Every once in a while, a new product emerges that captures the imagination of everyone here at FutureMusic. A few months ago the Vibesware GR-1 was sent to our office and we’ve not been able to put it down. From the initial reviewer who unboxed the product, and didn’t come up for air for several hours, to another who was so enamored by the sound, he took it on a recent tour, to anyone else who comes in and gets sucked down the rabbit hole experiencing this incredibly innovative product for guitarists, the GR-1 is something special. With so many staffers who wanted to get their hands dirty, it’s taken quite a while to get our wild enthusiasm down on paper.
The setup of the Vibesware GR-1 Guitar Resonator is actually quite simple.
Now that all the evaluations are in, we have to say, there hasn’t been been such an unanimously well-received bit of kit in our history. But before we get to the review, we need to provide an orientation. Always on the lookout for innovative new gear, our Technology Editor uncovered a new electronic guitar product from German manufacturer Vibesware. The GR-1 is an electronic feedback generator that allows a guitarist to envoke the powerful harmonics without the need of an amplifier. The idea for the GR-1 germinated when Markus Pahl, founder of Vibesware, was playing in a band that rehearsed in an apartment and didn’t have the luxury of playing at a full sound level to create the feedback he desired.
I Couldn’t Get The Powerful Guitar Sound I Wanted
“I joined a band that played exclusively with earphones. All instruments plugged into the mixer,” Pahl recounts. The band utilized a set of DDrums, an electronic drum kit, and was thrilled with the transparent sound they were able to achieve when they recorded the sessions. However, Markus was not satisfied with his tone. “[Playing in this manner was a] real challenge for me, because I couldn’t get the powerful guitar sound I wanted.”
Instead of just accepting the limitations, Pahl, being a true innovator, looked at developing a way to get the guitar sound he dreamed about. “I found an acceptable way after weeks of experimenting with tube amps and specially designed speaker simulators. But I still missed the typical sound passing into feedback of a turned up amp, speakers interacting with the guitar strings. Feedback playing has always been a key element for me. So I looked for a natural sounding, totally controllable way to get this feedback at any sound volume.”
There Couldn’t Be Any Playing Restrictions
Pahl quickly developed a set of criteria that needed to be met in order for an electronic feedback device to work to his satisfaction. First, he didn’t want to have to modify his guitar. Second, he wanted the feedback to be as flexible and versatile as possible, such as achieving feedback from multiple strings and different pickup selections. Finally, there couldn’t be any playing restrictions, both hands had to remain free and not encumbered in any way.
After only a few weeks, the first prototype of the Guitar Resonator was born. The original objective was to create speaker feedback electronically, but in the end Pahl’s methodology also created a new dynamic playing technique, which revealed a myriad of possibilities to delve musically deeper into the world of feedback than ever before.
After further experimentation, Markus added the LED’s in the Resonator Head to provide a visual indication of the Resonator’s positioning, as well as harmonic mode status. He then spent almost a year finding the best circuits and the best materials for delivering a powerful string driver that would suit all playing styles. Lastly, the construction needed to be honed in order for it to be robust enough to go from recording studio, to playing live on stage, and back again. With a newly minted patent for the Guitar Resonator concept on hand, Vibesware was ready to take on the world.
Even after viewing Vibesware’s demonstration videos, we were still somewhat perplexed, even after the product’s unboxing. With a long gooseneck cemented to what looked like a vacuum attachment, and a more familiar stomp box, the GR-1 raised the immediate question: How the hell does this thing work?
We immediately summoned one of our resident guitar experts to our sound lab, handed him the GR-1, a mic stand and the limited directions. After briefly knitting his eyebrows and giving us a WTF? look, he dug in. We pulled up a seat and watched the fun. Some may say dropping a GR-1 into a Vibesware virgin’s lap with absolutely no orientation may have been somewhat dastardly, but we wanted to see how long it would take him to get up to speed. As it turns out…not long.
It took no time for him to figure out how to properly set up the GR-1, but it did take him almost an hour to get truly usable results. We then pointed him to the Vibesware demo videos, where he discovered that proximately plays a huge part on how much harmonic feedback is generated. Unlike traditional feedback, which is generated from sound pressure vibrating a guitar’s strings, the Vibesware uses magnets to stimulate the strings. However, the difference is that, with the Vibesware, you can precisely pinpoint a particular string to illicit feedback from, opening up an entirely new world of creative and musical possibilities.
The additional benefit of the GR-1 is that one of your hands is not restricted, like when you play with an eBow. Sure, the mic stand mounting does have a certain nerd factor, but you can simply ditch it when not utilizing the GR-1 on stage. What’s obvious is that Pahl’s personal R&D has really paid off. A few of the GR-1’s features that appeared perplexing at first, made perfect sense once you began using the instrument. Yes, I said instrument. The GR-1 needs to be “played.” This is not an effect you merely switch on and off. You’ll find the more time you spend with the GR-1, the more technique you will develop to wring the most out of its aural mojo.
If you’re looking for pure sonic mayhem, you’ve come to the wrong place. The GR-1 is much more subtle, nuanced and musical then traditional, stack driven blowouts, but you can certainly add distortion, grunge and grit by adding these effects post GR-1 in your signal chain. In fact, each reviewer, who spent considerable time with the Vibesware, developed their own GR Style. Hopefully, the Vibesware website will evolve into a more interactive forum for users to post technique, videos and sound clips, so they can share their ideas.
One of our reviewers, a noted jam-band guitarist, was so impressed with the Guitar Resonator he took the unit on a brief tour after only a short demonstration. Who were we to say no? We did get several reports from the road, as well as a complete debriefing when he returned, where he gushed that the Vibesware was “the most significant guitar product he’s encountered in the last ten years.” He found it to be a “solid and hardy product” that more than enough “stood up to the rigors of the road without nary a problem.” But, most of all, he found the GR-1 to be “addictive” and “sonically irresistible when driven through a proper PA.” High praise indeed, but what about electronic music production?
Well, if you’re a fan of William Orbit or Daniel Lanois, then the Vibesware is your ticket to ride. The GR-1 is very well-suited to electronic production and its subtle nature means you’ll never have to fight the effect to get it to sit properly in a mix. Add some arpeggiation and delay and you can become the next U2 guitarist without the itchy skull cap. For any guitarist who’s looking to add distinctive electronic flavor to their compositions without having to lose the soul of the instrument, look no further than the Vibesware GR-1. In a word, outstanding.
A completely revamped, community-driven website** and proper instruction manual would be on our short list.
**Four years later, it’s still awful…
FutureMusic Rating: 100%
+ Compact Size
“The most innovative guitar product for electronic musicians available today. Get one now before some savvy company buys Vibeswares and triples the price.” —Dan Brotman
“The Guitar Resonator will take your sound into entirely new territory with spectacular results.” —Greg Geller
“I don’t know how I lived without the GR-1.” —Tony Pahl
“Stunning…” —Charles Garvey
“The Vibesware is completely addictive…guitar processing Crack.” —Rob Finck
The Vibesware GR-1 costs €329 and is available now directly from the manufacturer. A Jr. model has just come on the market and costs €139. More information on the Vibesware GR-1.