I am a sucker for samples, and I have used a LOT of what is out there. In my quest for the ultimate in realism, I feel there are certain areas in the musical instrument world that are harder to get right. And as a result, libraries rarely GET them right. One of these areas is that of rhythm guitar. I'm not talking about basic strumming patterns, but all-out-chunky-tear-your-head-off type of electric distortion rhythm guitar.
Shreddage is a new rhythm guitar library from Impact Soundworks, and it takes on the challenge of this very style of the guitar world.
Shreddage is only available in the Kontakt format(version 2 or higher), so you will need the full version of Kontakt to use Shreddage out of the box. Fortunately, the wave files are not locked in any way, so you can edit the Kontakt mappings, as well as the files themselves. Of course, this means you can always throw the samples into a sampler of choice if needed.
Weighing in at around 1.05GB and just under 1,000 samples, Shreddage won't break the HD bank, but still has it's share of meat for you to thrash with. The included samples are mono 24-bit, 44.1kHz wave files, and are all recorded direct and completely dry. So you will need some form of amp simulator or guitar effects processing suite. Presets are included for the most popular plug-ins, such as Guitar Rig 4, Amplitube 2, TH1, Studio Devil, and Podfarm.
For this review, I used the newly released Amplitube 3 with the Fender expansion as my testing grounds.
We'll discuss the actual sounds first, and will then tackle the methods of controlling Shreddage in the next section(trust me, it's less confusing this way!).
Shreddage makes no mistake in it's goal. It's not intended to be an all-encompassing electric guitar library with every articulation and chord structure known to man. Quite the contrary. It's sole purpose is electric rhythm guitar, particularly the sound of metal, grunge, and hard rock. So naturally, the core component of Shreddage is the power chord.
The power chords in Shreddage are of the 1-5-1 variety, and include both down and upstrokes. You'll find the full range of playing styles, including sustained chords, three mute variations, and pinch squeals(with heavy vibrato) for every note. There are normal mutes, half-mutes for more open playing, and the tighter fast mute. These provide a fairly good variety for dynamic rhythm pieces, and everything comes across rather believable.
The sustains are very even in tone, and the intonation of the chords is spot on. I've seen libraries where different chord ranges gave you inconsistent tones as if played by completely different players. Fortunately, you won't find that here. Everything is consistent across the full range, which makes playing them much easier. Some may argue that this can create a sterile sounding guitar part, but I think it works out well. I certainly didn't notice anything that stood out as being too unnatural.
Also included is a full compliment of single notes in case you want to create custom chords using Shreddage, or need to add a soaring lead line to further tear apart the speakers. These are played with all the same articulations and playing styles as mentioned already for the chords. The one extra you will find available in the single notes is the addition of whole tone slides(grace notes). There are slides both UP to the played note as well as DOWN to the played note.
What you won't find are any harmonics, flageolets, or other more esoteric articulations. There are no slides from one note to another, or any other "essential" solo elements. Solo guitar isn't the scope or intention of this library, so if you are looking for something to fill in your solo gaps, you will be disappointed. As a matter of fact, the recorded style itself isn't necessarily suited for solo guitar, but works best as a compliment to the chords, or for creating custom chords. The range doesn't cover the full range of a guitar, and certainly not that of a solo lead range as used in many metal solos.
One thing I do wish would have been included is a way of applying vibrato to sustained single notes. To be fair, this isn't difficult to add into Kontakt using built in modulation, but it's the only omission I would say stuck out to me that could have been useful in the context of the library.
There are multiple release types to choose from as well, depending on the sound you want to achieve. You get normal release sounds such as those created by just lifting the fretting finger off of the string, as well as a full supply of release "squeaks", which come primarily from the moving of the finger from it's fretted position up or down the string slightly before release. To top it off, there are chord stops available as well. These are for when you want to add an extra little tight "chug", almost a very fast muted sound, upon release. These are good for fast rhythm passages.
