Hands-On Review:A virtual portal into guitar-hero heaven.


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By Boyd Holt
It's not exactly news that computers have fundamentally changed how music is made and recorded in the last several years. As a producer/engineer, I've watched Line6 lead the charge in toneful modeling products for guitarists, as thousands of satisfied POD and Amp Farm users can attest. All the same, I was not prepared for the incredible experience of GuitarPort. It's like having a private guitar workshop populated by your musical idols and filled with all your favorite gear! Since it utilizes a huge digital processor you already own (your computer), it provides incredible functionality for very little cabbage.

Click to EnlargeUp and running
As an engineer, I need to have some computer chops, although I'm no dot.com software jockey. That's why I was pleased to find that GuitarPort is aimed at your average guitar player with a computer, not your average computer geek with a guitar. The only requirements are a USB-equipped PC, a guitar, and an unyielding desire to rock. Setup was easy. I just installed the software, plugged into the GuitarPort, and plugged the GuitarPort into my computer's USB slot. The interface is very simple and any questions I had were covered in the opening tutorial, so although the Help section looked good, I didn't need it.

Amp heaven
Once that was done, I got down to business with the amp sounds. I've cut a lot of tracks with a POD, so my expectations for
GuitarPort's amp models were high. I was not disappointed as I worked my way through some twangy Fender tones, a classic Marshall sound, and my all-time favorite, the Vox AC30. I got a great sound by using the mix & match cab feature to hear the AC30 electronics through the old Marshall 4x12 cabinet. I was particularly blown away by the huge tone of the Dual Rectifier model; it had tons of warmth and reacted to volume and attack changes very organically. It really rocked with my Les Paul's beefy humbuckers.
Line 6 GuitarPort
Effexcellence
Next came the effects section, which provided a versatile range of tasty colors for the amp tones. The compression reminded me of my old Boss pedal and the delay covered the bases nicely, from a Rockabilly slapback to a long guitar-hero delay meant for rockers in tight leather pants and snakeskin headbands. GuitarPort has two types of Reverbs—Spring and Room—which sound amazingly analog. The Spring was particularly impressive. It sounded so real, I imagined it would make a huge crashing noise if I smacked the monitor! The Modulation effects were just as hip and included Chorus, Flanger, a Rotary sound, and Tremolo. After I sculpted a few tones I liked, it was no trouble to save and name them for later recall.

Click to EnlargeLet's jam
Once I had the hang of the amp models and effects, I turned my attentions to the Audio Transport. This is definitely one of GuitarPort's coolest features, as it allows you to jam along with MP3s, WAV files, or any CDs from your personal collection. I could scan through the audio, loop any section, and even slow it down to 1/2 speed without changing the pitch. That made figuring out a few scary Van Halen licks a lot easier. The built-in chromatic tuner was super accurate and the hum canceller made my noisy Strat pickups sound quiet and clean, even with lots of gain.

A band in hand
By this point, I was already convinced that GuitarPort is a bank vault full of incredible tones, but I was truly knocked out when I signed up for the optional GuitarPort Online membership. For $7.99 per month, you get access to a large (and growing) library of exceptionally high-quality Jam Along tracks—and we're not talking cheesy MIDI renditions. Songs are available with or without the main guitar parts and usually include appropriate tones, tab, and lead sheets. The original material covers the spectrum from Rock and Metal to Country and Jazz, and is performed by top players like Robben Ford, Brent Mason, Carmine Appice, and others. Even more exciting are the cover tracks, which are amazingly accurate renditions of classic tunes, some re-recorded by the original band members. It was a blast to rip Stevie Ray tunes with Double Trouble backing me up, as was the chance to play some Hendrix with the original Band of Gypsies! Speaking of Hendrix, one of GuitarPort's crowning glories is the ability to play along with actual artist masters, remixed especially for this purpose. I did just that with some Hendrix selections and even took a swing at a real Steve Vai master, complete with totally accurate tone settings. I don't know how they managed to get their hands on this stuff, but I've never experienced anything like it!

More online treats
You get a lot of other great stuff with a GuitarPort Online membership. It's got Artist Biographies, guitar-related news, tour dates, interviews, bulletin boards, and Chord/Lick of the Week lessons with players like Steve Lukather and Ty Tabor.

The verdict
Whether your guitar is an escape hatch from life's pressures or a tool for putting bread on the table, GuitarPort is one helluva buzz. The models and effects are truly inspiring and, with the online membership (which is a must to get the most out of this thing), it provides a kind of musical satisfaction unavailable anywhere else.
Features & Specs
GuitarPort hardware &
Lead included software:
GuitarPort Online:
  • 24-bit A/D/A/conversion
  • 32-bit floating-point DSP
  • 10 classic amp models
  • 10 cab models
  • Broad range of effects including compression, delays, reverbs, chorus, flanger, rotary sound, and tremolo
  • Tuner
  • Noise gate
  • Intelligent hum reducer
  • Incorporated audio player
  • Looping
  • 1/2-speed corrected-pitch play
  • Requires: Win 98 SE, Pentium II, 400mHz, AGP video card with 800x600 graphics, 128MB RAM, 40MB free storage, and USB port or better
  • Original recordings with removable guitar track
  • Tab
  • Playing tips
  • New patches
  • Music news
  • Forums
  • Biographies
  • Tour dates
  • Interviews
  • Online lessons