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Re: VG99

At 11:23 PM -0700 8/28/08, William Walker wrote:
>   So would any one on this list who owns this beast care to shed 
>some light on it. Is it easy to get around on? How's the manual? Oh 
>its Roland, need I ask? How is the modeling? Can you get a dynamic 
>clean sound ala' blackface, can you get a singing sweet  women tone 
> type overdrive with it? I haven't used my GR30 guitar synth in over 
>2 years but I'm wondering if this beast might get me interested in 
>guitar synthesizer and elaborate effects usage again. I'm also 
>fascinated with the possibilities of altered tuning the VG99 offers. 
>Thoughts? Anyone?

Bill, first I just want to apologize again that I didn't get a chance 
like I promised to bring mine over to your place after the LY2k7 
Looper's Brunch, so that you could give it a runthrough.  With a sick 
wife sleeping back in the car, I just couldn't take out any more time 
(not to mention I missed Matthias' demo as well -- drat!). 
Regardless, gomenaisai!

That said, you gotta try one of these out.  First, let's get the more 
disappointing part out of the way: amps.  It's still not a tube amp, 
even though it's got some of the best sounding models out there. 
Some of the models, like the Fenders and Rolands do sound 
outstandingly good, but you're just not going to get that kind of 
push/pull interaction of a real tube (there's a Dynamic function 
which might be used to emulate it, but I've never really gelled with 
the feel of that).  As far as that high-pitched digital graininess 
you've mentioned in the past, I'm not hearing it in any of the amp 
models here, but I couldn't really make that out in my Tonelab 
either.  I'm curious to hear your take once you hear one.  Also, the 
amps squash the stereo imaging of the individual strings on the COSM 
models down to mono (what?!? why???).  Since you've got two 
completely separate guitar modellers in one box, you can get around 
that by making them identical then panning one hard right and the 
other hard left.  But then you've used both modellers just to get a 
stereo effect.  :P

I usually use the amp models more for tonal shaping/EQ (or as 
distortion "stompboxes") than as real amps, although the Fender and 
Vox models are quite nice on clean stuff.  I know more than one 
person who is using the multiple outputs to "split" into a clean feed 
run straight to the board and a line out to a small tube amp.  I do 
that only because unfortunately there are no models in the VG of the 
strange gated boutique fuzzes that I enjoy so much (Devi Ever, 
Lastgasp Art Labs, etc.) so I just put them in a separate line before 
a small external amp.

Second, and final caveat, the presets on this thing just blow for the 
most part.  When I first got it, I didn't think they were so bad. 
But as you dive deeper and see just how cool this box is, the factory 
presets just become more and more lame by comparison.  Aside from 
only about a half-dozen factory patches, Roland really should feel 
ashamed at publishing such crap to show off the box.  Maybe it'll get 
a few more of them sold to the "big hair" guys, but please don't 
judge the capabilities of the box solely on a scroll those.

Okay, with that out of the way, the best point is that the quality of 
the instrument modelling is amazing.  I've also got a Variax 300, and 
I've barely picked it up since getting the VG-99 -- the Roland just 
leaves the Line 6 in the dust.  Not only do most of the models sound 
like what they're supposed to, they also have enough "stretch" to 
sound really interesting when you're building completely new (as in 
"not on this earth") instruments.  Ethnic and folk instruments 
(sitar, dobro, mandolin) are no problem.  The synth models are very 
good as well (even if I do still miss VIO from the original VG-8). 
The GR-300 is very, very cool, but -- to answer the inevitable 
question from the owners here of the original -- it's not the real 
thing.  Still, I've never even had an opportunity to purchase a real 
GR-300, so if I find a model that'll get me 90% there, I'm happy. 
Finally, if one model doesn't work well with what you're trying to 
do, there's a good chance that you can find another one that will 
work better -- even if that's not what it was originally designed 
for.  For instance, when the P-bass and J-bass models let me down, I 
was able to make a great sounding upright bass by tuning the Nylon 
Guitar down an octave and playing it on my fretless guitar.

