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realguitar

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Reviews

«RealGuitar 5 SIMPLY AMAZING !!!!!!»

by Scott Yahney about RealGuitar 5

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT COULDN'T GET BETTER and RealGuitar 5 COMES ALONG !!!! SIMPLY AMAZING !!!!!!
By Scott Yahney, producer,remixer, musician, New York.

«I just HAVE to have that Guitar software!»

by Ted Perlman about RealGuitar

I just HAVE to have that Guitar software! I've played guitar for MANY years with just about EVERYBODY in this business, and Real series Guitars by MusicLab are the best I have ever heard that truly emulate a real guitar in Soooooooo many styles. It's almost as good as me :-)

«I use this plug on just about everything I do!»

by Jeff Bova about RealGuitar

I wanted to let you guys know I used RealGuitar on the track I produced for Herbie Hancock which is bonus track for his Latest Album, The Imagine Project. I use this plug on just about everything I do. Thanks for creating such a powerful usable interface.

Jeff Bova,
Grammy Award winning producer

It was 2006 when we first reviewed MusicLab’s RealGuitar virtual instrument. It was then at version 2, and has since passed through versions 3 and 4 and now arrived at 5. In the meantime we’ve reviewed other instruments in the series — RealStrat, RealLPC, RealRick. RealGuitar developed in tandem with these, and by version 4 they all shared (by and large) the same set of features and functions. Version 4 improvements included simulated double tracking, customisable humanising (randomisation) of various parameters, and a built-in Song sequencer that enables the integral library of patterns and chords to be arranged as an entire song, constructed entirely within the plug-in and then dragged to the instrument’s DAW track as a MIDI file. The fifth guitar in the series, RealEight (currently at version 1.0) was reviewed in the August 2015 edition of SOS.

«MusicLab RealGuitar 5»

by Nick Magnus about RealGuitar
Cut-mix-dissolve to RealGuitar 5, which expands on the original set of acoustic guitars with a brand-new Steel String model.

read more

The Classic instrument in Solo mode. The ‘legacy’ Harmony, Chords, Bass’n’Chord and Bass’n’Pick modes are still here, along with all the original features. Direct input (no ‘intelligent’ scripting), so the Classic remains backwards compatible with older projects.

The Classic instrument in Solo mode. The ‘legacy’ Harmony, Chords, Bass’n’Chord and Bass’n’Pick modes are still here, along with all the original features. Direct input (no ‘intelligent’ scripting), so the Classic remains backwards compatible with older projects.

MusicLab’s latest update makes RealGuitar more real than ever.

It was 2006 when we first reviewed MusicLab’s RealGuitar virtual instrument. It was then at version 2, and has since passed through versions 3 and 4 and now arrived at 5. In the meantime we’ve reviewed other instruments in the series — RealStrat, RealLPC, RealRick. RealGuitar developed in tandem with these, and by version 4 they all shared (by and large) the same set of features and functions. Version 4 improvements included simulated double tracking, customisable humanising (randomisation) of various parameters, and a built-in Song sequencer that enables the integral library of patterns and chords to be arranged as an entire song, constructed entirely within the plug-in and then dragged to the instrument’s DAW track as a MIDI file. The fifth guitar in the series, RealEight (currently at version 1.0) was reviewed in the August 2015 edition of SOS. For those unfamiliar with MusicLab’s particular take on virtual guitars, the Basic Principles box provides a brief description.

Cut-mix-dissolve to RealGuitar 5, which expands on the original set of acoustic guitars with a brand-new Steel String model. Rather than adding this Steel String to the existing engine, RealGuitar is provided as two completely independent plug-ins: ‘Classic’ and ‘Steel String’. Additional features to both versions include a new ‘Multi’ playing mode, in itself a significant upgrade providing alternative and more versatile ways of accessing RealGuitar’s functions.

RealGuitar Classic & Multi Mode

The Classic version hosts the same eight acoustic guitar models as before, repackaged in an austere monochrome/orange GUI. All features and functions of previous versions have been retained to ensure backwards compatibility when revisiting older projects. As you’d expect with a new version, there are new features, the most significant being the aforementioned Multi mode, which joins the main tab strip in the centre of the GUI. Whilst you can still use the original Solo, Harmony, Chords, Bass’n’Chord and Bass’n’Pick modes of previous versions (found under the MIDI mode tab), Multi brings all keyboard performance aspects of RealGuitar under one roof via a multitude of methods including keyswitching, velocity, modwheel, aftertouch or sustain pedal, in whatever combination you choose. Given the almost infinite number of possible permutations, especially when keyswitch assignments are taken into account, RealGuitar helpfully allows you to save every setting and parameter value of Multi settings (except Humanize settings, which are global) as User presets. There appears to be no limit to the number of User Multi presets, so song-specific setups can be saved and easily recalled as needed.

Chordal playing in Multi mode expands on the ‘legacy’ Chord mode with options to customise the layout in numerous ways to bring greater mobility and additional playing techniques that were not possible in previous versions. Central to this are four Layout boxes that define strumming behaviour, melodic movement within chords, and the actions of finger-picking keys. The ‘Strum’ box determines what you hear when chords are played in the main playing area: the strummed chord, the leading bass note of the chord, or nothing (until trigger keys are pressed) if ‘silent’ is selected. Strumming realism is greatly improved here, with four different Dynamic options to control how velocity affects the number of ringing strings.

