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Reviews

«I just HAVE to have that Guitar software!»

by Ted Perlman about RealStrat

I just HAVE to have that Guitar software! I've played guitar for MANY years with just about EVERYBODY in this business, and Real series Guitars by MusicLab are the best I have ever heard that truly emulate a real guitar in Soooooooo many styles. It's almost as good as me :-)

«Amazed at the ease of the interface, and the tonal quality!»

by Chip Shearin about RealStrat

I came across your software, when in need for a guitarist to play steel string on a movie score. Downloaded the software and was able to hit the finish line shortly after. Amazed at the ease of the interface, and the tonal quality! I would swear a first call guitarist was on the session during playback!

Chip Shearin,
Music Director for Justin Timberlake, Marion Meadows and many others,
2010 Rock Hall of Fame Inductee

«Such incredible musical resources!»

by Robert Bobby Martin about RealStrat

 I've been using the RealStrat, RealLPC, and RealGuitar in both live and studio environments, and absolutely loving them both. I also show everyone I work with what I'm using, and they're all amazed at the quality of your products. I truly appreciate your work in allowing me access to such incredible musical resources.

Robert "Bobby" Martin,
Instrumentalist/Vocalist (Frank Zappa, Glenn Frey, Stevie Nicks, Etta James, Michael McDonald)

MusicLab impressed us with the playability and sound quality of their virtual acoustic guitar instrument, RealGuitar — and now they’ve gone electric…

«MusicLab RealStrat»

by Nick Magnus, Sound On Sound magazine about RealStrat

Before the virtual instrument revolution, producing convincing keyboard-generated guitar parts was a rather hit-and-miss affair. Although it was possible to achieve some moderately passable acoustic and electric ‘lead guitar’ performances, given a decent source of sampled raw material and some appropriate outboard processing, it was usually at the expense of the finer details; those ‘guitaristic’ articulations and techniques that add an authentic feel of spontaneity and human interactivity. Altogether much harder to emulate were convincing strummed guitar parts.

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Two hardware MIDI products from the 1990s, Oberheim’s Strummer and Charlie Labs’ strap-on Digitar, made a brave stab at the job by analysing any chord presented at their MIDI input and producing a ‘strummed’ MIDI output, in an appropriate guitar voicing, to drive a target sound source. Of these, the Digitar allowed for true real-time strumming and was the more successful of the two in terms of realism; nevertheless the dark circles under my eyes still remain, testifying to the many editing hours spent bullying Digitar parts into submission. Yet even after all that work, they ended up being buried in the mix to protect their patently artificial nature from detailed examination!

Steinberg provided a groundbreaking solution in 2002 with the release of Virtual Guitarist, a software instrument based on time-sliced, sampled loops of real strummed acoustic and electric guitar performances that could sit prominently in a mix. The greatly expanded and enhanced Virtual Guitarist 2 followed in 2006. Virtual Guitarist 2 is nevertheless based upon a supplied library of rhythm styles which, despite being editable and customisable in a DAW, do not allow for real-time strumming performances.

Russian company MusicLab, in collaboration with Best Service, then raised the bar in 2004 with the first release of RealGuitar, the brainchild of Sergey Egorov. (For a more detailed low-down, see the head-to-head reviews of RealGuitar 2L and Virtual Guitarist 2 in the September 2006 issue of SOS.) Taking a different approach to Virtual Guitarist, RealGuitar is exclusively devoted to acoustic guitars, using discrete single-note multisamples taken at multiple velocities, driven by a dedicated engine that employs MIDI processing not entirely dissimilar to that found on Charlie Labs’ Digitar. Chords played on a MIDI keyboard are re-interpreted to produce authentic guitar voicings which can then be ‘strummed’ in real time, using groups of trigger keys elsewhere on the keyboard. However, Real Guitar goes much further than that, offering a fully polyphonic Solo mode and four different Chordal modes, variously utilising numerous user-controllable ‘guitar performance’ tricks such as fret-slides, hammer-ons and tremolando effects, not to mention keyswitchable alternate articulations such as mutes, palm slaps and harmonics. At last, a highly convincing and playable ‘acoustic guitar’ that could be featured loudly and proudly in a mix without a hint of embarrassment or apology. Users fast became fans, and were almost immediately asking “will there be an electric guitar version?”

