Hands-On Review:Turns your GuitarPort into the world's easiest PC-based recorder
Line 6 GuitarPort RiffTracker
Turns your GuitarPort into the world's easiest PC-based recorder
By Brett Moore
Line 6 has done what dozens of others have failed miserably at—they've created a computer-based recording system that's dead easy to use. Based around the GuitarPort and a brilliant software drum machine with patches of live drumming, it makes recording your musical inspirations with digital clarity as easy as a single mouse click.
I'm a Luddite—that's somebody who's basically at odds with new technology. Granted, I'm not a technophobe on the order of, say, my mother—for whom email is just this side of quantum physics. But I've been repeatedly frustrated by digital recording systems that are so complex I run out of determination before I manage to actually record something.
Line 6's RiffTracker has ended all that. I loaded the RiffWorks software onto my
computer (which came off, amazingly, without a hitch). I plugged in the GuitarPort and my guitar, opened RiffWorks, and was faced with a screen featuring—among other things—a prominent record button with a large red dot. I clicked that button and instantly heard a very cool drum groove. I began to play along.
Eight bars later, I heard another guitar track start up. I was impressed with this newcomer's playing and had started playing against it before I realized it was me. The program had looped after eight bars and now I was recording a second track. Third time around I threw in a nice chunky rhythm, then hit the stop button. In less than two minutes I had a short, rockin' three-track, dual-lead Southern blues/rock tune recorded.
A key principle in good software design is transparency. This is the ability to see and access all your options from one place. All Line 6 equipment and software excels in this regard, but the RiffWorks takes the concept to new heights. Everything you need to get your inspirations down with pristine digital clarity is right in front of you as soon as you open RiffWorks. One screen is all you need.
The controls on this screen are intuitively grouped into three sections: the riff recorder, where you do the actual recording; the riff list for organizing the riffs; and the song builder, where you string riffs together and arrange them into a song.
Recording riffs is a breeze. With my little tune already recorded as a single riff, I saw in the riff recorder section that each new track was given its own stereo channel strip of on-screen controls, including pan; gain; level indicators; solo, mute, FX edit, and duplicate buttons; layer and take numbers; and a handy little button that lets you delete the track.
Controls to the left let me adjust the tempo by setting the BPM, the number of bars before looping (which can be set to a higher number than you plan to record if you don't want any looping), and the time signature. Above that is a "junt" function, which lets you set the tempo and even start recording hands-free by strumming your muted strings plus a lead-in pop down that lets you set your own lead-in phrase, have a metronome count off, or have the drum track play. Above that is the aforementioned recording button, with a play button and a stop button. There's also a selection of preset guitar tones and a button that pops up a GuitarPort screen for instant editing of your guitar sound.
Song building is a piece of cake. Each new riff you record shows up on the riff list, which is accompanied by buttons to create, delete, import, export, and duplicate riffs. Riffs can be dragged into the song bar just above to make a song out of your riffs. Songs have their own transport buttons and can be rearranged by dragging and dropping. A save function lets you make your song into a .WAV file or other type of file to burn onto CD or share online. You can also meld all the riffs in your song into one über-riff that you can then record a solo track over.
The bottom of the screen is filled with trés-cool post effects for mixing including filter, shaper, modulator, delay, reverb, compressor, and equalizer. Click on the button for any of these and the front panel of a rack unit pops up for you to tweak. I was very impressed by the sound quality of these effects and how simple they were to apply.
Below the effects is the main thing that makes RiffWorks so much fun—the InstantDrummer drum machine. I am a dyed-in-the-wool hater of drum machines, but this one is truly different. Most of the drum patterns are based on samples of live recorded drum grooves. Intensity, variation, ambience, and gain controls enable it to take coaching at least as well as most drummers I've played with. The sounds are fantastic and the grooves—since they're actual recordings—sound way more natural than any other drum machine I've used. Mess around with this thing for a few minutes and you're sure to find inspiration.
There are also a metronome control, REX player, and REWIRE—which is like an invisible cable that streams audio from other computer programs into RiffTracker.
Active help and killer tone
Though I didn't need help at any point during my recording sessions with the RiffTracker, the help file includes a few brief tutorials that are very easy to follow, mostly because the system is so incredibly simple. Even if you've never played a video game or operated a four-track cassette machine, you'll be laying down tracks and building songs inside of a few minutes.
Of course all of this is in addition to the incredible functionality of GuitarPort, which comes bundled with the RiffTracker. GuitarPort gives you gazillions of amp models, cab models, and effects, and also serves as a portal to GuitarPort Online, which has tons of great features including a huge selection of interactive master classes and classic songs recorded by renowned players—with and without the guitar parts.
All in all, the RiffTracker is the most fun piece of technology I've encountered since I got my first wah pedal. It makes recording original music more like playing a video game than the serious work most recording systems make it. I got sucked in from the first time I hit that red button and have spent every spare hour since recording everything from sambas to Sabbath riffs. Bravo Line 6!
Guaranteed to be the most fun you've ever had playing music by yourself!