I’ve been a guitarist since the age of 12, when my older brother gifted me his 1959 Hofner semi-acoustic guitar, with which he’d failed to make any headway. I had no such problem and guitars have been my constant companions from that day on. I played the guitar in bands; I wrote a load of songs on the guitar (and still prefer to work up ideas for compositions on guitar rather than a keyboard); for five years, I taught the guitar. I currently have five guitars that would be the first possessions I would rescue from a fire. So, yes, I’m into guitars big time.
So why would I or any of the millions of other guitar lovers around the world ever consider using a virtual guitar? Let me first explain why I would never ditch my guitars altogether:
Why I need real guitars by my side
Nothing looks, feels, smells (and probably tastes) like a real guitar: They are (almost) the most lovely objects to covet, caress and cosset.
You need a real guitar to create new material for the guitar: I know that you could compose for a guitar on a keyboard but I doubt if the end result would sound like a guitar.
To perform guitar parts live you need a real guitar: Live and on stage, you need a real guitar because a keyboard is not ergonomically suited for playing guitar parts in real time. I know some people can do it but what a waste of effort – why not just use a guitar?
When virtual guitars have the edge
Virtual guitars are better for arranging guitar parts in a Digital Audio Workstation: If you’re arranging in a DAW, it really helps to be able to edit the elements of the arrangement in as many ways as possible. Once a part is recorded, you can apply effects and make adjustments to timing and tuning but this is generally a pain. WIth a virtual guitar, absolutely everything is adjustable.
Virtual guitar samples are perfectly recorded: However hard you try, you’ll find it hard to match the recording expertise and production values that you’ll find with professional samples.
Virtual guitar parts are perfectly performed: I’m a good guitarist but I’m not a maestro. They bring in great session guitarists to record the samples and, using software, they can create parts that would be almost impossible to play as cleanly on a real guitar. This is particularly true of fingerstyle guitar accompaniments and strumming patterns.
Virtual guitars are better for scoring: You may never create notation or tablature for your compositions but if you do, you’ll appreciate how much easier the workflow becomes when you’re using MIDI rather than audio files. Here’s how I do it: (1) I arrange the guitar track in MIDI; (2) I export the track as a MIDI file; (3) I import the MIDI file into my scoring software (I use Dorico); and (4), after some tweaking here and there, I take a deep breath and wonder at how great the notation and tablature looks.
My collection of virtual guitars
Basses: VB-Mellow, VB-Royal, VB-Rowdy, VB-Dandy, all from ujam
Steel-string acoustic guitars: Ample Guitar Martin from Ample Sound; Session Guitarist – Strummed Acoustic and Session Guitarist – Picked Acoustic from Native Instruments; Django Gypsy Jazz Acoustic Guitar from Impact; VG-Amber from ujam
Nylon-string acoustic guitar: Evolution Modern Nylon from Orange Tree Samples
Electric lead guitars: Session Guitarist – Electric Vintage and Session Guitarist – Electric Sunburst Deluxe from Native Instruments; VG Iron and VG Sparkle from ujam
I’ve used all these in anger, some just for simple accompaniments, some for more complex solo pieces. They don’t cost anything like as much as real guitars and they take up absolutely no space, so I don’t feel embarrassed at the quantity I’ve collected. And while I don’t covet, cherish or cosset them all that much, I’d be sad to be without them.