Enter RealStrat

It’s a reasonable assumption that in deciding to develop RealStrat, as opposed to ‘RealLesPaul’ or ‘RealTele’, Sergey Egorov settled upon that particular guitar as being a quintessentially iconic, versatile and ubiquitous example of the genre. Unlike Real Guitar, which provides eight different acoustic guitars, RealStrat currently offers only the one sample set, although we’ll have to see whether this is augmented in the future with RealStrat-hosted add-on guitar expansion packs (with alternative GUI ‘skins’ that match specific guitars?), or perhaps Real Strat is just the first of an ongoing series of ‘Real’ electric guitar virtual instruments.

RealStrat requires a VST/DXi host for PC, or a VST/AU host for Mac, and RTAS support is also available for Pro Tools users with FXpansion’s VST-to-RTAS Adaptor (which is available or both Mac and PC). A stand-alone version is also installed automatically. During installation, the RealStrat Bank Manager applet asks you to choose a sample rate for the core library appropriate to your usual working environment: six sample rates are offered, from 44.1kHz all the way up to 192kHz. I installed the 44.1kHz version, which occupies 892MB of disk space; if, however, you subsequently wish to change your DAW’s sample rate you will have to run the Bank Manager applet again to re-install the library of the corresponding sample rate. Once the core library is copied over to your hard drive of choice, RealStrat is ready to rock in time-limited demo mode; to fully activate the product, simply apply for an authorisation code via email, and this will be returned in the same way.

Pattern Manager

Featured on RealGuitar and carried over to RealStrat, Pattern Manager contains a sizeable library of pre-programmed rhythms and picking styles, 1250 in all, and is a derivation of MusicLab’s earlier Rhythm’n’Chords MIDI plug-in. These are categorised according to tempo range, meter and playing technique and cover everything from basic picking and strumming to blues, jazz, funk, reggae and world styles, amongst others.

The PM button opens the Pattern Manager window which is divided into three panes: the folder browser, the file browser and the currently selected Pattern display. Once a Pattern is chosen, simply play a chord on the keyboard and the Pattern plays in tempo sync with the host DAW. Incorporating these within a sequence is simplicity itself; just drag a Pattern from the lower display onto a MIDI track and it appears as one bar of MIDI trigger key data that can be copied as many times as required. Being MIDI data, it can also be edited, so applying different grooves and quantise settings is totally possible. The Pattern data does not include chord information, which you add on a separate MIDI track, making sure both tracks’ outputs are routed to RealStrat. It’s instant, ready-made accompaniment and a potential time saver. However, the pleasures of playing RealStrat are so great that I would opt to ‘roll my own’ every time!

Beneath The Scratchplate

Anyone familiar with RealGuitar will feel immediately comfortable with the RealStrat interface, as the two have much in common. RealStrat occupies around 15 percent more screen space than RealGuitar, due to the virtual keyboard and additional functions required by RealStrat’s Solo mode, which goes into considerably more detail than that of RealGuitar.

The GUI is divided into four areas of interest. Across the centre lies the fretboard, upon which green dots appear when RealStrat is played, to indicate which ’strings’ are ’sounding’. To the right is the pick-position selector, which can be placed in any of 15 positions between the neck and bridge, providing a useful range of tonal variation, and making up, in part, for the lack of a pickup selector.

This composite picture shows the performance control options of the various playing modes (Chords Mode is shown in the main plug-in screenshot).

Above the fretboard, on and adjacent to the guitar body, are a number of controls that are always visible, regardless of performance mode. Strum sets the base strum speed (of chords or any simultaneously played notes) for the whole instrument. This can be modified (as can most RealStrat parameters) with a MIDI controller, and also overridden by longer Slow Strums whenever certain definable conditions are met. Attack has the effect of time-stretching or shrinking the plectrum noise, which naturally affects the apparent latency of the instrument. The default setting of 20 percent seems most effective; a setting of zero, while producing the fastest response, seems to detract something from the sound’s ’physicality’. Release affects the rate at which the strings are damped, as you’d expect. The default of 100 percent is fine for most tasks although fast, über-metal-style passages or trills do benefit from shorter settings for cleaner, smudge-free results, especially when using high amplifier overdrive settings.