The Steel String in the new Multi mode. In this example, strummed chords are in the first position. Using Dyn = Velo Strum 2, only the lowest three strings sound at lower velocities; higher ones are progressively added with higher velocities. Velocities above 120 will trigger a hammer-on chord, velocities below 80 will trigger harmonics on the ‘picking’ keys. The black picking keys C# to A# will also trigger a hammer-on at whatever velocity they are played. Voice leading allows for movement of notes within a strummed chord. Keyswitches above and below the playing area are assigned to various actions and articulations.

The Steel String in the new Multi mode. In this example, strummed chords are in the first position. Using Dyn = Velo Strum 2, only the lowest three strings sound at lower velocities; higher ones are progressively added with higher velocities. Velocities above 120 will trigger a hammer-on chord, velocities below 80 will trigger harmonics on the ‘picking’ keys. The black picking keys C# to A# will also trigger a hammer-on at whatever velocity they are played. Voice leading allows for movement of notes within a strummed chord. Keyswitches above and below the playing area are assigned to various actions and articulations.

The Steel String in the new Multi mode. In this example, strummed chords are in the first position. Using Dyn = Velo Strum 2, only the lowest three strings sound at lower velocities; higher ones are progressively added with higher velocities. Velocities above 120 will trigger a hammer-on chord, velocities below 80 will trigger harmonics on the ‘picking’ keys. The black picking keys C# to A# will also trigger a hammer-on at whatever velocity they are played. Voice leading allows for movement of notes within a strummed chord. Keyswitches above and below the playing area are assigned to various actions and articulations.

In the ‘Melody’ box you can choose whether or not to add melodic lines over sustained chords, have voice leading (movement within chords), or a combination of both. These particular chord/melody combos depend on accurate control of key velocity; higher velocities produce a chord, whilst lower velocities play the melody or leading voice, which may seem counter-intuitive as one’s inclination is to belt the melody notes out a bit harder. Fortunately you can add a positive velocity offset to melody notes if they’re too quiet relative to the chords. The velocity switching point can be set to any value — nevertheless it takes some practice to get the hang of it!

The ‘Strings’ box offers three different layouts for the finger-picking trigger keys: two variations above and one below the main playing keys. The ‘Black’ box assigns the function of the black keys in the picking zone, and becomes active only when the ‘string-picking’ trigger keys are also active. Options include harmonics, strums, mutes, hammer-ons and slides. Chords played in the main area now have both high- and low-velocity triggered effects (in MIDI Chord mode it’s either one or the other). New high-velocity effects include Hammer-on, a typically guitaristic gesture where between one and three notes of the chord fret-slide up to the target chord; Pre-Hammer, a similar gesture where the main playing zone keys sound the pre-hammer chord, the target chord is reached once a trigger key is played; and Slide, which is similar to Hammer-on but simulates a bottleneck slide rather than a fretted one. Both Hammer-on and Slide speeds can be adjusted freely, or tempo-sync’ed to specific note values to sit in with the feel of the track. The Multi section already presents a lot to take on board, and the features described above only scratch the surface. The manual, incidentally, runs to 138 pages! However, we haven’t yet taken keyswitching into account, and all the new tricks that brings to the table...

KeyswitchFest

Multi mode’s keyswitch assignment page. Any of these functions can be assigned to any key — layouts can be saved as presets and selected independently from Multi presets.

Multi mode’s keyswitch assignment page. Any of these functions can be assigned to any key — layouts can be saved as presets and selected independently from Multi presets.Keyswitching of effects and articulations in previous versions was only applicable in MIDI Solo mode. In RealGuitar 5, Multi mode also has its own keyswitch functions, so now there are two keyswitch layouts to consider. The two layouts’ modes also ‘communicate’ with each other — you can assign keyswitches in both to jump back and forth between them. This might sound like a recipe for total confusion, but in fact it’s one of RealGuitar 5’s greatest strengths, opening the door to a huge range of articulations and guitaristic flourishes with a single keystroke. Multi mode’s keyswitches breathe new life into chordal playing, allowing you to freely change chord position, insert harmonics, pre-hammer pull-offs, slaps, slow up or down strums, smacks, palm mutes and more, with great precision.

There are a number of caveats to bear in mind, however. If, for example, a Multi keyswitch is assigned to take you to Solo mode, you must assign a corresponding one in the Solo KS list (preferably not using the same key) to take you back to Multi mode — otherwise it’s a one-way trip, rather like travelling through the Stargate only to find there’s no dial-home device on the other side. Similarly, the Chord Position keyswitches have a persisting action: if you assign one to shift position upwards, you’ll need a second one to go back downwards, otherwise you’re stuck in the new position. This amount of flexibility does mean having to remember two keyswitch layouts, which could well cause confusion if you’re performing live. It’s not such a problem when sequencing RealGuitar in a DAW, as there’s time to pause and take stock; however, there’s another important consideration in that scenario. Keyswitch functions that toggle back and forth need to be in their correct starting states at the top of the track, otherwise their actions risk becoming inverted.

