FIG. 1: Cakewalk Guitar Track Pro 3''s Mix view offers a fully featured and familiar-looking mixing console that displays 32 audio channels, 8 buses, and 2 aux buses.
Cakewalk has updated its Guitar Tracks Pro software to version 3, creating a real contender in the audio-only multitrack wars. Version 3 boasts a new Loop Browser for Acid-style functionality; a navigator pane, allowing you to view a project in its entirety; a Tempo Map for creating tempo changes; and completely reimagined Edit and Mix views. These new features are among the changes designed to increase the application's capabilities and ease of use.
Don't let the name fool you into thinking that this application is limited to guitar-related uses. Guitar Tracks Pro 3 (GTP3) is a fully featured 32-track audio recording, editing, and mixing application. It can record and play back up to 24-bit, 96 kHz audio. It can import and adjust the tempos and keys of Acid loops. It comes with DX effects and can also use VST effects with the integrated Cakewalk VST-DX adapter. GTP3 can export songs in WAV, WMA, RealAudio, or (using an optional encoder) MP3 formats. Moreover, the Edit, Mix, and Loop browsers are just as effective with a full band, a string section, or vocals as they are with guitar tracks.
GTP3 features some extras that are geared toward the guitarist, including the LE version of IK Multimedia's guitar-amp simulator, Amplitube. The seven effects that Cakewalk designed for GTP3 are ones generally found in a guitarist's rack or stompbox collection, and encompass a tuner, an echo unit, reverb, delay, and chorus. The effects interfaces look like rackmount effects found in pro guitar rigs. The well-done demo song is a hard-rocking guitar affair. Unfortunately, GTP3 has no tablature interpreter or similar guitar-specific function.
LEAVE MIDI AT THE DOOR
Perhaps one reason that guitar-tab functionality was left out is that score and tab functions often involve MIDI. Except for compatibility with a number of popular control surfaces, such as Tascam US-428, CM Labs MotorMIX, and Roland U-8, GTP3 is a MIDI-free zone. A Generic Surface option can be used with most control surfaces, but other than that, there is no MIDI capability in GTP3. That can be confusing, because GTP3 allows you to instantiate a DX or VST instrument (DXi, VSTi) on an audio track, but it offers you no way to play them. According to Cakewalk, GTP3 works with most popular guitar-processors that have a MIDI out, such as DigiTech's popular RP and GNX models. That allows guitarists to operate the GTP3's transport controls and even punch in and out while keeping both hands on their axes.
Cakewalk points out that the lack of MIDI, which many guitarists and audio recordists don't want anyway, tightens the focus and ease of use considerably. GTP3 is designed squarely to be an audio recording and editing application, and plug-in-instrument compatibility enables the use of audio inputs and soft-instrument filters. In keeping with its audio-recording focus, Cakewalk provided useful professional features such as SMPTE time-code generation for locking to standalone hard disk and digital tape recorders and envelope-based (non-MIDI) automation of mixer and effects parameters.
FIG. 2: You can arrange and edit the audio and Groove Clips for your project in the Edit view.
GTP3's focus pays off. The application does an excellent job of organizing its functions into a single window. The Control Bar — with transport controls, song display, locators, and view modes — is always visible, although you can place it at the top or bottom of the window. You also have the option of switching the Navigation Bar — which displays an overview of all your tracks and their position in the project — on or off. Additionally, you can use the Navigation Bar to zoom in and to move in the Edit view. Finally, you can switch the middle of the window between the two main views in the application: the Mix view and the Edit view.
The Mix view (see Fig. 1) consists of a straightforward Sonar-like mixer. You can view tracks 1-16, 17-32, bus and aux tracks, or all of your tracks at once. The nonadjustable size of the mixer strips enables 16 tracks to fit across the width of a 1024 × 768 monitor, so the various view options make perfect sense. There are no key commands to switch between mixer views. The mixer has 32 audio channels, 8 buses, and 2 auxiliary buses. In the Mix view you can choose any available hardware input as the input for a track, and you can choose any available hardware output or any of the eight available buses for the track's output. You can assign the two aux buses to any of the available hardware outputs, buses, or auxiliary tracks. The auxiliary send knobs can be either pre- or postfader.
