Review – Renaxxance by Indiginus
Renaxxance is a low-cost, easy-to-use nylon-string guitar (and more) library for Kontakt 4+ that is instant gratification in a box.
by Dave Townsend, May 2015
Renaxxance is a classical nylon-string guitar sample library for Kontakt (full product only, version 4 and above), the latest product offering from Indiginus. Bottom line for the impatient reader: it’s a must-have for the faux-guitarist who doesn’t already have a top-tier nylon-string library.
I dislike the term “no-brainer”, as I personally feel that one’s brain should be engaged at all times. However, at a mere $45 let’s just say this one’s not a particularly tough decision.
Who is Indiginus? It’s the Florida-based enterprise of Tracy and Brenda Collins, an actual for-real mom ‘n pop operation. In case you missed the previous SoundBytes coverage of Indiginus products, here are some links you might want to check out for background:
Solid State Symphony:
Three Great (and Cheap) Kontakt Libraries:
Sample Library Technology with Tracy Collins:
After reading those articles, you will probably come away thinking that we here at SoundBytes are unapologetic Indiginus fans, and you’d be right. We love these libraries because they’re high-quality, useful, and best of all, affordable.
They also stand out in another special way: they invite playing in real time.
Playing in Real Time
I have deeper and more sophisticated sample libraries in my collection. But as much as I like, say, Kirk Hunter Concert Strings, I can’t imagine sitting down at a keyboard and composing with it. Such instruments are versatile and complex building-blocks to be painstakingly engineered into a composition. Indiginus’ Solid State Symphony, on the other hand, makes me want to sit down at the keyboard and jam. In fact, more than once have I used SSS to compose a piece that was later realized with Concert Strings and other industrial-strength orchestral libraries.
Now, Mr. Collins has given us yet another instantly-playable instrument; this time it’s a nylon-string guitar.
The full product name was originally “Renaxxance Epic Nylon-String Guitar”, but that was more Tracy’s wry sense of humor than a desire to further abuse the over-used adjective “Epic”. “Renaxxance Really Cool and Fun to Play Nylon String Guitar” would have been a mouthful, so now it’s called “Renaxxance Exprexxive (sic) Nylon String Guitar”. (At least he didn’t call it “cinematic”, although there are obvious cinematic applications for it).
Epic or not, it’s a real joy to play, right out of the box. When I first got my hands on it, I set my ASIO driver for low-latency real-time playing, started up standalone Kontakt, loaded Renaxxance and hit a chord on my keyboard. I was immediately sucked in and before I knew it an hour had passed while I happily jammed away, completely forgetting that I was supposed to be reviewing the product.
What makes Renaxxance so instantly accessible is the same simple trick used with Solid State Symphony and Delta Blues: velocity-based sampled articulations. Hit a key hard, and you get a natural-sounding slide. Hit it softly and you get a mute. Enable auto-vibrato and with very little effort you’re getting a natural-sounding, believable finger-picked guitar sound with just enough finger noise and release sounds to add authenticity. It’s almost too easy.
Watch Tracy playing Renaxxance live here:
Slides are the Key
Believable slides are essential to making a nylon-string track that’s convincing enough that a listener might not immediately guess it was sampled. Tracy pulls this off in Renaxxance the same way he did in his equally-playable Delta Blues Slide Guitar, by actually sampling each slide separately rather than faking them algorithmically. They sound realistic because they are real recordings of a real human (Mr. Collins) actually playing those slides.
As with Delta Blues, there is also an inherent compromise in sampled articulations, which is that you are restricted to the slides that were sampled. You cannot, for example, specify a long slide over an arbitrary interval. For those you’ll need to be adept with the scroll wheel and PRV editing, just as you would with most guitar libraries.
Renaxxance gives you three types of slides: up-fast, up-slow and down-slow, each of which may be triggered by either velocity or by key-switches. More on slides later.
As much fun as it is to play in real time, the real power of this instrument is revealed after you’ve laid down a MIDI track and start tweaking articulations such as hammer-ons, pull-offs and the judicious application of slides.
Renaxxance’s articulations are called “ornaments”, which Tracy says is in deference to classical guitar terminology. (What’s the difference? Technically, an articulation describes the manner in which notes are created or transitioned, while an ornament is a non-essential flourish to make a melody more interesting. Tracy combines both under one heading and calls them ornaments. It’s no more inaccurate than all the other sample libraries that similarly lump them together and call then “articulations”.)
An example of an ornament (which is really an articulation) is the hammer-on. For those non-guitarists who might not know, a “hammer-on” is an articulation in which a note is initiated entirely by the left hand rather than being plucked with the right hand in the usual manner. In other words, you make a sound by pressing down rapidly and firmly on a fret position. Guitarists use the hammer-on technique because it allows them to play very fast. Of course, “fast” isn’t an issue with keyboardists, who can easily play faster than most guitarists. However, even a keyboard player will still want to use hammer-ons in pursuit of an authentic-sounding performance.
A “pull-off” is similar to a hammer-on in that it’s a left-hand manipulation, but instead of striking the string you pluck the string with your left hand. Like hammer-ons, pull-offs are implemented in Renaxxance as separate samples for a natural-sounding effect.