Steel (St)ring The Changes

The ‘Steel String’ engine sports a monochrome/red GUI, slightly modified from the Classic engine. Firstly, the ‘legacy’ MIDI modes Chord, Harmony, Bass’n’Chord and Bass’n’Pick are gone, superseded by their equivalents found under the Multi tab as described above. Pattern mode has gone, its functions now contained entirely within Song mode. Gone, too, is Joystick mode that utilised MusicLab’s quirky Struminator technology, developed for those cute toy Guitar Hero controllers. I suspect the reason for this is incompatibility with version 5’s new features. Direct mode, which played the raw samples with no scripting, has also taken a dive (did anyone ever use it?), but Guitar mode (for MIDI guitar controllers) has survived, relegated to a tiny MIDI socket icon at the bottom of the GUI.

Steel Waters Run Deep

So how does the new Steel String compare to its siblings in the Classic version? Tonally, the upper mid-range is less pronounced than either of them, with slightly more subtlety at lower dynamics. Despite its warmer character, possibly due to having a larger body, it’s less boomy in the lower ranges, and sounds as if it was recorded slightly further away than the Classic steels. The pick attack and body thump noise are also less pronounced than the Classics, particularly compared to the original Steel Picked. Overall the sound seems cleaner; a spot of glossy high end EQ makes it shine very nicely.

There’s no mention in the documentation of which make or model of guitar was sampled — any incorrect, uninformed guess of mine would be as annoying as those who refer to The Pointy-eared One as ‘Dr Spock’. Perhaps a clue is in the three alternative tunings: Standard 6-string (theoretically E1 to C#6, though it stops at B5), 7-string (A0 to B5) and Baritone (theoretically A0 to Ab5, though it plays up to B5). The Baritone’s top E string is removed, so upper notes that would have been played on the top E string are now forced onto the B string. The tonal difference between the 7-string and the Baritone is subtle, but becomes more obvious when playing chords as some inversions inevitably play in different positions, depending on the chosen tuning.

Another Country

Six-string, 7-string and Baritone are not the only tunings available; Nashville tuning, a popular practice in country music, is also provided in two flavours: Nashville A and B. The ‘A’ variation tunes the low E, A, D and G strings up an octave, whilst the ‘B’ version leaves the G string at its normal pitch. These tunings are only applied in RealGuitar 5 when strumming. It’s a lovely, transparent effect, useful in any style of music for preventing the lower mid-frequencies from becoming too muddy. Additionally, there are two 12/14-string models, A and B, whose lower string ‘twins’ follow the same octave tuning rules as the two Nashvilles. It’s most likely a simulation rather than a separately sampled instrument — the slight delay between string pairs is nicely observed, although it would be nice if that delay time could be modulated, especially by key velocity. Also, the ability to detune the unison strings slightly would mollify the upper registers’ tendency to sound ‘glassy’. One can only wish for that in version 5.1...

New to both Classic and Steel String instruments, the Reverb offers plenty of scope for sculpting anything from tiny rooms to huge halls.

New to both Classic and Steel String instruments, the Reverb offers plenty of scope for sculpting anything from tiny rooms to huge halls.Four different output options (Stereo, Mono 1, Mono 2 and Double) make use of two microphone positions. Mono 1 appears to be biased towards the neck, with Mono 2 towards the bridge. Stereo pans the two mics hard left and right, whilst Doubling simulates double-tracking by delaying one mic relative to the other (adjustable between 5ms and 50ms). There is one downside to this concept: our old friend, the Haas effect; the left channel (which you hear first) appears louder than the right, even though it’s not.

And The Cherries...

Further enhancements to both Classic and Steel versions include a well-specified reverb, with Hall, Room and Plate options, pre-delay, room size, HP and LP filters, damping and width — all these settings can be saved as presets. It’s not documented whether this is a convolution or an algorithmic reverb but, nevertheless, it has a pleasing, natural character.

The Steel String’s velocity response can be customised with X/Y offsets and variable response curves. The crossover points between the four dynamic layers can also be adjusted, with five different options for round-robin alternating samples. The Velocity settings also have their own preset system. The Classic instrument’s Velocity settings differ, having the crossover point of its upper two dynamic layers adjustable from the main screen.

The Steel String’s velocity response can be customised with X/Y offsets and variable response curves. The crossover points between the four dynamic layers can also be adjusted, with five different options for round-robin alternating samples. The Velocity settings also have their own preset system. The Classic instrument’s Velocity settings differ, having the crossover point of its upper two dynamic layers adjustable from the main screen.Velocity response can be tailored in fine detail; upper and lower dynamics can be offset on an X/Y axis, the response curve is fully adjustable from convex through linear to concave, and Steel String (which enjoys four dynamic layers as opposed to Classic’s three) allows the velocity switch points to be positioned freely. Velocity settings can also be saved as presets.

Conclusion

More than just being a guitar replacement, this is an inspiring, expressive musical instrument in its own right, that just happens to have a keyboard attached to the business end. Version 5 of RealGuitar is like a steroid shot in the arm — the new Steel String model and its various tunings would be worthy of an upgrade alone, but with the introduction of Multi mode, the bar is raised further, bringing new levels of detail and realism. Check out the video tutorial by the amazing Jeff ‘Keytar’ Abbott to see how well it can work. Even with its new-found depths of control, RealGuitar 5 retains the immediacy of its forebears — and I’d be surprised if Multi mode doesn’t find its way into the rest of the MusicLab range.

