MARK FRANCOMBE Musician, Filmmaker, Game-designer & Kipple-monger

Roland GR-55 Review

Recent sales of neglected gear have resulted in two purchases. The Korg Electribe ESX and the much lauded Roland GR55 Guitar synth.
Lets take that one now, and the drum-machine later.
I have had the GR55 for about a month now, and due to work and family commitments, I cant really say that I’ve delved very deep with it, but here goes.

Per has covered most of the layout of the unit, so I apologize if some of this is repetition, but basically you have 4 main sound sources per patch. 1, the original guitar sound 2. a modeled guitar sound, 3 & 4, Two synth tones. These 2 are PCM samples and vary alot in quality. Some of the sounds seem to be there to tick the “modern synth sound” box. The VCO sync screams and X-mod sounds, some, but not enough, floaty pads, very few grainy sounds…and one or two pling plong sinewave things… all nice…. These immediately got saved into the user area for later tweaking.
Theres the “samples”, pianos, flutes., strings etc… Hmmm… OK the cello is nice, and thankfully ONE strings patch is usable… not ONE good piano.. NONE!! and wait for it.. gazzilions of organs..
AND THEN… theres the same old set of totally unusable shit that they always stuff into these things.. you know the Do-Whop Skat singing the general midi banjos, the fucking pan-pipes and wait for it wait for it.. those bastard Phili stabs… who uses them? you tell me?

OK, Main problem with the “New sounds” like the Acid Basses and Syncs are that… YOU CANT PLAY THOSE SOUNDS FROM A GUITAR… They only sound good if they are sequenced, tightly and fast.. not by some sloppy old hacks stubby fingers.. which brings me to my main disappointment of the unit, one that I knew about from before my purchase:
No Arpegiator.
Many of you have heard me sing the praises of the GR30s Arp, and my love of Arps in general. The only way (IMHO) one can really handle the idea of Live Looping via midi instruments, at least with hardware.
So…Why a company REMOVES functionality from units instead of improving it, is a total mystery to me. With the addition of that one single (admittedly fiddly and complex) function, suddenly many many more sounds become usable, as you can now sound like that sound should be. Its NOT enough just to HAVE that sound, but played on guitar… many sounds, sound like they do BECAUSE of the WAY it is played, not the timbre itself. I for example seriously USE the xylophone sounds on the GR 30, because they can sound tight and metronomic, from an arppegiator, but played from the guitar, they miss-fire and double twang and are a bit delayed from the note.

So, although everyone has slagged off the GR30, in terms of sounds (yes I had to tweak all them too) The GR30 wins for me.. I dont have as realistic cello, thats true, and that ONE strings patch on the 55 IS TRULY LOVELY, but.. there not enough usable synth tones, not by a long shot.

Which brings me to the Modeled sounds.. Oh dear Oh dear… Is THIS what all you VG peeps have been raving about… I hope not.
Honestly, I think I have to check my settings and pickup placement here, so I wont be too harsh just yet, but on my Baritone (Yes Im using a baritone.. I expect THAT is the issue here) Im hearing all sorts of double notes, almost like ring modulation, weird clanging, if I play too light, quite interesting in certain situations, but… making my guitar sound like a telecaster… Hmmm I think not… One setting works for me H&H ST (I believe is a Strat with Humbuckers.. really? OK then)

OK… positive Mark… keep it Positive!!!
The effects are GREAT.. lots of nice stuff, wont go into detail here, but as an effect unit it works very well for me, LOTS OF LOVELY OPTIONS:
Works like this:
There are 6 layers of effects. Mod, MFX, Delay, Reverb, Chorus, EQ.. And all can sound at once, with a quite nifty and usable way of routing your 4 sources through each. Basically within the Mod and MFX sections are also many alternative effects, for example Mod has Wah within its section, MFX has a slicer effect. There doesnt seem to be any particular grouping for what effects are in each of these section, maybe MFX are more for the synth tones and Mod for guitar tones.. maybe..

