For the latest addition to the ‘Real’ range, MusicLab have turned their expert attention to the classic Les Paul Custom.
«MusicLab RealLPC»by Nick Magnus, Sound On Sound magazine about RealLPC
RealLPC’s interface, shown in ‘solo’ playing mode. The green circles in the upper and lower (grey) areas of the keyboard indicate active keyswitch assignments.
When MusicLab released RealStrat at the tail end of 2007, they unleashed a powerful and articulate virtual instrument that was capable of eliciting astonishingly realistic guitar performances based on the sound of the Fender Stratocaster. When I reviewed it in the January 2008 issue of SOS, the ‘Cons’ section stated “None, except ‘more guitar models, please!’” Well, it seems that MusicLab had no intention of letting the idea rest there, and now the ‘Real’ treatment has been applied to another electric guitar icon — the Gibson Les Paul Custom (hence the LPC of the title). It could almost be seen as a fitting tribute to the late, great Les Paul. RealLPC is effectively a re-skinning of RealStrat, using a completely new core library of Les Paul Custom samples.
Operationally the two instruments are identical, having the advantage that sequenced performances previously played by Real Strat can be redirected to RealLPC and still work as intended, so long as the corresponding performance parameters are set up identically for both instruments. RealLPC’s GUI depicts a glossy black Les Paul guitar with gold trim, set against a dark green-gold background. The overall dark colour scheme makes the parameter legending a little less legible than on RealStrat, although the brightness and contrast settings of my LCD monitor may have some bearing on this.
I should also mention at this point that the entire sample library comes in at around 2GB and that RealLPC is fairly gentle in terms of both RAM and CPU requirements.
Concept In Brief
The Pattern Manager window, showing the library of pre-programmed strumming MIDI files organised by genre, variation and tempo.
As RealStrat and RealLPC share an identical layout and parameter set, for a detailed description of the overall concept it’s worth revisiting the RealStrat review at /products/realstrat/reviews.html. To reiterate briefly, RealLPC offers five performance modes; Solo, Harmony, Chords, Bass & Chord and Bass & Pick. Solo mode (to my mind, the instrument’s true highlight) is fully polyphonic, giving access to a vast array of articulations and guitaristic techniques, all accessed via keyswitches. The other four modes employ variations on the ‘strumming’ technique: hold a chord with your left hand while ‘strumming’ it using dedicated trigger keys located higher up the keyboard. RealLPC analyses your chords and produces suitable guitar voicings. These are also dependent on other factors such as your position on the keyboard, and the position of the virtual ‘capo’.
RealLPC also features the same built-in Pattern Manager as RealGuitar and RealStrat. Pattern Manager is a library of pre-programmed MIDI-file strumming patterns that can be dragged and dropped into your sequencer tracks and copied and pasted as required. All you have to do is play chords on the keyboard, and Pattern Manager does the strumming for you. Useful for quick song construction, perhaps, but never as effective, realistic or fun as a spontaneous, hands-on performance!
RealLPC Vs RealStrat
RealLPC’s keyswitch window, showing the 33 assignable keyswitch locations. The sliders and drop-down arrows on some articulations allow the user to set the speed and range of the effect.
Many years ago, as a keyboardist who had lovingly assembled a multi-keyboard rig of carefully chosen instruments, I naively wondered why electric guitarists felt the need for more than one guitar — surely they all sounded the same? Happily, I recovered from that daft misconception, and RealLPC clearly demonstrates just how different two guitars can sound. As a non-guitarist, I’m fully aware of the risk of ‘misquoting the Bible’ with the following comparisons! Nevertheless, on the one hand we have the bright and wiry tone of RealStrat. This is well suited for a wide variety of styles, such as country, American AOR, ska, reggae and rock & roll. However, that inherent wiriness can be problematic when recreating overdriven low-end riffs and single lines, due to the slightly enharmonic quality of RealStrat’s sound in the lower registers. The upper frequencies tend to be magnified, sounding rather like excess fret rattle, resulting in a blurred sound and subjective loss of clarity. Some fairly drastic EQ is necessary if you want to minimise these artifacts.
On the other hand, RealLPC has a comparatively muted, bell-like tone with warmth and solidity, the accent being on the mid-frequency range. The differences become very apparent when playing overdriven lead sounds in the lower range — typically, those powerful, underpinning lines that parallel the bass part. RealLPC displays far less of that enharmonic quality, resulting in a distinct solidity and clarity of pitch. This makes it ideal for heavy metal riffing, power chugs, palm-muted phrases and other styles where crisp execution and clarity are essential. RealLPC is therefore well suited to metal, heavy rock, progressive, Britpop… in fact, any style where soloing, riffing and power chords are the order of the day.