Part of the realism behind RealStrat’s sound is the Floating Fret Position, which imitates the way a guitarist changes playing position on the neck. This is indicated by a ’capo’ on the fretboard which automatically follows your movements up and down the keyboard. In Solo and Harmony modes, the button labelled ’Auto’ lets you enable or disable this feature. If disabled, you can ’lock’ the capo’s position by right-clicking on the fretboard, whereupon the top five strings will only play samples above the capo position. The three Chord modes address this differently, as explained later. Two Accent Hi/Lo sliders vary the velocity threshold at which the three velocity layers will trigger, effectively extending or reducing the velocity range over which a specific dynamic layer will play. Like RealGuitar, RealStrat also features a full-time round-robin system that alternates samples for repeated notes. The Alter box offers five choices, the minimum representing three alternating samples, and the maximum being 10. This totally eradicates any hint of the dreaded ’machine-gun’ effect, especially when playing tremolando or fast, Reservoir Dogs-style passages. In all modes but Solo mode, the Hold button substitutes the sustain pedal — in other words, all chords sound for their full duration until they either fade out naturally, or you play a new chord or one of the Mute trigger keys. In Solo mode, Hold works only while at least one key is kept held down, whereupon any subsequent notes will sustain until all keys are released.

At the top of the interface are two groups of drop-down menus. The left-hand group handles output level, EQ, tuning, modulation and general instrument setup parameters. Here you can also choose whether RealStrat will add pitch-bend and modulation to all notes, or only those keys that are currently pressed. The latter option is the default, and is the most naturalistic, as it allows you to bend specific held notes within a chord while the rest are ringing via the sustain pedal. In the right-hand group, the Mixer allows you to balance fret noise, release noise, pick noise, mutes, slow-strum and velocity-switched effects against the main body sound, while the FX Mixer offers further level control of bridge mutes, harmonics, pinch harmonics, slaps and scrapes. Also found here are settings for RealStrat’s own built-in wah-wah effect. This can either be set to respond automatically to your playing dynamics (like Electro-Harmonix’s Doctor Q stomp box) with a choice of positive or negative sweeps; to auto-wah according to the set modulation rate; or be controlled manually via a MIDI controller. If you have a continuous MIDI footpedal that can be assigned to this task, so much the better.

The lower part of the GUI has two areas: one that contains the various performance control options (these change depending on which playing mode is active) and the other a virtual keyboard that shows the range of playable notes in the Main zone (see below), as well as displaying which keys are currently being played. The performance control display is the ’nerve centre’ of Real Strat; an examination of its options for each of the various playing modes will follow shortly.

Basic Performance Technique

The MIDI keyboard connected to RealStrat is divided into three zones: the Main playing zone covers E1 to B4 and there are two Repeat zones above and below the Main zone covering C0 to D#1 and C5 to C7. The playing technique (particularly for the Chordal modes) essentially involves playing notes or chords in the Main zone, and repeating them (i.e Strumming) using the Repeat zone keys, although the exact technique differs somewhat depending on Real Strat’s playing mode. The Repeat keys are subdivided into two tasks: white keys repeat the full sound (in Chordal modes, neighbouring white keys alternate between up and down strums) while the black keys play muted versions of the same notes.

Amplitube 3 Custom Shop

RealStrat comes bundled with Amplitube 3 Custom Shop, a cut-down version of IK Multimedia’s Amplitube 3 Guitar Amplifier simulation plug-in. Judgements on the quality of guitar-amp sounds are bound to be subjective. While the two amp models supplied seem competent enough at the more bluesy or clean end of the scale, I struggled to obtain anything approaching the creamy-smooth leads that an (admittedly non-guitarist) ageing progger like me might gravitate towards. Having said that, the full list of amp simulations and other extras in the full version of Amplitube 3 may well contain the missing ingredients, and a reduced-price upgrade to the full version is available.
 Those on a shoestring budget might like to check out the growing number of freeware amp simulators on the net. Two of my faves are Voxengo’s Boogex (www.voxengo.com) and BTE Juicy 77 (www.bteaudio.com), both quite different, but producing a range of tones between them that complement RealStrat very well.

Solo Mode

As its name suggests, Solo mode allows for fully polyphonic, freestyle playing of single lines, arpeggios, chords or whatever takes your fancy. This features the most detailed set of control options, enabling a vast array of different articulations, noises and guitaristic shenanigans to be activated in various ways. Of the four larger blue boxes shown in the top-left corner of the screen to the left, the left-hand pair govern velocity-switchable articulations and effects. These are selectable from drop-down menus, with independent velocity thresholds for low- and high-velocity effects. When the yellow LEDs are on, these are active; when off, their assigned functions are ignored.

