Applied Acoustics' Strum GS-1 and Strum GS-1 Electric demonstrated that physical modelling - as opposed to sampling - could deliver authentic acoustic and electric guitar sounds.
Nonetheless, GS-2 (VST/AU/RTAS/AAX/ standalone) sees the whole concept given a refresh, finessing the modelling engine, redesigning the interface (now three pages: Play, Edit and Effects), improving the onboard effects, introducing three Play Modes, and - most significantly - amalgamating both Acoustic and Electric instruments in one plugin.
GS-2 still has much in common with v1, the fundamental principle remaining its ability to translate keyboard chords onto the fretboard in a number of user-selectable voicings and fret positions. GS-2 recognises an impressive 84 chords (visible in the central Chord Display) and assigns individual notes to the most 'likely' string.
The outcome of this analysis is determined by the Play Mode, and styles include strumming, palm mutes, up and down chord strokes, arpeggios, MIDI file-based loop playing, and straightforward note-for-note playback.
On the sound front, GS-2 has a revised Acoustic body model with a larger maximum size, and other parameter improvements include Low Cut for Body and Trim for the Electric neck pickup.
There are now 32 parameters for Acoustic and 36 for Electric - nine of them 'per string' in both cases. Said parameters include finger/pick Position and Type, hammer on Amplitude, string Tone, body Size (for Acoustic) and Pickup Type and Position (for Electric).
There are now five effects slots, comprising Compressor, Equalizer and Reverb, and two multieffects with 12 modules each.
From clean to crunch
GS-2's expanded preset library contains six core soundbanks - two Acoustic (Acoustic and Experimental) and four Electric (Clean, Crunch, Distortion and DI). At over 250 presets, you get plenty of choice, although many are laced with excessive EQ and effects, which is frustrating.
There's a clear character to both guitars but also a uniformity to GS-2's sound that sets it apart from samples and the real thing. We spent some time trying to counter this in the Edit page, and although we managed to create some rounder tones, sadly the uniformity couldn't be dispelled. This is more problematic for lead lines than chords or arpeggios, but then Strum GS-2 is, as the name suggests, all about the chords.
Lead guitar programming isn't totally off the menu, though, as playing semitone or tone intervals can trigger hammer on and hammer off articulations, while legato playing keeps all notes on the same string as far as possible (we counted a 27-note range on the low E string).
Further to that, the Slide MIDI setting enables fret-to-fret slides via MIDI pitchbend, and the Aftertouch Bend setting defines a specific finger-style bend amount (up to +/-2 semitones).
GS-2's new effects do a pretty good job, and the Amplifier is OK for bright, fizzy tones; however, pairing GS-2's Electric with a dedicated guitar amp sim gives much more convincing results. We also found that using a longer keyboard made GS-2 that much easier to play.
GS-2 is a far more capable instrument than its predecessors, with an improved palette of sounds and effects, and the same excellent ability to translate the keyboard to the fretboard. If it's truly convincing solo lead lines that you're after, though, there are better options.