Guitar Pro 5
Guitar Pro 5 is one of several highly regarded software packages for music composition and transcription. You should know about it because it's packed with features aimed directly at the developing guitar player. This article does not compare it to other products, but will arm you with enough information to decide if it is a contender for your shopping dollar.
Note: This review was written in February 2009. As with most software, features and capabilities may have changed since this review.
This review is based on my personal experience with Guitar Pro 5 for Mac (version 5.2). The Windows version may perform differently.
What is Guitar Pro 5?
The Guitar Pro 5 documentation describes the program as "the ultimate workbench" for the guitarist, "aimed at helping the user progress, compose, or simply accompany himself on guitar..."
I describe it as musical notation software built with a guitarist mind.
If you're comfortable with TAB, use it as a TAB editor. If you know how to enter musical score, use it as a score editor.
You can easily switch between TAB and score, or display both at once, so you can learn score from TAB, or TAB from score. If you don't know either, you can enter notes into Guitar Pro using a virtual fretboard or a virtual keyboard.
But entering musical notation or TAB doesn't even scratch the surface of all that Guitar Pro 5 can do for you. You can:
- Learn scales
- Lookup or build custom chord forms
- Playback the music you've entered
- Enter lyrics and align them with the melody
- Control the speed or playback, or loop sections for additional practice
- Print out nicely formatted music
- Export to a variety of formats, including WAV sound files.
You can even tune your guitar if you want to! Add all this together and Guitar Pro puts a complete music toolbox at your fingertips that can both assist and consume you!
You can purchase the boxed version of Guitar Pro 5 from a number of sources, but the fastest way to get a copy (either the full version or a trial version) is by downloading it directly from the Arobas Music site.
If you buy the full version, you begin by downloading the main program, also known as by Engine. The Engine is all you really need. The optional components are what the company calls the "Realistic Sound Engine," or RSE. The RSE is downloaded in three parts: Guitars sounds, Bass Guitar sounds, and Drum sounds. More on the RSE later. The User Manual, also available via download, comes in four languages (English, French, German, or Japanese).
When you launch Guitar Pro 5 you'll be asked for your User ID and Key. Annoyingly, you can't Copy this information from the e-mail sent by the company and Paste it into the fields, you must carefully type each character. Once complete, you should register your copy to ensure support and access to future bug fixes and reduced cost upgrades.
You can also sign in to the Customer's Area of the web-site after registration. Here, you request priority support, download the latest version of the software and/or documentation, track orders, ask for your license information again, and set up your customer profile (name, address, operating system, sound card, etc.).
Guitar Pro launches the first time with a Demo for Guitar Pro 5 already open for use. In addition, the Tools window and playback control toolbar are open. Of course, if you haven't read the user manual, the Tools Window may not mean much to you, but at least you can start playback of the Demo file.
Sadly, Guitar Pro 5 does not come with any type of tutorial and the manual is written feature by feature. A better format, I think, would be to write a 'how to accomplish a task' type of document. For example, suppose you want to know how the software created the crescendo in the sample song. The documentation does not tell you. Looking at the song doesn't tell you either. You need to figure it out yourself (here's how: right click in the measure you want the crescendo to begin, and use the Volume Fader in the Mix Table).
The folks at Arobas apparently expect that they can ignore the trend to improve user interfaces to the point where documentation is optional. You'll almost certainly need to open the User's Guide and read through it before you try to tackle Guitar Pro 5.
What about playback quality?
Sounds without the RSE installed are a bit electronic. Some of the guitar sounds (such as lead riffs and bends) sound very much like an electronic keyboard.
I installed the Guitars RSE, restarted Guitar Pro, and activated the RSE Engine. (Note: If you don't activate the RSE, installation does you no good. To activate the RSE select Sound>Use RSE.)
I played the file again. To my ear, the rhythm guitar sounds are still very electronic in nature, but the lead guitar was a decent rendition. Unfortunately, the volume of the lead guitar suddenly dropped significantly, making it hard to hear. Installing my not be worth the extra disk space. You'll have to try it both ways and decide for yourself. Luckily, you can easily turn the RSE on or off with the Sound>Use RSE command, or a simple press of F2.