The release samples are triggered randomly, so they can be unpredictable as to when they will appear. This can be good and bad, depending on if you want ultimate realism or just believability, which the releases do provide. There are several random robin layers being cycled through, some of which are empty so you don't get a release with every note.
A couple of varieties of full chord chokes are also available which are mapped to unused keys, and are designed for you to manually trigger when releasing a note. This lets you choke your chords and notes on demand, though these are not automatic as with release samples.
To round out the Shreddage library, you will find some utility patches. There is a patch loaded with 6 down slides complimented by 6 up/down slides, repeating over several octaves. Not every combination you could think of, but enough that you'll likely have a slide that will work in most situations.
Some nice and destructive pick scrapes have been thrown in as well(created by scraping/scratching the pick across the string). At first glance, there appears to be five sets of 8 scrapes, but in reality, there are only 8 pick scrapes, repeated in five different places on the keyboard. While only a few options, the ones that are included fit just fine into the overall theme.
Since this is a library designed for harder styles, it would be a shame to not include drop tuning. Luckily, you can rock out the chunkiest of thrashings as Shreddage features drop tuning down to Bb. I would even say that this range is what defines the sound of Shreddage the most, as it's best for those deep chugs that are so essential in rock and metal rhythm riffs. With the drop tuning, this brings the range of chords from the low Bb to the Bb two octaves above, and gives you a full three octaves of single notes as well.
You have further abilities to control the sound with a high pass and a low pass filter, along with a mid boost/cut. Essentially, a three band EQ. Each 'band' contains a single knob, so it's rather simplistic, but is fine for most tasks.
With Kontakt's scripting abilities, I would have loved to have access to the built in amp and cabinet simulations and possibly some presets. Yes, I can dial them in myself inside of Kontakt. But can't a guy be lazy once in a while?
Almost every articulation comes with 8 round robin layers, typically split with 4 up and 4 down layers, and this is nothing but a pure benefit for this type of sound set. The layers alternate between up and down strokes automatically, or you have the option to play down strokes only. So whether playing fast muted chugs or powerful driving sustains, the realism is not lost. Also, the round robin layers are very consistent. I've played libraries where the sound from one round robin to the next is different enough to make it hard to play. However, the round robin in Shreddage is remarkably consistent and only feature enough variation to make it realistic, instead of obvious.
Shreddage has the ability to provide you with true double tracking, though we will explain how it is accomplished in the next section on control.
The quality of the library is great. The samples are very clean and seem pretty glitch free and well-edited with no clicks, pops, or distortion in the recordings(it's surprising how many libraries miss these things). The sound is consistent, sustains are long and harmonic, and it's clear that great attention was given to making the library one that would give good results.
There were some slight issues, and I emphasize that they were fairly minor, with tuning. Most keys and chords sound just fine, but a few of the samples are very lightly detuned. I believe Impact Soundworks plans on addressing this in an update soon. But again, these are minor and nothing worth worrying about when deciding to buy or not.
Shreddage has specifically emphasized simplicity in it's marketing, and when you take a look at the patches provided, they seem to have followed through on this promise.
The basic playing idea is to use velocity to switch between articulations. For instance, with mutes, playing softer will give you a tight, fast mute. Playing gradually harder will "open" up the mutes and give you more open sustained half mutes. This works the same with sustains, with the highest velocities triggering a pinch squeal for that note or chord.
There are no key switches and no special scripting of CC's to switch between articulations. Everything is done purely with velocity layers and with creating custom multi patches from those available.
You will find a large number of patches in Shreddage, giving you different options for what sounds are loaded. Impact Soundworks have done a good job of giving you almost every possible configuration of sounds.
You'll find a master patch which includes all chords mapped to the left hand and single notes mapped to the right, both including all mutes, sustains, and pinch squeals. But you aren't restricted to this.
