Posts with «musical instruments» label

Arturia V Collection X is its biggest upgrade in years

Arturia V Collection X is one of the biggest updates to the virtual synth library in quite some time. Six new instruments have been added (though, most have been available separately before) and two have been rebuilt from the ground up. That brings the grand total number of instruments in V Collection to 38, and over the last few years at least six of those have been completely revamped with dramatic improvements.

MiniFreak V, Acid V, Augmented Brass and Augmented Grand Piano were all available previously as standalone instruments, but now they are joining the V Collection proper. Two completely new instruments are also entering the fold. Augmented Woodwinds and CP-70 V. Augmented Woodwinds is, as you might have guessed, a take on Arturia’s Augmented series, except here the synths are paired with woodwind samples. CP-70 V is an emulation of Yamaha’s electric piano from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s used most notably by The Grateful Dead and Genesis.

Augmented Woodwinds, Brass and Grand Piano

Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

I’ll admit to being somewhat skeptical of Augmented Woodwinds at first. I think Augmented Strings and Grand Piano are excellent, but have found little use for Brass and Voices so far, and woodwinds often feel like some of the most difficult acoustic instruments to get right in a sample library. Yet, Arturia pulls it off, largely by leaning into the synth side of things pretty strongly. You’re never going to convince anyone that the sounds coming out of it are from a flesh-and-blood woodwind ensemble, but the soft cinematic pads and leads you can coax out of it are compelling, especially when paired with an MPE controller like the Push or Seaboard Rise 2. (With the exception of a few presets that seem to come undone when faced with MPE input, at least.)

Like the rest of the Augmented series, Woodwinds, Brass and Grand Piano feel built especially with scoring in mind. That’s not to say you can’t find a use for them in a pop song or jazz arrangement, but these are all about atmosphere and texture, and there’s a healthy dose of sounds that would only be appropriate in the tensest moments of a cosmic horror film.

They all have a suite of advanced controls where you can build almost any sound you want from its four layer engine (two samples and two synths). You can even completely disable the sample layers and go woodwind-less, though, you might as well use one of the other plugins at that point.

CP-70 V

Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

The other completely new instrument, CP-70 V, is a lot more straightforward. It’s an electric piano. A very specific one that hasn’t enjoyed the same level of reverence as the Rhodes or Wurlitzer, but isn’t without its merits. The CP-70 used strings like a real piano, instead of the metal reeds and tines found in Rhodes in Wurlitzers. It also used piezo pickups instead of magnetic ones, resulting in a sound that is significantly closer to an actual acoustic piano. That was definitely a huge selling point for touring acts in the ‘70s and ‘80s that wanted the sound of a grand piano, but didn’t want to lug one on the road. 

The result though, is less characterful than those other electric pianos. It’s brighter and there’s less room for shaping the sound without adding effects. Arturia seems to do an admirable job of capturing the spirit of the CP-70, but it comes close enough to sounding like a real piano, I’d be far more likely to reach for the regular ol' Piano V plugin in most cases.

MiniFreak V

Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

Acid V and MiniFreak V both launched earlier this year. And frankly, nothing has changed with Acid V in the roughly four months since I wrote about it, so I won’t say much beyond, it’s an excellent TB-303 emulator. It does what you expect it to and not much else, but with about one-tenth of the headaches of the real thing.

MiniFreak V, on the other hand, got a major update yesterday with a new wavetable engine, new super unison effect and some improvements to the LFO. The 32 wavetables are pretty solid and modern sounding. And perhaps, best of all, they seem to be able to handle bass better than some of the other oscillators — an area the Freak line has always felt a little weak in. There are 64 new presets designed to show off the strength of the wavetable engine and there’s some real winners in there. Yes, there are plenty of weirdo sound effects and dubstep bass wubs, but there are also some lovely chilly pads and delicate keys.

