On Guitar Rig 4, value, and what software is right for you

Overall impression remains the same. The amps have improved but they are not top of the heap – they are however competitive with many other companies’ software to the point that if you can’t find a sound you like in Guitar Rig, the sound might not exist. I have to be honest, I am not in love with the Hot Plex at all. I think the revamped regular Plex sounds better for everything. I do however quite like the new Jump amp, and think it compliments the JCM800 model nicely with a different sound and feel but a similar inherent range. The Hot Plex seems kind of redundant with the Plex model having been revamped… Boost the Plex with the Gain Booster, adjust the advanced settings a bit, give it some fatness in the bass and you’ve got the Hot Plex model more or less. I’ve tried to give it time to grow on me but I just can’t get any sounds that really speak to me out of it. The only thing I haven’t yet tried is running a strat into it – traditionally I have loved the sound of a single-coil equipped strat into a cranked ripping Marshall, so that might be the key. I’ll try it tomorrow. I’ve had no such identity crises with Jump, that one is my style for sure! Great sounds on its own, very dynamic and responsive to your touch, and it boosts well. I look forward to the Cool Plex and seeing how that differs from the regular and hot Plex models.

The effects are overall great despite a few mediocre ones; the Spring Reverb for example sounds good enough used subtly but gets sort of spastic and inauthentic at higher settings, the oktaver has problems (bug problems, they’ll fix that I’m sure)… but on the whole the effects are very nice. The list has to be the ones that aren’t kickass, for me, because most of them are. The pitch-based effects apart from the (probably bugged, again) oktaver track more quickly and with less glitchy artifacts. It’s possible now to do something not unlike the EHX POG with the Whammy emulator, and the Psychdelay’s pitch function can do the Eventide Crystals algorithm aping better than ever. Which is good because I like that 🙂

The new Control Room cabinet sim had a lot of shock-and-awe factor for me when I first used it because, man, that’s a big improvement! But that’s worn off a bit now. I still think it’s the coolest method of in-program cabinet simulation I’ve ever seen, and contributes a much greater degree of realism to the sounds than ever before in Guitar Rig. I would buy a Control Room plugin if they added some more cabs to it to round it out a bit more but kept the quality and consistency the same. I wish I could afford the time of whoever it is that did those impulse recordings, because that guy knows how the hell to mike up a cab. That said, even though it’s simplified and streamlined, it still takes some work and an ear to get the right cab sound for the track. And there’s a subtle complexity to it since you now have the ability to (and hence the responsibility to understand) bringing in many mics on the cabinet at once… Too many cooks in the kitchen ruin the soup, and while liberal usage of the various sliders can give you some great “in the room” sounds out of your monitors, you’ll probably find yourself having to remember that in the end you’re going for a specific, miked up cab sound and being a bit more surgical in your approach once it comes time to fit the sound into a broader mix context.

The new matched cabs are better, too. So good on them for that, since there are still going to be people who want to just load it up and go. I don’t think Guitar Rig is the best sim for people with no desire to tweak, though they certainly go very far with thoughtful, comprehensive and non-threatening documentation, extensive preset libraries and other things like that to make it as pain-free as possible to new users. It’s just that so many of the cool sounds you can get – the ones that sound like you, the ones that come from your head – require getting under the hood with the advanced settings on the amps and effects, and more precisely adjusting the cabs (even throwing some EQ/filters in where necessary to sculpt the tone more fully). Still, they make it easy to test-drive with all the ease-of-use features, and all that horsepower will be waiting for the user when he or she is ready.

Integration with Rig Kontrol is more complicated than it used to be as far as the “control” menu goes, but it is very easy to integrate with Rig Kontrol using the graphical representation of it, just drag and drop what you want.

I don’t like the new module preset manager. I just don’t think it’s any kind of an improvement over the old one. I guess it makes having more presets for a module easier on the eyes, but it’s also a lot easier to accidentally delete a preset and then it’s just gone for good – and it’s also quite possible to accidentally add a duplicate module when you’re just trying to change its preset. These are not workflow improvements.

I have always been in love with the flexibility of Guitar Rig and this continues that tradition excellently, if anything the advanced routing options now are even better than before.

I’ve got some stuff to think about to put all my thoughts into a more concise review for Frugal’s publication format, but these have been my general impressions. Thanks everyone in the thread for helping me think it through, bouncing stuff around, etc.; in the end I am more comfortable recommending Guitar Rig as someone’s comprehensive solution than I have ever been before, and the apparently common choice between Amplitube or Guitar Rig is now harder whereas it used to be easier (not trying to discriminate against other software, here, that’s just the question and comparison I see posted about over at KVR WAY more often than anything else – you’d think it was class warfare between IK lovers and Native fans or something, haha). They’ve got the improved amp and cabinet simulations to thank for that above all else, but all the other factors play their part as well. Even though the amps haven’t closed the distance, they’re getting there and they’ve caught up to where the competition started really getting great… all while building on advantages they’ve enjoyed in other areas.

You can’t forget that IKMM, Overloud, and Waves are no slouches when it comes to effects. IK’s process in modeling their amps translates to their effects, too, with great results; Overloud has an awesome stable of profoundly useful tools. And Waves is Waves, of course they’ll have well programmed effects. But Guitar Rig 4 brings to the table a neat level of customization and “beyond modeling” tweakability that sets it somewhat apart (in addition to the easy integration with its controller, though that is by no means exclusive these days since IK released the StealthPedal interface/controller).

