This online bonus material supplements the review of Vital Arts Plectrum in the February 2008 issue of Electronic Musician.
In 1995, Roland introduced the VG-8, the first in its series of virtual guitars. Designed as a floor unit, it boasted emulations of acoustic and electric instruments from the guitar family, as well as a unique batch of synthesizer-like sounds. You could play any of them from any guitar equipped with a divided pickup that supported Roland''s 13-pin cable.
I was an early adopter of the instrument/processor. I was thoroughly in love with it, especially after Roland released version 2 firmware, which delivered additional synth models and real-time pedal control of pitch-shifting. On my banjo, I always loved the concept of Scruggs tuners (which stretch strings to preset intervals, like pedal steel guitars do), but I hated the idea of taking my fingers off the fretboard to use them. Likewise, I always felt that the notorious B-Bender apparatus popularized by Clarence White and Gene Parsons introduced needless physical motion into the pitch-bending process. With the update to the VG-8, I could finally wring expressive pedal steel–like riffs from my guitar using a footpedal, without unnecessary gestures or painful surgery.
The heart of the VG series is a synthesis technique that Roland calls Composite Object Sound Modeling (COSM). With the aid of a divided pickup such as Roland''s GK-3 ($199), COSM reshapes the output of individual strings into a variety of instruments, both emulated and fanciful. Part of the beauty of this system is that unlike MIDI guitar, the VG easily conveys typical guitarist tricks such as playing artificial harmonics and adjusting your picking hand''s position to change timbre—even with some of the synth patches.
The VG-99 lets you build custom instruments with custom tunings, place virtual pickups at odd angles in physically impossible locations, and alter the tone in countless ways. A good part of its programming menu is icon driven, making the editing process far less daunting.
I always enjoy creating sounds without the distractions of wading through someone else''s parameter choices. Sadly, the VG-8 and its successor, the VG-88, had no feature for initializing patches. Unfortunately, the VG-99 still does not have that capability; however, Roland does provide an excellent Mac and Windows editor, and that has patch-initialization capability. The software''s attractive graphical user interface reflects the hardware''s intuitive programming interface.
The VG-99''s MIDI capabilities are equally evolved. The unit furnishes a full-blown guitar-to-MIDI converter, and it also supports MIDI Control Change (CC) messages. Any maneuver you make with the D Beam, ribbon, or foot controllers transmits MIDI CCs. When you record tracks into a sequencer, the captured data can affect modeling engine parameters (such as filter frequency or resonance) upon playback.
As a MIDI converter, the VG is fast and accurate. As with any MIDI converter, you need to take the time to adjust the string sensitivity and Play Feel, which is essentially a group of preset Velocity curves.