Hands-On Review:Cakewalk Guitar Studio 2







by Dominic Hilton

We were more than a little impressed with the original Cakewalk Guitar Studio package, reviewed in these pages last January. And why not? Capable of working with any guitar and serving up 8 tracks of CD-quality digital recording along with a heap of effects, features and backing rhythms, Guitar Studio lets you turn your domestic PC into a sizable chunk of Abbey Road? all for the price of a decent stomp box.



Now those software genies at Cakewalk have managed to accomplish something Hollywood has failed to do for decades: produce a really kick-ass sequel. Guitar Studio 2 ($199) is the much-anticipated upgrade to the original version, and it certainly delivers the goods, with twice as many audio tracks, four times as many real-time effects, TAB notation and much, much more. Best of all, like its predecessor, Guitar Studio 2 works with any guitar, making it perfect for the many of us who haven’t yet made the conversion to the higher-tech world of guitar synthesizers.



For digital audio recording, Guitar Studio 2?s minimum requirement is a Pentium 166 processor with 32 megabytes of RAM running Windows 95/98 or NT sp3, and a sound card. If you have a MIDI interface or a MIDI-compatible sound card, you can take advantage of many of version 2’s MIDI features.



As with the original Guitar Studio, the upgrade features an intuitive screen layout with pop-up windows that deliver loads of visual feedback. The natural starting point is the Session Drummer, a self-syncing virtual drum machine that offers hundreds of patterns for a wide range of musical styles. Simply feed in your chord changes, and the Session Drummer automatically produces an intelligent MIDI backing track from its huge list of drums, percussion and instruments. Select a pattern in the style of your choice, click play and you’re ready to compose, practice scales or just jam. When it comes to laying down your live tracks, the Console View offers assistance in the form of a virtual mixing desk, with knobs, buttons and sliders, just like the real thing.


In addition to displaying the tracks on a color-coded storyboard, Guitar Studio 2?s Track View function can display guitar parts (including seven stringers, open tunings and standard and multi-string basses) in standard tablature and TAB notation, and in real time on a virtual fretboard. Version 2 even lets you choose from left- or right-handed guitars and ebony, rosewood or maple fretboards. In this mode, music can be input manually or via a MIDI guitar controller (Guitar Studio loves Roland synth/pickup systems).



Perhaps the most impressive feature of Guitar Studio 2 is its ability to handle 16 tracks of simultaneous audio playback. Along with this advance, the upgrade offers 16 simultaneous real-time audio effects, including more than 100 DirectX plug-ins for chorus, delay, reverb, chorus, flanging, eq and pitch-shifting. Guitar Studio 2 also includes the Amp Sim Lite plug-in, which offers amp emulation effects, and Cakewalk?s Session Drummer collection of MFX MIDI plug-ins, which include an arpeggiator/strummer and chord analyzer.



And the list goes on. All of this just scratches the surface of what’s on offer here. A few cozy nights with the online documentation would quickly unearth such treasures as comprehensive video support, an integrated guitar tuner and the option of producing hard-copy transcriptions of your songs, complete with lyrics and chord boxes.



For home recordists stuck in the convergent evolutions of hard- and soft-technologies, this system offers an affordable and sympathetic comfort-zone. The mouse/fretboard interface gets the work done painlessly, with standardized MIDI files and an open choice of recording media minimizing hassle. You can even save work as .wav or RealMedia files for those transatlantic Internet collaborations.




We were impressed the first time with this guitarist-friendly software, and now we’re well, very impressed. The only conceivable drawback to Guitar Studio 2 is the amount of megabyte-munching muscle on offer: 16 tracks of digital rock a go-go could give your PC a Pentium hernia. Then again, with a program as powerful and inexpensive as this, a little upgrading of your hardware will still cost less than a multitracker, effects rack, drum machine and sequencer