But then theres one bit I have missed… Ahem… The Amp models…? Tell me, please.. does anyone use these? ON the VG systems.. do they work for you guys? Cos for me they are JUST HORRIBLE. Just awful over blown harsh tones. I have to say that the years that I actually owned a guitar amp, are long gone.. so… so gone, so i dont know if I would like these sounds more if they were through an amp.. For Instance.. I once owned a Vox AC 30. The 3 versions of this in the GR55, dont sound anything like it… but wait.. the Vox only played nicely when loud.. so I wait till the wife was out then…

“Its been a HArd Days night… Thunderbolts and Lightning very very frightning Nah nah na na nah… I feel stupid and contagious Here we are now, entertain us…” I try a medley of all those BIG BIG AC30 songs… OUCH my ears.. my poor bleeding ears!!!

It was just too harsh and nasty for me.. ME!! None of the tones from any of the amps are usable.
( I am of course not counting the HUGE SHREDDING amp sounds that are here.. no doubt they are OK.. if not RADICAL, or TIGHT.. or FUCKED-UP.. or whatever the kids are saying these days)
OK OK, some of the soft Jazz amps are very nice.. but the lack of good sounding amps, brings a bit of a problem for me.. How do you make your distortion? In the Mod section, there is one effect called OD/DS with many models of distortion boxes… most are good.. Ill stick with the Boss Distortion.. OK.. fine.. usable.. same as my Heavy Metal HM2 pedal.. or the Rat.. Problem though is that if you use THAT for distortion, you cant get at the Wah, or any other sound hidden in the Mod section. Without using an amp model there is no way to make a good clean, (ha ha) NON TONED OUT distortion..

Thats the sounds… But now onto the good stuff…

The interface… total joy. Wonderful big window, simple to find your way around, many many many options. And you need that with all the possibilitys, you are going to pick this pedal off the floor for MOST of the time at home (or sit cross-legged.. not me any more Im afraid. So going thru horrible menus and shift buttons is not good. Here everything is laid out logically and even any illogicallity is shown simply and easily so you can find it and fix it with the minimum of hassle.

There is something a bit wrong with the implementation of the pick-up switches. They havent really decided what the volume control or guitar/synth switch are supposed to do, so it changes on every patch. Meaning that there are some patches that have no volume controI not from the foot-pedal OR the GK Vol. To me its simple, the footpedal should control effects, like wah or pitch shift or where Volume is an effect, and the GK pickup should handle the volume of the modelled guitar tone, OR volume of whole pedal. But.. no… even I cant quite figure out what to do there. On the GR30 it was simple, synth or guitar, and mix… now with 4 (ok 3 if you lump the synth tones) they are really missing a volume control, so… Um.. whay not an extra pedal jack in the back?,, Um there isnt one.. OK..

Oh and one more niggling thing missing from the 30 to 55. Silly but important (maybe it IS there in setting , havent found it) That when zooming through patches, the GK switch had a clever way of speeding up the cycling. You could press and hold, patches start counting up, then press the OTHER button as well and it would speed up the counting (jumping 5 or 10 at a time) till you were in the neigbourhood of the patch, then you release the extra button and it goes back to counting normally. VERY handy, if, like me, you never reorganise your patches, just learn the numbers. Now with GR55 you cant do that, no, you literally have to press that ittle button 120 times if you want to scroll up 120 patches… So You better start reorganizing, right from the get go.

I am a VERY critical gear head. I have used technology in my music from the very start of my career, and if there one ting I hate its TOO MUCH being stuffed in that is not good enough quality. I do wonder if the programmer guys actually know how to play guitar, or whether they just get emailed a bunch of amp convolutions with a note “Implement these”.
In my view there is nothing to be ashamed of for a manufacturer producing a simple but wonderful box, with little functionality but brilliant design and no fluff, The Roland GR55 is not that… Its stuffed full with the good, the bad and the ugly.

Would I suggest anyone else buy one? HELL YES.. its a gonna be loads a fun! Especially if you like Buckethead or Vie.. (im pretending I even know who these people are now…)

But keep yer Amp (if you like those things) and.. well… actually.. keep your guitar synth, you know.. the old one… its still usable!
I now have to pluck up the courage to call my guitar tech and see how he feels about installing another hex pickup inside. I now have a GK2 inside and a GK 3 stuck on… need that one put inside…

But Im a little afraid…

He may kill himself…

OH wait.. I nearly forgot…! There’s a built in looper… but.. er.. blushes… I havent tried it yet!

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