Without the Guitar Hero video game franchise, most of us would never feel the rush of turning our virtual amps up to 11, slinging our guitars below the waist, and living the fantasy of rock stardom. For those of you who actually have some skill with a real guitar, however, trading in your real axe for a plastic game controller feels like a step in the wrong direction.
Native Instruments' Guitar Rig 3 Kontrol Edition ($499) brings rock-god fantasy fulfillment to real guitarists. Like letting a chef loose in a fully stocked kitchen, Guitar Rig offers guitarists a smorgasbord of authentic amp and effect pedal emulations. For anyone who's ever wanted to play their guitar through Slash's Marshall stack, Clapton's overdriven Fender Twin, or every effect pedal ever created, Guitar Rig 3 Kontrol Edition is the coolest thing to happen to weekend-warrior guitarists since practice amps started coming with headphone jacks.
The Mac and PC-compatible software (which can be purchased separately from the hardware) is the heart of the Guitar Rig 3 Kontrol Edition system. When you plug your guitar into Guitar Rig 3 (by way of the bundled hardware), the software allows you to call up preconfigured or custom combinations of amplifiers, speaker cabinets, and effects. Every nuance of a professional guitarist's signature sound has been accounted for--from the characteristics of overdriven tube amplifiers, to the diameter of the speaker cone.
In general, there are three ways to take advantage of the Guitar Rig 3 software: browsing presets, creating custom rigs, and performance. Stepping through the more than 300 preset configurations offered in Guitar Rig 3 is like walking through rock and roll history. Each Guitar Rig 3 preset is categorized by genres such as classic rock, metal, or country and blues. A search option allows you to find presets using attributes tags such as Bright, Dirty, Spacious, or Warm.
After getting a feel for what Guitar Rig 3 is capable of, we played around with creating our own custom setup. An exhaustive list of components that includes 12 guitar amps, 17 speaker cabinets, 44 effects, and 9 microphones, made us feel like a kid in a candy shop. To get around a licensing nightmare, presumably, Guitar Rig 3 uses thinly veiled names for their components that allude to their real world counterpart, such as Twang Reverb (for Fender Twin Reverb), Citrus (for Orange), and Gratifier (for Mesa Boogie Rectifier). Creating our own custom rig was as easy as dragging and dropping components from the list window into the rig window, and hitting save.
Those of you brave enough to take Guitar Rig 3 out of the bedroom studio and onto the stage can create your own custom bank of presets that can be switched on the fly during a live performance. The advantage of using Guitar Rig 3 on stage is the amount of flexibility you have to dramatically shape your guitar's sound using just the included foot controller. For instance, during the course of a live set you may have one song that demands a clean, vintage guitar tone with a delay effect, another song that requires the sound of an overdriven full stack, and a song that needs an intimate, bluesy tone, drenched in reverb. Using Guitar Rig 3, you can jump between complex configurations just by stomping a single button on your foot controller to advance to the next preset, instead of fiddling with the multiple knobs and buttons of traditional amplifiers and effects.
The rock-solid foot controller included with Guitar Rig 3 Kontrol Edition measures 15 inches wide, 9.5 inches deep, and 2.5 inches tall. Constructed primarily of black anodized metal, the Guitar Rig foot control is heavy enough to stay put and rugged enough to withstand some serious abuse.