Hands-On Review:Native Instruments Guitar Rig 2
The last rig you'll ever need
By Mike Genao
When I reviewed the original Guitar Rig for Musician's Friend last year, to say I was impressed would be an understatement. From the ultrarealistic amp, cabinet, microphone, and effects models to the amazing responsiveness of the Rig Kontrol foot controller, Guitar Rig represented the epitome of modeling software. When the buzz began about Guitar Rig 2, my mouth started watering in anticipation of how Native Instruments would take the program to the next level.
All in the name
When I received GR2 from Native Instruments, my computer workstation was being serviced. This left me longingly reading the box and caressing the revamped Rig Kontrol 2, kind of like a kid who gets the one toy he really wanted for Christmas then finds out there are no batteries in the house to make it work.
I immediately noticed some pictures and quotes on the back from some heavy hitters in the music world:
Native Instruments clearly took it upon themselves to make Guitar Rig 2 as impressive as its predecessor, as evidenced by the array of new features it has. NI kept the same efficient interface as the first Guitar Rig, as well as the ability to operate as a standalone application or as a VST, Audio Units, RTAS, or DXi plug-in with your recording software.
There are a number of new things to talk about with GR2--namely new amp, cab, mic, and effects models (including ones for bass); the Loop Machine; and a number of modifiers that create even more possibilities - but the most logical place to start is with the enhancements made to the Rig Kontrol.
The biggest news with Rig Kontrol 2 is that it now has a high-quality, USB 2.0 audio/MIDI interface built right in! There's no need for any other hardware (aside from your computer, obviously). Rig Kontrol 2 has seven switches and an expression pedal, all of which can be programmed to any parameter you want. Assigning parameters is a cinch within the GR2 software; there's even an interactive graphic on the main screen that shows you exactly what's what.
The interface portion of the Rig Kontrol 2 offers two inputs, so you can have two instruments connected at once, whether they're guitars, basses, keyboards, or combinations. Each input has its own gain control, which is nice for on-the-fly level adjustments. The two outputs can be used to connect to powered studio monitors, a mixer, or a recorder, while a headphone jack lets you jam without disturbing anyone. MIDI I/O is provided too, as are two controller inputs for external expression pedals, foot switches, and the like. Not merely a means to connect your guitar to your computer, Rig Kontrol 2 offers you much more in terms of connectivity and control.
In addition to the Gratifier, Twang Reverb, Plexi, and AC-Box amp models from Guitar Rig, GR2 adds four new amps including the Bass VT, inspired by the classic Ampeg SVT head that is so beloved by four-stringers everywhere. The Tweedman, whose role model was originally created as a bass amp, delivers versatile tone that's particularly outstanding in conjunction with a humbucker-equipped guitar. The Jazz Amp's clean sound is full of sonic richness, while the Lead 800 gives you the screaming tone that defined the metal sound of the 1980s and beyond. NI's Dynamic Tube Response technology means these amps behave just like the real thing, and with unique parameters for each one like sag and tube bias knobs, gearheads can have a field day tweaking their sound any way imaginable.
As if four new amps weren't enough to keep you busy, 25 cabinets (including six bass cab and four rotary speakers), nine mics, and 35 effects certainly will. Among my favorite presets in GR2 is the 8x10 Klassic bass rig that's full of the undeniable tone that has seduced listeners and players for years. Eight new effects are present in GR2, as well as a number of modifiers--what synth users would call modulators – that include a five-waveform LFO, analog sequencer, step sequencer, multi–step envelope, and more. With the ability to place these modifiers on any parameter you wish, there are limitless possibilities to the sounds you can get from Guitar Rig 2. And just as with the original Guitar Rig, creating your monster rack is as simple as dragging and dropping, except you now have more of everything to choose from.
The presets are a great place to start if you have an idea of what tone you're looking for. With such clever names as "Marilyn is beautiful" and "System of a crown," you're sure to find what you're looking for. From there, tweaking settings and parameters will fine-tune things.
The two Tapedecks from Guitar Rig are present in GR2, allowing you to play audio files in a number of formats. Load up a drum loop, press play, and you've got a backbeat to practice or jam over.
Native Instruments included a huge number of samples you can use in the Tapedecks from bass and drums to complete backing tracks. So not only do you have these killer rigs at your disposal, but a complete backing band to jam with as well! Tapedeck Two handles the recording, letting you easily sketch and save song ideas. It's like having a songwriting partner right there with you.
One stellar addition in Guitar Rig 2 is the Loop Machine. Whereas in the first generation of Guitar Rig, you had to use the Tapedecks to create layers, now the Loop Machine makes this process simple and direct. I set switches on the Rig Kontrol 2 for starting and stopping the playback/recording, and basically went to town. With up to 99 phrases possible, you're really only limited by the amount of free space on your hard drive.
A tool that I found exceptionally helpful is the Operation Manual that comes with Guitar Rig 2. Written by gear guru Craig Anderton, it speaks in clear language that doesn't bog you down with loads of technobabble. Appendices on optimizing your computer, creating your own rig from scratch, and much more really take the intimidation factor out of this software, which can seem daunting at first glance. The Native Instruments website is also chock full of tutorials that help you realize the amazing potential this software has. It's important to know that when you invest in Guitar Rig 2, you've got an entire team of folks at NI that are there to help out, as well as a dedicated user community.
Whether you plan to use it as a recording tool, for live use, or both, Guitar Rig 2 is an investment in your playing that has the potential to boost your creative output to new levels. As I came up with new sounds or found a unique preset, I could sit and write a whole tune around it, then do the same again and again. Most of us have our one rig, and aside from tweaking the knobs on our amp or effects pedals, we're pretty much stuck with one set of sounds. With Guitar Rig 2, the sounds grow exponentially, giving you access to almost anything you could ever ask a guitar or bass to do. When combined with the superb functionality and built-in interface of the Rig Kontrol 2; the Loop Machine, Tapedecks, and Modifiers; and the included backing tracks; Guitar Rig 2 is clearly the epitome of modeling software.
Features & Specs:
- 8 renowned guitar and bass amps
- 15 guitar and 6 bass cabinets
- 4 rotary speakers
- 9 microphones
- 35 effects
- Loop Machine
- Synth filters
- Dynamic Tube Response technology
- Drag-and-drop sound building
- Operates as a standalone application or as a VST, RTAS, DXi, or Audio Units plug-in
- Realtime control of all parameters
- Rig Kontrol 2 USB 2.0 foot controller with built-in audio/MIDI interface
- 7 footswitches and one expression pedal
- Balanced stereo output and separate headphone monitoring
- LED for current preset
- MIDI I/O allows extra controllers or pedals to be connected
- Audio Units, VST, RTAS on ProTools 7, DXi, ASIO, Core Audio, Core MIDI, and DirectSound compatible
- Mac requirements: Mac OS X 10.3.x, G4 733MHz, 512MB RAM
- PC requirements: Windows XP SP2, Pentium 700MHz/Athlon XP 1.33GHz, 256MB RAM
- Mac recommendation: Mac OS X 10.4.x, G4 1.25GHz, 768MB RAM
- PC recommendation: Windows XP SP2, Pentium/Athlon XP 1.4GHz, 512MB RAM