Alternatives

Vir2 Acou6tic offers six acoustic instruments: a steel-string, 12-string, nylon string, ukulele, mandolin and guitalele. AmpleSound have five separate instruments available: AG12 (12-string), AEU (Ukulele), AGL (Alhambra Luthier), AGT (Taylor) and AGM (Martin). Orange Tree Samples offer their various acoustics individually or as a bundle. Prominy Hummingbird uses a mix of sampled and emulated chords to achieve esoteric voicings. Whilst the GUIs of all the above differ (some radically) from each other and RealGuitar, they all offer a comparable set of features and operate on similar principles.

Basic Principles

Throughout the course of development, the conceptual approach to playing MusicLab’s guitars has remained the same; a similar approach has subsequently been adopted by several other virtual guitar manufacturers.

To recap briefly, RealGuitar’s Chordal modes employ variations on strumming and finger-picking techniques: hold a chord with one hand while ‘strumming’ or ‘picking’ it using dedicated trigger keys located elsewhere on the keyboard. RealGuitar analyses your chords and produces suitable guitar voicings. Voicings are dependent on several factors such as your position on the keyboard, the position of the virtual ‘capo’, and the facility to create custom User voicings.

Alternatively, Solo mode allows for freeform playing, giving access to a large number of articulations and guitaristic techniques triggered via keyswitches, key velocity, modwheel, sustain pedal, or any combination of these.

Guitar Models

Classic: Steel Picked, Steel Fingered, Nylon Picked, Nylon Fingered, Steel 2 Picked, Steel 2 Doubling, 12-String, Steel Stereo.

Steel String: Steel String, 12(14)-String A, 12(14)-String B, Nashville Strum A, Nashville Strum B, 6-string, 7-string and Baritone variations.

Pros

  • New Steel String model is a welcome addition to the existing Classic models.
  • Multi mode opens the door to techniques not possible on previous versions.
  • Reverb is well specified, and complements the sound of the guitars well.
  • Dynamic control improved by custom velocity responses.

Cons

  • Multi mode’s numerous possible configurations may initially seem overwhelming.

Summary

A worthy upgrade from previous versions, RealGuitar 5 brings more detailed control, new articulations, a good reverb, and a brand new Steel String with eight different tunings. Established fans will love it — the uninitiated should try it.

information

$199. www.musiclab.com

Published by Sound on Sound on March 2018.

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There have been some famous twin-guitar line-ups in rock history and, even if you can’t strum a note, you can now have the virtual equivalent — both of these software instruments will play on time and in tune, and won’t want a solo in every song! But are they both equally good?

«MusicLab RealGuitar 2L and Virtual Guitarist 2»

by John Walden about RealGuitar
At first sight, these two products would seem to be direct competitors. However, a brief comparison of the respective feature sets reveals some obvious differences.

read more

For example, Real Guitar 2L only provides acoustic guitar samples, while Virtual Guitarist 2 (combining what was in the original Virtual Guitarist and Virtual Guitarist Electric Edition) provides both acoustic and electric guitar options. The other major difference is in the 'engines' of the two products. Virtual Guitarist 2 is very much based around Parts, essentially a set of pre-recorded phrases in a wide range of styles, which are pitch- and tempo-shifted to fit the chord and tempo needs of the project. In contrast, Real Guitar 2L provides a series of multisampled guitar instruments and, while it includes preset playing patterns, these are MIDI-based and can be edited as such. Via keyswitching options, Real Guitar 2L is a 'playable' instrument.

Of course, the aim of both products is to achieve credible guitar parts within a musical project, so we figured that a comparative review might be in order, to find out which virtual guitarist is best at this in practice?

RealGuitar 2L

SOS readers will be familiar with the Music Lab name through a number of products, but most notably the Rhythm’n’Chords MIDI plug-in that provided a way of creating realistic guitar parts from keyboard-based MIDI data. This technology eventually evolved into Real Guitar, the original version of which was released in early 2004. This new version adds a number of new features and comes in two flavours: a basic version and the top-of-the-range 2L version reviewed here.

Music Lab Real Guitar 2L's main screen, with the plug-in in Solo mode — note the Capo placed on the fifth fret.

The sample library is based entirely around acoustic guitars, and its primary aim is to provide a sample-based acoustic guitar instrument that can be played via a MIDI keyboard. The sampled guitars include two different steel-strung guitars, a nylon-strung instrument, a 12-string, and a stereo steel-string. Picked, fingered, and 'doubling' options are provided amongst these. As with the original version, Real Guitar 2L features a number of different performance modes; Solo, Harmony, Chords, Bass & Chords, and Bass & Pick. Some of these are described a little more fully below, but their names clearly indicate their functions. For each guitar type, the different performance modes result in a different set of sample keyswitch options appropriate to that style of playing.

However, common to all modes is that Real Guitar 2L responds to your MIDI keyboard in three distinct zones. Note ranges C1 to D#1 and C5 to C6 form two Repeat Key zones, while all the keys in between form the Melody zone, where notes or chords are played. The exact function of the Repeat Key zones changes in the various performance modes. For example, in Chord mode the white keys simply play a strum of whatever chord is being held in the Melody Zone, allowing complex strumming patterns to be played with ease. The black keys generate a muted version of the same chord, allowing more percussive elements to be added to the strumming pattern.