Additionally, Arturia is finally adding preset packs for the MiniFreak and MiniFreak V to its store. There are two paid soundpacks, but also three free ones and, well, I can’t recommend that you download Deserted Lands from Oscillator Sink enough. It’s basically just one gorgeous broken patch after another. This was sort of a running theme, though. With MiniFreak 2.0, Augmented Woodwinds and the rebuilt Mini V4, Arturia really improved the quality of its presets. Whether they were designed in house or by an artist they worked with, most felt designed to show off what the plugins were capable of musically, as opposed to technically. That wasn’t necessarily the case with the MiniFreak, the MicroFreak or even Pigments.

Mini V4

Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

This was the single biggest shock of the lot, honestly. Mini V was also a decent enough Minimoog Model D emulation, but the world is filled with those. It was never the reason to seek out V Collection specifically, but it was good enough that you didn’t need to go find an alternative. Mini V4, however, is incredible. The difference is subtle, but definitely noticeable if you load up the default template in both Mini V3 and V4 and play them side by side. For one, the V4 is a touch louder, but it’s also fuller. Part of that, I think, is there’s more inherent instability in the new oscillator model. As you start playing at the lower reaches of the keyboard you can hear it more clearly.

You can also play lower notes. Where V3 simply doesn’t work below A-1, V4 will let you get all the way down to C-2, though, there’s very little musical reason for you to go down that far.

The differences become more apparent when you start messing with the filter. More bass is retained as you start turning up the resonance in the new version, and it remains usable even with it pinned. The frequency cutoff is also smoother with a bit more of a guttural growl as you start isolating those lower frequencies.

While the Minimoog obviously excels at bass, and Arturia makes sure to showcase that, there are also a lot of presets that push the sound in different directions. The benefit of a plugin over the actual vintage synth is that you can have eight notes of polyphony here. That gives this virtual Model D the freedom to play unstable pads and electric-piano style keys.

The addition of a “vintage” knob is also quite welcome here. While I love things being ever-so-slightly out of tune and for there to be a gentle whisper of white noise in the background, others might want a more buttoned up sound.

It’s also worth pointing out that Arturia didn’t go too overboard with the features here. There’s no modulation matrix or sequencer or motion recording. There’s a handful of useful effects, an arpeggiator and MPE controls, and not much else beyond what you’d find on the original.

Wurli V3

Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

Similar to the Mini V, Arturia took its Wurlitzer plugin and decided to start over agin. The results are excellent, if a touch less dramatic than with the Moog emulation. The general tone is brighter and it sings a bit more in the lower registers. There also seems to be a wider stereo field than before as well. The cumulative effect is something a bit more inviting.

The new mic and amp simulations help it feel more alive and like you're actually in a room with a Wurli instead of just playing one through your computer. And the age parameter adds instability to the sound, allowing you to get that "just found this keyboard in my uncle's basement where it's been sitting untouched for 30 years" sound. Not to mention it absolutely nails the sound of Supertramp's "The Logical Song."

The Wurli isn’t a plugin I reach for terribly often, but I appreciated the improved tone that should help it cut through a mix a bit better. It’s also far more versatile than the CP-70 V, though even with the improvements I’m far more likely to reach for a Rhodes.

Arturia V Collection X is available now and existing Arturia customers will get a discount, depending on what software they already own. If you're new, the full price of $599 might be a bit tough to swallow, but it still represents one of the better deals in soft syths.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Ubisoft's Rocksmith+ guitar-learning app now teaches piano

Ubisoft’s Rocksmith+ guitar-learning platform just got an update that’s sure to please ivory ticklers, as the app now teaches piano. A single subscription allows access to every instrument under Rocksmith’s umbrella, including acoustic guitar, electric guitar, electric bass and, now, piano.

The newly-updated Rocksmith+ already boasts 400 piano arrangements to practice, with at least 40 more arriving each month. These songs include pop hits like Elton John’s “Rocket Man”, Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love” and titles culled from a diverse array of genres, including classical to soundtracks and beyond. These piano-based compositions join over 7,000 pre-existing songs for guitar and bass players.

The app’s available for both mobile devices and PCs via the Ubisoft store, and the update lets you use a digital piano, keyboard or wired MIDI controller. It supports keybeds with 25 keys up to the full complement of 88 keys. You’ll have your choice of practice methods, as the app offers an interactive 3D interface or traditional sheet music. Also, you don’t need any extra gear to get going, like a dedicated microphone.