GTP3 has as many as 32 effects per song. These can be distributed among tracks in any way you want — there is no per-track effects limit. GTP3 has plug-in delay compensation on all tracks during playback, so if you use DSP cards or third-party plug-ins with high latency, you don't need to worry about sync. You can easily add effects to the insert field by right-clicking on them — a convenient feature.
The mixer has all of the standard DAW controls and functions and is laid out logically according to the signal chain, with the input at the top, the output at the bottom, and the other controls where you'd expect them. The individual playback meters are accurate, but they create a drain on CPU efficiency. If you find that your project is straining your CPU, the manual recommends that you turn off meters to gain back some CPU cycles. You can automate volume, pan, send-knob, or plug-in edit moves by right-clicking on the control and selecting Arm for Automation. GTP3 also has snapshot automation of these controls.
Click on the Edit view button on the Control Bar, and an arrange-style edit screen, with tracks listed on the left and each track's audio waveforms displayed on the right (see Fig. 2), replaces the Mix view. The Edit view allows you to arrange, split, cut, paste, and draw automation envelopes on your audio clips. You can adjust the vertical zoom of each track, and you can horizontally and vertically zoom in on one or more tracks for precise editing. The Edit view has a comprehensive list of musical notation and audio/project-related Snap-to-Grid options, from note divisions and markers to zero crossings. You can also disengage Snap-to-Grid completely for freeform editing. Finally, the Edit view offers an array of metering options, including meter source (record, playback, and bus), meter type (Peak, RMS, or Peak + RMS metering), and meter alignment (horizontal or vertical).
The Edit view features a “smart” cursor that changes function based on its location. At the center of a clip, the cursor becomes a pointer for selection or grabbing. Move the cursor over a clip-envelope line or node, and the cursor changes to a crosshair for operating on the envelope instead of the clip. At the center edge of a clip, the cursor takes the shape of a small box and will expand or reduce the size of your clip (unless your clip is a Groove Clip, which is explained in the next section). A cursor at the top edge of a clip becomes a triangle, indicating that the cursor can draw fades (either fade-ins, fade-outs, or crossfades, depending on whether you are positioned on the right or left edge of the clip).
Guitar Tracks Pro 3 has an intuitive Loop Browser (see Fig. 3), which can be opened regardless of your current view. GTP3 is fully compatible with any Acidized loop (which Cakewalk calls “Groove Clips”). You can audition your loops directly in the browser. In the Edit view, you can drag them straight onto a track in your project. You can also audition loops while the project plays back.
Loops will always play at the current project tempo, regardless of the loop's original tempo. Once on your track, you can repeat (loop) the Groove Clip by dragging it from its center edge. This is a wonderfully intuitive way of looping — I wish that Cakewalk allowed non — Groove Clips to be repeated in this fashion. I also wish that for multiple monitor setups, you could open either the Mix or the Edit view as a floating window.
Guitar Tracks Pro 3 is simple, powerful, and intuitive. Its well-organized layout keeps window switching to a minimum, and its feature set is streamlined and well implemented. The program is rock solid — it never crashed on me during a month of use. If you want a user-friendly yet capable PC application to record band rehearsals, live gigs, or a bed of loops, look seriously at Cakewalk's affordable Guitar Tracks Pro 3 application.
Orren Mertonis the author of Logic 6 Power (Muska & Lipman, 2003) and GarageBand Ignite (Muska & Lipman, 2004).
Minimum System Requirements
Guitar Tracks Pro 3
PC: Pentium III/800 MHz; 128 MB RAM; Windows 2000 or XP; 100 MB free hard-disk space
Guitar Tracks Pro 3
digital audio sequencer
FEATURES3.0EASE OF USE4.5DOCUMENTATION4.0VALUE4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Intuitive layout. Full-featured mixing console. Plug-in delay compensation. Great loop browser. Useful effects. Control surface integration.
CONS: Mix and Edit screens can't be opened in separate windows. Key commands not editable. Mute function can't be automated from Mix view. Mixer channel strips can't be resized. PC-only.