.

CONS: Presets don't show software's full potential. Bypass function doesn't work in Digital Performer.

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