Reviews for the guitar and bass elements of Rocksmith+ have been mixed, with some publications praising the intuitive interface and others decrying the limited song selection. The app offers a free trial for a week, but subscriptions cost $15 per month, if you go with a monthly plan, or $100 per year. The free trial is only available for the yearly subscription, so exercise caution when signing up and be sure to set a reminder to cancel before the week is up if you aren’t jiving with the software.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

What we bought: Casio’s latest flagship digital piano doubles as drool-worthy furniture

Casio’s instrument division has been around a long time, as anyone who got into music as a kid by making fart noises into an SK-1 knows. However, the company is mostly known for entry-level digital pianos that get the job done, but don’t offer much by way of modern conveniences. In recent years, Casio has been dipping its toes into the waters of high-end instruments like the Privia PX-S7000.

The latest Privia entry is a sizable leap over most starter pianos. This is a serious instrument for serious players, with that quad-speaker system, 88 hybrid hammer action keys that feel fantastic, plenty of high-tech bells and whistles and, most importantly, access to three realistic-sounding piano models, along with 400 other instruments. Oh, and it has a hefty $2,400 price tag to match.

All of that is well and good, but let’s talk about why I really decided to splurge on this thing over the myriad of other digital pianos out there — it’s absolutely gorgeous. It hits that sweet spot between a musical instrument and a piece of high-end furniture. I fell in love pretty much instantly when I saw it online. I wasn’t able to try it out ahead of time, as my options here in Minnesota are limited when it comes to testing synths and digital instruments, so I just went for it. My plan was to return the thing if it was a lemon but, as you can see, it’s still there. It’s not a lemon. Maybe it’s a strawberry? Those are pretty.

I had just moved into a mostly-bare new home and had an entire house to fill for the first time in my life. I wanted something that tied the living room together and I don’t really understand visual art, so I went with what I know: expensive musical instruments. It did the trick. It looks stunning sitting there and almost makes up for the lack of wall art.

The piano itself has elegant spruce sides, and it ships with a sleek and sturdy wooden beech stand. There’s also a nice-looking three-pedal unit that attaches near the bottom, providing yet another feature that makes this digital piano feel, well, not-so digital. It weighs just 60 pounds, so it was easy for me to try out different placements on the fly without destroying my back. Real pianos weigh hundreds and even thousands of pounds — I’ve ruined enough friendships in my life asking people to help me move them around, thank you very much.

I ended up with the black model, though it’s also available in white and “harmonious mustard.” Personally, I think the mustard is the most attractive option, but the eye-popping paint job adds another $200 to the price. I’m financially irresponsible, but even I have my limits. I still lust over that warm and luscious yellow, though.

Photo by Lawrence Bonk / Engadget

The Privia PX-S7000 is not just a conversation piece, it also sounds and feels eerily similar to playing the real thing. The three primary piano models are excellent, but digital recreations of classic instruments are nothing new. This instrument combines those excellent piano models with a realistic-sounding speaker system and a keybed that’s incredibly satisfying to play.

The keybed feels great, with a textured surface on each key that calls to mind, you guessed it, an actual piano. There’s a proprietary technology here, called Smart Hybrid Hammer Action, but I don’t really understand the specifics. All I know is that the keys spring back nicely and do their part to keep the illusion going that you’re playing an analog instrument. There’s a heaviness to the key presses and an oh-so-satisfying thunk as each press returns to the resting position. It’s just plain fun to play. (Though I’m not exactly Rachmaninoff. I’m more of a dime-store Paul McCartney.)

Another proprietary system, Casio’s Multi-Dimensional Morphing AiR Sound Source, helps increase the fun factor by adding a bit of damper, string and aliquot resonance with each press. This tech is based on the sound engine from the even more expensive Celviano line of digital pianos, so it’s nice to see it pop up in a cheaper model. There’s also some counterweight and damping voodoo going on underneath the hood. This is the closest I’ve ever felt to the “real thing” with a digital instrument, though I haven’t spent any time with ultra-high-end digital pianos as a comparison point. I have, though, spent hundreds and hundreds of hours playing real pianos, starting in my grandmother’s den as a wee tyke.