The large box to the lower right offers a substantial list of effects that can be engaged using the sustain pedal; these can either be momentary or latchable, toggling on and off with alternate pedal presses. Sustain itself can be enabled or disabled along with these effects if desired. The upper right-hand box offers a selection of alternative articulations which engage permanently when the box is turned on, and which ignore any velocity-switching settings.

Hammer-ons and legatos are well catered for too; Legato offers smooth note transitions over a two-semitone range, and is very effective for ensuring that two adjacent notes played on the same ’string’ don’t run across each other. Hammer-ons also include automatic pull-offs, their operational range being between one an0d 12 semitones. A separately definable Bass Zone can be toggled on or off, allowing notes within that zone to ignore velocity-switched effects and mute trigger keys, enabling notes within the zone to continue sounding while notes outside the zone respond to all the set conditions.

In addition to these, various functions for the pitch-bender, mod wheel and aftertouch can be selected, with operational ranges for each. Solo mode allows different functions and ranges for upward and downward pitch-bend movements, so you could have, for example, smooth upward whole-tone pitch-bend and chromatic downward ’fret slides’ over five semitones — very cool. Included amongst the pitch-bend options is MonoBend; this bends only the lowest of two or more notes, an effect otherwise known as Unison bend. On discovering this option, I found that uncannily authentic renditions of ’Honky Tonk Women’ and ’Hocus Pocus’ slipped out before I could stop myself! Another nice touch is that the pitch-bend range can be set to half, quarter or even one eighth of a semitone, all especially useful for performing ultra-controllable real-time vibrato using a pitch-bend lever.

If, even after all this, you’re running out of ways to add more articulations, RealStrat keeps on throwing them at you. In Solo mode, the entire range of articulations is available to you via keyswitches. The KS button on the lower far left opens a separate window, listing 33 possible keyswitches (as shown in the screen below) operating across two ranges, C0 to D#1 and D#5 to D6. Each keyswitch has a drop-down menu to select an articulation or effect, and each one can be individually enabled or disabled. Three LED switches to the left of each keyswitch determine whether that particular effect will be momentary or togglable, have sustain (hold) added or simultaneously function as a normal Repeat key. Thoughtfully, RealStrat allows any keyswitch setup to be saved as a preset, so even the most involved setups can be easily recalled. By now you’re probably wondering what these various articulations are. The list is too long to detail in its entirety, but a glance at the keyswitch screenshot on the left shows the vast majority. Slaps, bridge mutes and harmonics are here of course, along with violining (swells), tempo-synced trills and tremolandos, pinch harmonics and chucka-wah noises. You can even add feedback, at any of six selectable pitches, at the press of a trigger key! The intriguingly named Sustainer extends the length of held notes by overlaying an additional swelled version of the same note each time the trigger key is pressed. The Scrapes articulation is actually a complete multisampled collection of one-shot effects including squeaks, squeals, wibbles, scribbles, divebombs, plectrum scrapes and general full-shred guitar mayhem that add a genuine sense of grunge and attitude — barking mad and brilliant! If there’s an articulation not included here, you probably don’t need it.

Chord Mode

Identical to the mode of the same name in RealGuitar, Chord Mode is the place to come when you want to strum. RealStrat can detect 26 different chord types, the name of the current chord being displayed just above the fretboard. As hinted at earlier, the Floating Fret (neck position) behaviour is slightly different to Solo mode: it can either be set at one of four fixed positions or set to track your keyboard position. The capo does not (visibly) track the keyboard as you play, but you can manually position it by right-clicking the fretboard on any fret to override the current chord position. The capo’s position can also be moved using a MIDI controller, making for a very flexible arrangement.

The two number boxes named ’Strings’ allow you to restrict the number of strings sounding, so, for example, an upper setting of one and a lower setting of four will only allow the upper four strings to play — invaluable for avoiding the muddiness of full, overdriven six-note chords in a busy mix. A switchable Chord/Bass option enables major- and minor-triad chords to be rooted by any bass note; for example, a chord of Bb-C-E-G sounds like a C chord over a Bb bass note, rather than being interpreted as a C7 with the Bb at the top. One velocity-switchable effect can be assigned from a choice of slow strums, slides up or slides down. Every setting here can be altered using MIDI controllers, so many subtle variations can be programmed with precision into a sequencer.