When heard with no processing, RealLPC has a more pronounced initial attack than RealStrat, giving the impression that the sustain portion of notes doesn’t ring out as long, but in fact it does. The overall tonal character can be adjusted using the pickup position slider, which offers 14 different positions, from bridge to body pickup and anywhere in between. In conjunction with the treble and bass EQ settings, a reasonable variety of ‘colours’ is available even before you start to add further processing. RealLPC responds very well to effects such as chorus and rotary speaker, lending strummed chords a distinctively chiming and lively character.
Over the last couple of years, RealStrat has become an essential part of my recording setup. It’s so expressive and versatile that I recently used it (and RealGuitar) to provide almost all the guitars for an entire prog rock album. If there were any reservations at all about the tonal qualities of RealStrat under certain conditions, RealLPC offers the perfect foil — and this is hardly surprising, considering that many guitarists switch instruments on a regular basis to suit the style of music they’re playing. The only improvements I could think of are marginal: optional skins, perhaps? A choice of gold top or sunburst would be nice. Individually tunable strings would also help to create a ‘slightly less than perfect’ vibe.
MusicLab have an inspirational suite of instruments in their ‘Real’ range, and one wonders what the next in the electric series might be. Something quite different, but complementary, perhaps? How about a 12-string Rickenbacker?
Amplitube 3 Custom Shop Bundle
As with RealStrat, RealLPC comes bundled with Amplitube 3 Custom Shop, a cut-down version of IK Multimedia’s Amplitube 3 Guitar Amplifier simulation plug-in. Although providing limited facilities, this is a welcome freebie to get things rocking if you don’t already have an amp plug-in. There are also plenty of freeware amp simulators available on the net if you’re strapped for cash and want to explore the possibilities further. For those on a modest budget, I’d suggest Studio Devil VGA as a good all-rounder with plenty of tonal variety, and for those who want the full-shred, mega-rig experience I can heartily recommend NI’s Guitar Rig 4.
Thanks MusicLab for creating this new instrument which is “inspirational” in every sense of the word!
«MusicLab RealLPC Virtual Instrument»by Alan Doyle about RealLPC
- Installation was as simple as you can imagine — just run the installer, accept the licence conditions, choose your target disk drive (great that it doesn’t have to be the main system drive) and your preferred sample rate, press ‘next’ and grab a cup of tea (or an ice cool drink if you’re in Australia like me) and when you come back it’s done and ready to go in any of your DAWs or as a standalone application.(Enter Licence/Serial Number later obviously). Painless!
- The choice of sample rates is really great for home studio owners like me as it helps to keep CPU load low, but knowing that at any time you can load the uber?hi tech sample rates if you desire.
- I installed RealLPC on my MacMini Core2 Duo 2.66Ghz, 2Gb RAM, running Leopard and it worked like a charm in both Garageband’09 and Logic Pro 9 as an AudioUnit plugin. I also ran it without a hitch in Cubase 5 as a VSTi.
- The new RealLPC interface is a gorgeous combination of muted green and black befitting the black of the original LPC and I really like the high gloss black body finish and gold pickups and other hardware. Sure it’s “eye candy”, but it’s really nice and helps to create a sense of something really special.
- At first glance and also after further detailed inspection, the functions and options are almost identical to RealStrat. But this is an asset not a disadvantage as I found out later when playing the instrument (see below).
- Stability was excellent. RealLPC never crashed or froze once when using it, even though I was going in and out of functions and modes and Pattern Manager and using Keyswitched Solo performances in rapid succession. It was simply a dream to play with (and reminisce on those big prog rock band lead solos from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s!!!).
- Similarly I had no problems pumping the output through the included Amplitube 3 Custom Shop. My friends were awe?struck at the sounds I could produce (particularly the ACDC/heavy distorted guitar sounds).
- I used to be a bit tentative showing my guitar Virtual Instruments to friends who are guitarists (e.g. those instruments built into my DAWs’ Romplers, UVI Workstation, and even the few spacey examples in Spectrasonics Omnisphere!) These guys could easily tell the difference between the real thing and a digital sampled instrument when listening to my projects. Now, they asked, who played the guitar for me on my recent tracks!!! … and I wasn’t even playing anything special — just a few strummed chord sequences and couple of simple lead lines with and without Amplitube 3 (ooooh the satisfaction!)
Bonus “Creativity Accelerator” included!
