Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer Review
The Roland GR-55 is a guitar synthesizer for the 21st century and was released in 2011 at the NAM show in Los Angeles. How much has this moved on since the earlier efforts by Roland? and is this effects processor, synthesizer and guitar anomaly worth having? Does it REALLY do the business?
Review of GT-100 from Roland Corp.
22nd April 2012
A review of the GT-100 Effects Pedal. Does this GT-100 REALLY stack up where it matters - on the fretboard? or is it just another revamp of the GT-10? Check it out HERE its online right now.
Also the YJM100 Amp Head from Marshall amps here in the UK... a no holds barred review from Tony Mckenzie. Input also by Santiago Alvarez from Marshall Amplification.
DV-Mark Multiamp Amp Amplifier Review
1st May 2013
I just bought a DV-Mark Multiamp and a couple of 1x12 speakers designed to work with this amp for review. This is another emulator or simulator type of guitar amps.
Find out if this amp can topple the Axe-FX series and all the features that are built right in to the MULTIAMP such as a 500w amp for a bargain price! And does this amp deliver the goods?
Check out this review online ..take a look at the Multiamp from DV Mark and see the most in depth review to date on this product.
Satriani JVM410HJS from Marshall
4th May 2012
But not any more... Joe has revoiced the JVM HJS Marshall amp and here is the 'Inside and Out' Review
I also reviewed recently some old favourite pickups and show a demo of David White pickups for the Stratocaster. David passed away some time ago but he left a fantastic legacy if you can find any... Click here for David White Pickups
Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer Pedal
Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer Pedal
The Roland GR-55 is a new (2011) guitar synthesizer from Roland Corp. and promises to be a real enhancement over the older GR* series of guitar synths.
But is this pedal full of crappy sounds when you buy it (like some other pedals we could name) or is it instant karma? Check it all out in this review.
The GR-55 has two independent internal sound engines that dish up the dirt. Each processing engine has over 900 sounds that are extremely high quality and feature:
A third internal sound processor is responsible for Roland COSM sounds (as featured on many of Roland's newer equipment such as the VG-99) but I am told these are refreshed on this unit and updated. You can get loads of guitar and bass sounds from the COSM processor on board.
Obviously to control the GR-55 you will need some sort of midi controller and Roland can supply the inimitable GK interface which has been around for years.
As well as all of this great technology sitting on the floor just waiting for the guitarists out there to use it the unit also has a guitar to computer interface with many onboard sound effects and other processing tools.
Another feature is the USB interface which you can connect a USB 'stick' and play back for example backing tracks as you widdle and play your new found guitar synth.
This unit also supports the guitars original tone and this is the very first time that Roland (or anyone else) has achieved all of these sound sources on a floor pedal so this unit really is revolutionary compared to what has gone before.
Well at last I did the review on YouTube on my channel which can be found also at the bottom of this review on this page.
When I first got the GR-55 I was chomping at the bit to see just how great the unit was, I had used an earlier model (if I remember it was a GR-33) but never really got to grips with that since buying it. Indeed I still have it - it used to be black, but these days it's grey from all the dust that has gathered on it. While it did work for the most part, the tracking and false notes were not a good thing.
Hopefully the GR-55 would be different, maybe even like the VG-99 which I have used on a number of occasions and my view of the VG-99 is simple - you need one!
But we're talking different beasts, not least that the VG-99 costs more and is really for a slightly different style of user in my view.
It's true to say that Roland come from the cutting edge of guitar synth stuff - I remember hearing of many 'famous' musicians playing around with synth stuff on the guitar... but the funny thing is, they never used any of it in their music - just real keyboard players and I often wondered why.
But the GR-55 with the combination of COSM and the internal synths hooked up with midi, the looper, the wav player and a host of other stuff surely the GR-55 will be an out and out winner.
The GR-55 Build Quality
The GR-55 is actually made in Taiwan. Now if you're as old as me then you might remember that made in Taiwan was a bit of a stigma.
But not any more.
Jump to 2011 and you will be saying among yourselves (ssshhhh) that 'made in China' equals yuk in the music kit world!