Other Modes

Bass & Chord Mode is similar to Chord Mode, but in this case the C5 and D5 trigger keys play the root and fifth (or occasionally the third) of the chord, while only the top four strings are strummed (or fewer, if you alter the Strings# value. The Bass Mono setting prevents the root and fifth bass notes from over-running each other, which lends itself to tidier results. This is the perfect mode for country and western stylings or that wedding party version of ’Mull Of Kintyre’.

Bass & Pick Mode has a performance control panel that’s nearly identical to that of Bass & Chord Mode, but requires a completely different playing technique to the other Chordal modes. Here, the six trigger keys C5 to A5 each trigger one of six ’virtual strings’. While holding a chord in the Main zone, the six trigger keys are played in a finger-picking style, just as if they were the actual guitar strings. The Add-on String Keys selector box determines the function of the black trigger keys from C#5 to A#5. These can play mutes, as in the other playing modes, or, alternatively, if you select Unison they can duplicate the ’full’ note that is one semitone above, facilitating easy performance of tremolando on one string. Even more interesting is the Chromatic setting, whereby the black notes C#5 to G#5 sound one semitone down from the next-highest white note (A#5 to C6 move progressively one semitone higher), leading to some very pleasing and often serendipitous chord voicings, without changing chord shape in the left hand. Dreamy, chorused Genesis-inspired arpeggios, anyone?

And finally, Harmony Mode. This is RealStrat’s simplest mode, and is essentially a one-finger power-chord generator. Six preset power-chord intervals are provided, together with the option of velocity switchable upward or downward slides with configurable velocity threshold, slide speed and range.

Conclusion

I unequivocally love this plug-in. The range of sounds obtainable using various amp simulators, effects and general guitar-oriented processes is seemingly endless. From sparkling, LA-style compressed and chorused arpeggios to full-on metal and down ’n’ dirty blues, RealStrat just works with them all. Techniques such as unison bends, legato fret-slides and hammer-ons, which were so difficult and time-consuming to contrive using my former methods, are a breeze and sound totally convincing now; so much so that I feel compelled to revisit a particular ongoing album project and replace all my previous guitar emulations with RealStrat — it really will make that much difference.

If any criticism at all could be levelled at RealStrat it’s that it sounds so unmistakeably like a Stratocaster that some may hanker for the earthiness of a Les Paul or the manicured tones of a Paul Reed Smith — but the label does say ’RealStrat’, and that’s just what it does.

So does this mean that I will no longer be needing to hire the services of real guitarists? Not at all! But when push comes to shove and budgets are non-existent, I can load up RealStrat and know that the results, although a mere caricature of what a good player would provide, will be far from embarrassing.

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MusicLab, the editor of RealGuitar, has released RealStrat, a virtual instrument that uses a combination of samples and in-house technology to emulate the sound and feel of the illustrious Fender model.

«Real Fake Strat»

by sleepless about RealStrat

The fundamental differences in playing techniques between keyboard and guitar have been one of the major issues whenever trying to program realistic guitar parts.

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To compensate for these problems, there are several solutions: for instance, you can use loops that include markers and information about time stretch and pitch shift (in ACID, Rex or Apple Loops formats), or use audio files with software like Melodyne, when the audio engine isn’t already included in the virtual instrument (Liquid Instrument by Ueberschall, for instance). You may also play in real time or program parts with sampler libraries such as Prominy, Vienna, Sonic Implants, etc., which have become more and more convincing thanks to new possibilities offered by scripts (such as in Native Kontakt). You can also use dedicated virtual instruments such as Virtual Guitarist, Slayer, ManyGuitar, Strum Acoustic GS-1, Acoustic Legends HD, DirectGuitar 2.0, Chris Hein-Guitars or RealGuitar.

The latter has been a kind of pioneer, including Rhythm’n’Chords technology, which allows you to create realistic rhythmic parts with its blend of sophisticated chord recognition, MIDI files and samples. RealStrat is the second instrument that uses this concept.

