Samick Motherlode

December 2014
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Side by Side: Roland VB-99 and GR-33B Bass Synthesizers



Roland VB-99 vs Roland GR-33B

Like the VG-99, the VB-99 has an emulation of vintage Roland GR synth technology. But if bass players were expecting to find a clone of the GR-33B under the hood, they will instead find the same virtual GR-300 as found in the VG-99, only working in the bass register.

This might be disappointing for bass players who were looking for an exact clone of the only polyphonic analog synthesizer made just for them. On the other hand, when I compared the tracking and response time of the VB-99’s virtual GR-300 with the original GR-33B, the two synths were almost identical, with a response time in the 14-18 millisecond range. This surprised me, since the real GR-300 slightly outperformed the virtual GR-300 in the VG-99. This may have something to do with the qualities of tracking low frequencies, or perhaps the VB-99 has a slightly faster processor than the VG-99. And the VB-99 is even faster when emulating acoustic or electric bass sounds. In any case, the VB-99 certainly packs many buzzy, snarling synth bass sounds in its preset menu. And the flavor of its vintage GR-inspired synth engine matches the general sound of the GR-33B.

VB-99

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If you are a bass player who feels that people are just not paying enough attention to your musical brilliance, the VB-99 will certainly help you cut through the mix. And the VB-99 actually lets you layer three bass sounds together! Whereas the previous V-Bass had one sound, the VB-99 has two independent synth engines, plus a “Bass Direct” switch that adds the regular output of your bass to the blend. This is a great idea, and recognition of the performance difference between guitar and bass guitar. The Roland VG-99 guitar synth has almost no factory patches that use the regular output of the guitar, while the VB-99 has a switch to punch the direct bass sound right in the mix.

In fact, some of the best patches of the VB-99 work so well because they blend together two different bass sounds. Typically using one synth engine for a traditional warm, fat, low end sound, and the other engine for a bright synth element, or an octave shift effect that brings out clarity. And the VB-99 has dynamics capability to cross fade, or layer sounds, depending on how hard the notes are played.

For a test bass I bought a red Squier P-bass off of eBay for less than the cost of the GK-3B pickup, thinking I would need to drill some holes to get everything fitted. The GK-3B offers several ways to mount to a bass, and I was able to properly secure the whole rig with one strip of double-sided tape for the pickup element and a simple pressure adjustment to hold the GK-3B electronics module in place.

Broadly speaking, the bass sounds of the VB-99 fall into three categories: synth bass, electric bass, and upright bass. And the banks are laid out so that five similar sounds are grouped together. Using the VB-99 with the optional FC-300, you can step through banks until you reach say, acoustic basses, and then you have five or ten variations on that particular theme. And this is handy on the gig, when inadvertently going from “Warm Wood Bass” to “Pulse Dual Attack” could cause serious problems.

Hit page 3 for the VB-99 test with video...