Ample Sound AGL
If you're not a guitar player, being able to hire a guitar player for a particular song is a nice convenience. Convincing a friend to play for you is even better, but that may still cost you some beer and pizza. The only other option for non-guitarists is to use a virtual instrument (VI) for guitar parts, and while there are plenty of guitar VIs out there, I had never found one before that I felt produced a believable guitar sound. Stringed instruments have too many nuances and VIs just don't seem to capture the character in a believable way.
If you find yourself relating to me at this point, I can almost ensure you that your opinion is about to change. The folks at Ample Sound have managed to produce not just one, but several acoustic guitar VIs that are, quite simply, astonishing reproductions of the actual instruments. I was fortunate enough to have a chance to review the Ample Sound AGL, and I came away with a new appreciation for guitar VIs.
In many cases, it's nearly impossible to tell AGL from a skilled musician playing an actual Luthier. It really is that good!
Ample Sound's AGL virtual instrument models the Alhambra Luthier classical guitar as an AU plugin, a VST, RTAS plugin and AAX plugin. (It also comes with a standalone version.) The incredibly detailed and rich sounds provided by the AGL VI amazed us. In fact, in many cases, it's nearly impossible to tell AGL from a skilled musician playing an actual Luthier. It really is that good!
There are a few different modes available in the AGL. The Main interface (shown in the screenshot below) features a virtual keyboard so that you can play around with AGL. (If you really want to achieve true realism, you'll want to use a MIDI controller.) The actual guitar notes in AGL are played using notes E1 to C5 on the keyboard. C0 through F0 are used to play effects such as sustain, harmonics, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs and so on.
G0 to C1 are used for what Ample Sound calls StrMan operations. (Each note corresponds to a specific string on the guitar.) By default, the AGL engine will decide which string to use to play a particular note, but you can use the StrMan keys to override that and specify that a note be played on a specific string. Finally, C#1 is used for what Ample Sound calls a CapoMan operation. Pressing C#1 and then pressing any key within the range of E1 to G#2 will place a capo accordingly.
Keys above C5 are used for sounds such as fret noises and body noises. As you might imagine, it can take some time with AGL before you can use all of its features to create the kind of guitar track you want, but we can promise that you'll have a blast while you practice with it.
Above the virtual keyboard, you'll find settings for modifying the sounds in AGL. You can set the mix between the two microphones, change the pan and width, enable doubling, and change many other aspects of the sound. The best way to learn how to take advantage of these controls is to read the manual, watch Ample Sounds' tutorial videos, and simply play around with them yourself. We were particularly fond of the doubling feature. Ample Sound uses different samples in the left and right track when doubling is enabled, and it produces absolutely beautiful and full sounding guitars.
The Strummer feature in AGL makes it possible to select from a plethora of strum patterns and arpeggiated pick patterns that come with AGL. You can define up to 12 different chords by simply clicking on the chord name, chord type and chord position. You can even define your own chords by clicking on strings to specify the chord fingering.
It's obvious that Ample Sound knows what musicians want, and they've built those features into all of their guitar VIs.
Strummer lets you play up to 8 different sequences. Each sequence is loaded with a particular strum pattern and you can switch between sequences on your keyboard using keys C3 through D#4. You can, as you might have guessed, define your own sequence, but you can also load any of the sequences that come with AGL or one that you downloaded from Ample Sound. If those don't suit your fancy, you can also find a measure that you like in a tab you've loaded into AGL and use that as a sequence as well. It's obvious that Ample Sound knows what musicians want, and they've built those features into all of their guitar VIs.
By the way, if there's a feature that you feel is missing from AGL or any of Ample Sounds' many guitar VIs, chances are it will appear in one of the many updates that Ample Sounds puts out. We had quite the challenge during our review because Ample Sound added features faster than we could learn them and write about them. Unlike many other VI developers, the guys at Ample Sound add some really major features in their minor updates.
Ample Sound added the ability to load Guitar Pro tab files in version 1.5 of their VIs. You might be thinking, "So what?", but this feature is nothing of short of astonishing. In fact, in talking to many Pro Tools users, we found that many had never heard of Ample Sound until they heard the AGL playing Hotel California from a tab file.
