SPITFIRE AUDIO AMBIENT GUITARS – POWER CHORDS
Welcome to our in-depth look at Spitfire Audio’s innovative new sample library, Ambient Guitars. New titles are coming thick and fast from the English developer, this looking to expand on an instrument not typically associated with cinematic design.
Made in partnership with composer and producer Leo Abrahams, Ambient Guitars promises to introduce a cinematic soundscape to the medium using the EVO Grid platform, multiple amplifier recordings and a healthy dose of eDNA synthesis.
Mixing guitars and synthesis technology is something that immediately perks my interest.
Ambient Guitars is a 50GB sample library for the Native Instruments Kontakt platform containing around 90,000 samples split between Spitfire Audio’s usual articulation GUI, EVO Grid and its eDNA synth platform.
This is a mashup of previous Enigma 1 & 2 libraries from 2013, plus around 10GB of new material recorded earlier this year. Ditching the older interface, most of Ambient Guitars is now housed in the eDNA synth with full NKS support for those using Komplete Kontrol keyboards.
Once purchased the product appears in your Spitfire Audio Manager for download, with authentication using the Native Access application quick and painless.
The library is constructed with samples from Leo’s Gibson 335, Danelectro Hornet and a wonderful-sounding Trussart. The amp recordings included are a straight DI signal, Showman clean channel with a ribbon mic, an Echolette with a ribbon mic, Fender Bassman with a dynamic mic, a Swart with a dynamic mic, and a stereo room set.
Upon opening for the first time you will see there is quite a bit to explore in this collection. The 600 sounds included are split out over a selection of categories to help navigation.
Everything is very dark sounding, as in moody and atmospheric, not tone. You’re not going to find much in the way of Penguin Café Orchestra-style corporate-happy ukulele stuff here, but fans of atmospheric textures will be very pleased.
Using multiple layers of amps, effects and foot pedals the library has a tendency to be very pad-like. As expected, the eDNA synth provides more excuses to layer on effects and evolving modulation making most creations end up quite ambiguous.
I’m intrigued to find any ‘cinematicness’ in the library, as it mostly sounds like an experimental Thom Yorke album than something you’ll hear on a blockbuster Hollywood soundtrack. The sounds, in general, do sit quite well into an orchestral arrangement, albeit rather a background and foundational than an upfront solo instrument. But on the whole, I think this filmic angle is purely for the SFX and sound designers out there, not so much the traditional score composer.
My first instinct was disappointment at the lack of many bread-and-butter basic presets. Going through the preset categories in alphabetical order results in hours of wading through multiples of ambient washes, more ambient washes and then more ambient washes.
Though a good selection of amp recordings are included, none of them are alterable as you might expect. You can change the level, but nothing advanced as an amp sim like Amplitube for instance.
However, the DI recordings are included so you have options for sending them to post-processors for more tone, something I found vastly improved the flexibility of the patches.
On the whole, the library feels like a project finisher, not a starter. I found overlaying embellishments to my already written arrangments had better results than trying to start on a fresh canvas with Ambient Guitars. Then again, everybody will have their own approach to composing, for me I need something a little more structured.
Having said that, enhancing even the most vanilla-boring orchestral score with guitar from the library instantly adds ambience and vibe, and is surprisingly adaptable for doing exactly this. Anything from an atonal twang to something more evolving and atmospheric provides an uneasy counterpoint to otherwise what might be fairly ordinary arrangements.
By far the best showcase of the library’s potential is in the ‘Artists Presets’, which ironically doesn’t contain any of Leo’s input, but for me, a more usable selection of presets from Paul and Christian.
Also. A major part of getting the most from these libraries is following and learning from the YouTube walkthrough videos of Paul Thompson and Christian Henson. I have learnt a number of excellent tricks and hacks to really expand on the basic sound generated by the library.
Let’s look through each of the preset categories in turn;
A huge selection of weird and wonderful tones was created from every conceivable angle of the guitar using the eDNA synth engine. Some descriptive names make sense, such as Behind The Bridge, Coin Guitar and Fuzzwah, but most are fairly cryptic as to what sound is contained.
Since each patch is radically different from the previous, it’s tricky to purposely try to hunt out a specific tone here. This category is ideally used as the title suggests, as an inspirational place to start. Basically, throw the dart and see where the universe leads you.
Of course, all patches are starting points for the eDNA effect engine anyways. No matter the complexity of a tone, you can completely travel off into new directions using the LFOs, gate, FX and Motor functions of the synth.
Though most of the patches are fairly ambiguous, mostly you can still hear remnants of the organic guitar in the sound, or at least believe the sounds were originally made with a guitar. The full range of the synthesizer takes these original sounds way beyond the capabilities of the original instrument, but there is defiantly a guitar-like essence to everything.