A reader asked me what my favorite amp modeling software is. I can’t answer that. I know that I use a lot of X-Gear in my studio, it’s one of my first stops on the tone journey for a given piece. But it’s not exclusive at all. I mix and match, taking what I want from different things. Guitar Rig 4 is great in that for the first time, really, they’re offering what I am willing to call a truly professional and high quality sounding PACKAGE. Previously the amps were a mixed bag, some very nice but some mediocre, with sub-par cabinet modeling rounding out the dud at the center of an otherwise powerful effects and routing platform. Now they’ve corrected their biggest weaknesses and it makes the package of Guitar Rig 4 a better bargain. But IK’s doing a pretty damned impressive promotion… and Overloud and Revalver are priced competitively, too, not to mention the drastically lower price of Studio Devil’s recently released comprehensive Amp Modeler Pro suite.

And as much as it pains me to admit it – as a reviewer, this really is hard to say – the best thing you can do is test these programs for yourself. Listen to my words and my clips, because they’ll give you some context and maybe even some guidance as to how to get sounds that you’ll like. If you hear something that piques your interest, download the trial and see what you can feel from it. There are several considerations that all matter when you’re test-driving software. Some say ONLY sound matters. I see the merit in that but I think that work-flow and an intuitive user experience are salient factors as well. After all, a great sound that takes an hour to find might not be better for your needs than a good sound that you can dial in within a few minutes. And work-flow isn’t something that someone else can tell you, either. Whether the software “thinks like you do” is a big part of how you’ll get along with it, and whether you’ll find it useful and inspiring to your musical creativity. Having had experience with all the software that I have, I’m actually in a pretty poor position to judge work-flow just because I’ve familiarized myself with all of them to the point that they’re close to second nature. I can guess how a new user will approach a product but I can’t know for sure. That’s where trials and your own brain and ears come in.

So I guess if you wanted me to pin down my position this post won’t be very satisfying. On the other hand I hope that you can see why I find it difficult to explicitly come down heavily in favor of this or that. I will do everything I can to arm you to make a smart purchasing decision. I will listen to your requests and try to meet them, I will offer clips and commentary and reviews as thoughtfully as I am able. But I’m me, and you’re you. After you read what I’ve got to say and hear what I’ve posted for you to hear, I want you to keep on thinking about it and try the software out for yourself. Software is unique in that regard – you can’t audition a pedal or a rack unit in the same way that you can software, in the comfort of your studio, unrestricted for however long. So take advantage of that, and let my work be part of answering the question. I want to facilitate your decision making, but you are the decider 🙂

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6 Responses to On Guitar Rig 4, value, and what software is right for you

  1. Dave Thomas says:

    Hi the Jeff, I downloaded the demo and installed it but I havent tried it out yet, I was kind of hoping to just plug and play, I guess I was been a bit naive thinking they had sorted out the presets so they just sound good and you dont have to tinker. Still bummed out on guitar havent touched it for a week now.

    I was hoping the hot plex would give you a great creamy sustaining lead sound; one sound I havent managed to get close to is Marty Friedmans and Jason Beckers sound from around the Cacophony era and there first solo albums, if your familiar with that stuff maybe you could give me some pointers…

    Apparently Jasons album Perpetual Burn was recorded with a “Marshall”? from one or Martys students and a Boss SD1 hence my fasination with sort of gear, I think he also used Carvin amps at one time and an ADA preamp too… anyway I digress, great review, look forward to the Frugal review too.

    D.

  2. geareview says:

    Did you ever check out my Pro Tone Jason Becker Distortion review or post? It’s a pedal but it is designed to get the Perpetual Burn sound (and others besides, but as his signature pedal it’s aimed at that first). I have a clip I did of Bark At The Moon where I play the guitars using that pedal. It’s sort of silly but you can hear it in action.

  3. Dave Thomas says:

    I never checked that out, I’m a bit wary of Signature Models, I will give it a listen though.

  4. Dave Thomas says:

    I actually like the hot plex!

  5. geareview says:

    I’ve heard others describe it as “just like a hot-rodded Plexi, warts and all” – I guess I’m just too much of a fan of modern distortion, with its mix of an overdriven preamp and some power amp dirt. The Hot Plex is like MEGA power tube dirt with some rather bassy preamp dirt contribution. It’s a different era in gain. Which is funny because my THD Univalve is all power tube distortion, but its transparent preamp and bright, present tone shaping means I don’t ever hear anything farty or fat and boomy like the Hot Plex can be for me.

    Hot Plex sounds GREAT with singles though, I can get some rad Hendrix tones with it like that.

  6. Dave Thomas says:

    I agree, I wouldent use it for metal but for for me it sounded really natural for Hendrix stuff, I dont have a guitar with singles but the neck pickup on my Dean ML sounds great!

    I havent been able to get that good a high gain sound yet, i only really flicked some presets and tinkered around a bit, Its a lot quieter than V3. I dialed in your high gain sound and thats more where I want to be tone wise, I think I have gotten used to using too much distortion and find it hard to dial in a lower distortion sound…

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