Presentation

On the DVD, you’ll find the RealStrat installer, a demo version of Real Guitar and Amplitube 2 Duo, an OEM version of the IK Multimedia amp simulation program, offering 2 amps, 2 preamps and EQ, 2 cabinets, 2 stomp boxes (Wah and overdrive) and other refinements, usable as a plug-in or in standalone mode; in short everything to fine tune the RealStrat sound. Installation is an easy process (if you’re using Leopard, you’ll have to download a patch). At the end of the installation, you will be prompted to set the Bank Manager, which installs the library according to the specified sample rate(s). You can use RealStrat in demo mode for one month, after which you’ll have to register. The editor will send a special file by e-mail (rlst.key) which unlocks the software. You’ll also find the serial for Amplitube Duo in the e-mail.

The software has three windows, the first being the instrument itself, the second gives access to the pattern library (PM button), the last is dedicated to the Keyswitch settings (KS button). Functions are accessible through pull-down menus or pop-up windows. The instrument window is divided into two parts: above, the guitar neck are the various parameters and sub-windows. Underneath, you’ll find MIDI parameters, access to the patterns and KeySwitches and other options.

You’ll start by setting your audio and MIDI interfaces. Then, in the upper left side, Output will let you set the output level and apply an EQ (Low and High). Though volume adjustment can be useful, you’d be better off not touching the EQ… The Tune window allows you to set the instrument tuning and Modulation (with optional Sync). Setup give access to several parameters, the most important being Chord Detect Time. It’s up to you to make your own settings, according to your playing technique (in particular the way you play chords sequences). On the right, there’s the Mixer and the respective volumes for the noises and sounds that add to the instrument’s realism (fret noises, release, pick, mutes, etc.). It’s the same with the FX Mixer, handling muting, harmonics, etc.

RealStrat also includes a well designed Wah-Wah. It offers 4 control modes, via MIDI CC, in Auto mode (positive or negative) or via modulation, with settings for frequency, MIDI CC number, filter slope, modulation etc. If you play it with the Mod Wheel or even better with an expression pedal, it works fine…

Below are settings for strumming speed, attack and release. In the center, in addition to info on chords and parameter values, are two buttons: Hold (the chord is held even if you’ve released the keys) and Auto (which activates the virtual capo). Finally, on the left you’ll find settings for Accent (adjusting the various velocity thresholds) and Alter which defines the number of samples used for repeated notes, thus avoiding the machine-gun effect.

Library


Solo Mode

The library loads automatically when you open RealStrat (the library is 948MB in 48kHz). You can choose between 15 pick positions, that are a kind of compromise between the different sounds achieved by the mic selector and the place where you hit the strings. The result seems to be a blend of samples and Filtering/Eqing. More can’t be said since Sergey Egorov, “father” of RealStrat, has remained silent on his industrial secrets. The library is of good quality, since every note has been sampled from every fret of each string. You’ll hear all the sonic qualities of a real Stratocaster, such as the well-known “twang”, even if the library can’t compete with huge libraries such as SC Electric Guitar by Prominy, for instance (64GB, 123000 samples…). However, the concept isn’t the same.


Harmony Mode

In Direct mode, you can play all the sample sets, from Full Sound to Mutes, Bridge Mutes, Harmonics and Pinch Harmonics and various noises (Slap, Scrapes, Release and Fret), by just switching from one MIDI channel to another. If you can create and set a multi-instrument in your sequencer, you’ll be able to select the sounds much faster without the need to load the plug-in X times on different tracks, and recording them in successive passes using the different channels.

Each mode uses a keyboard that is divided into three zones, with chord recognition and access to the six strings, the alternate notes, strums, mutes, etc. Each mode offers a Main zone (between E1 and B4), which is dedicated to chord recognition and chromatic playing, and two command zones (from C0 to D#1 and from D#5 to G6 on the plug-in keyboard, but really from C-2 to D#1 and D#5 to C7 in reality). These allow you to play with various programmed techniques: once the chord is recognized, you can trigger up and down strokes, arpeggios, different strumming according to velocity and mutes. Generally, the white keys are Repeat keys (which trigger played notes or chords) and black keys are Mutes. To add even more realism, almost two octaves (from C-2 to A#-1, called Strokes) trigger extra playing techniques: various up and down-strokes, different mutes, chromaticism, etc. All you have to do is record the song harmonies and then after (or simultaneously) apply the various techniques.

