The best way to think
Roland GR-33 guitar synthesizer is with ambivalence. Yes, I'm
serious. There are many good things that expand your capabilities
musically, but there are many limitations that you will have to
up front... or be perpetually disappointed.
Rather than going into a
demo that you could find on the company's site, I would rather take
time to discuss the unit's shortcomings. However, please do not
this section as a negative review. I'm just presenting a balanced
picture that you might not find elsewhere.
You have to understand
playing style will have to be modified. As you probably know
every guitar is a little bit different. Some require a lot of
to get a bend to sound just right, while others are natural extensions
of your ability. Playing a guitar synth is a lot like that as
You're used to playing the
guitar as a
physical instrument. Well, get over it. When you are using
it with the GR-33, you are fragmenting your pre-conceptions of the
into two distinct components: The tone generator and the trigger.
The GR-33 makes the tones from
You cannot palm mute. Harmonics sound exactly the same as any
note. The guitar is simply a trigger. What you can
do is to play. You can bend strings. You can add
You can play at different volumes by hitting some strings harder than
And so on. It takes a bit to get used to, but that's the way it
Unless you have a guitar
a built-in synthesizer pickup (as is the case with many guitars from
and a few other manufacturers), then you will need to install Roland's
GK-2A pickup. I won't kid you, this is one of the worst things
this pickup means adversely affecting the look of your guitar.
it looks like your guitar has been assimilated by the Borg. While
I'm all for interesting looking instruments, odds are you will not
want to install this hunk of plastic with its glowing red eye on your
sunburst Les Paul. Believe it or not, I got the picture from the
company's own web site. Go figure.
Further, this pickup just plain
the way. You simply will not be able to use your molded
case with the pickup sitting on the guitar's face. Nor will you
willing to use a gig bag since the pickup's control unit cost ~$200 and
is made of ordinary plastic.
The GK-2A listens to
individually through six independent pickups and sends these signals to
the synth. The job of the guitar synth is then to determine the
tone being played on the string so that it can then trigger a
tone of equivalent pitch.
The only problem is that
make pure tones. That's part of why they sound so good.
string contains a mixture of harmonics whether you play them or not
further reading, look up what a Fourier transform does).
the GR-33 (or, for that matter, any other guitar synth) will
the tone as one of these harmonics. The result is a "squawk."
In addition to falsely reading
unit sometimes misses them. I'm not sure whether it just can't
up or if this also stems from an inability to correctly interpret these
One thing that I think helps
in my case is that I am playing through piezo pickups (via a Godin
rather than the magnetic ones in the GK-2A. While I still get
squawks, these seem to be less frequent than the problems I had using
GK-2A. I suspect part of the problem is that the pickup is
to be placed against the bridge. This actually makes it harder to
analyze the frequency (since this is where there is the least "sweep"
the string) and where there are the greatest harmonics (if you play
metal, you already know this). By contrast, the piezo pickups
the string, so they're much more accurate at telling the unit which
to the GR-30
I had previously owned a
GR-30 and had very mixed feelings about it as well, to say the
When I say "mixed," I mean that I loved some things about it and
hated others. Pretty quickly, the negative outweighed the
and I returned it after a few weeks. Fortunately, the GR-33 was a
significant improvement over the earlier model. At least 90% of
improvements were just in updating the user interface.
For those considering a cheaper
floating around on eBay, here's my advice: Don't. That unit has
the problems outlined above, plus a useless interface. It is
impossible to edit the GR-30 or to understand even what you were
By that, I don't mean that this was brain surgery, just that there was
no feedback. The unit consisted of a couple of dials and an LED
simpler than your alarm clock.
By contrast, the GR-33 has a
screen that tells you what you're doing and, more importantly, what
playing. Whereas the 33's screen will now tell you if you're
a bass, a banjo, or a bassoon, the 30 left you wondering, "What the
did I save to patch A14?" I have no idea how many embarrassing
this resulted in at a gig, but I'm sure no one wanted to be the brunt
the joke this unit was.