Playmusic has recently looked at quite a few sample based libraries designed to emulate the sounds of real acoustic instruments and it's fair to say that modern computers are so powerful that they can handle detailed samples of instruments like drums and Pianos to such a level that in the context of a mix they are all but indistinguishable from the real thing, so long as you have the ability to program these instruments correctly.
Sampled guitars, however, have generally been disappointing. This is due to several reasons, not least because there are so many ways to play a guitar: strumming, picking, bending strings, pick scrapes etc. Compared to the guitar a piano is rather two dimensional in that you can only change the playing dynamics depending how hard you hit the keys. Other than that it's always the same hammer hitting the same string at the same place etc. With guitar you have so many different techniques (vibrato, hammer-ons/pull-offs, false harmonics and even strumming). This means there is much more to include and think about when putting together a realistic programmed guitar performance.
Electri6ity (or Electree - Sixticity as I called it when I first saw it) is a new virtual guitar instrument from Vir2, who are known for producing pretty comprehensive sound libraries. Electri6ity features detailed recreations of eight classic guitars - Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul, ES335 and L4, Dan Electro Lipstick and a Rickenbacker. P90 is actually a pick-up, the manual doesn't mention the type of guitar that it is modelled on, but the on-screen menu suggests a 1954 Mk1 Gibson Les Paul.
Electri6ity contains over 24,000 24bit samples of each of these guitars, employing advanced scripting and artificial intelligence within Native Instruments popular Kontakt 4 platform. There is also a generous selection of built-in effects and amp simulations, although you can of course add your own virtual amps and effects from other software if you wish. The 24,000+ samples might seem a bit excessive until you discover that in order to accurately capture realistic sounding guitar sounds Electri6ity contains not just sustained plucked notes as you would expect but also pretty much any articulation and playing technique you could possibly think of. Want an Eddie Van Halen style hammer on or a deftly plucked muted note? You got it!
Installation was straightforward if somewhat long winded with four DVD's taking around 2 hours to install on my machine. Authorisation is done via the Native Instruments service centre and the samples themselves take up about 28 gig of hard drive space. Electri6ity will run under all the usual formats (Mac 10.5 or higher/Windows XP SP2 or higher), although you may need to look at the spec of your machine to make sure you can get the best from Electri6ity as its RAM demands in particular are fairly high (4 gig RAM). It will happily run under VST, RTAS & Audio Units as well as standalone.
Neck and neck
Two versions of each guitar are available: 'Clean' (a direct inject from the guitar) and 'Amped' (routed through the built-in amp and effects.) All eight guitars were recorded with three pickup options: neck, bridge and both pickups simultaneously (when applicable) in every available articulation, which is a heck of a lot of sampled data. They load with all their articulations in place, although due to the amount of sample data being loaded this can take a few moments and with only one key per note at first you may be confused as to how you will access all these different articulations on the fly. The articulations are accessed by pressing silent keys at the lower range of the keyboard known as Keyswitches. All the different articulations are therefore accessed in real time as you play by hitting one of these many keyswitches, although to get at them all without resorting to transposing or re-programming the key allocations you'll need an 88-key controller keyboard.
When using Electri6ity I decided to come at this from two angles: Firstly, are the sounds themselves up to standard and will they allow you to create a great sounding guitar track? Secondly, is Electri6ity intuitive enough to use whilst allowing enough flexibility to again, create a great sounding guitar track.
The first question is easy to answer because the quality and sound of the samples themselves is exemplary; they really do sound like the real thing coming though the speakers and all further processing sounds exactly as it would if using a 'real' guitar performance. The choice of guitars on offer seems well judged covering all of the classic electric guitar sounds rock to jazz although personally I don't understand why the Rickenbacker samples are based on a 6-string model when the 12 string Ricky is such an iconic guitar sound used by dozens of great bands, most notably The Byrds, The Smiths and REM. You can't please everyone, I suppose! - PM
Should I Buy One?
So sound-wise I would say that Vir2 have certainly created the best sounding electric guitar library this reviewer has heard. Which brings us on to the usability aspect; lots of sample libraries use keyswitching, although I have never previously used a sample library that offers so much choice when it comes to the myriad articulation. This is both a blessing and a curse as Electri6ity is capable of some stunningly realistic performances although it will take some work on your part to get them. It would be incorrect to describe Electri6ity as awkward to use as I believe this keyswitching is the best way to work until we have USB sockets grafted to our frontal lobes, but it does take some getting used to due to the sheer number of available controls and keyswitches that depend on what key you press and also how hard you press them. Be assured however, that you will get there and I am a lot more fluent with the switching than I was at first, althrough I still have room for improvement and my keyboard's keys are currently covered in China-graph pencil marks as reminders!
Once you are more comfortable with the switching, Electri6ity does sound very realistic and is more than capable of producing great guitar parts, this is also assisted by the use of the artificial intelligence I mentioned earlier, which works by considering what you have just played and how you have played it and then works out which string and fret position a real guitarist would have used.
So, despite what I said at the start of this review, it is now possible to deliver a authentic sounding programmed guitar part thanks to Vir2 Electri6ity. I won't lie and say it's easy as the program really does require you to spend some time with it, but if your are willing to spend that time, you will get results that will surprise you with their stunning realism.
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