Re: Roland GR-20 guitar synth: Woo Hoo and review
- From: "J Stevens" <Spamit@xxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sat, 07 Nov 2009 19:14:28 GMT
I've been keeping my eye out for one at a great price ever since Godin sent me an A5 Bass a few years ago.
I've brought my bass into a store and tried out the GR-20 and was shocked at how much better it was than my last trip down that road.
I did find a used GR33 to try, but it wouldn't trigger anything below the 12th fret.
One of these days I'll stumble upon a deal...
"js" <nothing@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote in message news:hd3h2k$bmn$1@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Not many "woo hoos" these days what with the economy and all, so I'm happy
So I sold my guitar synth mega-rig last week, and went shopping for an
My original plan was to get the GR-33, because I like the tracking, the
sounds and alpha-numeric display. However, I learned that it wasn't
initially configured for bass. I'm sure there is a patch or a workaround I
can hack, but at this point in my life I'm really looking for "plug and
I wander into GC one night, and they have TWO of the latest model GR-20
units for sale used, for $399. I demo one, it tracks amazingly well - almost
TOO well for my taste ( I enjoy "flipping out" the synth). Will the deal?
No, but it's almost 50% off list so I tell them I'll be back.
I come in the next week with my eBay cash, ready to buy. Different guys are
working the guitar dept. I ask for the synth, and they practically trip over
themselves helping me. They offer to check on the price, see what they can
It must be commission week or something, because they offered it to me for
$299 (~$650 retail), PLUS a power adaptor AND a 1 year warranty. SOLD!
Now, I've owned and/or played EVERY GR unit that Roland has ever made, from
the analog monsters up to today. Putting the analog units aside (in their
own category, really), I can say that each one involves some sort of trade
For example, the GM-70 had so-so tracking, but unmatched MIDI programming.
The GR-1 had a built in sequencer (the only GR unit to have one, IIRC), but
very limited memory, and working the pedals is a nightmare. The GI-20 had a
zillion editable parameters, but you couldn't specify the MIDI channel for
each patch, and so on.
Hey, wake up! Sorry, didn't mean to bore you there. The point is, each unit
has plusses and minuses that go beyond "tracking" and "sounds".
As for the GR-20, it's early days, but there's a lot to like, and a few
things that piss me off.
As for the "likes", the first thing is the interface. This thing is FINALLY
set up in a way a guitarist can comprehend. All menu items are accessible
via buttons. Patches are grouped by instrument with easily reachable knobs.
There are two dedicated pedals, and it's REALLY obvious if you change their
"mode" (from effect to patch up/down - unlike every other Roland unit).
In general, this thing is set up like an FX pedal, which is about time.
Second the tracking is excellent. It will never be 100% in the current pitch
to MIDI scheme, but this is about as good as it gets. Even my low B string
only has a moderate lag.There's only one thing that pisses me off, which
I'll get to in a minute
Sounds: I was really worried that the sounds would be lacking as this is
only a 1 voice sound generator, but those fears were unfounded. The sounds
are very nice - they actually swiped a lot of sounds directly from my
beloved Roland JV1080 synth module that I just sold. The outputs are hot and
noise free. I could use this unit as a tone generator for a commercial
Most of the sounds are quite useable as-is which is refreshing in general
and astonishing for bass. All sounds have easy edit parameters - either as
button-menu items, or tweakable from a series of knobs on the front panel.
The built in expression pedal defaults to "volume" which is also a nice
feature. Nothing worse than stepping on a pedal and trying to remember what
Now for the minuses
The big one for me is that you cannot edit pitch bend parameters; it's set
at +/-24. What does that mean? Say you want to play piano on your bass. As
we all know, pianos can't bend notes. But when you move your finger a bit
too far (1/24th of a step to be precise), the PB algorithm may interpret
that as another note and try to play it. So you get a lot of weird glitches
, especially if you change chords. The NORMAL solution is to set the pitch
range to "chromatic" so you have to bend a full half step to change pitch,
but that option is not available here, and it pisses me off. There are
workarounds, but none as easy as a frikin "bend range" parameter. In keeping
with the "pedal" theme, I guess they figured guitarists will just bend
anything that's not nailed down. But still...
The second problem is that there is no "latched hold" function. Latched hold
is when you play a sound and step on a pedal to hold it as a "drone". Once
you step on the pedal, it holds until you step on it again. this lets you
use your foot for other things like, controlling other pedals, standing
All they offer is an "unlatched hold" - the hold stays as long as your foot
pushes the pedal down. This makes say, holding a drone note and fading it in
with the expression pedal-impossible if you are standing up.
Last, and this it\s kind of a minor point, is that the signal routing scheme
is a little weird.
Again, some clarification. Guitars input to an amp as an "instrument level"
Keyboards, drum machines, etc input as a "line level" input - MUCH hotter.
I usually biamp my synth setup, with the line level synth going to a PA or
bass amp, and the instrument signal feeding another bass amp of higher
On a recent gig I decided to run synth and bass as one signal into one amp.
What I found is that unless you configure otherwise, your guitar signal will
appear as a LINE level input to the amp. This will require some serious
tweaking of your amp settings. This is weird for me since I'm so used to the
synth being line level and knowing where to set my levels. On a positive
note, running the guitar signal through the GR and the dinky 13 pin
connector resulted in very little signal loss.. Usually, running a dry
signal through ANY GR unit is a major tone suck.
The other thing is, in order to biamp, I have to make a "dummy" plug that
disconnects the dry signal from the synth signal. A minor pint, but one that
could have been corrected with better engineering.
Overall, I'm glad that Roland has FINALLY designed a guitar synth aimed at
GUITARISTS, not geeks like me. And best of all, it's 100% BASS FRIENDLY. If
you've EVER thought about getting into guitar synthesis, I would strongly
advise you to pick up a GR-20. You will not be disappointed...unless your
name is Jim Carr (just kidding).
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