In the late seventies, Roland took the sonic palette available to keyboard players and opened it up to guitarists, with the introduction on the GR-500. It was quite simply a marvel, but is positively primitive when compared to the latest evolutionary leap taken by the company with the GR-55 guitar synthesizer. Featuring a pair of independent synthesizer sound engines and a Composite Object Sound Modeling (COSM) engine, the device makes hundreds of different sounds available to the player – anything from pianos to strings, drums to synths, various acoustic and electric guitar and bass emulations, as well as numerous amplifiers.

The word "overwhelming" comes to mind when reading through the list of specifications and options available on Roland's new GR-55 guitar synthesizer. To start the ball rolling, there are no less than three sound engines offered. Each of the two independent PCM synthesizer sound engines has been loaded up with over 900 of Roland's latest sounds, and the COSM engine can be used to emulate electric and acoustic guitars, basses and other instruments, as well as guitar and bass amplifiers.

Being able to combine all three sound engines will be of immediate interest to those who spend significant time and effort tweaking tone, as will the inclusion of two independent multi-effects processors. Of course, you may well find that your desired tone has already been programmed into the hundreds of presets, but you can also edit existing sounds or create your own with intuitive EZ Edit features.

A large LCD display keeps you informed of what choices have been made, underneath which sit three bank pedals and a control pedal, while an expression pedal is located to the right. The rear is where you'll find all the in/out interfaces, including MIDI, USB, 0.25-inch output jacks and a 13-pin GK input. If you don't own a guitar that sports its own GK-compatible interface, then you'll need to use a Roland GK-3 divided pickup. This can be installed on most steel stringed guitars without any modification to the instrument, and picks up signals from each string and sends them onto the GR-55 for processing.

The GR-55 benefits from 24-bit Analog-to-Digital and Digital-to-Analog conversion, 44.1 kHz sampling frequency, and powerful new pitch detection technology that's said to have lightning fast tracking. The latter ensures that the device is able to respond instantly and exactly as you play. There's an onboard phrase looper with unlimited overdub capabilities which lets players capture and play back creative moments, and a foot-pedal-controlled USB song player that lets you load up and play WAV files from a USB Flash Drive.

The device functions as an audio/MIDI interface for computers, so you can use your favored digital audio workstation software to record and modify songs. You can also trigger MIDI sounds with the guitar using the GR-55's pitch-to-MIDI capabilities.

There are two versions of the GR-55 guitar synthesizer available. The GR-55GK flavor includes a Roland GK-3 divided pickup and is priced at US$1,199. The US$979 GR-55S doesn't come with the GK-3, and is for those who already own a GK-compatible guitar.

Roland has prepared an overview of the GR-55 that outlines exactly what this device is capable of: