Designing Archtop: Hollowbody Electric Guitar

To date, our rock/metal-focused electric guitar libraries Shreddage and Shreddage 2 have been the most popular instruments in the Impact Soundworks family. We’re extremely proud of these releases, particularly Shreddage 2, which pushes the limits of how realistic a virtual guitar can be. But while we’re thrilled with the aggressive, heavy tone of these libraries and how well they handle rock/metal music, we’ve always wanted to explore the softer, more dynamic side of the 6-stringed spectrum.

Enter Archtop: Hollowbody Electric Guitar, our upcoming release. We’ve collaborated with virtuoso guitarist and session musician Josh Workman to produce an incredibly detailed library capturing the sounds of a Sadowsky Jim Hall Model archtop hollowbody guitar. This gorgeous instrument is one of the world’s finest guitars, particularly for clean styles like jazz, pop, R&B. It’s also quite capable for many rock and alternative genres as well.

Josh Workman

When we set out to find an excellent player for the library, it wasn’t long before Mr. Workman’s name came up. His incredible career spans over two decades, including hundreds of performances around the world with neo-swing band Indigo Swing, touring with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, hundreds of thousands of album sales, and a critically successful solo release. However, we needed not just an excellent performer, but one with a tremendous versatility and a deep understanding of their instrument. Here too, Josh fit the bill, being equally masterful in genres ranging from bop and Latin jazz to Brazilian, blues, gypsy jazz and more.

Josh Workman on stage: Napa, CA
Josh Workman on stage in Napa, CA
As with all of our releases, we prefer to collaborate with musicians to design our libraries. Over the course of many months, we refined and established a detailed plan for Archtop that covered all essential articulations, techniques, and intricacies. Once actual editing began, we continued to work with Josh to improve and iterate upon our concept to make it as comprehensive and realistic as possible.

The Recordings

A masterpiece instrument and a player with killer chops demand an excellent recording setup, which is exactly what we created for Archtop. Unlike Shreddage 2, and using custom-modified electronics, the neck and bridge pickups of the guitar were recorded simultaneously; the end result allows the user to seamlessly switch or blend between both pickups, just as you can on the real guitar. We also integrated “The Brick” into the signal chain, a true vacuum tube-based triple-stage DI box which gave our 24-bit recordings incredible warmth.

As with Shreddage 2, all recordings are totally, 100% clean/DI. Our #1 goal when designing the signal chain was for it to sound as rich and warm as possible even with no effects, amps, or cabs applied. Of course, the Archtop library also sounds excellent with either its internal effects or any external amp sim, and has various tools like virtual “volume” and “tone” knobs to further sculpt the sound to your liking.

Compare the features of Shreddage 2 to Archtop at a glance in this PDF!

Sampling & Articulations

The single biggest difference between Shreddage 2 and Archtop is that the latter features up to four dynamic (velocity) layers. With Shreddage 2, our philosophy was that the instrument should be amped with hi-gain settings, and thus subtle dynamic changes were not as important. On the other hand, we wanted Archtop to be adept at handling intimate, expressive playing even with no amp at all. This alone offers a wealth of possibilities for new playing styles.

We chose to focus on a slightly different set of articulations as well. Archtop features such techniques as thumbed octaves (a staple for many jazz styles), natural harmonics, “artificial” harmonics, 3-string chokes, and less aggressive palm mutes. Some techniques more relevant to rock/metal music were not included, such as powerchord playing, wide pinch squeals, and extra layers of ultra-short and biting mutes. However, the fundamentals are all still there: sustains, staccato, portamento (glissando) slides, hammer-on and pull-offs, tremolo, and various release noises.

Engine Features & Scripting

Archtop offers much of the same advanced functionality as Shreddage 2, such as adjusting the fretting engine, release noise volumes, splitting MIDI channels (for greater compatibility with MIDI guitars), envelope times, pitch bend range, and many more features. However, it was actually scripted completely from scratch; we wanted a fresh slate given that it’s a totally new and different instrument.

One of the new and exciting features included is the ability to more deeply customize how the instrument is played. A smooth velocity curve knob instantly changes the response (or “touch”) of Archtop from very light to very heavy and everything in between. Articulations can also be custom mapped to either any velocity range OR custom keyswitches. For example, you could assign harmonics to low velocities and sustains to high velocities, but use a low G note to trigger palm mutes as long as it’s held down. This versatility is essential given the breadth of articulations included.

Another feature is the ability to play polyphonic legato, either with hammer-on and pull-off articulations or portamento slides. This is particularly useful when combined with the Split MIDI Channel functionality, which assigns notes from separate MIDI channels to separate strings. Lastly, new humanization features have been added, included random sympathetic resonance. This emulates the open string vibrations caused by a guitarist playing quickly and striking adjacent strings accidentally. Though this may sound silly at first glance, having a small amount of ‘human error’ greatly adds to the realism of the instrument.

More To Come

We can’t wait to share more information about Archtop including price, release date, and audio demos. To give you a hint for each: the price will be comparable to Shreddage 2, with a generous crossgrade discount for S2 owners. The release date is slated for sometime before 2014, and audio demos will be released in the coming weeks.

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