You'll find patches for sustained chords only, as well as patches for all mutes, or just individual mute types(normal, fast, half), and even patches with a mix of only two mute types. So if your piece calls for no mutes, they don't have to be there. If it calls for only half mutes, you can do that. You can even load a patch of only the pinch squeals, if you so choose. The idea is that you can load what you want, though there is no possible way of combining sustains with only a specific mute because both patches would play all the time. So if you want both mutes and sustains in the same patch so you can switch between them, you have to load one of the master patches.
Power chord articulations are provided for both right and left handed players, basically determining which part of the keyboard the samples are mapped to.
For single notes, you will find similar patches, but with the addition of the slide articulations(grace note slides, as explained above). One patch has slides UP to the note on the lower velocities, and slides DOWN to the note on the higher velocities. There is also a patch which has those two options, but puts normal sustains in the middle velocity range. There are no patches available for having mutes and slides in the same instrument.
The playability of Shreddage is about as easy as it gets. The patches that contain the full range of sustain, mutes, and squeals can be a bit tricky to get used to, but after a while you start to learn how hard to press the key to get the right sound. With the combination of the 8 round robin layers per note per articulation, and a perfectly tuned default attack and release setting, you just play and it typically sounds good. Some minor velocity editing in the MIDI editor will usually be needed, but not too much. If playing sustained notes only, you can just hold the sustain pedal down and play without worrying about overlaps, as the polyphony for chords is set to cut one off when another starts(subject to the release setting).
It's unfortunate that there are no patches with mod-wheel fading between articulations, as this is another very easy and intuitive method of articulation switching. But we're talking about two different EASY methods of working and pure preference on my part.
You can change attack, decay, and release settings if you wish, but about 80% of the time, the defaults were just right for me. If you need a little less pick attack, just raise the attack parameter. Need a little more overlap between notes, mess around with the release. If you need even tighter mutes, you can do it. Drop the decay a bit and you have a power chord that stays a little more out of the way as it drops in volume faster.
Finally, you have the ability to add in some timing randomness to add some human feel to the tracks. This is more useful if you are programming your parts with the mouse, but when playing live, there isn't as much need.
Shreddage offers a complete second set of patches that are designed for double tracking. These patches are identical to the main library patches in most ways, but have a different round robin order as well as some timing variation. This works great, and allows you to lay down a "wall of sound", or you can send the double tracked parts through a different output and process them differently in your host without worrying about over-phasing.
Every so often a library will provide good results, the kind that make you crack a grin while playing. There were times when I was stunned at how easy it was to get something highly usable.
What stuck out to me the most was how much FUN it was to play with Shreddage. As a matter of fact, it sounds so close to what I would hope for it to sound, that I would dare say that I had a blast at times. It's simple in concept, but put together in a way that you really don't have to worry about the technical aspects. Sure, there may not be every sound or configuration in the world, but everything you need for electric rhythm parts is there. And it sounds and feels great.
You can play Shreddage with even the most basic of keyboard skills. And while I'm a fan of complex libraries with dozens of options, I still didn't feel like I was missing anything. At the moment, Shreddage provides one of the easiest ways, if not THE easiest way, to get a good rhythm track into your mix.
If you are in need of some electric rhythm guitar tracks, or just a fan of power chords, Shreddage is for you. It's affordable and you get a lot of sound and flexibility for the price. As a matter of fact, the value is tremendous if you are in need of some solid power chords to spice up your arrangements.
The dry nature and good consistent recordings allow you to create the sound YOU want, instead of having to write based on the sound they give you. Some minor tuning issues and a couple of small omissions such as no vibrato abilities notwithstanding, Shreddage is a solid and fun library.
Easy to play, light on resources, and open sample mapping and editing give you a library that will find it's way into your tracks, whether they be scratch tracks for a future live replacement, or they are a final, render-ready guitar part. It serves both purposes very well.
Test System(s): Windows 7 64-bit Professional, Custom built Intel i5 Quad Core, 8GB Corsair DDR3 RAM, 750GB Seagate Barracuda SATA System drive, 1.5TB Seagate Barracuda SATA Samples drive, Focusrite Saffire Pro 24, Keystation Pro 88, Edirol PCR-M50