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Product Review: VG-88 Guitar Modeling System—The Guitar Army Arrives

Note: This article originally ran on January 10, 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 no secret that most electric guitar players are reluctant to move beyond vintage, or even vintage-looking gear. For many guitar players, anything newer than a 1959 Les Paul or '57 Stratocaster, and a mid-1960s Marshall amplifier is suspect.

However, for those who are a bit more adventurous, the Roland VG-88 Guitar Modeling System is both a great tool for the working guitarist, and a glimpse into the future of the electric guitar itself.

The unit comes with 160 presets, and more are available to download into the unit from various Websites, including the VG-88's wiki. Flipping through the unit's presets is much like dialing up various patches on a keyboard synthesizer, except the emphasis of course is on various guitar sounds. But like most keyboard synths, there are some truly exceptional presets, some extremely good ones, some offbeat sounds, and a few "what were they thinking?" clinkers.

For the full impact of the VG-88, a guitar equipped with a Roland GK-2A MIDI pickup is required, available as an aftermarket bolt-on device, or built into guitars such as Fender's Roland-ready Stratocaster. A nice touch on the VG-88, however, is the presence of a conventional quarter-inch input jack, thus allowing electric guitarists who've built up a collection of instruments to at least use the VG-88's electric amplifier modeling patches and effects. On say, the "Fat 1959" patch, plugging in a conventional electric guitar produces a nice roaring lead sound.

However, a conventional electric without a synth pickup won't be able to play some of the more advanced patches in the VG-88, and here's where the unit really shines.

Many Tonal Colors For Recording, Playing Live

Of the exceptional presets are the nylon string guitar, the 12-string acoustic guitar, electric sitar, and several bread and butter electric guitar tones. The 12-string acoustic has a really sweet timbre; think Melissa Etheridge, or The Sundays. Additionally, it also has a huge stereo spread, which is a marvelous touch — when recorded in stereo, arpeggiated pans move from across the stereo field for a beautiful, liquid sound, somewhat akin to the ping-pong stereo effects the Fender Rhodes electric pianos of the 1970s could generate.