When I’m playing the Privia SX-7000, it sounds like the tones are coming from everywhere at once, thanks to the quad-speaker spatial sound system. They really put me in the center of the action and, believe it or not, this actually makes me play better, especially when compared to my caveman plunks on a MIDI controller.

The main draws here are the three piano models, but this is a digital instrument in the year 2023, so there’s some high-tech fun to be had. Casio has introduced a new feature that pairs analog piano sounds and electric tones with on-board effects to recreate the vibe of classic songs. For instance, you can tap away at a piano that sounds like John Lennon’s Imagine, Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, Stevie Wonder's Superstition and dozens more. There’s even a microphone input and 25 vocal effects options for sing-alongs. I’ve used both to great effect. Starting with a famous piano sound helps me drum up song ideas and plugging a mic in lets me hear my vocals at a decent volume without having to emote like Whitney Houston during the last key change of I Will Always Love You.

All modern digital pianos have a few hundred additional sounds for those times you want to hear an average-sounding bass, and the Privia’s no different. There are 400 sounds to choose from, ranging from good to barely OK. All of the usual bases are covered here, from synth-heavy pads to drum kits and woodwinds. None of these sounds are truly mind-blowing, but they can help generate ideas in a pinch. If I’m recording, however, I prefer a virtual instrument with more control options.

One modern convenience that I enjoy is the included Bluetooth adapter. This is only for incoming sounds, but it’s still pretty cool. I’ve spent many hours streaming music from my phone to the piano and playing along with it. It’s an efficient way to learn new songs.

The piano integrates with a Casio app that offers piano lessons and the like, which I haven’t tried because I like learning in my own way. The app also displays PDF scores on your phone or tablet that you can play along to, though I haven’t experimented much with this feature because I (ducks) can’t read music.

The added features are cool — it’s 2023 after all — but the true draw of the Privia SX-7000 is three-fold: it looks great, it sounds great and it feels like playing a real piano. It’s also really expensive, costing around $2,400, so this isn’t for casual hobbyists. I bought it fully expecting to regret my purchase, but that regret never came. Instead, I feel a spark of joy whenever I see it sitting there, inviting me to play Imagine until I’m blue in the face.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Loog's baby digital piano could be the perfect starter instrument for newbies

Loog is a company known for manufacturing fantastic starter instruments for kids, with the company’s diminutive electric guitar making our list of the best audio-related gifts back in 2019. Now it’s back with a digital piano that blurs the line between kid-friendly and appropriate for adults.

The Loog Piano is a gorgeous instrument that, while still tiny, brings some nifty features for both brand-new players and veteran key smashers. The obvious selling point here is the looks. The 3-octave keyboard is sandwiched between solid wood sides and the top’s covered in red “sonically transparent fabric” that really pops. 

The company touts the piano’s “musician-grade sound and design.” The design’s certainly on-point, but what about the sound? The built-in stereo speakers let you play without headphones and Loog says the keys allow for dynamics (piano to forte.) The company says this is likely the first keyboard at this size and price point that incorporates velocity-sensitive keys. Check out this demo video of the piano in action without any post effects.

Loog boasts that the instrument uses both sampled and modeled sounds, so attack, decay and the air between notes should all recall an actual piano. The combination of the built-in speakers and velocity engine also works to mimic the analog instrument, but this is still a digital piano, so moving to the real thing later will require a bit of an adjustment period.

The Loog Piano is battery-powered and fully portable, and gets around three hours of play time per charge via the built-in USB-C port. It weighs nearly five pounds, however, so keep that in mind if you plan on stuffing this thing in your kid’s backpack. Though the speakers are a main draw, you can of course plug in some headphones for private playing.

You may notice what this instrument doesn’t have. There aren’t hundreds of other sounds. There aren’t built-in effects. There’s a volume knob and that’s about it. This is by design, with Loog stating that the instrument’s “full muscle is devoted to the piano sound.”