You see, it was true that all those years ago the Taiwanese stuff was not too good, but things moved on in a big way and today they say that about China because the skill levels are still developing... but Taiwan? Well no, Taiwan is simply an awesome place to get things made these days.
And it's no wonder, they have been making top brand technology for a very long time - back in 1987 their trade surplus (what they sell above what they buy as a country) was 350 BILLION.
So you could say by now that they have improved a little more. The problem is of course, that many Taiwanese manufacturers up rooted their business and moved to China more recently because of the labour cost in Taiwan. Today, Taiwan equals a higher unit cost.
The GR-55 build quality is almost impeccable. But that statement applies to most of Roland stuff - examine the GT-10 and it's as good. I found just a few areas of problem with this brand new unit.
Now look close... you don't really see too well from this image, but the output connectors stick way out of the back of the unit - indeed far further than all the other connectors. It looks like they used any old connectors to slap in there. It spoils the aesthetics of the unit in my view - in real life they look like a 'pigs ear' job.
Look at the same picture above and you will see the 13 pin socket for the GK-3. That connector can have an issue where you get crackling out of the amp when you knock the connector. It can be 'cleaned' with some contact cleaner, but that problem I saw a couple of times... and the 13 pin connector (especially on the GK-3) can be a real pain to remove.
While this usb door simply clicks in to place and everything looks cool, the thing did not feel up to the standard of the rest of the unit. In fact it was a little flimsy in my opinion - maybe it will stand up to the rigors of the road? maybe not.
The casing on the UNIT was exceptional, as was the rest of the unit in all other respects and that large LCD type screen appears to be solid. Problems in that area could prove expensive in the long run - can you imagine what that would cost to replace, and on the road there's no better breaking ground.
Everything did work as it should, the knobs, controls, buttons were all very good indeed.
Build quality overall though in my view is 8.5 out of 10.
The GR-55 can be used by guitarists or bass players with just a simple settings change in the system settings... great - now we don't have one in different colours like it used to be on some kit.
That 13 pin connector is in some ways a bit of a pain... you see, one of the features that they didn't bother with was a simple guitar in connector. This means, no GK pickup, no GR-55 use - at least not from a guitar. Now if you've got a Roland ready Fender or something like that it's no problem, just get that and you are in business... but if you don't have the GK pickup for regular guitars then you will not be playing some time soon.
The synth section of the pedal has two voices in there so you can easily mix the two together to get some really nice sounds... and that's not all... the COSM section of this pedal has some amp simulations in there these days as well as all the other usual COSM stuff found on other kit like the GT-10 and VG-99 but in slightly different formats.
It's possible (as it is on the VG-99) to keep your guitar tuning standard on the guitar but have the GR-55 change the tuning when it arrives at the GR-55 output. Basically if you want a dropped D then simple, you want a DADGAD that's easy too...
In the Loop:
That's right, the GR-55 does have a loop unit built right in there and while it does not last too long (about 20 seconds) it's still a feature that you could use if so inclined. I did not bother with that in my video review because to be honest, I had far more fun with the sounds coming out of the amp. The looper seemed like a good idea though and it's in there I guess for free.
There's also a player (by using the USB memory stick) for wav files which is controllable by two of the pedals:
You can see the Audio Player button in this image
The audio player support is not bad actually and again it's just one of those features that is a simple thing but adds value to the unit in a good way. I found that the audio player selection of a tune was quite limiting being restrained to just scrolling through the tracks. I had a problem with the naming of a few files too. Check the video and you can see where I scroll through the audio tracks at one stage.
Now Roland et al, will tell you that the unit does not have any tracking issues. Some people would describe this as 'midi' tracking, but they would be wrong by using those terms. In fact midi is not involved in the tracking from the pickup - the GK-3 is an audio pickup.. or at least much nearer to that than midi. I once asked a Roland representative about the 'bad tracking' on another device (rather similar) and his official response was exactly that - it's NOT a tracking error.... at least that's what his answer was.
Well I understand.... no, really... he is right, it has little to do with 'midi' at least not as we know it.
But unfortunately for him (and you and me) the 'tracking' problems still exist.