Most ornaments can be triggered by velocity or by key-switches. For live playing, velocity probably makes the most sense, but for a recorded or programmed MIDI track, you may find that key-switches give you the greatest flexibility and precision with minimal fuss. All velocity and key-switch values are user-definable. Each ornament’s volume is separately adjustable, so they can range from subtle to in your face.
Most of the other ornaments are obvious, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to look up “Mordent”. Turns out, it’s what I would have called a trill, although I’m sure a music major would set me straight on the difference. It just means rapidly alternating between a note and an adjacent note. It’s the kind of thing that’s often difficult to pull off authentically with sampled instruments, but in Renaxxance it sounds quite natural. Renaxxance lets you adjust the speed, direction and interval of the mordent.
Here’s a nice walkthrough video showing how to configure key-switch and velocity range assignments, and demonstrates each ornament:
The complete list of ornaments:
- slide up
- slide down
Legato is a monophonic effect, wherein each note transitions smoothly into the next and maintains monophony even when successive notes overlap. Normally used for playing melodies rather than chords, legato mode differs from other ornaments in that it may only be switched on and off by a key-switch.
Legato is always toggled via a key-switch for two reasons. First, velocity-switched legato just makes no sense most of the time. Second, in legato mode mutes, hammer-ons and pull-offs automatically become velocity-triggered: low velocities trigger slides, high velocities trigger hammer-ons or pull-offs.
Rather than having separate on- and off-switches, legato remains in effect for as long as the key-switch is held down. To encompass a phrase for legato, simply insert a note (F#0 by default) slightly ahead of the first note in the phrase, and then stretch the key-switch’s duration out to just past the start of the last note in the phrase.
In the graphic to the right, the first and last notes of the sequence have been excluded from the legato region. Note that the notes in the run are intentionally overlapped. Legato only has meaning when notes overlap.
Auto-Harmony and Chords
Auto-harmony will automatically activate a second note of any interval you like. When I first saw this feature, my initial reaction was…why? I can play two notes at a time all by myself, thanks. But then I watched Tracy demonstrating it, and thought it sounded pretty good, so I gave it a go. All I can say is: try it live; it’s fun.
In addition to the harmony feature, there is also a Chords mode in which a lower octave on the keyboard is dedicated to chords, wherein each note struck plays a full chord. You can define the chords any way you like, including which strings and fret positions to use. For example, you can substitute a default major or minor chord key to play a seventh or ninth chord instead. You can also save and load chord definition sets.
Click the “Chords” button to enable this mode. With Chords mode going, you can essentially play two guitars at once: chords with the left hand and a melody with the right. Then turn on auto-harmony and you’ve got a guitar trio!
Dynamic String Count
There are two buttons, labeled “Dyn Str 1” and “Dyn Str 2”, that turn the dynamic string count option on. What this does is change the number of strings used to play a chord based on velocity. Mode 1 adds more strings the harder you play. Mode 2 does the same thing, except that the strum direction is also reversed for up-strokes at lower velocity levels. This feature enhances the dynamics for parts that have delicate soft chords interspersed with big high-velocity chords.
Note that dynamic string count respects custom-defined partial chords that don’t use all six strings, and will not add strings that you haven’t included in your custom chord definitions.
Slides are paradoxically both Renaxxance’s greatest strength and its most severe limitation. On the one hand they are easy to use and believable, but at the same time they’re fairly inflexible.
Both slide-up and slide-down ornaments are implemented as separate samples. That’s why they sound so good. It also means you can slide full and partial chords, not just single notes. This is something that often doesn’t work well when you’re faking a slide with the pitch wheel, because slide intervals are different for each note in a chord.
For example, here’s an example of something that’s normally impossible with most sampled guitars but that Renaxxance does very nicely: sliding down from a partial D-minor chord to a C-major chord (note the key-switch at the bottom that triggers the slide samples).
Unfortunately, because the slides are sampled this means that they have fixed intervals and speeds. The above example worked for me because the tempo and note duration just happened to work out. If I’d wanted the D-minor chord to start earlier, there’d have been a gap between the end of the down-slide and the next note.
Slides are also asymmetrical: the slide-up is two semitones and ends on a sustained note, while slide-downs’ interval is a fifth and ends abruptly. I found slide-ups very easy to work into a sequence, while slide-downs required more care and sometimes didn’t work at all. Fortunately, it’s the more natural-sounding up-slides that are more important to a nylon-string guitar.
Want a quick ‘n dirty track with slides? Just record a finger-picked MIDI track, then go into your DAW’s PRV and make sure no velocities exceed 89 (the default velocity switch for up-slides is 90). Start experimenting with raising the velocities of individual notes. The ones that work best are usually at points where the melody is ascending. The performance will instantly come alive, even if you only throw slides in for a handful of notes.
Here’s an audio clip where I’ve done just that. The first is the part as recorded live, with all velocities below 90. In the second clip, I’ve increased the velocities of just four notes to above 90. Note that one of the slide-ups is a partial minor chord, something that many sampled guitars can’t manage.
Other Effects and Tweaks
In addition to the ten ornaments listed above, other optional effects and controls include:
- