Review: Roland G-5 VG-Stratocaster

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Roland’s brand-new G-5 VG-Stratocaster (current RRP in Finland: 1.583 €) is the result of Roland’s and Fender’s cooperation. The guitar offers the player the genuine ”Stratocaster Experience”, as well as a wide variety of built-in, digitally modelled  guitar tones and virtual tunings.

From the front the Hecho-en-Mexico G-5 VG-Stratocaster differs only slightly from your basic Strat. Only the bright blue status LED, as well as the two small black rotary switches, hint at the digitally souped-up nature of this electric guitar.

The VG-Strat’s back sports two additional cavities on the back of its alder body. The larger one holds all the digital shenanigans (courtesy of Roland), while the smaller one is the battery compartment.

The G-5 uses an up-to-date Stratocaster-neck, which allows for truss rod adjustment from the headstock end.

The sealed Fender-tuners are a quality touch.

The neck joint, on the other hand, is executed in the most traditional of Fender methods.

The fingerboard curves in a 9,5-inch radius, which gives it a very comfortable, middle-of-the-road feel, right between a vintage-Fender’s curved chunkiness and a typical Gibson’s sleek flatness.

Well-set and finished jumbo frets guarantee an almost effortless playing experience. Thanks to a small fretboard ledge, the VG-Stratocaster even comes with a 22nd fret.

The traditional magnetic pickups on the Roland G-5 come straight from Fender’s Standard series – nothing esoteric, but good meat-and-potato workhorses.

Roland’s own GK-pickup sits between the traditional bridge pickup and the vintage-type vibrato bridge. The GK-pickup’s signal feeds the much-needed raw material to the modelling circuit.

To keep electromagnetic interference into the digital COSM-circuit to a minimum, both of the guitar’s two black lids are crafted from aluminium. Additionally, the modelling department is encased in its own, shiny metal box.

The Roland G-5’s only real drawback is its large power consumption: four alkaline AA-batteries will give you about six hours of continual playing time. Using Ni-MH-rechargeables will give you approximately nine hours of fun on a full charge. Connecting a guitar lead to the VG-Strat automatically turns the digital side on, using up the battery power even if you’re only using the guitar’s traditional magnetic pickups. A simple on/off-switch might have been a welcome addition to the G-5.

In comparison to other virtual guitars Roland’s G-5 does have one advantage, though: You can use the VG-Stratocaster even without any batteries, just like a traditional Fender Stratocaster.

The Roland G-5 comes with its own padded gig bag.

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The VG-Stratocaster’s oval C-profile feels very nice in the hand. The overall ergonomics are what you’d expect from a Strat – very comfortable.

Bypassing the modelling department the Roland G-5 sounds just like a good Strat should, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody.

The pickups are traditional singlecoil units with a crisp and dynamic basic tonality. Thanks to the reverse wound/reverse polarity middle pickup the in-between settings are hum free.

The instrument’s digital side opens up a whole wealth of possibilities.

The M-rotary offers you four basic pickup modes:

”S” is a virtual Strat. It might seem a bit daft, at first thought, to include a modelled Strat in a real Strat, but don’t forget that the modelled virtual pickups are all completely free of hum and other interference.

”T” stands for Telecaster. In addition to the three standard Tele-selections (neck, both, bridge), switch positions one and five add overwound versions of the bridge and neck  pickup, respectively, to the mix. The overwound options dish out more power, as well as more bite.

The H-model gives you five virtual humbucker tones. Just like on the Telecaster-model ”H” also offers a brighter neck and bridge pickup in the selector switch’s outermost positions.

Turning the M-rotary to ”A” puts five different acoustic settings at you fingertips. You will find an archtop acoustic, a sitar, a nylon-string and two different steel-string guitars on offer. In the acoustic guitar models the G-5’s Tone-pot adjusts the digital reverb level, with the exception of the sitar model, where the control adjusts the volume of the virtual sympathetic drone strings.

In my opinion most of the models on offer hit the proverbial nail right on the head; especially the authenticity of the electric models is breathtaking. On the acoustic side of things, my favourite setting are the acoustic guitar (at the first switch position), as well as the fantastic virtual sitar. The nylon-string is perhaps the weakest model in the VG-Stratocaster — it’s useable, but not very authentic sounding.

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The G-5’s T-rotary accesses the guitar’s virtual tunings: ”D” gives you Drop-D, ”G” stands for open G (a la Keith Richard), ”d” calls up the modal DADgad-tuning, ”B” turns the guitar into a virtual baritone guitar (Metal fans will like this), and ”12” adds six more strings to proceedings.

The virtual tunings sound great and the whole thing works without any perceivable latency or wobbling.

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The Roland G-5 VG-Stratocaster is a fantastic package, because it gives you a great real guitar to begin with, and then adds the whole new dimension of digital modelling on top of this. A Fender Stratocaster feels safe and familiar to us – it’s a well-playing guitar with great ergonomics and a classic, versatile sound.

The digitally modelled virtual pickups, guitars and tunings take your guitar experience much, much further. The tones sound really organic, and most of the settings offer a high degree of authenticity. The amount of versatility on tap, coupled with the option to change guitar types and/or tunings in mid-song, make the Roland G-5 a very intriguing instrument for studio guitarists or players in a covers band.

The audio clips have all been recorded using the VG-Stratocaster’s digital models and tunings:

Stratocaster-model

Telecaster-model

12-string Telecaster-model

Humbucker-model in virtual Drop-D

Humbucker-model in virtual baritone-tuning

Virtual steel-string acoustic

Sitar-model

The guitar parts from the video

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Roland G-5 VG-Stratocaster

current RRP in Finland: 1.583 €

Finnish distributor: Roland Scandinavia

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Pros:

+ genuine Fender Stratocaster

+ playability

+ analogue side works without batteries

+ analogue tone

+ quality and versatility of COSM-models

+ speed and reliability of virtual tunings

+ workmanship

Cons:

– power consumption

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