Overall Thoughts on Guitar Rig 3

Someone asked me a while ago whether Guitar Rig 3 is worth getting over other software. I try to avoid making sweeping generalizations, but I have become quite familiar with the software so I decided to offer my thoughts in an uncharacteristically general way.

Guitar Rig 3 has an amazing effects compliment, owing to the fact that nearly everyone at Native Instruments are synth guys who are really hot shit at making effects. Hence the big range of NI synth software. Every single effect in the program is useful. When they are modeled after a specific thing, they get it right; when they are making a new effect, or modifying one from another one of their programs for use with guitar, they do it perfectly. The modifiers (MDF modules) also give synth-like control over all of the guitar effects in the program, which gives you the capability to do things that have never been done before with a guitar.

As far as the amp models go, they are all workable, but they are not all great. Some are fantastic, some are pretty mediocre. The cabinet simulation isn’t as good as Amplitube 2 and the rest from IK Multimedia, or ReValver MKIII. That said, as with any of the other programs, it’s partly a matter of getting used to it and figuring out the tricks that work well. I’ve had some great tones out of Guitar Rig 3, and if I was stuck on a desert island and all my other software got destroyed in the shipwreck, after I quit crying and missing Amplitube and ReValver I would still be able to make music with good tone. But it definitely isn’t my first stop for amp models.

My favorite models in Guitar Rig 3 are the ones that were added with the third release. I absolutely love the Ultrasonic (Uberschall model), and the Citrus (Orange of some kind, I forget what exactly) is an amazingly ballsy classic rock kind of amp. I also can’t get over how good the HiWhite (Hiwatt) model sounds for getting that special tone between clean and dirty. The small Fender that they added is a fun addition because one of my favorite amps to plug into is my Fender Champ 600, and the GR3 version gets that tone down pat. Other than that, well, I think that their Gratifier model is a pretty good Recto, though both Amplitube 2 and Amplitube Metal have better ones (Dual Rec in A2, Triple Rec in AM) with much better cab simulations. I once did an experiment to see if using a third-party cab sim that I knew sounded good would help Guitar Rig 3’s amps sound better, and in nearly every case it did. Exceptions would be the Ultrasonic Cab and the Hiwhite cab. Those are both solidly done. The Gratifier cab isn’t bad either, but it’s pretty telling that it’s easier to get a good high gain tone out of the Gratifier when running it into the Ultrasonic’s cab. And for the clean amps in general, the cab sim is less problematic. It’s really only when you get some crunch or distortion going on that some of the cab sims start to show their deficiencies by way of comparison to other programs.

Guitar Rig 3’s amp models are functionally static. What I mean by that is that you can’t mess around with how the amp itself is “built.” You can adjust some parameters in the power section of the virtual amp, mess with the bias, response, and it also gives you a VariAC control to adjust the voltage, but you can’t, for example, use one preamp with a different power amp. Amplitube 2/Metal/Jimi Hendrix all give you separately chosen preamp, tone stack, and power amps, which you can mix and match to build your own amp; and with Amplitube X-Gear, you can use preamps, tone stacks, and power amps from any amp that it models in any of the programs interchangeably to make some really neat hybrid designs. ReValver MkIII gives you deep circuit control over what kind of tubes you’re using in every slot, and what their internal parameters and character are; it gives you the ability to change the power amp, use a different kind of power supply, change the transformer… And in addition to that, it also gives you both fully built amps, or preamps and power amps that are individually selectable, for all of the amps that it models. So Guitar Rig 3, though it does allow some tweaking, doesn’t really hold a candle to the flexibility of the other programs.

The interface of Guitar Rig 3 is simple and intuitive, but simultaneously flexible and deep. That’s a good combination. There are tools provided to split the signal in very interesting ways, beyond just doubling it. For example, you can use a split-frequency split-signal, which allows you to set a frequency above which the signal is sent down one path, and below which it is sent down another. Like the MDF controls, this (and other unique and flexible routing and control options) is a feature which will be greatly appreciated by experimentalists, and probably just either daunting or useless to folks just looking to plug in and get a good tone quickly.

The Noise Reduction module in Guitar Rig 3 is the best. Period. ReValver MkIII has a good, multi-band noise reducer that allows you to dial in the NR to your specific needs; Amplitube 2 and the other IK products have a quality noise reduction built in as well. But Guitar Rig 3 wins for having the most transparent, flexible, and user-friendly noise reduction technology. You insert the NR module at the start of your signal chain, you mute your guitar’s strings with your hand, and you hit “Learn” on the NR module. Boom, you’re now noise free but when you play everything comes through loud and clear. ReValver MkIII requires a bit more adjustment, and Amplitube 2 etc. are adjusted manually. They both work fine when you learn how to use them. Guitar Rig 3’s NR has no learning curve, so it takes the cake there.

Another thing that can’t be overlooked is the huge patch library. Every program comes with patches, few programs come with good patches, fewer programs come with many good patches. Guitar Rig 3 has a bunch of really useful patches, most of which sound good nearly right out of the box with only very minor tweaking to make up for your guitar’s nuances.

One last thing worth mentioning is that GR3 isn’t very processor intensive, even in its Hi-Q mode, even with lots of delays and reverb, dual signal paths, whatever. The more you’ve got going on, the more it uses, but even with my old AMD Barton 2800+ computer with one gig of RAM I never ran into any trouble with Guitar Rig 3.

So, Guitar Rig 3 pros/cons:

Pros

  • Outstandingly modeled effects
  • Unprecedented, synth-like control allows totally new directions with the guitar
  • Some excellent new amp models
  • Great, flexible routing options
  • Excellent noise reduction
  • Big patch library with useful patches
  • Easy on the CPU, even when you’ve got a lot going on

Cons

  • Overall quality of the amp simulations is less impressive, primarily due to…
  • Comparatively lackluster cabinet simulation for some of the amp models, especially dirty ones.
  • Lack of amplifier customization puts it behind the other programs that I use in my studio in terms of flexibility and customization

Whether it is worth getting over other software depends in exactly what you emphasize. Even if all you care about is amp modeling quality, I think anyone could make do with it, and given some time to dig deep and figure it out, go beyond just making do. If what you really want is effects and the flexibility to use them in unheard-of ways, this might well be your first choice (though you should also consider ReValver MkIII, which has a VST host module internal to the software, letting you pretty much do whatever you want limited only by your collection of VSTs). The answer for me is to keep it in the studio alongside the other programs, which have many comparably high-quality effects, generally much better cabinet simulation, and remarkably better amp models on average. I am not demo’ing programs together, but I do use them together when recording, depending on what kind of sounds I’m going for. That isn’t a realistic option for most people, and I understand that. Hopefully, over the course of this thread as I populate it with more clips, in-depth reviews, comparisons, etc., people will have a good resource to make the tough decision for themselves. I don’t own any software which sucks. All of the programs I have, and that list again is available in the post I linked at the top of this one, are extremely useful creative tools. I wouldn’t use them otherwise. So if you’re asking me to recommend a piece of software over another, I can only tell you to use your ears and make the call yourself. Obviously, I couldn’t, or I wouldn’t have all of them!

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