When you purchase AGL (or any other guitar VI from Ample Sound), you'll get access to download not only the Hotel California tab but also many other tab files directly from Ample Sound. However, that's not your only source of tabs. Ample Sound guitars support GP3, GP4 and GP5 tab files, and you can find plenty of those free on the Internet. We found a huge assortment of tabs (including the one in the screenshot above) on the gprotab.net website. We found that some of the tabs here would not load into AGL. Some of them even caused Pro Tools 11 to crash on our MacBook Pro. We feel certain that the problem was with the tab itself, but we would have liked to see AGL handle this more gracefully.
There are a lot of VIs that allow you to dial in the human factor, but we've never experienced a VI that fulfilled that promise as truthfully as AGL does.
I have to admit that when I first heard of the tabs feature, I assumed that guitar VIs playing tab files would be robotic and uninteresting. However, what I didn't take into account was the ability of AGL to humanize so many properties of playback. In fact, AGL (and other guitar VIs from Ample Sound) allows you to add a human factor to a huge assortment of properties, and by doing so, you can really bring these instruments to life. There are a lot of VIs that allow you to dial in the human factor, but we've never experienced a VI that fulfilled that promise as truthfully as AGL does.
The FX mode simulates a pedal board that most guitar players would use when playing live. Ample Sound provides a compressor, a distortion pedal, an EQ and a chorus effect as direct effects. A phaser, a delay and a reverb are available as send effects. For good measure, a wah-wah pedal is also available. We found these to not be very useful for the AGL, but we can see how they might be useful for one of the electric guitar VIs. Some other reviewers have commented that the quality of some of these is questionable, but we have no comment because our only experience is with the AGL guitar VI and we really like it without any effects.
Tips for Ample Sound VIs
Here are a few tips based on the many hours we spent playing AGL in our tracks.
Play Like a Guitar Player
This might seem like a pretty common sense tip, but there's a reason why this is so important when playing AGL or any other Ample Sound guitar VI. These VIs are not simply instruments that play sampled guitar sounds when you hit keys. Instead, they include a complex sound engine that is designed to reproduce not only the sound of a guitar, but the character of a guitar. Therefore, if you play a note on a particular string while that string is still "vibrating" from a previous note, you'll cause the original note to stop playing.
If you play the way that a guitar player would typically play, the result is an incredibly realistic guitar sound. If you play AGL like a piano, you'll end up with a piano that sounds like a guitar. Trust us; the latter is not what you want. As with all musical endeavors, practice makes music.
Number of Voices
By default, ALG can play 96 simultaneous voices. In most cases, you won't exceed that number, but if you do, you won't hear what you expect to hear. If you click on Settings, AGL will show you how many voices are required for what you're playing. If the number of voices exceeds 96 (the default setting), you can increase the number of voices.
Read the manual and watch the Reverand's excellent videos to get a better handle on how to determine how you should best configure AGL.
Set Your Delay
When you pick or strum a guitar string, the sound doesn't begin immediately. It takes a fraction of a second for the string to produce the full note. For that reason, AGL has a delay built in of 50ms. This isn't important if you are playing the VI with a keyboard, but if you are using recorded AGL tracks in your mix, it may be. Ample Sound recommends that you set a delay of -50ms on your track. You can find more information in the manual.
You'll find it easier to play AGL if you automate some of the settings so that you can adjust them in your MIDI contoller. You can do this easily by holding the Option key (Alt key on Windows) and clicking on a knob or setting. There are other automation abilities as well. See the Ample Sound manual for all the details.
There truly is no substitute for a warm-blooded guitar player, but if you don't have that luxury, Ample Sound's guitar VIs can fill the bill nicely. If you practice on these instruments and learn how they respond as you play, you can create complex guitar parts that will fool just about anyone listening to your final mix. Singer-songwriters who don't play guitar can also benefit immensely from these guitar VIs because they allow you to create the guitar sound and chord progression you want. You can then hand that off to an actual guitarist and they can get a much better idea of what you want the guitar part to sound like in your mix.
You owe it to yourself to download the demo of one of Ample Sound's excellent VIs. We're confident that you'll be as impressed as we were with these excellent instruments.