Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tascam GT-R1 Portable Guitar/Bass Recorder

Inspiration has a way of striking at the unlikeliest moments. Anytime you pick up a guitar, there's a chance you might spontaneously invent a great new song or riff. But if you're like me, it's quite likely that you'll forget that new musical idea by the next day -- unless you're able to record it immediately. So what should you do if you don't happen to be in your home recording studio when inspiration strikes?

That's where the Tascam GT-R1 comes in. This essential traveling companion combines a high-quality digital field recorder with studio features created specifically for guitarists -- including effects, overdubbing, and more.

The GT-R1 records in WAV or MP3 format at up to 48kHz/24-bit resolution, using a supplied 1GB SD Card. (Cards up to 32GB are supported.) The built-in stereo condenser microphones do a decent job when you're recording a quick demo -- though for reference field recordings I definitely recommend plugging in a high-quality external stereo condenser mic such as the Nady CM 2S.

One of the great things about the GT-R1 is that you can also plug your acoustic or electric guitar directly into the 1/4" instrument input and record using the built-in amp simulator and multi-effects processor. While the built-in effects are no match for a rack of studio gear, they're good enough to help you capture a convincing sound for a rough demo. (One major drawback, however: The adjustable effects parameters cannot be saved. Whose lame idea was that?)

Overdubbing is another sweet feature of the GT-R1. While it's a far cry from true multitracking, this basic "sound on sound" feature allows you to first lay down a rhythm track and then record a solo on top of it -- with the mix recorded to a second track. It can be tricky to get the levels just right when overdubbing, but with some practice the results aren't too bad.

Here's how I created a quick demo recording with the GT-R1: First, I recorded a rhythm track with an acoustic guitar, using the internal microphones on the GT-R1 . Next, I plugged an acoustic-electric guitar directly into the GT-R1, selected a bit of mild compression and reverb on the internal effects processor, and recorded a lead track on top of the rhythm track. Start to finish, it took me about 10 minutes to record the two parts while reclined on my sofa. Here are the results:

Drakes Bay Boogie - composed & recorded by Lars Kongshem
(file type: MP3 / bit rate: 192kbps / file size: 3 MB)

(I used Audacity software to create a fade-out at the end, and to convert the track from WAV to MP3 format. The end result is untouched in all other respects.)

With a street price of about $250, the GT-R1 is a great deal. Sure, it's got a few drawbacks: The internal condenser mics are decent but not great, the effects settings can't be saved, and it lacks true multitracking capabilities. But I can't think of any other piece of gear on the market that beats the GT-R1 at its core feature set and price point.