Like so many teens I also came into contact with hardrock and heavy metal in my youth and quite frankly I liked what I heard. The whole idea of making music with a relative minimal setup (vocals, lead and bass guitar backed up with drums) always intrigued me. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when Ableton released the Amp and Cabinet audio effects I was quite interested.
At that time I already had access to Guitar Rig (I don’t recall if it was still the player or if I had already grabbed Komplete Elements 7) but I never really took the time to get to know it better. Kontakt and Reaktor were far more intriguing 😉 Even so, eventually I did start to experiment with Guitar Rig and that resulted in me picking up Guitar Rig 5 Pro earlier this year. I still don’t consider myself a Guitar Rig expert, but I think I have gained enough experience to write up this review.
What is Guitar Rig ?
Guitar Rig is one of the major components of the Komplete environment created by Native Instruments. Its an audio effect rack which is fully aimed at processing guitar (based) sounds. It contains several amplifier and cabinet devices and dozens of other audio effects. Apart from the audio effects it also provides a lot of specific tools which can be used to further expand on your sound.
Tools such as an LFO, step sequencer, envelope processor which can all be seen in this screenshot, but also tools like a ring modulator, a loop machine, or what to think of a splitter which allows you to treat the left and right channel in a different manner?
On the right you see an overview of all the module categories which are provided by Guitar Rig.
Apart from the standard collection of tools and effects the Guitar Rig engine as a whole also forms the basis for many other (separate) effects. From specific amplifiers such as Rammfire, “DJ Tools” like Traktor’s 12 to specific reverb effects such as Reflector. There’s much more to Guitar Rig than guitar sounds alone. Sure; some effects maybe tailor made to process guitar (or string) sounds, but why would that stop you from using them in a totally different fashion?
A small side step but if there’s one thing which using Reason over the years has taught me its that you shouldn’t take anything for granted. What do I mean by that? Just because a sound effect such as ‘Tape Echo’ is part of the Kong drum designer doesn’t mean you can only use it within Kong. Dare to experiment!
Guitar Rig is no different.
Using Guitar Rig is actually quite easy, although just like with Live you really want to experiment with it because there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
As mentioned earlier Guitar Rig (“GR5”) is an audio effects rack. You basically select the components which you want to use from the components or navigator section and drag them into the main window on the right. Here all the effects get stacked together, the sound basically travels from top to bottom.
Apart from the several audio components shown above there are also a few so called “rack tools”:
As you can see there’s much more to GR5 then ‘merely’ a bunch of audio effects. So what do we have here; from top to bottom:
- Tapedeck PRE: You could consider this to be a sampling device of some sort. It allows you to record your pre-processed audio (so before it gets processed by the audio effects) but can also load wav, mp3 or aiff files. As can be expected you can transpose your sound, change the tempo (without affecting pitch), etc.
- Tuner: GR5 is aimed at guitars and this proofs it once more. What good is a “Guitar Rig” without a tuner? Tune your guitar or other (string-based?) instrument; it can even optimize itself for specific use such as guitar or bass (and more).
- Metronome: Should be pretty self explaining, no? Nope. Not only can the metronome be used to keep yourself on track, it can also synchronize some rack modules (like delay effects).
- Preset volume: The input volume can heavily influence the way the several effects react. So to make sure that the input signal doesn’t get too high you can use this device to optimize the volume for your effects rack.
- Tapedeck POST: Should be obvious enough by now I think; where the tapedeck PRE could record the incoming signal before it was being processed, the POST device does the opposite. This can record the signal after it has been processed. And you can easily link this with the PRE device for even more control…
- Master FX: Shouldn’t be too much of a mystery. This is a container which can hold several audio effects which will process the audio at the end of the chain. The several effects you drag onto the GR5 rack are basically insert effects; this device contains the so called “Sends” or “Global” effects.
And if you’re wondering which rack tool I didn’t show up there:
The Rig Kontrol tool is a section used to configure how the ‘Rig Kontrol’ should respond to GR5. Rig Kontrol is a foot pedal which contains an audio interface, 8 switches, and its fully meant to be used as MIDI controller to quickly control certain aspects of GR5 using your foot:
So as you can see GR5 is all about recording and processing sounds which you make with your guitar, the hardware controller is fully setup with this goal in mind too.
Even though I don’t play a guitar I can’t help think that GR5 is an ideal tool for using your computer as a bad ass amplifier.
Don’t forget that you can use GR5 both as a VST (inside a DAW) or stand alone!
The sound effects
Apart from the amplifiers and cabinet devices there are quite a lot of other sound effects which you can use. Which is also why I think GR5 makes an excellent effects tool, even if you don’t play the guitar. In fact, there are simply so many available that I can’t address them all, but to give you a good impression I’ll pick out some of the tools I considered quite interesting and maybe somewhat special. I won’t address “obvious” tools such as delays, reverbs, distortion effects and limiters because quite frankly; I think it should be obvious that GR5 has its share of those too.
The Harmonic Synthesizer is a pitch effect which adds 3 synth voices to the incoming signal which can then be mixed using the controls seen above. This creates some very special synthetic effects to your sound which can really make it stand out.
Electric Lady is an LFO based effect which adds some wobbly as well as a very specific flanger effect. I think the combination of the two can really add that little bit of spice to your sound.
The stereo tune is an effect which gives a stereo effect to your sound by detuning your signal and spreading it across both channels, thus generating a somewhat ‘widening’ effect. It doesn’t sound very special if you apply this on regular tones (such as those produced by the default Operator settings) but on more “fuller” sound I think you’ll soon come to appreciate this one.
Now, I know I said I wasn’t going to address any “common” effects but I still think this is special enough to mention…
This is one of the 3 compressors available in GR5. Notice the sidechain button up there?
If you have loaded a compressor in GR5 then you can actually use audio signals from within your DAW (Live in my case) to be used as a sidechain input which can then trigger the actual compression of the signal processed by the GR5 audio effects rack.
As you can see in this screenshot its quite easy too; just point “Audio To” to the track on which Guitar Rig 5 resides and Ableton Live will figure out the rest itself.
Although Guitar Rig is fully designed to be used as a signal processor for guitar (-like) sounds its also one heck of an audio effect rack which allows you to create some pretty unique and maybe plain out bizarre sound effects.
This is but a review so I’m keeping things a little broad to try and also keep this interesting for people who don’t own Guitar Rig (yet?); but rest assured that I’ll go over some specifics in a future blog post.
SO; if you’re interested to learn more then you should consider visiting the Guitar Rig 5 Pro product page on the Native Instruments website. More information about the Rig Kontrol device can be found on its own product page.
And if you simply would like to give this a test drive yourself then the free of charge available Guitar Rig player is all you need.
Small sidestep: It is free but you still need to register. I’m quite the critic when it comes to people or companies which claim to provide “free stuff” and “only” want your e-mail address, but in this case I can guarantee that this is different. The only reason Native Instruments wants you to register is because this is part of their copy protection. Although its free you actually get a license for the free player(s) as if you would have bought them. Don’t forget to keep the installer and copy it to somewhere safe; the download link which is provided will only work for a limited amount of time.
And as for me; I consider Guitar Rig to be a very special and specific tool. I like how it has a rather ‘easy’ look and feel to it but once you start experimenting with it a little more you’ll eventually discover that it can do soo much more (like the sidechain compression).
It maybe designed with guitar play in mind, but I also consider it to be a very valuable effects tool for other music genres which is something I really came to appreciate.
And there you have it 😉