February 2017
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Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer Review

Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer Review

New Frontiers
Given how much the GR-55 can do, it’s smaller than I expected. It’s sturdy, with an attractive blue case made of metal and its compact footprint that’s comparable to other multi-effects pedals on the market. Three of the four pedals select different patches and all can be pressed in various combinations to launch special features such as the tuner or the looper. The GR also has a Control pedal that can be assigned to different parameters (up to 9 at a time per patch, if you want) for each patch, such as triggering a rotary speaker simulation or causing a synthesizer voice to sustain. Finally, there is an expression pedal to control various variable features such as volume or a wah sound (also up to 9 parameters at a time).

To put the GR-55 into play, you must first configure the unit to work with your specific hex pickup guitar. If you skip this step you are asking for poor performance and a bad experience with the product. I followed the instructions carefully to get my Graph Tech-equipped Carvin SH-575 set up within the GR-55. There is an initial section at the beginning of the manual to help you with these steps, but there’s also a Parameter List of additional settings as a reference. I found following the Parameter List settings critical to getting my Carvin to track properly. Other adjustments will help you optimize your guitar for the unit. Piezo-equipped guitars like the Carvin may need filtering on the highs and lows and other adjustments within the GR.

After I configured the unit, I called up an electric piano patch. Wow! The GR-55 tracked my playing very closely, and most impressively, read pick attack very accurately whether I used a pick or played the guitar with my fingers. It even tolerated a bit of slurring between notes—an impressive and unusual capacity in guitar synths. Percussive sounds such as piano, vibes, and even guitar patches have always been torture in guitar synths. The GR-55 handled these well. In fact, in the entirety of my experience with guitar synthesizers I have never had a synthesizer track this cleanly.

That is not to say tracking is perfect. A bit of sloppiness in your playing can produce a false note or a glitch, but there is a new parameter called the Low Velocity Cut that will help eliminate accidently triggered sounds by cutting off sounds input below a selectable volume. And from time to time the tracking will warble slightly on a note or even possibly miss it. More often than not, this was the result of my own poor technique. Also, certain long sustained voices such as organs and strings can develop a subtle rubbery or slightly sour sound when held. For long, sustained synth sounds, you are better off using the Control pedal set to hold the note pitches before your fingering can confuse the tracking of the system. I also found that certain techniques such as rapid strumming are best left to the COSM guitars.

The layout for changing sounds consists of banks with three patches per bank. A patch is any combination of two synth tones, COSM guitar signal, regular guitar signal, and effects. You select both banks and patches using various combinations of the first three pedals. Roland has three switches on the pedal for Lead, Rhythm, and Other that contain a large repository of preset patches. There is also a User area where you can store your own patches. If you edit one of the presets and try to save it, it will not change the preset but instead direct you to the User area. Because it saves these patches in a different area than the presets, you can easily accidentally overwrite one of your own patches if you are not paying attention to where it is saving.

The Verdict
The GR-55 is a deceptively simple looking pedal that has a great deal of depth to it. Overall, the sound quality of the synth voices, COSM guitars, and various effects is excellent. I appreciated the clarity of all of the sounds. And although I beefed up a number of patches using the onboard EQ to have more bass and punch, those adjustments were fast and easy. Keeping a guitar synth affordable typically requires a lot of design compromises. But the Roland is still a very powerful unit. And without question, it is the best tracking guitar synthesizer that I have ever played. The ability to blend COSM guitars with synths is inspirational, and this pedal could open the door to new creative options for guitarists of any style. Indeed guitar players interested in increasing their tonal palette in a big way may find that the GR-55 alone can do far more for them than a rack of regular stomp boxes or multi-effects.

Buy if...
you want a simple but very powerful tool to vastly increase the tones in your repertoire.
Skip if...
you demand perfect tracking or aren't willing to be bothered with having to use a 13 pin guitar

Street $ - Roland - rolandus.com
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