The end result of these various control options is that each mode provides a 'playable' sampled guitar instrument which, with appropriate practice with the keyswitches, can be used to create credible real-time performances directly from a MIDI keyboard. Real Guitar 2L recognises some 26 different chord types, including seventh and ninth chords and inversions, so even jazz fans ought to be reasonably well catered for.

The main Play Page window of Steinberg Virtual Guitarist 2, showing some of the acoustic guitar options.

Perhaps the key new feature in the 2L version is the Pattern Manager. This provides over 1200 preset MIDI patterns for use with Real Guitar 2L, and these cover a wide range of musical styles including simple strumming, picking, blues, jazz, Latin, pop, reggae, rock, and a number of others. While Real Guitar 2L is not compatible with styles from Rhythm’n’Chords, this feature is not dissimilar in function. The individual MIDI performance patterns can simply be dragged and dropped into your sequencer to an appropriate MIDI track to build a complete performance. Of course, because the performance is controlled entirely from MIDI, the parts created are fully editable.

Installation of Real Guitar 2L from the dual Mac/PC CD-ROM proved straightforward, and the short printed manual is supplemented by a PDF document that contains the most up-to-date documentation. I’d hesitate to say that the documentation was the best I’d ever read — it explains the basics of the control set and not much else — but for a real insight into what Real Guitar 2L can do, Music Lab’s video tutorial is excellent. This is included on the installation CD, and there are further video and audio examples on the company’s web site. These are well worth looking at for new users and potential purchasers alike.

Interface Overview

The main window of Real Guitar 2L is perhaps not the slickest looking of software interfaces, but it does manage to cram a lot of features into a relatively small amount of screen real estate. The display is split into three main areas. The upper half of the window provides controls for the selection of the guitar and various options for modifying the sound. For example, under the Noises tab the user can adjust the simulation of the noises generated by the handling of the guitar in various ways, while the Tremolo and Chorus provide the expected effects, although the options are fairly limited. The centre panel of this upper section also displays the current chord arriving via the MIDI input.

The centre section features a guitar neck display which shows the fingering being simulated by Real Guitar 2L during playback. Real Guitar 2L features samples from every fret of every string, and it is therefore possible to simulate the differences created by playing particular chords or notes in different neck positions. One way of controlling this is to change the virtual Capo position on the neck, although an Auto mode also tries to simulate this variability depending upon the part being played.

The bottom section of the display allows the user to select the performance mode, change elements of the MIDI control (for example, the velocity curve response), and adjust some aspects of the velocity switching, and also provides access to the Pattern Manager. The exact controls featured here vary depending upon the performance mode selected. For example, in Chord mode the user can control the neck position in which chords are voiced. In Solo mode, the user can specify four performance articulations (such as harmonics, muted, palm muted, smacks, velo mute, slide, and tremolo) to be controlled by keyswitches via C1 to D#1. Combined with the various other real-time control options available using the pitch-bend, modulation, sustain pedal, and velocity control, it makes for a very expressive solo instrument.

The only additional window is for the Pattern Manager, opened by pressing the PM button. The upper portion of this window provides a browser to search through the preset patterns provided, while the lower window provides a visual impression of the MIDI data within the currently selected pattern. It might have been nice if this window could have been resized for easier browsing, but, this minor gripe apart, auditioning patterns is simply a matter of activating the Pattern button in the main window, selecting a pattern in the Pattern Manager window, and playing a chord via your MIDI keyboard. The patterns cover both strummed and picked playing in a wide variety of musical styles.

Playing Real Guitar

In use, there are two approaches to getting an acoustic-guitar performance out of Real Guitar 2L: either enter a basic MIDI chord progression and then use the extensive list of supplied patterns and the Pattern Manager to create the performance you need; or, for more specific control, play Real Guitar 2L directly in one of its five performance modes, making use of the various keyswitch and control options to add the realistic nuances required of a believable guitar performance.

Real Guitar 2L’s Pattern Manager window. The graphical area at the bottom of the window depicts the contents of the pattern. In the upper window you can see a two-bar strummed pattern displayed — the green bars produce full strums, while the red bars create muted strums. The lower window shows a picked pattern.

The Pattern Manager can be thought of as a collection of pre-programmed MIDI performances for Real Guitar 2L. Placing a pattern onto a sequencer track is simply a matter of selecting the required pattern in the Pattern Manager window and then dragging and dropping it onto the appropriate MIDI track. Within Cubase SX, I found it easiest to have two MIDI tracks routed to a single instance of Real Guitar 2L. In the first, I had recorded my basic chord sequence, while in the second, I dragged and dropped the required patterns. As can be seen when the patterns are inspected within a MIDI editor, they contain various combinations of notes from the Repeat Key zones. With basic strumming patterns, for example, this simply defines the rhythm of the full or muted strums and — as it is simple MIDI data — it can easily be quantised or edited by the user. This system is both easy to use and very flexible.

From a technical point of view, creating your own performances with Real Guitar 2L works in exactly the same fashion, but you have to play both the chord sequence and the various Repeat Key options. Doing this in one recording pass (or trying to do it 'live' in a performance context) does take a little practice. However, this is no different from keyswitching with any multisample-based virtual instrument (such as those found in many orchestral libraries), and very realistic results can be created with a little practice. It is also possible to record the chord data and the control data in two separate passes and, initially at least, I found this easier to do while I found my way around the Real Guitar 2L control system.