Despite lacking 400 horrible brass sounds you’ll never use, this piano does have one significant tech-forward feature. Loog’s instrument integrates with a proprietary app that’s primarily for learning piano. This app is filled with “lessons and game-like exercises that make learning fun and easy,” though the piano integrates with other learning software. Additionally, it ships with a set of decidedly low-tech flash cards to help teach chords and scales.

Instead of going with a traditional retail launch, Loog took to Kickstarter to drum up support for its latest instrument. As of this writing, it’s already smashed through the initial goal by a factor of 30, so expect units to start shipping in April. Early adopters can currently snag the instrument for $250, which is 20 percent off its eventual retail price.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Artiphon’s Chorda ‘band in a box’ allows you to produce beats just about anywhere

Niche music gadget manufacturer Artiphon is back with a new instrument called the Chorda. This unique bit of gear is a combo meal of sorts, bundling together the form factor of the Instrument 1 with the standalone functionality and looper of the Orba 2. The Chorda builds upon the multi-instrument technology of the Instrument 1, with access to a diverse array of instruments, from guitar to drums and piano.

However, the Instrument 1 was tied to a phone or tablet, whereas the Chorda is fully standalone, making it an attractive entry in the burgeoning field of DAWless recording gadgets. There are “hundreds” of built-in sounds and corresponding control methods that actually resemble playing the analog version of the instrument. The device plays via micro-gestures that incorporate an array of control parameters. There are 12 pads that each respond to control methods like tapping, tilting, strumming, vibrato and more, via capacitive sensing technology and Midi Polyphonic Expression (MPE).

There’s also a new bridge section that allows non-musicians to automatically play chords, thus letting folks play along with their favorite songs. This bridge integrates with the built-in arpeggiator for changing the tempo and the key. The integrated looper lets you layer tracks as you see fit. Though there’s not much by way of sound design on the device itself, you can access an affiliated app to access the inner workings of the sound engine.

As for connectivity, the Chorda can control any MIDI-based software and hardware instruments via USB-C or Bluetooth. The device also automatically integrates with most DAWs, including GarageBand, Ableton, Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase and FL Studio. It also supports any standard MIDI and MPE-compatible mobile app or hardware. The battery life isn't winning any awards, however, at four hours of use per charge. 

The Artiphon Chorda is available for preorder via Kickstarter and is available in three colors: black, white and blue. The early bird pricing is locked in at around $200, but as the tiers sell out, the cost goes up. The instruments ship in November.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Roland's 50th Anniversary Concept Piano has flying speakers for some reason

2022 marked the 50th anniversary of storied instrument maker Roland. But, even though we've switched over to our 2023 calendars, the company took the opportunity at CES to take one more victory lap by showing off its 50th Anniversary Concept Piano. It's an audacious electronic piano built in collaboration with Japanese furniture maker Karimoku. The outside is one piece molded from Japanese Nara oak that hides a 360-degree, 14 speaker system. 

If the elegant curves stuffed to the brim with speakers aren't exciting enough for you, well I've got good news: Roland has also built speakers into drones that hover above the piano and can be controlled by the player. Unfortunately, those couldn't be flown on the show floor at CES, so Roland dangled a pair of them from wires. Those are combined with a proprietary low-latency audio connection and the company's PureAcoustic Ambience tech to create flexible natural sounding reverb that more accurately mimics what you'd hear in, say, a concert hall. And I can confirm that even in the cavernous Las Vegas Convention Center, fighting against the constant din of people and other exhibitors, the concept piano sounded amazing. 

Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

Above the keyboard itself there's a large touchscreen that can be used to stream tutorials, video conference with a piano teacher, or even run Zenbeats from Roland Cloud, turning the instrument into a studio hub. There's even USB MIDI and Bluetooth connectivity for interacting with other instruments.

Of course, the Roland 50th Anniversary Concept Piano is not for sale. And never will be. This is a creation in the tradition of over-the-top concept cars. Maybe some of its features will eventually make their way to future instruments, but for now it's truly a one of a kind.