I did show some examples of tracking errors in my video which are plain to see - and even if you just lightly strum a chord (say) those errors still exist.
Some of you brainy guys will blame me, the guitar, the pickup setup or basically anything except the real culprit - the design, and while the tracking is acceptable with a few changes to your style of playing - make no mistake - IT IS NOT PERFECT.
There I've said it and now await the ridicule and hate mail in due course. But I don't care.
You see, sometimes some followers of particular kit simply don't quite get on with the truth. After all, they probably own one of these, whereas you might not yet have bought one and it's my job to point out the good AND the bad on anything I review after having bought it.
By the way, I paid full price for my unit and Roland (or for that matter anyone else) don't give me any deals - it's my real money just like yours is - and hard earned at that!
Some reviewers will tell you that the tracking is really great and such an improvement over anything Roland have made before... poppycock... in my opinion the tracking on this unit is not as good as the VG-99 and only just better than the GR-33.
So don't buy this unit thinking tracking is going to be perfect - it will not be.
This is where things get better...
As I have said before, I own one of the earlier floor synths (it's not THAT old) and have used that to write and record commercial tracks (check out a couple of tracks on my 'Berner Street' album from 2008, I wrote two synth sections on that unit), but also used the VG-99 which in my opinion was (and remains) the best guitar synth to date.
But the sounds on the GR-55 so many say are the 'same' as the VG-99... but I think they are different when comparing the two as I did.
The GR-55 though sounds extremely good on a lot of patches - I would say about 60% of those sounds are convincing and if you did not know it was a GR-55 then you might well think it was actually a piano being played, or a rock organ, or... the list does go on and on.
Remember that these sounds that I used were EXACTLY as they come when you get the GR-55 out of the box. They do sound good for the most part - and Roland corp. do say in their ads that you can use the sounds 'right out of the box'.
Well at least most of them... some were rubbish and it's likely you would NEVER use them in real music any time soon unless you were a martian, but other sounds were great and had an awful lot of authenticity and vibe.
HOWEVER, there is always a problem and sooner or later I will talk about it if I find it... I did...
It's those COSM sounds and amp simulators.
The nearest one to anything accurate in my opinion was the Fender amp with a Telecaster (or it could have been a strat) sound.
The rest? Let's just say that you might be tweaking those for a while. You might be tweaking them forever.
I felt that the GT-10 had superior COSM sounds to this unit.
During my foray in to the recording of the sound samples for video I actually managed to record all the ones which I felt sounded very good and the total from the 'lead and rhythm' buttons amounted to at least 70 sounds - and all that was without trying. Remember - these are as they come from the factory! It does not sound like many, but there were more and I simply ran out of time.
It was starting to get monotinous - every sound one after the other was cool... and that's just not a common thing to find these days...
Roland does provide a Librarian software to manage the GR-55 with and I suppose it's better than nothing. Well almost... you see, this piece of software is free and I guess you get what you pay for.
The Roland software is basically a simple text style application and it's adequate if that's the sort of thing you like.
On the other hand, this is a new unit, and Roland may update the librarian software at some point...
Don't waste your time.
There IS an alternative and while that alternative is not quite complete it's not far off at all.
Step in The GR-Floorboard.
AND it's FREE! Check it out HERE
The author needs/wants donations and if the GR Floorboard is good for you then maybe it's worth sending him a tip - I did. That's how you get innovative stuff like this rather that the frankly rubbish Roland attempt.
Which would YOU choose?
It's not a difficult choice is it?
Actually the manuals are reasonably good, but as
you might expect from a device that can be complex if you want it to be,
sometimes it's a little hard to find the answer to what you want to
solve. The case in point is setting up the real guitar out (I show you
in my video review).
Sure you can go around the manual and there are some hints but I had to solve it the hard way. Basically go and find the answer on a forum!
As a matter of course, you might like to know that although I had already found the answer to that problem, I did give Roland UK's technical support a call (to check exactly how good their support was) and asked them the same question. Result equals non descript answer that still did not actually give me the steps to achieve what I wanted. Like I said - use the forums.
At least there's no 'Pilots Handbook' like included with the HD500 from Line 6.
