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electronic MUSICIAN


By Marty Cutler | August 1, 2006

Big Fish Audio''s Raging Guitars holds 11 GB of distorted and processed electric guitar sounds.

Anyone who has attempted to accurately sample, loop, and voice distorted and overdriven electric guitars can attest to the difficulty of the task. Strumming, note bending, and hammering, to name only a few performance gestures, defy MIDI and sampling technology. Undaunted, Big Fish Audio does a creditable job of capturing distorted and overdriven guitar tones, and providing plenty of ways to create realistic performances.

Raging Guitars ($299.95) is an 11 GB sample library driven by Native Instruments' proprietary Kontakt Player. The library contains multilayered electric guitars; sampled articulations; looped, edited, and sliced performances arranged as construction kits; and a variety of sampled artifacts for adding convincing detail to performances. The instruments are sampled with several types and amounts of distortion. Kontakt Player brings additional sound-shaping resources to the table.

Installation, which includes authorization using Native Instruments' Registration Tool, was painless on my dual-processor 1.42 GHz Power Mac G4. In addition to the standalone version, you get plug-in instruments in AU, RTAS, and VST formats on the Mac and DX, RTAS, and VST formats on Windows computers.

This Is Rock 'n' Roll

Raging Guitars won't get you through your next lounge gig; the performances are decidedly not pristine, which is a good thing. There's plenty of grit: accidentally brushed, ghosted notes; notes just a hair trigger away from howling feedback; and in many instances a prominent noise floor. However, there's nothing amateurish about the musicianship; the construction kits go well beyond root-and-fifth clichés to include dissonant and rhythmically assertive arpeggios as well as rhythm-guitar motifs. Some are so distinctive that they could easily limit the user's choices.

The well-thought-out kit setups contain loops on the left side of the keyboard, with individual sliced elements on the right. And with a bit of forethought, you can keep things from sounding canned by adding or subtracting parts to taste. Other patches include AdrenaLinn-style, beat-sliced loops that sync to the host's tempo, a variety of muted guitars with several variations, and chords in a couple of minor and major families. In short, there's a ton of material for building a wall-of-guitars sound (see Web Clip 1).

In a sweet touch, many of the solo instrument patches allow different amounts of vibrato on simultaneous notes. You can't do that with the mod wheel or Aftertouch, and instead, Big Fish uses Velocity-switched vibrato samples. On the other hand, I wasn't fond of the patches that use the mod wheel to switch between picked and hammered notes or to switch from normal to whole-step, upward string bends. The sample map is generous enough to use a traditional pitch-bend wheel without noticeable artifacts to create upward and downward bends and dive-bomber effects. The feedback samples are far more realistic than the typical synthesist's ploy of fading in a sine wave, but the folder of shorted-cable-noise samples will probably appeal only to the truly obsessed.

For the most part, the solo guitars are quite convincing, but because each note is a discrete sample, you can't achieve the growling intermodulation effects of a guitar whose output is the sum of all of its strings. You can, however, use an amp model or distortion plug-in to achieve that effect. I got great results using Apple Logic Pro's Guitar Amp Pro plug-in, although that significantly raised the noise floor of some of the samples.

Picky, Picky

Apart from a single-page explanation of Raging Guitars' patches and how to use them, the HTML-based documentation is cursory. That is somewhat tempered by the simplicity of Kontakt Player's user interface, but a little more documentation would be welcome. A more serious shortcoming is that there is no way to create Multis other than by saving with the plug-in host.

Raging Guitars' anomalous behavior as a multitimbral plug-in instrument was most frustrating. Apple Logic Audio 7.1 often came down like a house of cards when I loaded a second patch into another slot in the plug-in. Reloading a patch in MOTU Digital Performer 4.6.1 often resulted in greatly reduced amplitude despite unchanged track and instrument settings in the host and the plug-in. Construction-kit loops frequently remained on after the host was stopped. Changes in the host's tempo caused the lead guitar to play with comically wide vibrato unrelated to LFO or other settings. Big Fish is aware of these problems and may have a fix by the time you read this.

Raging Guitars is a well-rounded and nicely played library. The plug-in will be exceedingly useful to keyboardists, or even guitarists, wanting to lay down beefy, distorted electric-guitar tracks when the manufacturer addresses the stability and reliability issues. It is unfortunate that these problems hamper an otherwise fine sound library; were it otherwise, I would certainly give Raging Guitars a higher rating.

Value (1 through 5): 2
Big Fish Audio

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