Hands-On Review:Powerful modeling and advanced synth for guitars

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by Dean Zimmerman

To model or synthesize? That is the question you face with these two monster processors from Roland: the VG-88 V-Guitar System and the GR-33 Guitar Synthesizer. At issue is whether you think it's nobler to model the classic heroes from the golden age of rock, or to create innovative, new sonic expressions, or both! In the first case, Roland's VG-88 V-Guitar System "models" the most popular guitars, amps, pickups, and cabs in music history. The GR-33, in turn, is Roland's most advanced guitar synth and offers 48 voices, over 384 excellent sounds, and ultra-fast triggering. As always, the more you know about these incredible guitar tools, the easier it will be to decide which is right for you and your music.


Roland VG-88 and GR-33VG-88 V-Guitar System
Since its introduction several years ago, Roland's V-Guitar technology has gained a strong following among top players. Like the original VG-8, the VG-88 is a self-contained guitar processing/modeling system that uses advanced COSM technology to recreate a wide variety of guitar, pickup, amp, speaker cab, and microphone sounds using a standard guitar equipped with a Roland GK-2 or compatible pickup.


But the VG-88 doesn't stop at modeling other guitars and amps. It's equipped with a host of effects activated with the stomp of a footpedal. The VG-88 also produces some unique synth-type sounds using HRM (Harmonic Restructure Modeling). What makes HRM particularly cool is that it creates sounds without the tracking delay of some guitar synths.


The VG-88 allows users to blend the output of their GK pickup with normal guitar pickups to produce textured "combo" sounds like simultaneous screaming overdrive and woodwind tones. The order of each effect and the insert point for the GK pickup sound is totally up to you.


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The VG-88 picks up where the VG-8 left off. It gives players a marvelously realistic new nylon guitar sound, new brass sounds in HRM mode, and new polyphonic effects like a string-assignable octaver and polyphonic Slow Gear. There are also heaps of new guitar insert effects derived from the BOSS GT-Series of effects. Roland even enhanced the VG-88's tube amp and overdrive modeling for more variation and color. A new direct 1/4" guitar input lets you plug right into COSM amp models and effects sections using normal pickups.


Although the VG-88 is designed to provide realistically modeled tones from the past, it is also capable of providing many cutting-edge, never-before-heard sounds. For example, not only is it capable of providing the sounds of various pickups located in a variety of traditional positions, it can also be made to create virtual pickups and locate them anywhere along most of the string length. Imagine the tone you might get if one of your guitar's pickups was located at the 12th fret. With the VG-88, you can find out. The possibilities for unusual effects are endless.


GR-33 Guitar Synthesizer
The GR-33 is the world's most powerful 48- voice guitar synth. At the heart of this GK-ready synth is a sound source equivalent to Roland's JV-Series synth module, capable of producing some of the richest, most interesting instrument sounds and incredibly lush effects available.


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The GR-33's advanced sound engine gives guitarists virtually an unlimited palette of rich, distinctive sounds. Everything from natural-sounding strings, super phatt bass tones, vintage synths, and more can be layered with up to 2 tones each to create your own custom sound.


The secret of the GR-33's power goes beyond its impressive sound engine. Its enhanced tracking speed delivers lightning response and improved accuracy to capture every nuance of your performance - from subtle strumming to pounding rhythms and intense solos that explore the boundaries of chaos theory. The GR-33 is a doorway to a new sonic universe.


In addition to JV synth-quality reverb and chorus, the GR-33 offers an onboard multi-effects processor with 25 insert effects, including serious overdrive, distortion phaser, auto-wah, compressor, limiter, stereo-EQ, and a built-in expression pedal for realtime control. And you can tailor all of these effects and save your own sonic creations in 128 user patch locations.


The GR-33's intuitive panel layout makes navigation, operation, and editing a breeze. There's nothing spooky about the controls. A 2-line LCD display tells you what's up, dedicated function buttons make selection easy, and a value dial gives you immediate access to the most common parameters. There are also 4 on/off pedals and an assignable expression pedal for fast realtime patch selection and tweaking. A stereo return input makes it easy to route a guitar from an external effects processor to the GR-33, while an output select switch can connect to a guitar amp or power amp. MIDI I/O is also provided for using the GR-33 with sequencers or controlling MIDI gear.


VG-88 or GR-33?
If you need more than essential effects and garden-variety tone, either of these sonic powerhouses will exceed your expectations. Both plug directly into a Roland-Ready Fender guitar, a Brian Moore MIDI guitar with a 13-pin jack, or you can install a GK2A on your guitar. If you want 384 cool synth sounds in your guitar arsenal, the GR-33 will be a sweet fit. But if you want a galaxy of custom sounds and the classic modeled sounds of vintage heroes, the VG-88 is the one for you. Either of these Roland processors will take your music further.



Features & Specs


  • COSM technology models vintage guitars, pickups, amps, mics, and cabs
  • Contains hollow-body and acoustic guitar models.
  • Natural tube amp and overdrive
  • Harmonic Restructure Modeling creates new synth-type sounds
  • Blends GK and normal pickup sounds
  • Onboard effects
  • Onboard expression pedal
  • 160 presets
  • 100 user patches
  • Direct 1/4" guitar input
  • 24-bit AD conversion
  • 20-bit DA conversion
  • 48-voice polyphony
  • Ultra-fast triggering
  • Sound source from Roland JV-1080 synth module
  • 128 preset patches
  • 128 user patches
  • 25 insert multi-effects
  • Output select switch allows use with different amp types
  • Onboard arpeggiator and harmonist
  • Assignable onboard expression pedal