Learn how to play Ambient Guitar | Drone | Soundscapes

What’s the difference between Roland VG and GR?

Over the years I was asked questions about Roland VG and GR processors because I use them a lot in my videos. One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes people don’t understand clearly the difference between these two guitar processors though this difference is fundamental.

They all work with a hexaphonic pickup which is often called a “midi” pickup though it’s not quite correct. So let’s start from this point. 

A hexaphonic pickup can be a separate unit like Roland GK-2 or it can be an inbuilt one. They all have this 13-pin output for special cables.

So what’s the “midi” pickup for?

On the contrary to a normal pickup it gets the sound from each string separately. That makes possible to process each string independently from the others. This is the key for easy sound conversion to MIDI notes.

But there’s one thing you should remember. It’s only a pickup – not a converter.

So how can we use this option of processing strings separately?

There are two popular lines of Roland guitar processors that use “midi” pickups and can be easily found on market today: VG and GR.

Now I use two of them - VG-99 and GR-33, they are very popular and really cool devices.

The fundamental difference between VG and GR is that VG is a GUITAR PROCESSOR and GR is a GUITAR SYNTH. You can separate them as a processor like Boss, Digitech or Line 6 and a keyboard synthesizer like Roland, Yamaha, Casio or whatever.

One more time again. Processer and Synthesizer. The only difference is that you use strings, but not a keyboard to play.

It means then that if you want to play with a sound of Piano, Sax, Violin or even Drums you should choose GR. GR converts the signal from a “midi” pickup into MIDI notes and plays inbuilt samples of these instruments. 

VG does not convert guitar signal to MIDI notes to play them internally. It has no samples of those instruments. 

But being possible to process each string separately VG can give you a variety of interesting possibilities. One of them is an alternative tuning. For example you can add -1 octave bass sound on 6th and 5th strings or drop down 6th string to D immediately. It’s also good for emulation of different types of guitars like Fender Strat or Gibson LP.

It can also play some synthetic sound (NOT SAMPLES) like GR-300, PWM, BOWED/PIPE…

The last thing I want to mention is that VG-99 does have a MIDI convertor that sends you midi notes to an external device via USB or MIDI 5-pin output. I personally found it useless because it makes too many mistakes while converting.




If you want to learn more about Roland / Boss equipment that I think could be interesting to ambient guitar players check it on my page about manufacturers in the “Explore” section: Roland / Boss

In this review I used an audio tarck from one of my YouTube videos: “Ambient Guitar: Soundscape #15 (Godin, Roland, Strymon)”

You can listen to / buy this track on my Bandcamp page.


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