Introduction to the Roland GR-S:
The GR-D and GR-S stomp boxes are the latest products from Roland Corporation designed to offer new sonic possibilities to guitarists, and to expand the user base of 13-pin Roland guitar synth players.
These new pedals are similar to Boss OC-20G Poly Octave Pedal, and Boss WP-20G Wave Processor Pedal, which were released in 2001.
The GR-S is presented as a spatial pedal, calling to mind some kind of super chorus pedal. While the GR-D leans to traditional distortion sounds, the GR-S uses some tones outside the normal guitar vocabulary, but familiar to users of Roland guitar synths like the VG series. While a 13-pin guitar is needed for synthesizer effects, the GR-S can be used without a 13-pin guitar. When used with the standard 1/4” guitar input only, the GR-S works as a very effective, programmable chorus pedal. The GR-S has four distinct voices: Crystal, Rich Modulation, Slow Pad, and Brilliant clean. The function of the Color knob changes depending on the voice used, while the Tone knob controls overall brightness of the sound.
The pedals are clearly optimized for 13-pin guitars, the ability to use this as a standard stomp box expands it usefulness on stage and in the studio.
The GR-S also has a feature only found on the flagship Roland VG-99 guitar synthesizer, the Freeze effect. The Freeze effect enables to player to take a real-time snap shot, or sample, of the guitar sound, then immediately loop the sound indefinitely. You can play a chord, hold the freeze pedal, then solo above the chord for as long as you like. When you hit the freeze pedal, the sound is “frozen” at the current level. The GK Volume control on the guitar now controls the sound of the live guitar synth, and does not effect the “frozen” sound. This enables the player turn off the solo synth sound, or to use the conventional guitar sound for the solo.
The first voice is Crystal, which sounds like a layered version of the Crystal algorithm found in the VG series. The GR-S voice is richer and more substantial than the basic V-synth sound. The layered GR-S Crystal voice is richer could easily be used for pads, or chord comping in a modern context.
The second voice is Rich Modulation. The base sound of Rich Modulation calls to my mind piezo pickups, a neutral guitar sound. The hat trick of Rich Modulation is adding a 3-voice chorus sound to each string individually. It is a really great sound, with a lot of detail, while not overwhelming the listener with too much modulation. The Color knob controls the amount of modulation.
The third voice, Slow Pad, is an octave layered sound, somewhat similar to the Crystal voice, but with the “Slow Gear” effect added. On this patch the Color knob is used to control the attack of the sound.
The final voice in the GR-S is Brilliant Clean. The initial impression of Brilliant Clean for me is an acoustic/electric 12-string. It has a lot of high end articulation, and can make the most simple of chord patterns sound interesting. For added depth, the Color knob can be used to blend in an additional sound one octave below the fundamental frequency.
The GR-D and GR-S improved on the older Boss 13-pin pedals by including user memory locations. Also added on the GR-D and GR-S is the ability to fine-tune the response for each string. Hold down the “select” button while plugging a cable into the left/mono output. Pressing the on/off pedal steps through the six strings, and the tone knob is used to select eight different levels of string sensitivity. Press the “write” button to store the string sensitivity settings.
If you change guitars, you may need to readjust the string sensitivity settings. The GR-D and GR-S also have an ambient effect to create a stereo image from the mono output of the pedals. By default, this feature is always on. You can disable this effect by holding down the right pedal, and plugging a cable into the left/mono output. Press “select” to turn the effect on or off, then press the “write” button to store the effect setting.
The GR-D and GR-S, like most guitar pedals, do not have an on/off switch. Instead, power is applied with a standard 1/4” cable is plugged into the left, mono output. This is the opposite of a typical guitar pedal, where power is applied when plugging into the input jack. This is my biggest complaint with the GR-D and GR-S, as I had to be sure to turn my monitor mix down to avoid loud thumps when changing guitars or powering the unit on or off. This is not a factor on standard pedals which use the input jack to power the unit on or off.
For a pedal using considerable DSP processing power, the GR-D and GR-S can run through batteries quickly, so plan on buying a Boss PSA AC adapter. The estimated lifetime time of the six included AA alkaline batteries is around 7 hours, and standard carbon batteries are estimated to last for just two hours. One final note, to avoid abrupt changes in sound when editing the presets, you must first turn an editing knob past the stored value. Once you do this, the manual LED starts to flash, indicating the patch is now different from the stored value.
The Roland GR-S presents the player with four distinctive GR guitar sounds, ready to add texture or to brighten up any guitar track. As a long-time GR player, some of these sounds are all instantly recognizable to me as Roland guitar synth voices. They do not sound like keyboard patches, or attempts to emulate or model a particular guitar.
With some patience and keen programming, much of what is in the GR-S can be approximated on the Roland VG-99. But I have the feeling the appeal of the GR-S may not be to die-hard guitar synth players, but to more mainstream musicians who are looking for a tool to create a signature sound, or a surprising guitar texture that can be introduced, say, in the chorus of a song, to bring out something unique from the six string slinger. And the GR-S is not limited to 13-pin guitars. By itself it is a clean, detailed, programmable chorus pedal with four distinct sounds, that could replace several chorus pedals in a pedal board configuration.
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