However, even with the electronic sounds the melody and backing accompaniment do a very nice job of letting you hear what the song should sound like. All of the music directives, such as repeats, diminuendo's, crescendo's, and first and second endings work. Very nice!
Guitar Pro 5 clearly packs a punch with the number of features included. I've highlighted some of there here:
- Multi-track input/edit/playback (stack drums, bass, guitar, and more)
- There is a large user community that posts files in GP5 format. You might find the song you want already written up! GP5 provides built-in search engines to look for previously coded songs.
- GP5 is reasonably priced.
- You can import TAB... possibly saving loads of time on score entry.
- It's very easy to add tracks, and relatively easy to keep lyrics in sync with the melody.
- There is a chord lookup and custom shapes tool. Very handy for learning and documenting infrequently used chord forms.
- A scales tool is available to look up the scale for any key you select. You can even select multiple versions of scales, such as pentatonic's. This is a great learning tool.
- You can display and input notes using either a keyboard or a guitar fretboard.
- You can cut/copy/paste measures for quick reproduction of passages. The program insists on needlessly asking you to verify the number of bars, so you can't do a quick Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V.
- Looping passages, including the ability to slow them down, is wonderful for learning difficult passages of a song. The program's Speed Trainer even allows you to slow a passage down, then progressively increase speed as it repeats. You could, for instance, play a loop repeatedly, beginning at half-speed, and increase it by 10% each time through the passage (until you reach normal tempo).
- There are loads of score notations available (such as repeats, alternate endings, time signature) and guitar-related notations (bend, hammer on, fingering instructions, let-ring).
- Mute any track.
- Beautiful printouts of your score.
I like Guitar Pro 5, but I don't love it. Here are a few reasons why.
- The learning curve is very steep and the User's Guide is difficult to understand. I think the difficultly is partly because Arobas is a French company, and partly because my version (Mac) was adapted (perhaps hurriedly) from the Windows version. Worse, some of the keystrokes they use don't work properly on Powerbooks or Macbook Pro's (unless you use the Function-Key variation of the keystroke).
- Internet search through GP5 does not find some GP5 songs on the Internet, even in the databases they point to. It should not be harder to find GP5 songs when you're actually using the GP5 software.
- There are some maddening limitations for typing in lyrics. You can't, for instance, paste lyrics in, you must type them. You can't see updates in real-time (to check if they're lining up with the melody, for instance). You must exit the lyrics panel, then check the lyrics in the score, then jump back into the lyrics editor (which is within the Properties panel).
- You can enter text, such as notes, above the measure, but you can't control formatting or placement.
One More Word On GP5 File Sharing
Yes, Virginia, there is a Guitar Pro Santa... but he seems to be a temperamental old cout. The sites you're pointed to do indeed have song lists and artist lists, but most of the results are TAB, not Guitar Pro files, and on some you're bombarded by sexually explicit ads. I've learned to avoid all but those built directly into the software.
As you might expect, most of the GP5 sites concentrate on Rock, Metal, and Classic Rock. You'll find some Blues, Folk, and Celtic music, but very little for the Christian artist. For example, I searched several of the sites for "Chris Tomlin," a very popular Christian artist, and received exactly zero hits. I searched one of the larger sites for "Lord" and was rewarded with four hits, they were: Metalica's "Phantom Lord", George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" (which is not about the Lord God at all), and two others by Aerosmith and Eric Clapton. It's a secular Guitar Pro World.
One more note, since Arobas is a French company, several of these web-sites are in French, and you'll need to find the "English" button, if it's available.
Try Before You Buy
The bottom line is: Guitar Pro 5 might be the right solution for you, but I'd recommend you download the trial version trial (click the Guitar Pro 5 button below). The trial version does not include the RSE, but you can listen to samples on the GP5 web site.
The program is reasonably priced, and does do a good job... once you overcome the learning curve.
As for me, I use it when I need to, but keep looking forward to version 6 and a genuine easy-to-use Mac version.