Price paid: $ 1299
Features — 9
It's a classic Fender Stratocaster loaded with Roland's GK pickup and COSM modeling engine that simulates everything from Telecasters to acoustic guitars in a variety of tunings at the twist of a few knobs. A working musicians' dream, its stage and studio applications are boundless.
From an operational perspective the G-5 is simply a typical Stratocaster with a couple of extra knobs. Roland's special V-Guitar pickup sits soundly between the Strat's third single-coil magnetic pickup and the bridge.
Sound — 8
The G-5 features Roland's GK-3 Divided Pickup which utilizes the forward-thinking manufacturer's COSM modeling technology in the onboard engine to manifest its remarkable sound simulations. It's the same tone technology found in the VG-99 V-Guitar System and GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer. The bottom line is that the G-5 VG Stratocaster sounds impressive. The easiest and most obvious testing of the waters was to simply bounce back and forth from Normal Strat to Modeled Strat. I did prefer the sound of the magnetic pickup for its fullness and power, but that came at a high cost - lots of 60-cycle hum. The modeled sound was as quiet as a mouse by comparison, and it was pretty much spot-on tonally. I'd use it on a session or a noisy stage without a second thought. I enjoyed lots of other modeled sounds including the Bright Humbucker and Wide Range Telecaster tones, particularly when I evaluated them simply as sounds. Let's face it no Strat really plays like a Tele anyway, and no solidbody electric guitar plays anything like a dreadnought acoustic. I found Steel-String Acoustic 1 sound quite convincing, especially considering it was emanating from a 1983 Fender Super Champ. Coupled with the 12-String tuning model it absolutely nailed the intro tone to Boston's "More Than a Feeling." And being able to jump right into Open G mode made bringing Led Zeppelin's "That's the Way" to life a snap. Once I discovered how easy it was to make such maneuvers, and how bona fide they sounded on such an easy to play instrument, my skepticism faded. I was in.
Action, Fit & Finish — 8
The G-5 came from the factory set up quite nicely for easy playability with the bridge set to float, meaning the vibrato bar could lower or raise the pitch of any note or chord. Familiar Strat controls include a 5-way pickup selector switch, Tone and Volume knobs, as well as additional Mode and Tuning knobs located just below them. The super bright blue LED indicator light lets you and anyone within eyeshot know when you've plugged a cord into the input jack and have power from the four AA (located inside cover on back panel). The light gradually dims as power decreases, and finally flashes when voltage falls below a set level.
The M knob offers five modes. The first is for Normal operation of the three single-coil magnetic pickups. In this mode as well as the next one - Modeled Stratocaster - the 5-way selector switch functions as it would on a traditional Strat. In the next mode - modeled Telecaster - the switch offers three common Tele settings plus two Wide Range options that simulate extra pickup coil windings for fatter neck and bridge sounds. Humbucking is the fourth mode, and in it the 5-way switch serves up three high output humbucker simulations plus two Bright Humbucker options for more lively bridge and neck tones. The fifth and final mode is Acoustic. Via the 5-way switch it offers Steel-String Acoustic 1 (dreadnought), Steel-String Acoustic 2 (resonator), Nylon-String, Electric Sitar, and Jazz tonal characteristics. In the Acoustic mode, the Tone knob functions as a reverb control. Nice!
The T knob selects among six modeled tunings: Normal, Drop D, Open G, D Modal, Baritone, and 12-String guitar. Those are rather self-explanatory, but for clarification it's worth mentioning that D Modal is what most folks know as DADGAD, and Baritone drops the whole guitar down a fourth, so your standard E cowboy chord becomes a B. Since the 12-String option is treated as a tuning on the T knob, it unfortunately can't be used in conjunction with other tuning models such as Open G. The upside of that situation is the 12-String sound can be either acoustic or electric.
Reliability & Durability — 7
The craftsmanship on the Mexican-made G-5 was of fine quality, and I'd expect the core instrument to be as reliable and durable as a typical Mexican-made Strat. The GK pickup system appeared to be created from quality components and functioned flawlessly while I worked it out in every way I could imagine. However, there are a lot of wires connected to that pickup selector switch and those knobs. I certainly wouldn't throw the G-5 across the stage as readily as I would a standard Strat, and I'd probably baby it a bit to make sure it endures a long and prosperous life.
Overall Impression — 8
The Roland/Fender partnership that kicked off in 2007 is still one of the most exciting collaborations in music manufacturing. Their latest creation, the G-5 VG Stratocaster, is a solid value because it does tons of very cool stuff for a sensible amount of money. It's perfect for gigging players, players looking to expand their tonal pallet in the studio, enthusiastic hobbyists, and younger players who want more from their Strat than their father's instrument has to offer. Hardcore Strat cats might want to lay out the extra cash for the American-made version with its upgraded components - especially vibrato bar zealots who are particularly fickle folk. Tried and true tone freaks loyal to traditional instruments will always feel that virtual simulations fall short, regardless of how close they come. Everyone else will find applications for Roland's G-5 VG Stratocaster, and have a hell of a lot of fun doing it. I had a ball jumping through tunings and tones to instantly replicate classic cover songs, and it was even more interesting to forget all preconceptions and get wildly creative with my own music. The expansive possibilities of Roland's G-5 VG Stratocaster opened up new sonic worlds that I can't wait to explore further.