Speaking of tuning, the alternate tuning section is fantastic.  You 
can retune any string on any model (aside: GR-300 can get a little 
weird here) to plus or minus ~36 steps, IIRC.  While you get some 
munchkinization at the extremes, it's pretty amazing how far you can 
go before it starts sounding unnatural.  Then, there's a polyphonic 
12-string effect that you can add to the alternate tuning, so you can 
easily do things like a 12-string DADGAD.  Also, the 12-string 
section doesn't have to be limited to octaves; you can tune the 
harmony voice on each string to any interval you wish.  Next there's 
a Detune section that will allow you to add thickness to each string 
individually (BTW, you can also detune inside the 12-string section 
without even having to go here).  Finally, there's a intelligent 
polyphonic harmonizer that can be used to retune individual notes to 
match a particular scale/mode (i.e. +3rd Mixolydian, for example).

That latter effect doesn't sound too useful at first, until you take 
model at a standard tuning, then use the intelligent harmonizer to 
keep the harmony voice in whatever key you've chosen.  Or you could 
do this with two completely different 12-strings... with one set to 
Nashville tuning and the other tuned down like a Baritone...  oh, and 
now let's make one a dobro and the other a synth...  So yeah, f you 
thought there might be enough in just the alternate tuning section 
alone to keep you entertained for days, you'd be right.

Next, the polyphonic effects are outstanding.  Of couse, poly hex 
fuzz is always lovely, but I'm surprised at how useful the poly 
compressor is.  And, everybody's favorite, they've finally fixed the 
polyphonic Slow Gear effect so that it works pretty flawlessly.  You 
can get some beautiful swells by setting the fade-in time long, then 
individually swelling and holding each string as you pick them.  My 
only regret here is A: do to CPU restrictions, you can only apply 
poly effects to one of the two models at a time; and B: there are 
some effects in the regular effects section that would have made 
fantastic poly effects, like de-fretter and intelligent 

I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time going through the Effects 
section.  Suffice to say that there's a truckload of them, they can 
be put into almost any order you like, and they sound good.  I will 
mention that if you are impressed by your brother Rick's new Slicer, 
that there are potentially four of them in here (two for each 
available model/effects chain).  Also, you can route your mags 
through the Effects and COSM Amp sections, as well as any external 
device you can plug into the "Normal Guitar" input on the back. 
Also, the VG really shines with the availability of EQ and Gain 
Staging at a half dozen different points on the chain at least.  This 
includes within the model or mag inputs themselves, all the way 
through to the final EQ on the mixer, and an output EQ that can be 
used to tailor the whole box for a particular live venue.  This 
flexibility is especially important when doing clean sound design. 
My only gripe here is that the EQ is a graphic, and I would've really 
liked to see some parametric functionality built in.

Finally, he various controls you have are pretty impressive too.  Not 
only are the D-Beam and Ribbon Controller fun to play with, but you 
can set up just about any function you like for footpedal control 
(this is especially easy with the FC-300, which is very plug-&-play). 
Even if you use a different foot controller, the assignments are dead 
simple, and there's even a computer editor you can use to program 
everything if you're so inclined.  MIDI is okay.  I don't use it much 
(spoiled by the tracking on my Yamaha G-10) but I've heard people say 
that the tracking is not as good as the GI-20.  The one handy thing 
that I do use it for is to record both raw MIDI as well as the audio 
from the VG simultaneously.  Later, if I want to double-track another 
part with the guitar, all I have to pull up that pre-recorded MIDI 
track and feed it into a soft synth or other MIDI sound source.  Or 
additionally, if I'm improvising and later have no clue what notes I 
actually played on a part (yeah, happens a whole lot more often than 
I'd like to admit) I can pull up the MIDI file and read the notes.

However, there's one more nice little surprise hidden in the control 
section: the Wave Pedal.  Roland has implemented a function generator 
that can be effectively used either as a "one-shot" control, or as an 
LFO.  This can be routed to pretty much any function on the box, and 
you can think of it as having an invisible friend with magic fingers 
who can move any of the dials in real time as you play.  You could, 
for instance, route a square-wave from the LFO to the Alternate 
Tuning section, so that you're notes trill between the root and a 
fifth above.  Then you can connect an expression pedal into the rate 
of the LFO, so that you can control the speed of the trill with your 
foot.  That's just a very simple one, but there's a lot of really 
cool possibilities here.  You can apply this same sort of function to 
almost any control on the box.

Anyway, that's enough from me for the moment (wife's yelling at me to 
come run errands).  Hope that gives you at least a little insight 
into this beastie.  Bottom line is that it's very cool and sounds 
very good, and you really need to borrow one for a day or two and 
dive into it.  I think you'd be really impressed.

"when you think your dreams are shattered, it's time to dream new dreams"