Review of Soniccouture Guzheng - EMusician
Classic Chinese tone for Native Instruments Kontakt 5 and Kontakt Player

A plucked-string instrument from China (and ancestor of the more widely known Japanese instrument, the Koto), the Guzheng has a 2,500-year history. Its strings are stretched over movable bridges set across the instrument's wooden body, and the playing techniques involving fingerpicks used on the right hand. The Guzheng is characterized by a resonant, reedy tone, with expressive changes in pitch caused by pressing, or bending, the strings behind the bridges using the left hand.

To reproduce the lively sonority of this instrument, Soniccouture's Guzheng comes with roughly 2.25 GB of 24-bit, 44.1 kHz stereo samples, including three round-robin samples for each of ten velocity layers. Key-switches at the top end of the instrument let you change between fingerpicking, left-hand plucking, harmonics, and tremolo techniques; your choice is reflected in the Articulations menu. Guzheng loads into Kontakt as a single instrument, with individual patches provided as snapshots.

The Instrument window offers attack and release knobs for amplitude, cutoff and resonance controls for the lowpass filter, and a highpass filter with adjustable frequency only. You can tinker with the envelope response to velocity, reverse playback of the samples, and change the tuning.

Guzheng has a traditional pentatonic scale (D, E, F#, A, B) mapped across the keyboard. Using the Black Keys-4 map, you can position the traditional pitches to play from your controller's black keys, or choose chromatic tuning if you are less concerned about authenticity. The Shift knob can transpose incoming MIDI notes in semitones. If you’ve chosen one of the tuning maps, these will follow your transposition; for instance, choosing the Black Keys-4 setting and shifting upwards by 3 (semitones) will yield F, G, A, C, and D.

Bend Your Ear

Three tabs provide access to additional performance parameters. Bend fine-tunes the Guzheng’s specialized bending capabilities. Unlike most synth and sample patches, Guzheng bends only the last note played, leaving subsequent notes untouched—much like the real instrument. Bend defaults to the pitch-bend wheel and Channel Aftertouch, but you can assign a MIDI controller of choice. Aftertouch, in this case, feels more direct and tactile.

The Tremolo can sound as articulate or human as needed, thanks to the round-robin sampling, as well as the adjustable and randomizable velocity, tremolo speed, and tuning. Strum lets you customize the notes generated when you move the mod wheel; optionally, you can assign a Control Change (CC) message to the Strum knob. You can also click on the keys to determine which notes are triggered. The mod wheel worked well for the effect, as it was a simple matter to control the speed and direction of the strum.

Guzheng has 21 insert effects arranged in series, and you can use up to six at a time. Right-click on any available parameter to assign a CC for modulation. All effects feed a tasty convolution reverb (in addition to the one supplied in the insert effects).

To China and Beyond

Depending on the music you write, a virtual Guzheng may not get as much use as orchestral strings or brass. However, Soniccouture’s imaginative programming takes this instrument on a course ranging from remarkably faithful to totally outlandish. Whether you use it for its evocative qualities or as part of an experimental landscape, the beautifully expressive application of pitch bend and Strums make Soniccouture Guzheng a joy to play.

Strengths: Detailed sampling. Authentic reproduction of articulations. Plenty of sound-shaping tools and effects.
Limitations: Limited envelope controls.

Price: $99

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