Not everyone owns a collection of high-end acoustic guitars. For that reason, Vir2 Instruments offers Acoustic Legends HD ($299.95), which provides a diverse collection of acoustic guitars with distinct tonal characteristics, so you can choose an appropriate instrument for your music. As a bonus, other fretted instruments are included, such as mandolin, acoustic bass guitar, and banjo. All told, the library amounts to 19 GB of 24-bit, 96 kHz stereo samples distributed over three DVDs.
Acoustic Legends HD comes in AU, VST, and RTAS versions. Installation is simple and relies on Native Instruments' new NI Service Center. It’s convenient, but you will need Internet access and a fast connection. I put Acoustic Legends HD through its paces on my dual processor Mac G4 with OS X 10.4.8 and 2 GB of RAM.
Acoustic Legends HD uses Native Instruments Kontakt Player 2 (KP2), which eliminates the need for multiple, dedicated standalone applications: libraries using KP2 can launch within a single, multitimbral instantiation. If you need to edit the sounds in greater detail, you can load the library into Kontakt 2. The KP 2 interface bears a strong resemblance to its full-featured Kontakt 2 sibling, albeit without user access to the latter's powerful script-creation and sampling features.
Nonetheless, Acoustic Legends HD gives you a performance-oriented layout with a number of important controls at your fingertips. The parameters you can tweak vary by instrument, but the most common ones belong to reverb, EQ, and stereo width. Most of the conventional guitar patches give you control over the release rates and level of fret noise, whereas the chord banks do not offer decay controls.
One of the most challenging guitar techniques to reproduce with a keyboard is a convincing strum. With that in mind, Acoustic Legends HD offers a bank of strummed chords, including muted strokes for rhythmic variation. Key-switches let you access different chord inversions and a relatively generous set of chord qualities, such as major, minor, major-seventh, and half-diminished. If you need to change keys, a built-in capo function limits the range of low notes and inversion choices, just as a real capo would when placed on a guitar.
The Xtra Special bank is for players who are less insistent on authenticity. The bank contains guitars mutated into pads, tempo-synchronized arpeggios, and just plain weird and rude sounds. I appreciate some of the rhythm-oriented, tempo-synch patches, but many of the other patches strike me as filler.
Appropriately, the conventional instruments sound like their sources: the Gibsons are brassy with a prominent midrange; the Martins and Taylors sound bright, detailed, and full; and the fingerpicked Lowden 025 is sweet and mellow (Web Clip 1). The two main guitar folders break down into picked (presumably with a flat pick) and fingerpicked instruments. However, I question a couple of the instrument choices therein. For example, The Gibson J200 is a natural for fingerpicking, yet there are no fingerpicked Gibsons at all in the collection. I would have preferred the Martin D-35 as a picked, rather than fingerpicked instrument. In all fairness, these are reflections of my own taste, rather than rules set in stone.
Although steel-string guitars predominate, the collection does offer a couple of nylon-string instruments played with a pick and fingers. In addition, the Xtra bank contains some decent banjos, ukuleles, and a nice mandolin tremolo patch-thankfully, with a uniform tremolo speed across the keyboard. Nice sounding variations are available throughout the library, including key-switched instruments with slides mapped to alternate keys or key-switched chord inversions. The bank of harmonics has some nice material, especially the J200 harmonic chords patch (Web Clip 2).
A typical problem with sampled guitars is the unnatural uniformity of timbre. In real life, an up-stroke on a guitar often sounds different than a down-stroke, and a strum may not occur in the same location over the instrument's sound-hole, resulting in significant timbral variation. Although I noticed nothing in the documentation overtly mentioning it, there appears to be some randomizing of the samples in this collection to lend authenticity to the performances.
There are a few holes in the library's documentation. Although the accompanying booklet has a list of all of the instruments and model numbers, and it explains controller assignments, patch types, and nomenclature, I needed to investigate with my keyboard what the key-switching assignments actually changed, because they were not specifically documented.
Pickin' and Grinnin'
Overall, Acoustic Legends HD is a solid and varied assortment of eminently playable, high-resolution virtual guitars and fretted string instruments. If you are looking to add sampled acoustic guitars to your desktop studio, be sure to check out this collection.