Acoustic rhythm guitar parts aren't easily played from a keyboard. Guitaristic chord voicings can be finger busters when laid out on a keyboard, to say
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MusicLab''s RealGuitar re-creates realistic guitar parts with authentic voicings. The onscreen fingerboard illustrates the chord positions in real time.

Acoustic rhythm guitar parts aren't easily played from a keyboard. Guitaristic chord voicings can be finger busters when laid out on a keyboard, to say nothing of the nuances of tone and articulation that most sampled guitars lack. MusicLab's RealGuitar 2L ($239) is a sample-based software instrument that does an impressive job of creating guitar parts and adds clever new techniques for triggering performances from your MIDI keyboard.

RealGuitar 2L is the flagship of the RealGuitar product line, which also includes RealGuitar 2.0 ($159). The latter has the same feature set as RealGuitar 2L minus its Pattern Manager and Pattern Library.

RealGuitar 2L runs on Mac OS X and Windows 2000 or XP. On either platform, it runs as a standalone application or as a plug-in (AU or VST on OS X and DX or VST on Windows). I tested it with a dual-processor 1.42 GHz Power Mac with OS X 10.4.6 and 2 GB of RAM. I opened it in Apple Logic Pro 7.1, Granted Software Rax 1.2.3, MOTU Digital Performer 4.6.1, and Ableton Live 5.02.

Take Your Pick

RealGuitar 2L comes on a single CD-ROM that includes the software and eight sampled guitars. You can choose to install the various guitars at 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, or 192 kHz sampling rates. Thanks to the included Bank Manager mini app, the settings are easy to change at any time afterward. You also get a Quick Load button that buffers a portion of the samples, significantly reducing the RAM requirements and the size of loaded files. The samples are played back through RealGuitar 2L's custom 32-bit sound engine.

The sampled guitars include two steel-string acoustics, played fingerstyle and with a pick; a doubled steel-string; two nylon-string guitars (one picked and one fingered), and a 12-string. So many sampled 12-string instruments are merely 2-layered 6-string guitars tuned an octave apart, but RealGuitar's 12-string is accurately voiced, with the bottom four string pairs tuned in octaves and the B and E string pairs tuned in unison. The various guitars are detailed and warm, and contain every playable note of the instruments they're sampled from.

Despite the relatively small file size of the various sampled guitars (290 MB was the largest), they all reacted nicely to dynamics and conveyed subtle, seemingly random variations in tone — even when I looped a bar of step-entered 16th notes with the same pitch and Velocity. Attack transients shifted slightly from note to note, authentically simulating up-and-down pick strokes.

Call My Manager

The Pattern Manager accesses a library of strums and fingerpicking styles in Standard MIDI File format. When played through RealGuitar, they are no longer a static set of MIDI Note Numbers but instead move with the chords you hold down on the keyboard. RealGuitar maps the notes to proper guitar positions on the fingerboard, as the virtual fingerboard illustrates.

The library contains a generous collection of stylistically authentic patterns for such genres as flamenco, R&B, rock, pop, folk, and country. Both strumming and picking patterns are included.

RealGuitar 2L offers many easy ways to perform realistic strumming, guitar fills, solos, and more (see Web Clips 1 through 3). Buttons for strumming modes let you modulate from open- to closed-position chords. In most cases, you create authentic strumming parts by holding down a chord with one hand and tapping a single key rhythmically with the other. A separate set of keys lets you perform muting techniques.

To further enhance the realism, you can assign key, pedal, and Velocity switches to create hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. You can hear a small amount of stepping in the slides, but that is the natural by-product of slides performed on a fretted instrument. You can control the speed and maximum interval of the slide. Depending on which key you strike first, you can slide up or down, hammer on, or pull off.

You access other sound enhancements from virtual knobs on the guitar display. These include faders for fret noise, release sounds, and pick transients. You also get built-in controls for tremolo and chorus. The thorough, user-friendly documentation includes an HTML-linked set of videos that illustrate basic performance techniques.

Getting Real

As a single-string lead instrument, RealGuitar 2L is considerably better than most other sample-based guitar emulations at evoking picked, monophonic lines. It also effortlessly outdistances its competition for solo fingerpicking and rhythm guitar emulations.

There is a lot more to explore with MusicLab RealGuitar 2L than this short review can cover, so I recommend that you download a demo copy at MusicLab's Web site.

Value (1 through 5): 4