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Guitar Rig 3: Kontrol Edition review: Guitar Rig 3: Kontrol Edition

Guitar Rig 3: Kontrol Edition

Donald Bell Senior Editor / How To
Donald Bell has spent more than five years as a CNET senior editor, reviewing everything from MP3 players to the first three generations of the Apple iPad. He currently devotes his time to producing How To content for CNET, as well as weekly episodes of CNET's Top 5 video series.
Donald Bell
6 min read

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.


Guitar Rig 3: Kontrol Edition

The Good

Guitar Rig 3 Kontrol Edition is a hardware and software bundle that turns your computer into the ultimate guitar amplifier for home recording and wannabe rockers. The included pedal board acts as a high-quality USB 2.0 computer sound card and MIDI interface.

The Bad

Guitar Rig requires a fast computer. Live performers might hesitate to trust a computer-dependent product on stage.

The Bottom Line

If your guitar and your chops are getting dusty, Guitar Rig 3 Kontrol Edition is an outstanding way to rekindle your delusions of rock stardom.

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.

Guitar Rig 3's foot controller acts as a hub between your computer, your guitar, and your speakers or headphones.

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 Guitar Rig 3 software realistically emulates (visually and sonically) your dream guitar setup. A list of preset configurations on the left allows you to quickly browse the classic setups used by guitar legends.

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.

The top of the Guitar Rig foot control features 8 stomp-worthy switches that can be assigned to any parameter within the software, such as effects, mute, tuner, tempo control, and advancing through presets. A large metal expression pedal takes up the right side of the Guitar Rig foot control, allowing you to smoothly control effects such as wah-wah and delay, or use as a volume control.

The back edge of the Guitar Rig foot control acts as a USB 2.0 audio card for your computer, including two 1/4-inch inputs (with adjustable gain control and a line impedance switch), balanced stereo 1/4-inch outputs (switchable between high and low gain), a 1/4-inch stereo headphone output (with adjustable volume), two inputs for additional expression pedals, standard MIDI input and output jacks, and a USB connection. Knowing that an inadvertent tug to the USB cable could prove disastrous, Native Instruments is clever enough to include a metal hook above the USB jack that helps the cable stay put. Unlike traditional guitar effects, the Guitar Rig foot control doesn't require batteries, since it gets all the power it needs over USB.

The Guitar Rig 3 software allows for easy mapping of effect and preset parameters to the included foot controller hardware.

Native Instruments--a music software company that has built a reputation on its software emulations of grand pianos, vintage analog synthesizers, and acoustic drum kits--has applied some serious science behind creating the ultimate software for guitar nerds. Guitar Rig 3 takes advantage of several digital audio technologies, including impulse response, convolution reverb, DSP effects, and physical modeling, in order to recreate the character and qualities of speakers, tubes, and circuitry. Guitar Rig's main purpose is to act as an affordable (and often indistinguishable) pro audio tool for the complicated process of recording a guitar. This is an important distinction to make, because while the casual guitarist might find Guitar Rig 3 a suitable replacement for their practice amp, its intended purpose is to emulate what a guitar sounds like when recorded in a professional studio. To this end, Guitar Rig 3 includes settings for virtual microphone type and placement, which might baffle guitarists, but enthrall recording-savvy producers. Guitar Rig's emphasis on reproducing the recorded sound of a guitar lends the final result a polished feel that has a less dynamic character than simply cranking your amp in the garage.

On our 2Ghz Core 2 Duo Macbook, it took only a split second to switch between presets in Guitar Rig 3, which is impressive considering the processing demands and graphically rich interface.

Audio quality from the Guitar Rig foot control is professional grade, with a scalable input sample rate that ranges from 44-192kHz, at 16 or 24 bits over a Cirrus Logic A/D converter. For the purposes of rocking out at home, we were more than pleased with the audio quality coming from the Guitar Rig foot control using either the headphone connection or running the line outputs to a stereo system.

Final thoughts
While we recommend the Guitar Rig 3 Kontrol Edition as the top-tier software guitar amp on the market, it should not be purchased without checking out the downloadable software demo first. If your needs are basic, or you get overwhelmed by too many choices, Guitar Rig's depth and advanced features may feel overwhelming. There are other great (and less expensive) virtual guitar amp options available, including M-Audio's JamLab, Native Instruments' Guitar Combos, and the Line 6 PocketPod.


Guitar Rig 3: Kontrol Edition

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 7