Acoustic guitars are a great way to add depth to a project, but it’s always been tricky in Reason… until now. Hollin Jones strums away with A-List Acoustic Guitarist.
Price € 79
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Long considered one of the hardest instruments to recreate authentically in software form, the acoustic guitar has in recent years come of age in the digital domain. Indeed, a couple of developers have successfully added believable playback and control technology to high quality sampled guitars to make something truly workable. Propellerhead continues to make excellent Rack Extensions for Reason 7 and its latest is A-List Acoustic Guitarist, a departure from its staple drum- and keyboard-based modules.
Strum und brang!
A 1.2GB download, A-List lives in your rack just like any other module and is, of course, MIDI triggered. Its interface is clean and easy to pick up, even if, as with any acoustic guitar software instrument, there is a little work to do in fully mastering the duplication of acoustic guitar strumming styles using a piano keyboard. It’s worth noting that this instrument is designed for strummed parts and not individual notes: what you’re playing back are variations of sampled phrases, not individual sampled notes.
You will want to start by loading a preset, and there are a decent selection across a range of styles. You get one model of guitar but a multitude of ways to affect its playback and sound, so in reality you can end up with a lot of different acoustic guitar textures. To begin with you can tweak the character, selecting warm, crisp, bright, full or the original unprocessed sound. You can also flip between a pickup signal for a close-up effect and mic’d sounds for a more natural flavour. On the far right-hand side it’s also possible to set the attack using a variable knob that goes from soft to punchy.
Chords are triggered by pressing MIDI keys, and the keyboard is zoned for the different chord types and for modifier keys, like you may have seen in similar instruments that use NI’s Kontakt player. So to trigger a C major you’ll press a specific key, and to make it a minor, 7th or sus2 variation you would select a different key. There are 13 chord types supplied, which should cover your needs. The modifier keys found lower down the keyboard will switch between phrases and there are also more than 50 styles available, ranging from slow reggae through pop, funk and various rhythms.
You can switch between styles to suit the kind of music you’re making, and a handy Latch button will keep the pattern playing until you select a new note, meaning you don’t have to keep holding keys down the whole time. You can also manually set the project key so that the instrument provides you with the optimum set of chords.
The remaining front panel controls deal with the feel of the playback rhythm, and there’s some great stuff to be found here. The Swing knob enables you to add variable swing, anywhere from straight to loose and lazy, and the Feel knob gives you control over playing a part slightly behind or ahead of the beat. A Doubling button lets you add a second, double-tracked version of the signal that makes it much bigger, panning each guitar left and right. You can even add palm muting and short periods of silence using modifier keys.
Spin the rack around and there’s yet more to work with. By clicking the Chord Set button to Full you can add to the default set of available chords, at the expense of using a little more RAM. The CV inputs can be set to trigger or stop slices if you want to control playback from another source.
A-List Acoustic Guitarist is a really elegant way of bringing some gorgeous acoustic guitar patterns to your Reason tracks. It doesn’t give you individual notes to work with but most people who are after these sounds will want strummed versions anyway, and it has those by the bucketload. Everything stays in sync with your project and there’s enough control over the sound so that you can squeeze a lot of different textures and feels out of it even without using additional effects.
As ever when an instrument is translated to a completely different playback system – guitar to keyboard in this case – there’s occasionally a little skill involved in getting exactly the transitions you want between chords, but on the whole this is an excellent way to bring acoustic guitars into your software world.