Terrence O'Brien / Engadget
Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

Native Instruments pads out its Komplete 14 suite with some welcome new toys

Komplete, Native Instruments' flagship music production bundle, has a little bit of everything. That's always been part of its appeal. It's pricey, but you get monstersynths, a top-notch drum sampler, a virtual guitar rig and Kontakt — which is also a sampler, but calling it one seems incredibly reductive. Native Instruments is still one of the biggest names in the music software world, but it's an increasingly crowded and competitive market. And much of it is moving towards a subscriptionmodel (even Native Instruments). So this year the company is adding some new software in hopes that customers will come back for at least one more big-ticket purchase. 

Komplete 14 is the first version to be released since Native Instruments (NI) joined Soundwide, a collection of brands including Izotope and Plugin Alliance, among others. As such, one of the biggest additions to the Komplete library (at least in the $599 Standard version and higher) is Izotope's Ozone 10 Standard. This mastering plug in has legions of fans thanks to its powerful feature set and simple interface. But for many, the biggest selling point is it's AI-powered mastering assistance. Many amateur musicians (myself included) rely on Ozone to master their tracks. You simply play the loudest bit of your song, click a button, and the plugin will suggest a starting point for mastering including compression and EQ. You can then accept the settings, tweak them to your liking or toss them and start from scratch. 

Native Instruments

The new partnership also allowed Native Instruments to beef up the bundle with a handful of smaller items from Plugin Alliance and Brainworx like bx_Oberhausen, bx_Crispytuner and LO-FI-AF. None of these instruments or effects individually are likely to convince you one way or another that Komplete's more expensive versions are worth the outlay. But I don't know anyone who is going to complain about having too many plugins. 

The only issue is it might not be immediately clear to many users how to get access to those. They're not in the Native Access manager. Instead you'll have to go to your products and serials list on the NI site to get the "Plugin Alliance Bundle for Komplete 14" code. Then you'll head on over to Plugin Alliance and redeem it the code and download a separate plugin manager. Hopefully at some point the two platforms will be integrated to remove the addition steps.

Native Instruments

The big centerpiece of Komplete, as always, is Kontakt. The new version — seven — isn't a giant departure for this industry stalwart. The browser has been updated for better compatibility with HiDPI displays and improved search and filtering tools. The factory library has also been overhauled to take advantage of the graphical overhaul and for better sound. The process of building your own Kontakt instruments has also been simplified with improved creator tools. 

Kontakt 7 may not be a significant change from version six, but if you spring for the more expensive versions, like the $1,199 Komplete Ultimate or $1,799 Komplete Collector's Edition, you do get some unique and powerful expansions like Lores, Ashlight, Kinetic Toys and, one of my personal favorites, Piano Colors. The latter combines samples of a grand piano, various synths and textures, along with effects and modulation tools to create complex sounds that walk the line between organic and synthetic.

Native Instruments

The one piece of bad news here is that Kontakt 7, while it is technically included in Komplete 14, isn't available yet and wont ship until some point in October. Komplete 14 is available now starting at $199 for the basic Komplete Selects package, and going all the way up to $1,799 for Komplete Collector's Edition. 

Yousician's Metallica guitar course can help unleash your inner Eddie Munson

Just as it is to Eddie Munson in Stranger Things 4, Metallica's "Master of Puppets" is, to me, the “most metal ever.” I spent my teen years obsessively learning the guitar, and Metallica was one of my biggest influences. The combination of vocalist and rhythm guitarist James Hetfield's thrash riffs and progressive song structures along with lead guitarist Kirk Hammett's shredding gave me plenty to try and master. I was never quite fast or precise enough to fully nail Metallica's hardest songs, but I could do a pretty decent impression when I was on my game.

Some 20-plus years later, I am decidedly not on my game, having only played sporadically over the last decade. I've tried getting back into playing in fits and starts, but nothing has really stuck. Just recently, though, Finnish company Yousician came on my radar thanks to a collaboration with — who else? — Metallica.

