Although my main instruments are keyboards and percussion, I've always been fascinated by guitars. I recently took one down from the rack at my local music-gear superstore, held it to my body, visualized perfection — and played a poorly fingered E-minor chord. Maybe some day I'll sit down and learn to play; for now Yellow Tools' Pure Guitars ($149.95) does a pretty good job of fulfilling my jones for an acoustic guitar.
The collection is available on CD-ROM in Akai/E-mu, Giga, or Emagic EXS24 sampler formats. For my review, I used an E-mu E6400 Ultra sampler with 128 MB of RAM. Pure Guitars favors quality over quantity. The collection presents seven extensively multisampled guitars: Nylon Concert, Nylon Spanish, Steel Pick, Steel Fingered, Steel Jumbo, Ovation Piezo, and 12-string. There are also sets of chords from the Ovation and 12-string and two multisamples of acoustic bass.
Take Your Pick
The bulk of the sounds share a refreshingly regular layout; the sound designers were clearly well organized. All of the main programs take up 32 MB and use five levels of Velocity switching: soft, medium, loud, hard attack with string buzz, and a bend up to the root pitch. Most include a separate harmonics program with two-way Velocity switching, along with 60 or 70 FX Samples of string scrapes and body knocks — pretty hefty stuff.
Rather than resorting to loops, Yellow Tools captured the full, natural decay of all of the instruments. Samples are usually mapped to cover a few half steps, keeping pitch-shifting artifacts to a minimum. The samples are close-miked and in mono, resulting in an intimate but rather dry timbre. For best results, add a touch of reverb.
Up for the Down Stroke
Almost all of the programs sound great — they're expressive and fun to play. Steel Jumbo has a sweet, round tone, possessing a steely tone without being overly bright. The nylon programs are open and pure, with Nylon Spanish offering a slightly fuller tone than Nylon Concert. The Ovation Piezo harmonics are really neat, with a timbre that straddles the line between acoustic and electric. The wild, organic character of Aggressive Acoustic Bass would be perfect for rootsy rock. I have other sets of sampled chords — some including distinct sets of samples for up and down strokes — but Pure Guitars' 12-string chords are the best I've heard. A three-way Velocity switch adds to their realism.
Still, the collection isn't completely perfect. Several samples have clicks at the end, which usually show up when holding down the sustain pedal. The clicks were easy to edit out, but I wish that they weren't there in the first place. Also, one program had a gap in its complex Velocity map, such that a Velocity of exactly 123 would play no sound at all.
Pure Guitars' great samples, strong organization, and playability overshadow those few weaknesses, especially because of its reasonable price. I recommend it to anyone who needs to create realistic acoustic-guitar parts with their samplers as well as to keyboardists who just want to sit down and strum every once in a while.