Native Instruments Strummed Acoustic 1 & 2 – Campfire Kool
Whether or not you’re a competent guitarist, Strummed Acoustic delivers realistic results and is surprisingly easy to use. With a huge selection of MIDI virtual instruments available today, sometimes what you really need is something that is as simple to use as possible with convincing results, Acoustic Strummer from Native Instruments should be high on your shortlist.
Updated September 2017
There is no doubt a well-recorded acoustic guitar adds sparkle and movement to any pop or rock song, ask Tenacious D’s Kyle Gass if he’d replace his trusty 6-string with a Fender Strat, I highly doubt it. The acoustic guitar is also quite tricky to record well, especially for a small studio where acoustic treatment is often limited. Even if you own a quality, well-tuned guitar, coming up with interesting rhythms and phrases can be a challenge for all but the most seasoned guitarists.
Native Instruments Session Guitarist Strummed Acoustic 1 & 2 are expansion libraries for the Kontakt 5 and the free Kontakt Player platforms. Each is around 10gig to download, the first featuring a single 6-string guitar, the second both a 6 and 12-stringed version. Both share an identical interface and workflow, with different NKI banks and rhythmic patterns.
If you’re familiar with using key switches to alter patterns and play styles you’ll immediately be at home with Strummed Acoustic. On the first launch, you’ll see the Kontakt piano at the bottom of the screen split between the blue chord area, yellow ending, green pickups (body knock and neck slides) and the red pattern chooser. Above that is the pattern selection window where you can choose from 102 unique patterns for each of the 8 articulation boxes, each controlled by choosing different patterns with the red keys – pretty straightforward. You can either choose your own patterns or opt for one of the preset collections. Clicking the little ‘i’ button opens the pattern and mapping info screen where you can visually see the strokes being played with the pattern you’ve selected.
The sound tab features a tuned EQ, compression and reverb effects, fret noise level and excellent voicing controls. While the effects are simple one-dial easy-mode style, they are designed to bring out the character of the guitar without pushing too far into the silly territory – you can always add extra FXs from Guitar Rig or other VST processors if you need more. The fretting noise is more the string slide sounds your finger makes when changing positions on the neck. It gets a little annoying if left at full volume, but a little considerate automation here and there will bring in some realism. The voicing slider changes where on the neck the chords are played, from the default lower position, to higher up the neck for a jazzier or funky-sounding performance. There is an option to change the balance between the two positions, giving the effect of two people playing at once. A handy doubling option is here to produce a multi-tracked effect.
Playback controls offer swing and humanize dials, tempo, latch and pattern sync choices plus a timing offset dial for bringing the playback before or ahead of the beat. The swing controls are the most dynamic affecting the patterns noticeably and offering some excellent alternatives to the default patterns. The humanize is more subtle, and most noticeable when the tempo is doubled.
There is an excellent browser for choosing between the patches available, with a rhythm search feature that allows you to click or play in a rhythm you’re after, very cool.
Strummed Acoustic is simple, and I think that’s the main appeal. It’s perfect for songwriters to work compose with, it sounds great and when the creative spark hits, the last thing you need in overly complicated software holding you back. This is not for solos or detailed finger picking, but broad campfire strums, textures and airy background movements. All of the included guitar samples sound incredible, plus the recordings are very detailed. When you set the humanizer to the original setting, you can hear all the subtle little scrapes and knocks and slightly mistimed strums – it’s wonderful.
All of the included preset rhythms are excellent, as are the key switch articulations. You get a good collection of stops, slides, body thumps and FXs. My only real criticism is the sample tails stop unnaturally fast when you lift from a keypress A little reverb helps, but mostly it sounds fake if you don’t use the included endings articulations.
You have some fairly basic FX controls to play with – EQ, compression and reverb. They are tuned for acoustic guitars, so don’t expect anything crazy here. What you get works well to retain the organic sound of the instrument without colouring the instruments much. I’m not a big fan of the reverb when pushed above 50%, but you can always use another plugin for this if you need extreme effect. With a sensible 10-15% applied it sits well and adds an extra dimension to the sound.
I really like the swing and humanize controls. They are very subtle and don’t wildly affect the overall performance, but nicely loosen up the feel if everything sounds too uniform. The timing control allows you to play ahead or behind the beat, again a nice way to add some alternative styling to the playing.
So, all in all, an excellent pair of library extensions for your Kontakt collection. Of the plethora of choices available in the Native Instruments store, easily one of the most usable for songwriters. Within minutes of installing, even the most novice producer will be up and running with professional-sounding guitar grooves. Even though best used as background flavour to a track, mostly the sample recordings hold up very well as solo strummed instruments, a credit to the clever software and recording engineers involved in the project.
Strummed Acoustic 1 & 2 are both flexible, easy to use – and sound incredible. Highly recommended for any songwriter’s collection, and in fact any composer looking to include acoustic guitar in their productions.
$99 USD each, full details over on the Native Instruments website www.native-instruments.com
Test Machine Specs
Core i5-6500 3.20 Ghz 16gig RAM. The library is installed on a secondary 7200 drive.
Windows 10, 64bit.
Focusrite Scarlett 214 Interface
Yamaha MOTIF and Roland Jupiter 80 controllers
Presonus Eris E44
Shure SRH940 monitors