Product Spotlight: Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer

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The fastest and most powerful guitar (and bass) synth ever

By Jim Bybee
Writer/Editor, Roland Corporation U.S.

Combining PCM synthesis with COSM® instrument modeling derived from the VG-99 V-Guitar System, the GR-55 represents Roland's latest breakthrough advances in guitar synthesis, with playability, features, and sound quality that far surpass the capabilities of previous generations. That's really saying something, as the company has been continually developing this technology since they introduced the GR-500—the world's first guitar synth—way back in 1977. And though it's called a guitar synthesizer, the GR-55 works with bass guitars as well, offering compatibility for both instruments in one unit. As you'll soon see, this is a music creation machine like no other, providing guitarists and bassists a nearly limitless palette of sound at their fingertips.

Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer

What's special about the GR-55

Powered by Roland's custom-designed ESC2 DSP chip, the GR-55 delivers faster-than-ever tracking performance and previously impossible sound-making capabilities. It features two independent PCM sound engines, each loaded with 910 sounds derived from the company's industry-leading keyboard products, including pianos, organs, strings, synths, drums, and many more. A third sound engine is driven by Composite Object Sound Modeling (COSM), the proprietary modeling technology behind Roland's famous VG-99 V-Guitar System and its predecessors. With COSM, the GR-55 can emulate classic electric and acoustic guitars, basses, and other instruments, plus a host of legendary guitar and bass amplifiers, and provide instant alternate tunings electronically. It also provides a dead-on accurate emulation of the GR-300, Roland's vintage analog guitar synth from the 1980s, and you can create entirely unique sounds via a process called Harmonic Restructure Modeling.

This is the first time COSM has been integrated into a PCM-based guitar synth, and it's a really big deal. Not only does it add a totally new breadth of sounds, it provides an organic feel that guitarists and bassists love. You see, when triggering PCM samples with a traditional guitar synth, the process is much like using a piano-type keyboard to play sampled sounds; the difference is that you're using your instrument's strings instead. As such, the string itself is not connected to the sound—it's only a trigger to play a different sound, such as piano, trumpet, sax, etc. COSM, on the other hand, is much different: it actually takes the sound of the string itself, and morphs it into something new via ultra-fast digital processing. Because of this, COSM responds to your touch instantly—with zero latency—providing the familiar and immediate feel that you're used to.

Both PCM sample triggering and COSM excel in different areas: with PCM samples, you can play just about any instrument sound imaginable with incredible realism; with COSM, you can play guitar- and bass-centric sounds with the utmost authenticity, as well as synth-like voices with a string instrument flavor. The bottom line is this: with the GR-55, you now have the best of both worlds all under one hood. And that's one giant leap forward in the field of guitar and bass technology, opening the door to sound possibilities that are limited only by your imagination.

Building sounds in the GR-55

With the GR-55, you can combine and layer all three sound engines together at will, plus you can blend in the normal sound of your guitar or bass as well. Since the GR-55 is driven by a GK-compatible pickup, each of your instrument's strings is processed individually. This allows you to perform many magical tricks, such as switching your tuning instantly at the touch of a button; creating 12-string guitar effects; playing different sounds on different strings; and much, much more.

Two independent multi-effects processors are on hand for a huge array of tone-shaping options, plus reverb, chorus, delay effects, and a powerful EQ to add final sweetening to your patches. Creating and editing sounds is a breeze for players of all skill levels, thanks to a large LCD display, simple front panel, and the intuitive EZ Edit and Sound Style features. Also onboard is a handy phrase looper that lets you capture on-the-fly recordings with unlimited sound-on-sound overdubs.

Additional features

Housed in a compact and ultradurable metal chassis with integrated pedals, the floor-based GR-55 gives you everything you need to access and control sounds in real time as you play. Four integrated footswitches let you select sounds and control various functions, and there's also an expression pedal for volume/effects control and sound manipulation. In addition, there's an integrated USB song player for playing along with WAV and MP3 songs stored on USB flash memory.

The GR-55 also converts guitar or bass to MIDI and functions as an audio/MIDI interface for computers, with a rear-panel USB 2.0 port for a quick and easy connection. This lets you integrate with your favorite DAW software, record GR-55 sounds as audio in the DAW, and use the GR-55's super-fast pitch-to-MIDI capabilities to trigger MIDI sounds such as virtual synths and samplers with your guitar or bass.

Game changer

Roland has a long history of creating products that change the way musicians make music, and this new guitar synth is yet another example of stunning innovation by the legendary company. With so many amazing sounds and groundbreaking features packed into one device, the GR-55 opens a universe of new possibilities to guitar and bass players everywhere.

Unlocking the GR-55's magic with a GK pickup

The GR-55 is equipped with Roland's 13-pin GK interface. To enjoy the GR-55's enormous palette of sounds, you must use an instrument equipped with a GK-compatible "divided" pickup, such as Roland's GK-3 (for guitars) or GK-3B (for basses). A GK pickup can be easily installed on virtually any steel-string guitar or bass with absolutely no modification to the instrument. In addition, Musician's Friend carries the Fender Roland-Ready Stratocaster, a guitar that's ready to plug into the GR-55 right out of the box.

The GR-55 is available by itself, or in a specially priced bundle with the GK-3 Divided Pickup. The GK-3 is also available separately; as is the GK-3B for bassists.

Tags: Effects Pedals Roland

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