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Product Review: The Roland VG-99, The Arsenal Of Guitarocracy

Note: This article originally ran on October 28, 2007 at Blogcritics.org, where I was among its earliest and most prolific contributors. I wrote numerous essays, interviews and product reviews there until about 2009 or so. At some point in late 2017, the current management at Blogcritics chose to remove all of my articles without notifying me, and have yet to respond to my email requests for an explanation, or to let me know how to restore them there. (Accidents happen on the Internet; perhaps it was just a glitch?) In the interim, I will slowly be reposting my more interesting pieces here.

It’s awfully minor in the scope of global conflicts, but there’s a sort of ongoing tension between electric guitar players and musical equipment manufacturers. As I’ve written before, the middle-aged men who make up the bulk of the electric guitar market are typically buying reissues of the guitars that the heroes of their youth played, such as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton. And certainly, the reissues of the classic Fender Stratocasters and Gibson Les Pauls of the 1950s are terrific guitars, the best of which are now being built with a quality that almost rivals the original iconic instruments of the 1950s.

And yet, guitar technology has advanced in many ways since the days when Leo Fender and Ted McCarty were revolutionizing the musical world. And whereas the Strat and Les Paul are capable of generating a handful of beautiful tones, for the price of one new electric guitar, it’s now possible to generate literally hundreds of different sounds.

Case in point: Roland’s VG-99 Virtual Guitar system, which hit the streets at the start of the month. Streeting at about $1200 and packed with 200 presets, the best of which are truly stunning, this is the culmination of a guitar modeling system that Roland has been crafting since the mid-1990s.

The VG-99 builds on many of the requests the users of the previous model, the VG-88 had requested. And speaking of which, please allow me to make a brief mea culpa: When I reviewed the VG-88 virtual guitar system at the start of the year for Blogcritics, I knew it had been out on the market for several years, but had no idea it was about to be rendered superfluous in the Roland catalog.

Hex Machine

To make full use of the VG-99, you’ll also need to install a Roland-compatible hexaphonic pickup on your guitar, or use an instrument already equipped, such as those made by Godin, or Fender’s Roland-Ready Stratocaster, which I used to test the unit. Like the predecessor VG-88, it’s also possible to plug an electric guitar with a conventional quarter-inch jack into the VG-99. Most of the more extreme modeling patches won’t trigger, but it’s a great way to make use of a trusty old Les Paul, Tele, or any other non-hex-equipped electric guitar and drive basic amp sounds.