Hands-On Review:Easy-to-Use, loaded with hot sounds and ready to jam!

Click here for all products by Roland.
by Jack Straugh

I've test-driven several guitar synths over the years, and all of them can give you a good ride for your money, once you get them figured out. And that's exactly what set the GR-30 apart from the other synths: I installed the GK-2A pickup on my guitar with the double-sided foam tape in less than five minutes, plugged in the GR-30 right out of the box, and was cruisin' down a highway of sonic surprises in no time. It was easy, it was fun, and my guitar seemed like it had been supercharged with the power to produce any sound that ever existed, and create awesome new sounds at will. It was scary.



Roland GR-30 Guitar SynthesizerThe GR-30 is a truly incredible, versatile, accurate and fast guitar synthesizer. I was playing a great Rhodes sound right away without pressing a single button aside from On/Off! Chords sounded full and rich like real chords instead of rhythmically ragged note clusters, and the dynamics were right on.



Equipped with 8Mb of Roland's Best Sounds
I started hitting the footswitches and found myself playing magnificent flutes, muted trumpets, feedbacked guitars, vibes, and more. The slap bass sound was amazing. I never thought I'd find a guitar synth that could play a hip funk bass solo, but the GR-30 can funk out completely.


The GR-30 comes loaded with 8Mb of Roland's newest sounds, which gives you a selection of 384 acoustic and synthesized tones. This includes many newly developed tones such as vintage analog synth, nylon string acoustic, distortion guitar and various ethnic instruments. The patches are so musically useful you'll be playing dozens of songs before even beginning to program new sounds.


After about an hour of exploring sounds, I started to wonder how to access some of the other functions that were labeled for the footswitches, especially Hold, Tuner and ARP/HAR. A quick glance at the manual told me how easy it is -- just press one of the buttons on the GK-2A mounted on my guitar. The Hold footswitch gives infinite sustain, the Tuner button turns the easy-to-read blue display into a hands-free guitar tuner, and the ARP/HAR switch gives you access to two of the GR-30's hippest features: the Synth Harmonist and Arpeggiator.



Click to EnlargeSynth Harmonist Makes It Easy To Create Killer Harmonies
The GR-30 has a cool Harmonist feature that adds harmony to your guitar's performance data. This means you can combine your guitar's sound with a synth sound for three-part harmonies, or use two different synth sounds for other-worldy combinations. The GR-30's synth harmonist accommodates polyphonic inputs, so you can easily harmonize with your favorite orchestra sounds. And there is an Intelligent Harmonist feature that lets you set a song's key so that while you play, the GR-30 automatically creates harmonies that thicken your sound and add another voice to your music. If you're a solo performer, the harmonist is like a faithful accompanist.



Built-in Arpeggiator Automatically Produces Awesome Patterns
If you've never played with an arpeggiator, you're in for a real treat. An arpeggio is the note of a chord played one after another, and that's exactly what an arpeggiator does. Just by holding down a chord and strumming a guitar, the GR-30's arpeggiator produces various arpeggio patterns, such as orthodox three-finger runs or synth-like up-down roller coaster patterns. Arpeggio patterns are available to match all preset patch tones, so there's no messy guesswork. If you insist on creating your own arpeggio patterns, you can easily customize the existing patterns to produce the one that's just right for you. And the arpeggiator can be synced to a MIDI sequencer or rhythm machine (as a slave) via MIDI clock.



Click to EnlargeLoaded With Easy-To-Use Features That Will Take Your Music To New Levels
The most impressive feature of the GR-30 is that it is very easy to use. The four built-in switch pedals instantly access two different functions, depending on what mode they're in, and the mood you're in. First, you use them to select patches, and you can reassign your patches in any order to build performance sets. When you switch the GR-30 to "pedal" mode, the pedals give instant access to four effects: pitch shift, modulation (vibrato), hold of last played note(s) with pickup still active so you can play new notes over held notes. That's a lot of stuff, and I haven't even touched on some finer points of patch programming and MIDI control.



Once you play through the GR-30, it's hard to go back to run-of-the-mill effects boxes. It is just plain fun to wander through the new frontiers of sounds and possibilities. And the GR-30 is made to the highest Roland standards for durability, so you can stomp on it and stumble over it without fear.


But what really matters is what the GR-30 can do for your playing. If you've never played a guitar synth,you owe it to yourself to check one out, and the GR-30 is a perfect place to start. The GR-30 has everything you need in a package that doesn't require a PhD to operate. If you've tried other guitar synths and found them disappointing, or too costly, give this one a try. Musician's Friend will deliver it to your doorstep at the best price you'll find anywhere.



Roland GR-30 Features


  • 28-voice polyphony
  • 384 tones
  • 256 patches: 128 user/128 preset
  • Built-in reverb and chorus
  • 8-segment, 3-character LED
  • Intelligent Harmonist
  • Built-in arpeggiator
  • Connectors: Mix Out (L/phones, R/phones), Guitar Out, Guitar Return, Bank Shift, Expression Pedal, GK In, MIDI (In, Out)
  • Dimensions: 11-15/16" x 10-3/16" x 2-15/16"
  • Weight: 3 lbs. 9 oz.
  • GK-2A Driver (required)
  • Designed for GR-30, 50,1,09, GI-10 and the VG-8. Sends individual signals from each string along with normal pickup output. Super easy to install without tools or modifications.