- The ability to play natural guitar chord inversions by having RealLPC derive them from my keyboard chords is an amazing asset to me — given I’m a ham?fisted guitar player! The real hidden benefit for me though is when I have writer’s block (quite often!) composing using piano chords with a piano or other ‘keyboard’ Virtual instrument. RealLPC creates really interesting guitar inversions of what I’m playing which has generated some great new chord sequences and also inspired melodies that I wouldn’t have come up with if I were just noodling away in keyboard chord land! Fantastic!
- The familiar set up including the keyswitching from RealStrat works well so I’m glad it’s not changed in RealLPC — I can continue to use the techniques I previously learned.
- The added bonus of this is also that the sequences I originally recorded on my RealStrat can now be exactly assigned to RealLPC to achieve the sounds I originally wanted to be ‘Les Paul sounding’ with no tweaking at all! ? magic. The only thing I did was to tweak the inbuilt mixer’s EQ and Pick Position to give me the final sound adjustments I wanted. The moveable pick position combined with Hi and Lo Eq pretty much allows any combination of tone you can dream up.
- The most interesting and ‘hard to pin down’ thing of all is that I felt even more inspired playing RealLPC than the RealStrat that I already had. But then the weird thing was that playing the LPC reawakened my interest in and ability to play the RealStrat more creatively. So now I’ve really ended up adding two instruments rather than one to my regular playing. Cool!
- This also led me on to experimenting more with the Pattern Manager. Again, playing some of the familiar patterns I had used or adapted from the original RealStrat interface, breathed new life into riffs that I’d used before. It was as if the LPC sound had created new patterns to play with. Weird and hardly scientifically based!…. but psycho?acoustically it was a ‘renaissance’ for me!
Some ideas for Future updates
There are a couple of minor wishes that I’d love to see in the next version/update. No show?stoppers here, just some little niceties that I think might be relatively easy to program but provide some great additional “tasty bits”:
- The value selection boxes are a little small when using high screen resolutions. If they could be made a little bigger and/or clickable to enter numeric values and/or drag up/down or side to side, this would make data entry a lot easier
- If the LPC screen were resizable it would be good as it can get in the way of other screen areas in your DAW, especially for those using single screen setups.
- On a similar note (excuse the awful pun) it would be great if in a future update the Mixer noises (Fret, Release and Pick) could be Key switched also rather than being always on or off at the amount dialled in to the control panel
Final thoughts and Conclusions
- At first I thought I should be able to just buy and play RealLPC as another guitar?type selectable in a selector panel like the one in RealGuitar. However the excellent crossgrade pricing means effectively all your paying for is the cost of the Virtual instrument as if it was available as a separate Virtual Instrument loadable into the original RG2L or RealStrat interface anyway. The sound of LPC is so good that it’s well worth every cent of the asking price of the crossgrade.
- I had an absolutely fantastic time testing out the new RealLPC and could not find any bugs or unusual behaviour on my software/hardware setup. It performed flawlessly in every respect.
- The strangest and most exciting part of all (apart from the amazing sound of the Les Paul coming through my humble studio monitors) was that I found a new method of songwriting when using RealLPC! — the guitar chord inversions and gorgeous old?world sound of the Les Paul samples enabled me to write songs that I would never have written if I had only played the exact same chords on my digital sampled piano application. That alone has made the time playing with RealLPC worthwhile for me.
- Add to this, the truly satisfying experience of being able to play a Les Paul guitar convincingly even as a hardened keyboardist… and impress the hell out of your friends… and you’ve got a real winner! Thanks MusicLab for creating this new instrument which is “inspirational” in every sense of the word!
«I just HAVE to have that Guitar software!»by Ted Perlman about RealLPC
I just HAVE to have that Guitar software! I've played guitar for MANY years with just about EVERYBODY in this business, and Real series Guitars by MusicLab are the best I have ever heard that truly emulate a real guitar in Soooooooo many styles. It's almost as good as me :-)
«Amazed at the ease of the interface, and the tonal quality!»by Chip Shearin about RealLPC
I came across your software, when in need for a guitarist to play steel string on a movie score. Downloaded the software and was able to hit the finish line shortly after. Amazed at the ease of the interface, and the tonal quality! I would swear a first call guitarist was on the session during playback!
Music Director for Justin Timberlake, Marion Meadows and many others,
2010 Rock Hall of Fame Inductee
«Such incredible musical resources!»by Robert Bobby Martin about RealLPC
I've been using the RealStrat, RealLPC, and RealGuitar in both live and studio environments, and absolutely loving them both. I also show everyone I work with what I'm using, and they're all amazed at the quality of your products. I truly appreciate your work in allowing me access to such incredible musical resources.
Robert "Bobby" Martin,
Instrumentalist/Vocalist (Frank Zappa, Glenn Frey, Stevie Nicks, Etta James, Michael McDonald)