And Roland do provide a fully printed manual and a complete printed list of all the patches and sounds in the unit.
Roland have always seen the initiative of including a proper printed manual with their kit and that's a commendable thing bearing in mind that the cost comes off their bottom line.
What's the Bottom Line with the GR-55?
Overall I liked this unit.
There are good and bad points about every piece of kit on the market from all suppliers and this one is no exception. Below are the things I liked and the things I liked a lot less:
The sounds even right out of the box. Some of the sounds available were stunning of that there is no doubt, but I always found the COSM stuff being turned off more than on when using this synth. Just think - Roland WAS telling the truth about their sounds in the GR-55 - that must be a first for any manufacturer?
The build quality. Overall quality is excellent and is what Roland is good at today.
Wav player thrown in the mix - read USB Memory stick too. Some features that are not actually what you bought the unit for (probably) but these make the unit just that little bit more special.
Looper thrown in the mix. Another feature that you might not have thought would be there by default.
USB for managing the unit with software. It's a wonderful idea managing the unit with software and having a USB driver available - some brands out there still have not woken up to this.
Those darned pedals for changing the patch number. These are REALLY hard work and there is much messing about getting patches FAST and accurately - the only way when you play live. The fix is called a FC-300 and costs a fortune, but with it the control is much easier.
NO 1/4 jack in. While it's interesting messing about with GK pickups, there is no doubt that a non show of a 1/4 jack is a shortcoming.
13 pin plug. That 13 pin plug and wire is unwieldy and you feel 'tethered' by it in the real world.
Guitar out. Is that a problem? You are darned sure it's a problem. Not because one is there on the unit, but because you are going to need ANOTHER amp to use that output. And I thought the idea of putting all these sources in to one box on the floor was so I could carry LESS gear around? Silly me.
Another external Power Supply. As if we all didn't have enough of these to start off with? Well I guess I can add this and later try and figure out which pedal it belongs to.
Tracking. While this should not really be under here, I did find that you need to spend time changing your attitude (and playing style) when using the GK pickup and the GR-55. The only reason this point is here, is not to criticize the unit, but rather to confirm that you WILL have to work on the playing style you have when using the GK and GR-55 combination.
COSM sounds. I thought these were poor to be honest. The synth sounds were superb (at least most were) but these COSM sounds and amp simulations were not too good and in my opinion went some way in letting the GR-55 down a little.
I'm sure that I have missed lots of points in this review, for example there is little technical info in here - that's on the internet for you to go and find, I can't be bothered to repeat what everyone else fills their review pages with.
But hopefully I have highlighted some of the great points and not so great points about the GR-55 and how it played out for me. And that's the reason for writing the review in the first place.
Buying any unit from any manufacturer today can be a sort of hit or miss affair and where your money is concerned you don't want to make the wrong choice of kit.
I suspect as always there will be some readers that benefit greatly from this review and others that will not, either because they are technically literate or because they don't like the truth... either way, you pay your money and you make your choice.
I just hope that this review helps you to decide what's right for you.
I rate this unit at about an 8 out of 10 overall which for me is a high score and the unit achieved this score mainly from the build quality and the overall quality of the sounds - remember? that's why you bought it.
That's all good, but am I keeping the GR-55?
I still have that GR-33 and for the gain available (for my use) I don't think I will keep the GR-55. While the unit does break new ground (sort of) there are many things that I will never really benefit from personally, such as that looper, the wav player etc. and there are many things that I find limiting in one way or another. I will NEVER use the COSM sounds. I would HATE switching those presets with the limited pedals so would use up more real estate by having to use the FC-300 (or some other alternative) and there are more points that make the GR-55 not for me.
But remember I am not you and you may not have any difficulty with the above at all. Indeed you might LIKE those COSM sounds and all that other good stuff in there. But remember when you're doing a gig and a bottle hits you on the head... it was me that told you those COSM sounds were not cool... :-)
In any case, mine's on eBay over the next week or so. Don't you ♥ it!
Thanks for visiting the site and reading this review.
Heres the video:
GR-55 Video Review
Please note that all video on this site and my YouTube channel is (c) A B Mckenzie 2011