This is an interesting category of patches. Each uses the typical Spitfire Kontakt interface with mic channels and articulations to replicate the playing of a real(ish) guitar. Spitfire has opted for icon symbols to depict traditional articulations, so triangles mean plucks, squared are chords and circles are harmonics. It’s a little weird at first, but I got used to it eventually.
I think the intent here was to offer playable guitars, but I could never achieve any degree of realism while jumping around the articulations. The system is just too jarring to accurately replicate the real-world dynamics of a stringed instrument like the guitar.
However, keeping within the confinements of the system, I was able to find some rather cool sounding results mostly from hitting big power chords or using any number of the FX tricks included. Playing the guitar as a melodic instrument and trying for any degree of realism is difficult due to the rather one-dimensional playing style that was recorded, everything sounds very monotone.
This is not to say there isn’t a load of great possibilities here, it’s just that don’t expect amazing performance capabilities of MusicLab’s incredible RealGuitar range, or the likes.
The Danelectro Rock patch is the most successful of the bunch, offering a good selection of nearly life-like playable articulations. Again, no RealGuitar, but usable.
All patches include a great selection of ‘mics’, though in this case, they are either clean, DI, room or various amplifier signals. All sound suitable grungy, though anything outside of this and you’ll need to run 3rd party software like Amplitube or GuitarRig to further affect the signal.
Overall quite a cool sound, though better suited in my option to embellishments’ in your arrangements rather than complete guitar replacement.
As expected, this category is long washy pad sounds, and what an excellent selection to choose from. Again, difficult to pinpoint what a patch will sound like until you load and have a play, so I would think this another great place to begin a piece that then try searching for that perfect nugget.
Enigmatic is a perfect definition, most everything sounds ethereal and off-worldly. Plenty of scope for further manipulation with the FX engine as always, but a great selection of primer sounds for your arrangements.
The Amped Guitar Pads category is more subtle and flexible. Many of the patches will fit right over almost any arrangement. Of course, manipulating further with the FX can change all that, but for the most part, this is my go-to for lush pads.
Ambient Guitar EVO
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Spitfire library without an EVO Grid patch lurking around somewhere, and you are in for a treat with this one.
Banks include three distortion models, soft, normal and chaos. All play as pad-like long sustains but offer your typical EVO randomness for those drawn-out evolving textures.
The guitar tone is quite violin-like in this capacity, one could easily be mistaken for a re-amped violin or viola. The sound is quite complimentary to orchestral arrangements if you’re going for that post-apocalyptic distortion sound that is.
My favourite category of the library, and too much fun to play.
Arps n Chords
Back to the eDNA synth engine for some rather dreamy mix and match of pad, bells and strummed harp-like tones. Some beautiful sounds are found here, mostly with a gentle strummed feel awash with plenty of effects.
These patches are particularly affected by the gate and LFO controls for some rather fun results.
This is possibly the weirdest category in the library. The looped samples turn ordinarily plain sounds into unrecognisable rhythms and pulses.
Personally, I struggle to find a use for any of these categories outside pure sound design, though someone with more imagination could surely develop some very cool results here.
This group of patches tend to be more textural and longer developing pad-type sounds. Much more of the same stuff we’ve heard so far, but far less guitar-like with more synthesis overtones.
I found most of these patches quite usable as underscore or background textures to my arrangements. In partnership with the EVO grid bank, there is a lot of flexibility here to create a lush and living foundational bed for your pieces.
Not just pads, but some nice bells tones, some prickly high-string twangs and a bunch of tubular bottle-like tones. Really cool category.
Finally, the big collection of tailor-made presets from Spitfires Christian Henson and Paul Thompson. More of an experimental showcase, as nothing follows any path of reason.
Though a lot of patches here are very radical, there are a number of real gems. Paul has a clearly more structured approach to sound creation over Christians rather ad hoc style of throwing everything in and turning it up to see what happens.
Both curators offer an excellent range of banks that in some cases really push the engine’s capabilities.
A unique approach to the guitar, this library offers real out-of-the-box thinking with plenty of scope for expansion and experimentation for the user still to be found.
The playable guitar emulation is a bit of a flop for me, as I was hoping for something a little more realistic in performance, but I’m happy with the level of usability I found by feeding the signal into Amplitube, which really opens up the versatility.
Some of the patches are a little on the silly side, presumably in an effort to show the instrument’s potential. Since there is nearly unlimited scope to push any sounding into the realm of the ridiculous using the eDNA synth, I can understand why a few out-there sounds have been thrown in for good measure.
Re-packaging older titles is a great way to freshen up the back catalogue and introduce a new generation of composers to the medium. Ambient Guitar feels like a well-rounded library, with good value in the amount of content included for the price.
A boutique package that won’t appeal to everyone, in particular, those seeking a playable guitar emulator. But Spitfire Audio has provided another feather in their cap of left-field and audacious sample libraries with a mountain of content and equal part potential.
Love it, especially all the really silly bits.
Full details and purchasing options are on Spitfire Audios’ website www.spitfireaudio.com
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