On the right are the typical MIDI parameters: velocity curve, Pitch Bend, Mod Wheel and after-touch. These allocations vary according to the selected Mode. Among the most interesting, we can cite the Pitch or Mod Wheel MonoBend, where only the lower note (or the first bent and held note) of a chord will be modified and the Feedbacker, accessible via aftertouch, which adds the same note or its fifth on two octaves (three for the fifth). We don’t know if it’s sample or synthesis based, but it’s really impressive when used with an amp simulator. You can also allocate the wha-wha, the Open Strings triggering or the Chucka (muted chords, perfect for “ghost” rhythms) to an expression pedal.

Special Features

Let’s detail the triggers that are specific to each mode: in Solo mode, you can access two different sounds via velocity (harmonics, mutes, palm mutes, tremolo, slide, wah, violining, chucka, repetition, etc.), set the Legato by half and whole tone intervals, trigger a sound via a sustain or switch pedal, specify a zone for alternate bass playing…

In Harmony mode, you set the interval added to the played note (octave, two octaves, upper fifth, lower fourth, Power Chord 1 or 2), with an effect triggered by velocity (Slide Up or Down).

In Chords, you select the desired inversion (I to IV) or a rendering of what you are playing on the keyboard (Kbd knob). The latter sometimes causes some unreal chord changes. You define how many strings are played (from 1 to 6) and you still have the velocity triggered effect option (Strum or Slide). In Bass & Chord mode, there are the same inversion settings, but on only five strings, the sixth being dedicated to the bass line note. Alter Bass alternates fundamental and fifth and with Bass Mono you won’t be able to play two notes on the same string. In Bass & Pick mode, settings are the same, with the exception of the number of strings.

The Solo mode is strangely enough a… polyphonic mode, which lets you play chords or melodies. The chords will sound as played on the master keyboard, but will benefit from a guitar sounding inversion if triggered by the Repeat keys. If you allocate various playing techniques to Keyswitches and activate them (small yellow LED) and the KS mode (KS knob), it’s relatively easy to emulate realistic solo phrases in real time. Or by programming them if you’re not a good keyboard player. One nice detail: to quickly check what is active or not when in KS mode, if a Keyswitch is activated, a LED is added to the corresponding key, that key becoming blue when the Keyswitch is used. Please note that the KeySwitches are available in Solo mode only.


Bass & Pick Mode

Three triggering modes are available: Toggle (the KeySwitch remains active even if the key is released), Through (which allows the key to act as a KeySwitch and as a Repeat Key simultaneously) and Sustain (which adds the sustain possibility to the KeySwitch). MusicLab has done a great job on these features: you can activate the three modes at the same time, and the implementation has been done according to guitar playing limitations: you will not be able to do a bend on an open string or make slides from a note to another on two different strings.

Another strong point is the Floating Fret Position feature. You can place a virtual capo on the first five strings (right-click on the guitar neck), which is really handy when you only have a small MIDI keyboard. If you click on the Auto button, the capo will automatically place itself according to what you are playing. When manually activated, it doesn’t allow you to play under the capo limit.

Playing chords


Chord Mode

Even though the Solo and Harmony modes let you create realistic guitar parts, RealStrat is at its best when it’s time to emulate chord playing. For that purpose, the editor has included the chord recognition and rendering modes: Chords, Bass & Chords and Bass & Pick. RealStrat perfectly analyses the chords played on a keyboard and above all places them as a guitarist would play them. This ensures an authentic “feel” with typical guitaristic inversions, repetitions and omissions of notes. RealStrat can detect 26 chord types which are detailed in the. PDF manual, with information about mandatory and optional notes to use for correct analysis.


Bass & Chord Mode

Even if all chords aren’t recognized, it’s easy to use chord substitutions, and to limit the number of strings in order to avoid unwanted notes. It works quite nicely, and the chord and note monitoring on the virtual neck (big green spots) helps to better understand a real guitar. In Chords mode, RealStrat can play four different inversions, thanks to Chord Position (from I to IV), not including the Kbd option. Once the chord is recognized, you can play it with the Repeat keys, whose velocity determines the number of strings that are used. With proper aftertouch, modulation and KeySwitch settings, you can make surprisingly realistic rhythmic parts, all the more so since every parameter can be automated, you can change crucial settings in real time to cover any scenario (change inversion II to IV, for example).