The technical side of the plug-in’s operation aside, how does it actually sound? While it bothers the guitarist within me somewhat to admit it, Real Guitar 2L sounds very good indeed. The samples themselves have been very well recorded — crisp highs and full, solid lows. The 'doubled' steel-strung produces a wonderfully full sound that can be made to fill the stereo spectrum, as does the stereo steel string, although the two instruments obviously produce very different characters. When used with some suitable picking patterns, the 12-string evokes an instant '60s pop vibe. For me, the only slight weakness was the 'picked' version of the nylon-strung guitar, which sounded just a little too aggressive to my ears, although the 'fingered' version sounds absolutely beautiful — especially coupled with some slow picked patterns and a little reverb.

Despite the somewhat retro look of the user interface, Music Lab have created an acoustic guitar instrument that is easy to use and very playable. This last point is worth emphasising: Real Guitar 2L is designed from the bottom up to be a 'playable', MIDI-controlled, sample-based instrument. Whatever the mechanism, however, the end results can be totally believable.

Virtual Guitarist 2

Steinberg’s Virtual Guitarist will be well known to SOS regulars, and the original version was reviewed in SOS December 2002. The basic structure of Virtual Guitarist 2 is the same as that of its predecessor, and it’s also similar to Virtual Bassist (reviewed in SOS September 2005), so there is little point in repeating too much detail here, other than for the purposes of a basic recap. At Virtual Guitarist 2’s heart is a large collection of pre-recorded rhythm guitar performances (7GB in total) arranged in a series of over 80 Styles — a significant increase in the number of Styles over the original. Each Style includes a number of variations (termed Parts) and, via some clever beat-slicing, these loops can be made to fit the tempo of the host sequencer and the chord pattern fed to Virtual Guitarist 2 via MIDI. In essence, Virtual Guitarist 2 is a sophisticated, musically intelligent, loop-manipulation engine.

Here are two MIDI tracks controlling Real Guitar 2L within a Steinberg Cubase SX project. The upper track contains the basic chord sequence, while the lower one contains four different Samba-style picking patterns copied from the Pattern Manager.

The Styles cover everything from basic steel-strung acoustic strumming through to low-slung Nu-Metal power riffs, with stops covering nylon-strung acoustic, funk, pop, rock & roll, blues, and reggae amongst others — there are even a couple of Styles based on Mandolin and Dobro thrown in for good measure. Virtual Guitarist 2 comes with an improved guitar-orientated effects section, so it’s easy to customise the basic guitar sounds if required. As with Virtual Bassist, a nice bonus of Virtual Guitarist 2 is that the effects section is also supplied as a separate plug-in, so you can apply the same effects to other audio tracks in your projects.

Aside from the expanded Style set, another improvement in Virtual Guitarist 2 is the new Part Editor. As described more fully below, this allows the user to tweak the preset Parts, within certain limits, to add some further variability to the performance options. This includes the ability to Groove Match the beat-sliced performance to incoming MIDI data. Part variations created by the user in this way can be saved for later recall.

Installation of Virtual Guitarist 2 was straightforward, although the plug-in does require a Steinberg key. Aside from the installation DVD, which covers both Mac and PC versions, the box includes a small printed manual that covers the basic operation of the plug-in. All the major plug-in formats are supported including VST, DXi, and AU, with Rewire compatibility as well. A stand-alone version is also supplied. As with Real Guitar 2L, I did all my testing of Virtual Guitarist 2 using the VST plug-in within Cubase SX.

Hey, Good Looking!

If visual image is important for the members of your virtual band, then Virtual Guitarist 2 probably has the upper hand over Real Guitar 2L. The key controls are spread over three main screens. The first of these, the Play Page, is split into two areas; a Browser on the right can be toggled between Style selection or Part selection, while the main part of the screen contains Virtual Guitarist 2’s key controls, many carried over from the earlier versions. The circular 'orb' displays incoming MIDI activity, including the chord being played.

A number of the controls are self-explanatory, but a few are worthy of further comment. The Presence control adjusts the gain in the upper-mid frequencies; add a little for extra 'ching', or cut a little for a warmer sound. The Decay control alters the sustain of the individual slices (strums or notes), with shorter values giving gradually more muted notes and values towards normal letting the notes ring out, options that add a surprising amount of flexibility to Virtual Guitarist 2’s performance loops. A MIDI Learn function allows any of these controls to be mapped to a hardware controller for real-time adjustment. Of the rotary controls, Inversion is a bit of an oddity. The manual suggests its effect is rather like changing the scale length or body size of the guitar, but the end result is actually quite hard to describe — a picked guitar part might go from something that sounds very bright and like it is being played at the upper ends of the neck to a fuller, rounder sound from the bottom end of the scale. However this is achieved, it does add some further variability.

Switching Doubling on creates a doubled-tracked guitar part and this, along with the Stereo Width control, can create a big, wide guitar sound. This is a bit addictive, however, and in some mixes bigger is not always better. The Fret Noise and Speed switches do what is expected, while the Latch switch simply keeps Virtual Guitarist 2 playing even if you release the MIDI keys that triggered it. With Latch mode off, Virtual Guitarist 2 will only play while keys on your MIDI keyboard are held down.

