Roland GR-S Space and GR-D Distortion

THE GR-S AND GR-D ($418 RETAIL/$299 STREET, EACH) ARE THE FIRST IN ROLAND’S NEW V-Guitar Series of pedals, joining a family of products that also includes the GR-55 Guitar Synth and the VG-99 Effects Modeling System.
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The GR-S and GR-D ($299 street, each) are the first in Roland's new V-Guitar Series of pedals, joining a family of products that also includes the GR-55 Guitar Synth and the VG-99 Effects Modeling System. The pedals are designed for use with the Roland GC-1 GK-ready Stratocaster ($899 street) or any guitar equipped with Roland’s GK-3 Divided Pickup ($219 street), and require a proprietary cable with 13-pin connectors such as the Roland GKC-5 ($49 street for 15'), though they also function in a more limited capacity using standard instrument cables. The pedals may be powered with either two AA batteries or an optional Boss PSA 9-volt adapter.

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The GR-S and GR-D have several features in common. Both provide four effects types that may be modified using simple yet versatile controls, both allow you to save and recall four user presets, both include global ambient effects that may be bypassed, and both sport unusually flexible connectivity. There’s no 13-pin GK Thru jack, however, so you can’t use more than one pedal without purchasing a Roland US-20 Unit Selector Pedal ($219 street). And you also can’t blend the dry guitar sound with the effected sound without using a guitar cable in addition to the 13-pin cable.

Both the GR-S and the GR-D produce some nice sounds when connected in mono, but the GK technology is all about processing your guitar’s six strings individually—which offers many more possibilities within a stereo spread. I tested them with a Roland GC-1 Stratocaster, both in stereo through a Universal Audio Apollo audio interface and Softube Amp Room plug-ins, and in mono through a Rivera Venus 6 1x12 combo amp.

The GR-S offers four sophisticated takes on chorusing: Crystal, Rich Modulation, Slow Pad, and Brilliant Clean. Four buttons allow you to silently switch between effect types, and a Select button cycles through the four Memory locations and Manual mode. Presets are saved using the Write button.

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There are global Tone and Level controls, along with a Color control that changes function depending on which of the effects is selected (typically it deepens and intensifies the effect). The Crystal effect produces slightly metallic sounds reminiscent of a modulated harmonizer set to several octaves up; Rich Modulation produces an extraordinarily broad sound, with various layers of compression and modulation swirling around; Slow Pad adds a delayed octave down to the high-octave/modulation combo; and Brilliant Clean is the most chorus- like of the four effects, though significantly more complex than a traditional chorus. The Tone control covers a broad range and interacts crucially with the Color control, providing lots of additional sound-shaping capabilities. Finally, a Freeze footswitch captures and sustains short sections of audio, which you can then play along with.

I found all of the effects types to be highly musical in character, and ideal for adding bold and exciting movement and color to any mix. And, not surprisingly, they sounded broader, more vibrant, and considerably more dramatic in stereo, in some cases approaching cinematic.

Kudos Gorgeous modulation sounds. Dramatic stereo imaging.

Concerns Requires GK-equipped guitar and optional GK cable.

The GR-D produces a wide range of distorted tones—some of which are absolutely stunning— though if you are seeking amp-like classic rock or blues sounds, you won’t necessarily find them here. Instead, you’ll find an array of great fuzz tones ranging from psychedelic buzz to monstrous sludge to metallic sizzle, along with the tools to shape many more sounds that are essentially unique to the technology. Also, being able to blend the dry guitar signal with the distortion signal provides additional flexibility.

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You select the GR-D’s four effects types with a rotary switch instead of buttons; there’s a Gain control in addition to the Color, Tone, and Level controls; and there’s a Solo (gain boost) footswitch rather than a Freeze footswitch—but otherwise the controls are identical to those of the GR-S.

The effects include three flavors of distortion— VG-Dist 1, VG-Dist 2, and Poly Dist—along with a simple Synth. Because the guitar strings are distorted discretely, individual note definition within even complex chords is vastly superior to that obtainable with a conventional mono device, and when panned out across a stereo spectrum the results can be truly breathtaking. The Synth is also cool, offering a relatively wide range of square-wave and saw-tooth-wave sounds, though it is subject to the same limitations as stompbox synths generally, including occasionally erratic pitch-tracking behavior.

The rear panels of the GR-S and GR-D are identical. In addition to the 13-pin GK input there are stereo Mix/Guitar inputs, stereo outputs (with an Amp/Line switch), and a mono Guitar Output that may be used discretely or combined with the Mix/Guitar inputs to create an effects loop or for other purposes.

Roland hopes to attract new GK users by offering the technology in this more familiar and less-expensive pedal form, though unless you already own a GK-equipped guitar you’ll need to invest in one to join the party, and if you want to use both pedals you’ll need to purchase an optional switcher. Nonetheless, guitarists willing to take the plunge will be rewarded with a bevy of exceptionally compelling and musically useful sounds.

Kudos Unique, great-sounding distortion tones. Dramatic stereo imaging.

Concerns Requires GK-equipped guitar and optional GK cable.