Soundware newcomer Vintaudio has just released its first offering, Giga Clean Electric Guitars ($134.95 including shipping). The four-CD set includes samples of a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Custom, a 1958 Fender Stratocaster, and a Godin Artisan.
Vintaudio's collection includes four presets: the bridge and neck pickups on the Les Paul and the bridge pickup alone on the Strat and Artisan. The samples were recorded chromatically at three Velocity levels and extend for the full sustain of each note without loops. The decays sound very natural and even include an occasional fret buzz — a nice touch. All the samples were recorded dry, so you can process them as needed. The basic tones are excellent, though I wish other pickups from the Strat were offered.
The Note Spread
All three guitars were sampled at different positions on the neck: open, middle, and high. The samples include sustained picked notes, muted notes, hammer-ons, and slides. (The hammer-ons and slides are all whole steps.) Curiously, the slides layer is referred to as “swells” in the documentation.
Eight key switches are used to select the various articulations and neck positions in real time. That adds a nice expressive element to your sound palette. It's easy to get the sound of chords being played at the fifth fret area as opposed to open position, for example. All eight key switches are mapped to the lowest octave of a full-size keyboard, a range that isn't accessible if you play on a 61-note synth keyboard. In that case, you can transpose your keyboard down an octave to gain access to the key switches, or you can remap the key assignments with the GigaStudio Instrument Editor.
Tracks and Bumps
To find out if a sampled instrument really works, you must use it in a musical context. So, starting with the Strat, I added some guitar parts to several tracks that I was working on. If you play chords that emulate guitar voicings, you can definitely get realistic-sounding parts from the Strat samples. One thing I noticed with the Velocity switches in the Low Neck samples was a drop in volume when switching from the medium Velocity layer to the highest Velocity layer. It's more apparent as you play higher up the virtual neck. That doesn't happen with the other neck positions of the Strat (or with the other instruments).
I also discovered that several of the notes are not quite in tune (a common problem in guitar sample libraries). The tuning discrepancies appeared occasionally among the sample layers of a single note as well as with notes in relation to other notes. You can fix the problems in the Instrument Editor and save the results as a new preset, but that's a lot of work.
The Les Paul sounds nice and fat, especially if you run it out to an amp or a Line 6 Pod Pro for some “attitude” adjustment. The Godin Artisan is a nice addition to the set. Its tone sits somewhere between the Les Paul and the Strat. Both guitars exhibit some of the same tuning problems as the Strat. (According to Vintaudio, the samples were all carefully tuned and any discrepancies are inherent to the instruments.)
The hammer-ons and slides work well in many contexts but are tempo dependent to some degree. All four instruments have a bit too much release in the amplitude envelope for my taste. They work fine when you're playing chords, but the notes may overlap a bit too much when you play melodies, especially when playing fast.
All in all, the Giga Clean Electric Guitars library is a useful set of nice-sounding instruments. The printed documentation is minimal; a short Read Me file on the CD offers a little more information and a key-switch map. The minor tuning flaws could be fixed with a bit of effort, making this set even better, and the modest price tag is especially appealing.