At a high level, the Yousician software listens to your guitar playing and matches it to the lesson or song you're trying to play, giving you a higher score depending on how accurate you are. The app features courses and songs for guitar, piano, bass, ukulele and vocals, but my time was only spent on the guitar section.

For people who've never played before, there are loads of introductory lessons — but the most interesting thing about Yousician for someone like me are the song transcriptions. The app is loaded up with tons of popular songs that have, in my limited testing, fairly accurate transcriptions that help you learn to play along with the original recording. Queuing a song up brings up a continuously scrolling tablature overview of the song; play along with it and Yousician will try and tell you if you hit a chord right on the beat, whether you're a little early or late or whether you blew it completely.

From what I can tell, the vast majority of the music on Yousician has been recorded by session musicians — so you're not playing along to the original Nirvana or Foo Fighters tracks, but a well-recorded, though somewhat soulless, reproduction. That's OK, as these exercises work well enough for learning a song, and then you can just go play along with the original once you have it perfected.

But the Metallica course is different, and far more compelling. Yousician got access to the master recording for 10 of the band's songs, which means you're learning from and playing along with the original songs you (presumably) love.

The Metallica portion of Yousician isn't limited to learning specific songs, however. There are three courses to play through: Riff Life, Rock in Rhythm and Take the Lead, each of which dives into a different aspect of the band's music. Each of those courses, in turn, has a handful of lessons focused on a song and the skills needed to play it. There are also videos featuring members of the band talking about the overarching concept. While James and Kirk aren't literally teaching you the songs, it's still great to see them play up close and personal and hear about how they approach writing and performing.

For example, the "Rock in Rhythm" course has a whole section on downpicking, a more percussive and aggressive way of using your picking hand that has come to define much of Metallica's riffs and heavy metal music in general. Seeing James Hetfield perform some of his most complicated and fast riffs in great detail is an absolute treat.

Mixed in with these videos are lessons that focus on a specific part of a song. The Riff Life course starts things out extremely simple, with the key riffs to songs like "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Nothing Else Matters'' and "Enter Sandman." These lessons follow a pretty standard format. First, you'll listen to the isolated guitar part to get it in your head, sometimes accompanied by a Yousician instructor showing you how to approach the song. After that, you play the part in the context of the song, starting out slowly and then gradually speeding up to play it at full speed. Then, to complete the lesson, you perform the complete song.

For that last option, Yousician offers multiple ways to move forward. If you're a beginner, you can play simplified versions of the song — but Yousician also includes full versions of the rhythm guitar track or a combo of the rhythm and lead parts. If you're just learning the song for the first time, you're not going to want to jump right into those versions. But if you're up for the challenge, the practice mode helpfully divides the song up into sections like intro, verse, chorus, solo and so forth. You can slow the song down, work on those sections, and then string the entire thing together. The app uses time stretching so that the music’s pitch isn’t affected.

As someone already familiar with the Metallica songs included, I can tell Yousician has done an impressive job with these full transcriptions. I've already picked up some tricks and learned a few improved ways to play these songs, even for very simple parts like the opening riff to "Enter Sandman." I've known that song basically since I first picked up a guitar, but Yousician identified that Hetfield plays the riff with his left hand in a fairly unconventional finger position, one that is not simple but makes the notes ring out clearer once you master it.

The lead guitar parts are also impressively detailed, considering how fast and complex some of Hammett's solos can be. This is a case where I'm sure it helped to have access to Metallica's master recordings for these songs; being able to isolate parts and slow things down makes the learning process much more accessible and also likely made a difference in the accuracy of the transcriptions. While I can't say that the notation for extremely fast solos like those in "One" or "Battery" are 100-percent accurate, they should be good enough for a convincing performance.

A screenshot of the guitar tablature for the guitar solo in the Metallica song "One."

