Steinberg Virtual Guitarist
Virtual Guitarist ($249.99) is a pair of VST plug-in instruments developed by Wizoo and marketed by Steinberg that merges over 1.5 GB of acoustic and electric guitar samples with a sophisticated MIDI playback and processing engine. Virtual Guitarist plays realistic guitar picking patterns that follow your sequence's tempo and meter as you trigger specific chords on a keyboard or other MIDI instrument. The notes you play — either complete chords or only one or two notes — tell the plug-in exactly which samples to play.
Virtual Guitarist comprises two separate VST instruments, Virtual Acoustic Guitar and Virtual Electric Guitar. Each plug-in contains a diverse collection of sample sets called Players. Each Player lets you choose from eight patterns called Parts. Each Part plays back the samples in a different order. The patterns have been sliced up to facilitate playback at different tempos and, by omitting slices, different meters.
The collection of Players covers a wide range of musical styles, including rock, heavy metal, funk, folk, blues, boogie, and country. Each Player uses a suitable guitar and, if the guitar is electric, a complementary amplifier. Guitars range from Martin D-35, National Duolian, and Landola acoustics to Fender Strat, Fender Tele, Gibson ES-335, and Les Paul electrics. The collection is consistently well played and recorded.
Stacks of Chords
Available chords are dependent on which Player and which of three Chord Sets (ECO, MID, or XXL) you select. Virtual Guitarist's chord vocabulary covers major, minor, 7th, and sus4 chords in every key. The larger Chord Sets also include diminished, 6, +5, -5, m7-5, and 7 sus4 chords, but no 11 or 13 extensions. Virtual Guitarist always displays the current chord.
Patterns were recorded in all keys and with many variations, including riffs and fingerpicking patterns, fret noise, muted strings, and hard, soft, fast, and slow strumming in both directions. You can control various aspects of playback — shuffle, loose or exact timing; note decay; double or half time; dynamic range; and so on — using onscreen controls or MIDI commands. Virtual Guitarist's playback engine responds to Velocity, and you can trigger pattern variations with MIDI Control Changes or by playing a specified octave on your MIDI controller. To keep the pattern playing after you release the keys, for example, MIDI CC 64 (Sustain) enables Latch mode.
Virtual Guitarist isn't difficult to play, but note that individual Players respond to your playing in different ways. To get the most out of Virtual Guitarist, you must become familiar with the way each Player is mapped to the keyboard. Some are so picky that I had to edit the trigger notes in my sequencer, but Virtual Guitarist's Chord Quantize feature helps to minimize errors.
If you don't want to use the Parts provided, you can access an alternate playing method on MIDI channel 16, but the technique takes a lot of coordination. Playing the left side of the MIDI keyboard selects the chords, and playing the right side triggers individual sample slices. Using that method might prevent your guitar parts from sounding like everyone else's.
You can apply a high-frequency Enhancer control and Low Cut filter to acoustic Players and a Presence control and Pickup Selector to electric Players (the pickup's second position is a filtered version of the recording). Although Virtual Guitarist also provides a comb-filtered Stereo Width control and an automatic doubling effect, it's more effective to set up two variations of the same Player on different channels panned left and right.
With a reasonably fast computer, you can use Virtual Guitarist in any PC- or Mac-based digital audio sequencer that supports VST instruments. I tried it in several Mac programs, including Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo, Emagic Logic, and MOTU Digital Performer. Digital Performer requires a third-party shell program to run VST plug-ins; the latest version of Audio Ease VST Wrapper (3.0.18) is the only one that successfully passes the tempo and meter information from Digital Performer to Virtual Guitarist.
With care, Virtual Guitarist can sound quite credible in a mix. It's also useful as a writing tool, as a source of temporary guide tracks, or as a foundation that you'll later augment with real guitars. Virtual Guitarist is a unique and well-implemented software instrument that fills a definite need.