The two other modes separately handle bass and chord notes and extensions. In Bass & Chords, the Repeat keys play the chords on five strings and you can alternate the bass notes. In Bass & Pick, white keys from E5 to C6 correspond to the six strings and allow you to play arpeggios, while black keys trigger a Unison (different sample) or a lower chromaticism. Thus you can play folk or country or any other rhythmic figure that would hardly be convincing if directly played from a keyboard. Here, with Repeat and Unison keys, it works right away.

Groove library

Another RealStrat asset is the Rhythm Pattern Library which covers most musical styles. These MIDI files, lasting one to eight measures, send a series of notes to the Strokes, Repeat and Mutes zones, thus forming complete rhythmic parts (strum, mute, arpeggio, etc.). Since RealGuitar2, the library has been included in the plug-in’s interface, which not only allows you to find the appropriate pattern immediately, but also to use it right away, even if you’re using the standalone version.

You click on PM to launch the Manager window and on Pattern if you want to activate the pattern, which starts to play as soon as you hit a chord or a note on the keyboard. 19 styles are available, each divided into three to nine sub-families, each one of the latter including several variations: the library offers 1250 files. These files can be used in every mode of RealStrat, since they only gather trigger events, which remain the same from one mode to another. The result will of course be different if you are in Solo or Chords mode.

The Pattern Manager interface allows you to play the file at normal speed (set by the host or by a cursor in standalone), as well as double or half-speed. You can also adjust the velocity (fixed or according to the one sent by the keyboard), or assign it to the Pitch Wheel for continuous change or randomize several settings. The quality and realism of the patterns are variable, however the concept works perfectly, some rhythms are really amazing. Generally, you may regret that the quantization is a bit too stiff, meaning that you will have to tweak the trigger notes in your MIDI editor.

Of course, the main interest of this library is that you can use it in your favorite DAW. There, everything is possible. First, you export the MIDI file by a simple drag’n’drop (velocity settings are included). You can then modify everything, from the velocity to the quantization and change some trigger notes, and therefore playing techniques. You can also create you own patterns by combining Repeat, Mutes and Strokes trigger notes, then import the pattern into the Pattern Manager (in the specified folder). The. PDF manual gives the complete Strokes nomenclature as well as the complete automation implementation.

The library’s concept, the number of MIDI files and its modification and creative potential make it one of the most powerful tools dedicated to guitar rhythms, if not the most powerful, as there’s no limit other than the user’s imagination to create new patterns in a very simple and easy way.

In Conclusion This nice sampling job done with a real Strat, even if it can’t compete with gigantic libraries, allows you to meet the needs of most scenarios, whether it’s creating rhythmic backgrounds or creating solos. The strength of this plug-in is undoubtedly it’s versatility and flexibility thanks to the trigger zone concept. Bends, mutes, repetitions, slides, hammer-ons and other playing techniques are perfectly implemented and triggered. The versatility of the groove library also allows you to quickly pick up a pattern, and then make all kinds of changes, with a whole set of commands and variations. Anyway, this plug-in’s strong point is in the creation of rhythm. This time, no demos, but we invite you to check the editor’s site where you’ll find audio and video examples.

It’s really hard to find something to criticize: Both concept and technical achievement are near perfect. RealStrat does what it is supposed to do perfectly without any bugs. The sample library may sound a bit cold, needing the help of an amp simulator. Fortunately, MusicLab has partnered with IK Multimedia and offers Amplitube Duo. RealStrat can also benefit from experimentation with various plug-in combinations, since the samples are really raw. You will need some practice to achieve convincing real time performances as well as to program personal patterns.

Before concluding, let it just be said: RealStrat will never replace a sensitive, inventive musician and his guitar… Having said that, RealStrat is unquestionably the best virtual instrument dedicated to a Strat electric guitar. It’s a real instrument, playable, modifiable, and not just a simple loop player or sample library. You can use it to quickly record background tracks, to easily lay down rhythmic ideas or the basis of a song, and even final tracks if you take the time to refine your sequences.

[+] Concept
[+] Stability
[+] Ease of Use
[+] Powerful and accurate chord recognition algorithm
[+] Strokes
[+] Floating Fret
[+] Total automation
[+] Realism of the sound and of the playing techniques
[+] 1250 MIDI Patterns
[+] Amplitube Duo as a bonus

[-] May sound a bit “cold”
[-] Needs an amp simulator (luckily, there is one…)
[-] No finger-picking samples
[-] No new MIDI patterns

/p

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