Unfortunately, I ran into some problems when trying to tackle the aforementioned epic, “Master of Puppets.” While I was working my way through the downpicking lessons, I was presented with the riff played during the main verse. Whether through my own ineptitude, Yousician not “hearing” me well enough or some other unknown issue, I simply could not play the riff accurately enough to move forward. It’s definitely a fast one, but even at slowed down speeds, Yousician consistently didn’t recognize that I was hitting the sliding power chords that anchor the end of the riff. A colleague of mine had previously tried Yousician and had a similar problem with the app not recognizing his playing, which can be a major bummer if you’re trying to ace each lesson.

I can’t say why this happened with this particular riff. Yousician did a good job at hearing me play the song’s introduction, which is equally fast and pretty complex in its own right. There seemed to be something specific to those sliding chords that the app had a hard time picking up. I’m not well-practiced enough to attempt the fastest solos the Metallica course offers, so I can’t say how well it’ll pick those up, but it did a fine job of recognizing the quick, arpeggiated licks near the end of the “Fade to Black” solo. Yousician did a better job of picking things up when I plugged my guitar straight into my computer using the iRig 2 interface. But since I don't usually go straight into my computer, I didn't have any virtual amps or effects set up, which meant playing wasn't nearly as much fun as it is through my amp.

Despite these occasional issues, I really enjoyed the Yousician Metallica course. Whether it’s worth the money is another question altogether – Yousician costs $140 a year or $30 a month. That’s not cheap, but it’s less expensive than the private guitar lessons I took 20 years ago. Obviously, Yousician can’t tailor its lessons to me, but I’m still impressed with the attention to detail and comprehensive nature of the Metallica course, and there’s a host of other things I could play around with, too. Between the accuracy of the transcriptions, a solid song selection and the ability to slow down tracks for practicing, there’s a lot to like here.

It certainly would have been a fantastic tool when I was learning the guitar as a teenager – but in 2022, there are a wide variety of options for learning your favorite songs. That’s probably the biggest catch with Yousician. Most people will probably be happy to view YouTube instructional videos and look up transcriptions for free online. I just did a quick search for “Master of Puppets guitar lesson” and found a host of excellent videos, including one multi-parter where the instructor spent ten minutes just demonstrating the first two riffs. It was a thorough, detailed lesson from someone who clearly knows the song as well as Metallica’s approach to playing in general.

That said, I’d still encourage Metallica fans to check out a monthly subscription to Yousician. The song selection spans simpler tracks to some of their toughest material, making it useful regardless of your skill level. The video content is entertaining and informative; you don’t often get to see a band speaking so candidly about their approach to playing their instruments. And as good as some YouTube lessons are, being able to look at and play along with detailed tablature transcriptions of extremely fast guitar solos makes the learning experience much better. Those transcriptions combined with the original Metallica master tracks that you can slow down or speed up as needed are an excellent practice tool. For anyone looking to unleash their inner Eddie Munson, Yousician’s Metallica course is a solid place to start.

Fender's latest Acoustasonic hybrid guitar is almost affordable

Fender's acoustic-electric hybrid guitars are technical marvels, but they're pricey for up-and-coming musicians (officially $2,000) and relatively complex. Thankfully, there's a somewhat more accessible option. The instrument brand has unveiled an Acoustic Player Telecaster with both a more affordable $1,200 price and a simpler design with a three-way voice selector (versus five on other models) and one blend knob. In theory, this is better-suited to younger, newer musicians who want two guitars in one — at least, if they can justify spending over a grand on new hardware.

The Fishman co-designed pickup helps you switch between acoustic and electric modes, and the N4 pickup promises "noiseless" electric playing. You'll find a total of six voicings you can play either by themselves or merged to create fresh sounds.

The Acoustasonic Player Telecaster is available worldwide in four familiar guitar colors (black, white, butterscotch and a graded "Shadow Burst"). There's still an incentive to splurge on the more expensive guitars if you want more control, but this might make sense if you need that $800 or just want something that saves space and time. This might be the ideal guitar if you need to play electric on stage, but acoustic in your apartment.

New Project: Build a Two-Octave Laser Harp

I find laser harps fascinating. The first time I saw one was when I stumbled across a video of a guy using using lasers to play the theme song to Tetris. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, but I couldn’t justify the cost of buying one. Instead, I decided […]

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