The contents of the FX Page don’t require too much by way of explanation, and a 'virtual stomp box' approach has been adopted throughout. Three amp models are provided (solid state, tube, and rectifier), with increasing amounts of distortion available through the range. Four different speaker cabinets are simulated, and there is a choice of two microphone types and two positions. Effects presets can be loaded, and user configurations saved, via the browser section. The stomp-box effects all work pretty well and, while the amp/cabinet modelling is not as versatile or sophisticated as a dedicated unit such as the Line 6 PodXT, the whole package is very easy to use.

Controlling The Performance

As with Real Guitar 2L, when controlling a Virtual Guitarist 2 performance, the MIDI keyboard is split into zones. The keys between C1 and B2 form the Key Remote Range, and it is from here that the different Parts that make up the current Style can be selected. By default, all the Styles have different Parts allocated to the white keys from C1 to B1, while the black keys control the addition of slide or stop noise, trigger a Fill (a slight variation of the current part), duplicate the sustain pedal, or switch Latch mode on and off. Keys above B2 form the Pitch Range, and it is here that notes and chords can be played for Virtual Guitarist 2 to follow.

The Riff Page in Virtual Guitarist 2, showing a basic strummed Part. You can make edits here to add further variety to the performance options.

The third main window is Virtual Guitarist 2’s new Riff Page, which contains the Part Editor. The upper portion of this shows the beat-sliced version of the current part within a window that looks something like a mixture between a waveform editor and a piano-roll editor. However, given the way the Virtual Guitarist 2 engine works, it’s not quite either of these! The lower portion shows a groove map, and provides various ways of adjusting the detailed timing of the Part or matching it to a particular MIDI groove — great for getting Virtual Guitarist 2 really tight to other elements in your arrangement.

Given that Virtual Guitarist 2 adjusts the pitch of the playback to suit the MIDI chord, the pitch within the waveform display is more representative than absolute. For strumming patterns, only the top half of the waveform display is used, but for those parts based on picked notes, both the upper and lower lanes are used to display alternate notes. While the technical details are not explained in the manual, my impression is that the audio engine is processing each lane separately in order to construct the overall performance.

The various Riff Page options do take some experimentation to become familiar with. However, it is well worth the time invested, as it does mean you can expand upon the various performances within each Virtual Guitarist 2 Style — even just muting one or two waveform sections can totally change the feel of a part. Using the Copy and Paste buttons, edited versions of parts can be placed into one of the blank slots within the C2 to B2 section of the Key Remote Range.

Playing Virtual Guitarist 2

In use, Virtual Guitarist 2 is a very different beast to Real Guitar 2L and it is perhaps easier for the new user to obtain a performance from. Essentially, as Virtual Guitarist 2 is fed a MIDI chord progression, it will perform that progression in the chosen Style. The user can switch between the various Parts for that Style using the Remote Key Range. These two stages could, of course, be done in two recording passes, but even for someone with my modest keyboard skills, this soon becomes something that can be done in a single take and then edited accordingly. Virtual Guitarist 2 does cover a wide musical palette, and there are enough 'bread and butter' strumming options to cover most musical situations. That said, editing aside, you are pretty much tied to the Styles and Parts supplied and, good though these are, the options will eventually run out if you create several songs that fall into one particular musical area.

As ought to be expected given that Virtual Guitarist 2’s output is based on pre-recorded guitar performances, the quality of the sounds is first rate. If there is something that fits in terms of style, then Virtual Guitarist 2’s output is right on the money, and I’ve no doubt these performances will appear in any number of commercial releases — it is, frankly, scarily easy to create a credible guitar part. Through both the effects options and the various Play Page controls (Doubling, Stereo Width, Timing, Dynamics, and so on), it is also easy to customise the qualities of the guitar sound so that it will work in the context of your mix.

Which One Should You Go For?

So, if you are in the market for a virtual guitar plug-in, should it be Real Guitar 2L or Virtual Guitarist 2 that passes the audition? This is exactly the question I was asking myself when both boxes arrived in my studio but, without wishing to sound like I’m copping out, I now think it is entirely the wrong question. While both of these products will enable you to add a professional-sounding acoustic-guitar backing to your latest composition, that is perhaps their only similarity. This end result is actually achieved in very different ways, and the designs of the two engines mean that these plug-ins will suit different tasks and different types of user.

The effects options available within Virtual Guitarist 2.

If you want a playable instrument, then Real Guitar 2L is a clear winner. This is, quite simply, the best implementation of a multisampled guitar instrument I’ve ever played and, with suitable practice, I’m sure some users will be tempted to play it live. Admittedly, at present, it only caters for acoustic guitars, but it would be really interesting to see if Music Lab decide to explore this same approach with an electric guitar-based instrument. The fact that all the performances are fully editable as MIDI data gives complete control over the musical style and the parts played, while the collection of parts supplied with the Pattern Manager does provide a route to more instant results, more than justifying the additional cost of the '2L' version of the plug-in.

On the flip side, Virtual Guitarist 2 has the edge when it comes to sheer ease of use and musical breadth. If one of the provided Styles happens to suit, then a thoroughly professional guitar part — acoustic or electric — is so easy to create that you might still be tuning up your real guitar by the time Virtual Guitarist 2 has finished the job! I could imagine composers who work in a broad range of styles and to tight deadlines would find Virtual Guitarist 2 a very useful addition to their virtual instrument collection, particularly if they are not guitar players themselves.

