AG12 is a sample-based acoustic guitar virtual instrument, developed and released by Ample Sound. It features the sounds of a Taylor 956ce 12-string acoustic guitar.
The instrument comes with 32-bit and 64-bit plugin support for both Windows and Mac, along with a standalone version. It costs $169.
Double Your Strings
I’m aware of a few 12-string guitars being included in larger guitar bundles, but nothing else quite at this level of detail, so this virtual instrument fills a significant niche. The specific guitar sampled here is a Taylor 956CE, which is similar to the Taylor 714CE Ample had sampled earlier, with the differences being a larger body, more complex inlays, nicer woods, and most importantly twice as many strings.
For those not too familiar with guitars, a 12-string has paired strings where a regular 6-string guitar has single strings, with the bottom four strings adding a string an octave up from the “regular” string, and the top two strings adding an identically tuned string. It sounds like an acoustic guitar that’s been double-tracked, but with more sparkle and a subtle detune effect on the lower strings. 12-strings are also more difficult to play complex parts on since you have to hold down twice as many strings, but of course, that’s not an issue with virtual instruments.
Sparkle And Shine
The specific kind of 12-string guitar we get here is a nice one with new strings and a good setup, played by a skilled studio guitarist. The sound is sparkly and bright. There was an earlier version of this instrument with identical functionality but different samples, which from my brief tests did not have any issues which would need fixing, but which sounded slightly darker and had more room sound in the close mic. The new version does a better job of capturing the big shiny sound of a high-end 12-string. Even playing higher up the neck on the lower strings, the sound remains clear, though of course like all guitars it gets less bright in that region of the fingerboard.
The main question is, how can you decide whether you need the 12-string sound in your arsenal or not? I would suggest that, if you have no other virtual acoustic guitars of this quality, you should get a 6-string first. If you do have a good 6-string or two already, a 12-string is perfect for making certain kinds of parts richer and sparklier, beyond what double-tracking a guitar part can do.
A Swirly Aside
As with Ample Sound’s virtual ukulele, the instrument does sound different from the typical 12-strings owned by the average mortal player. Most 12-strings tend to have much worse intonation, which is generally a bad thing, but it does have a positive aspect. It adds a big detuned swirl to the sound, especially when played on the lower strings higher up the neck. That sound has its own appeal, like a synth with unison oscillators and the detune knob cranked up, so as an experiment I tried to replicate it with the AG12.
As it turns out, it is indeed possible to get the best of both worlds. Two instances of AG12 in the same MIDI layer channel, with each instance’s master tuning cranked in a different direction, get very close. As the tuning of each sample is individually configurable (though affecting both strings in the pair at once, not each individual string separately), this could be made even more realistic by having no detune on the open strings and the high two string pairs, and increasing amounts of detune on the higher frets for the higher strings. However, this quick setup is more than plenty for enhancing typical strumming with that big swirl. If the automatic doubling mode had a detune knob, this would be even easier.
The instrument’s also less noisy than a real 12-string – the real thing is prone to buzzes when one string in a pair is fretted cleanly but the other not quite. I’m not going to complain about this much – unlike the swirl mentioned above, this buzz doesn’t really have much appeal unless you’re doing something like folk-punk. AG12 will give you a good take played by a good studio player, but it’s not the best for realistically emulating bad takes and sloppy live performances.
Fiddling With Knobs
The engine works much the same way it does for Ample Sound’s other guitars so I will not repeat myself here. You can read up on it in my review of Ample’s 6-string acoustics. I will add that the sample structure, with fewer round robins and velocity layers higher up the strings, works very well for acoustic guitars. This is especially true for 12-strings which are used mainly in the lower positions, and any high parts are probably lead melodies or arpeggios which don’t risk machine gun effects even with relatively few samples. It’s not the best approach for metal guitar or punk bass, but works just fine here, with more detail in the areas where the instrument is used the most.
The vibrato also works like it would on a 6-string, which is not exactly realistic – vibrato on 12-strings has very limited range, is difficult to perform without one of the strings buzzing badly, and since each string in the pair is bending by a different amount, they also go out of tune with each other. As with Ample Sound’s other guitars, there are basically three vibrato modes – a manual mode with the pitch wheel which bends the pitch both up and down, and two mod wheel vibrato modes which only move the pitch up, with one having manual and the other automatic speed. This is much nicer than a real-world 12-string, so the lack of realism is fine by me. In a pinch, the pitch wheel vibrato can be combined with the legato articulations and utilized to turn this guitar into a faux oud. It won’t sound very realistic, but it can easily get that Middle Eastern plucked strings vibe.
This 12-string continues Ample Sound’s focus on capturing the archetypal sound of various expensive high-end guitars, this time giving us a very clean and sparkly 12-string.
More info: Ample Sound AG12 ($169)
Ample Sound AG12 Review
AG12 continues Ample Sound's focus on capturing the archetypal sound of various expensive high-end guitars, this time giving us a very clean and sparkly 12-string.