Neural DSP Archetype: Rabea
Neural DSP

Archetype: Rabea is an all-in-one virtual guitar rig that’s also a synth

Neural DSP nails the pitch-tracking guitar synth on its first try.

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Terrence O'Brien
August 17, 2022 10:30 AM

Neural DSP is best known for its high-quality amp models, whether that’s its $1,850 Quad Cortex floor modeler or plugins for your DAW. Its latest offering is the €139 (roughly $142) Archetype: Rabea plugin. The Archetype series is a collection of artist collabs where Neural builds out a set of amp sims and effects to capture the essence of that particular musician’s sound. While a variety of artists across genres have worked with the company, the Archetype series has definitely trended toward the heavier end of the spectrum, with names like Gojira, Tosin Abasi, and John Petrucci getting involved. Rabea Massaad definitely falls into that category with his band Frog Leap, and backing up Stormzy. But Archetype: Rabea adds an interesting new wrinkle to Neural DSP’s formula – a synth.

Before we get to the synth part, let’s run through the core features. There are three amp sims in Archetype: Rabea – clean, rhythm and lead, which cover everything from bright Fender chimes, to death metal chug, to unadulterated shred. There are around 100 presets included that make dialing in tones simple. Neural takes a very skeuomorphic approach to interface design, and if you’ve ever used a guitar amp before (which I’ll assume you have if you’re reading this), you’ll feel right at home. All three amps sound pretty good right out of the box and it’s easy to tweak them to your liking.

Archetype isn’t just a handful of amp sims bundled together, though. You can combine those amps with various different speaker cabinets, simulated different mic placements, and there’s a four-band EQ for further fine tuning the tone.

The bottom end is quite tight and the distortion satisfying. I don’t think anyone is likely to mistake Neural’s plugins for a real-deal tube amp. But that’s kinda beside the point, as long as it sounds good. The sound straight out of the box is very full and sounds great on its own, but needs heavy EQing to sit right in a mix. Also, the amp sims can get quite noisy, almost like you’re standing right in front of a real cranked amp. Thankfully, there’s a noise gate builtin – make friends with it.

The whole point of Archetype is to be a complete guitar rig, so you also get a bunch of effects with each installment, too. Rabea comes with a compressor, octaver, overdrive, fuzz, delay and reverb “pedals,” as well as pitch shifting and doubling effects. Again, while these cover a wide variety of tones, they really excel at the heavier end of the spectrum, which is where many other digital amp and effects sims can fall flat in my opinion.

All of the effects are pretty solid, but the octaver and reverb are easily my favorite. The octaver lets you blend in both an octave below and above what you’re playing, and has both a vintage and modern mode. The former is great if you’re looking for that dirtier, glitchier old-school vibe. The reverb has a freeze function, with independent pitch control which – when combined with the octaver and doubler – delivers truly lush pads that will drone on forever. You can even change the pitch while you’re playing over it to create progressions. It’s a fascinating way to start sketching out ideas for songs, but it’s not really practical for performing.

Neural DSP Archetype: Rabea
Neural DSP

But what really sets Archetype: Rabea apart is the Overlord Synth. It’s a dual oscillator, monophonic, subtractive synth that follows the pitch of your guitar. This is a first for Neural DSP, and the company claims it’s a “world-first,” though I couldn’t independently confirm that claim. What I can say is that there are pitch-tracking guitar synth pedals and MIDI guitars that can control synths, there are also pitch-tracking tools that you can pair with a softsynth to control it with a guitar, but I wasn’t able to find an all-in-one pitch-tracking guitar synth VST.

The sound engine itself is nothing too fancy: two oscillators with four waveshape options, a low pass filter with four different modes, a fairly basic arpeggiator, and a pair of envelopes to control the amplitude and filter. You can coax dreamy and delicate plucks out of it, but it really shines as a synth bass machine. Because the options are limited, even someone new to synths should have a fairly easy time coming to grips with Overlord.

Of course, the big question is how well it tracks input from your guitar. And I’m happy to report that it’s nearly perfect. Now, it’s monophonic, so you can’t play big synth chords the way you might with a MIDI controller, but it had no trouble keeping up with groove metal riffs and mid-tempo pentatonic solos. The demos on Neural’s site even make it sounds like it can handle finger tapping, but my finger tapping skills are basically non-existent. There was rarely a stray note, or odd abrupt cut off. It’s easily some of the best pitch-tracking I’ve seen in a plugin. There is the occasional artifact when sliding around the neck, but once you adjust your playing style it’s pretty to minimize them.

All sounds in this demo, other than the drums, are created using only a guitar running through Archetype: Rabea.

The real magic starts happening, though, when you combine all these various elements together. You can blend in the synth with your guitar, pitch the oscillators one fifth and one octave below, turn on the doubling effect and create just a massive wall of sound. You can then freeze that using the reverb pedal, retune the synth to play the same note and an octave up, and solo over that drone in equally bombastic style. Archetype: Rabea is basically guitar tone maximalism at its finest.

If you’re already a fan of Neural DSP’s products, Archetype: Rabea is an easy sell. It’s a high-quality virtual guitar rig with a truly excellent synth built in. Even if you’re primarily interested in the synth side of things, the €139 isn’t too bad. Yes, the synth is fairly basic, but you get a handful of effects to process it, and the pitch tracking is top notch. You’re probably gonna pay at least $99 for any decent commercial synth plugin, so an extra $40 to be able to natively control it with your guitar is a small price to pay.

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Archetype: Rabea is an all-in-one virtual guitar rig that’s also a synth