Conclusions

Despite professing to be a guitarist, in the course of this joint review I used both of these products within a couple of my own projects. Frankly, when I just wanted a bed of strummed chords, either of them made it easier to achieve than miking up my own guitar. And when I wanted a rapidly picked part (never my strength!), both of them did it more accurately than I would have done without a multitude of takes.

That said, I’m not going to be putting my guitars up on eBay just yet — a virtual performer has their virtues, but there are times when the life, energy, and human error of a live guitar performance is exactly what is required to make the music real. However, both Real Guitar 2L and Virtual Guitarist 2 are capable of excellent results and, while both can be described as guitar virtual instruments, the route by which polished guitar tracks are achieved is very different. I suspect this will be the key factor in deciding which plug-in might most suit your own needs.

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Many keyboard-based composers I know pay significant moolah to session guitarists because absolutely nothing propels a track like an acoustic guitar rhythm part. It's an expensive indulgence and it can slow down your process to schedule and record someone. So if you're like me, you've gone to great lengths to become a virtual guitarist - and found that nothing quite works.

«MusicLab RealGuitar 2L»

by Richard Leiter about RealGuitar
You instantly see notes you're playing on the virtual guitar neck. RealGultar will only play voicings that a real guitarist would.

read more

Many keyboard-based composers I know pay significant moolah to session guitarists because absolutely nothing propels a track like an acoustic guitar rhythm part. It's an expensive indulgence and it can slow down your process to schedule and record someone. So if you're like me, you've gone to great lengths to become a virtual guitarist—and found that nothing quite works.

Until now. RealGuitar 2L lets you create original, authentic-sounding acoustic guitar parts from an array of uncannily realistic steel- and nylon-string models. Installation is uneventful and the first step is obvious: Select a fingered or picked six- or 12-string guitar. All the choices sound like high-priced axes miked through a top-end preamp. The utterly ear-fooling "Stereo Steel" has quickly become the go-to solo guitar in my studio. If RG did nothing but this, it'd still be worth the price. But wait, there's more....

Wonderful Little Noises

Part of what makes a sampled guitar sound real is the assortment of non-pitched sounds a guitarist makes: the scratching of the fingers as
they press the strings against the frets, the squeak of the strings as they're released, the smack of the hand against wood, the dull chunk of a pick plucking a muted string. RG2 lets you dial in the level of each noise, then key-switch through every articulation.

What's more, any good guitar player has tricks appropriate to each style. You simply cannot play blues without bending notes, and Americana styles sound pretty dull without judicious hammcr-ons and slides. RG2 lets you assign bends, slides, and mutes to adjustable velocity layers. Hit a note softly, and you get pure guitar. Smack it, and bam: You're Muddy Waters.

The Art of the Strum

You can play RG2 like a keyboard and record happily ever after, but you'll only scratch the surface. The real joy is in the strum, and there's a definite learning curve, but the basics are simple: In Solo mode, notes E1-B4 correspond to notes on the guitar. The notes directly above become strumming notes. White keys are quick strums and black keys are muted strums. Plus, keys ?1-D#1 become assignable variations: palm mutes, slides, and more. You can immediately create workable patterns through experimentation.

Harmony mode adds one note to your played note at six specific intervals, and gives playable access to slides; it's good tor power chords. The real fun comes when you get to Chords mode, which builds guitar-correct chords out of very few notes and automatically places them in a fret position of your choosing. (The notes are instantly displayed on the virtual guitar neck.) This is the mode you can get lost in for hours trying to fool the built-in harmony maven, but it's wonderfully musical, and once you've mastered the internal rules, you can lay down convincing strums. You may have to sequence and quantize a little, but you'll get the results you're after.

Bass and Chord mode lets you play rool-and-fifth bass parts with strums, and will bring out your inner flamenco god. Bass and Pick mode lays out the right-hand switching keys string by string, so you can create very convincing arpeggialed parts. Left-hand key-switches and assignable pedal effects quintuple the variations you can apply in each mode, and while pitchbend, modulation, and aftertouch are always available, you can change their functions. Heck, you can even set the strum speeds and release times. None of these controls are gratuitous.

Those are the basic rules, but in actual use, you'll want to lock yourself in your studio for a week to pursue all the inspirations you discover.

Manage Your Patterns

RealGuitar 2L comes with 1,250 strum patterns housed intuitively in a separate Pattern Manager window. Just as in many virtual drum instruments, you can audition each strum with a mouse click - or drag-and-drop patterns into your sequencer in any length and order you desire. It's effortless, but I like to get my hands dirtier. With virtual drums, I'd rather record an original part than use a prefab MIDI file, and I feel the same about guitar patterns. That said, 1 auditioned factory patterns, then ripped off—I mean "adapted"—the best ones. Essentially, the patterns teach you how to play RealGuitar 2L.

Conclusions

We keyboard composer/performers have craved something like this for years, and at $249 for the deluxe model, it's a no-brainer for anyone working in a pop format. For its absolutely authentic acoustic guitar sounds, intuitive performance system, and overall musicality, we recommend RealGuitar 2L to you with a Key Buy award.

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