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Virtual Guitarist 2

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Steinberg Virtual Guitarist 2

Reprinted from NZ Musician Magazine in Article/Gear Review/Software – Jun/Jul 2006

Disclaimer: I’m not a guitarist, nor do I pretend to play one on TV. However, Virtual Guitarist 1 has come to the recording rescue with a couple of tight deadlines in the past, so when given the opportunity to put Version 2 through its paces I figured I was long overdue for that mullet. And hey, I’ve always wanted to kick in a cheap TV…

Not a generic sample loop library, Virtual Guitarist is a plug-in instrument which provides a simple yet powerful interface to a huge 6.8Gb sample library of professionally recorded guitar parts and styles – all with the ability to edit the parts right down to their individual notes. This goes beyond what a standard loop library could offer as you can customise guitar parts to fit your arrangement.

VG2 comes on a DVD (so you’ll need a DVD drive), with a license code to authorise the plug-in on the Steinberg Key (commonly known as a ‘dongle’). If you don’t already own an application like Nuendo/Cubase/Wavelab then this key will need to be purchased separately for around $40.

Those familiar with VG1 will find version 2 (rrp $450) a huge improvement in both usability and features. The sample content alone has more than tripled. There are 32 brand new styles recorded by world-class guitarists – plus the styles originally featured in Virtual Guitarist and Electric Edition, giving a grand total of 87 styles.

Simplicity and ease of use seems to be a common theme in this instrument and the interface is clean and uncluttered with functionality divided into four main pages – Play, Riff, FX, and Setup.

The Play page is where you load and save Styles and Parts as well as modifying the general playing parameters such as dynamics and timing. A large chord display shows either the currently playing, or the pre-selected chord, making it easy to best musical boffins in a round of ‘C’mon, name that chord’.

For those who are less musically inclined and just want to make some noise, VG2 features an intelligent chord recognition system, which plays the correct chord based on the MIDI input from either your sequencer or via a controller in real time. The MIDI input can consist of a complete chord or simple one-finger notes – it’s almost too easy.

So you’ve loaded a part but it doesn’t quite sound like Stairway to Heaven – enter the Riff page! The Riff page allows you easily edit the loaded part/riff via a set of intuitive tools. Note position, pitch, amplitude, and decay can all be adjusted as well as the overall groove which has its own dedicated set of controls. One neat feature worth a mention is the new GrooveMatch technology. This allows you to modify Virtual Guitarist parts to match existing MIDI grooves at the click of a button. The incoming MIDI data is analysed and then the part’s slices are automatically adapted – pretty cool huh?

With our virtual guitarist in the zone it’s time to add a little sauce. Condiments offered include an arsenal of classic effects; wah-wah, compressor, fuzz, tremolo, chorus, flanger, phaser, reverb, and delay. As per usual with built-in instrument effects, I’ve found better sounding dedicated alternatives, but often speed and ease of use can actually help to achieve a more inspired sound by allowing you to work faster without interrupting the creative flow.

VG2 also offers three different types of amp simulators and four speaker models, as well as two types of microphone and mic positioning options. If you like the effects and want to use them on something other than VG2 then you’re in luck. The stomp FX board is also installed as a separate effects plug-in so you can use the effects on any existing track in your session.

No question, VG2 is a major step up from VG1 and if you’ve never used Virtual Guitar software before you’ll be pleasantly surprised. CPU usage is surprisingly light and the beauty of this plug-in is that you can create usable guitar tracks which sound how YOU want them to sound in no time at all – perfect for writers and producers.

The manual is well written and easy to understand, but because the interface is so intuitive I only referred to it when I wanted some more in-depth information on a function. The built-in effects actually received more use than I initially thought they would, although they wouldn’t be my first point of call in a mix situation.

Virtual Guitarist 2 is available for all major plug-in formats (VST, DXi, and AU) on both PC and Mac and ReWire support offers easy integration into Pro Tools. Should you need it, there is also a multi-output capable standalone version which allows VG2 to be used without a host application.
One improvement I would have liked to have seen would be a multi-level undo accessible directly from the GUI. In the riff editor I found it quite easy to accidentally change a riff’s timing if you’re not careful where you are clicking. At present there is only a single level of undo accessible via a key command.

My complaints are few and far between when you consider the wealth of new features, sounds, and functionality available at such a reasonable price. So will this virtual guitarist replace your real one? Well, no, but thankfully this one turns up to a session, plays in tune, and doesn’t have a significant other in tow. Now where did I put that virtual pick?

Jonathan Campbell is a producer/engineer with a great respect for real guitarists. If you have a funny joke or story then contact him via www.thelikelystory.com

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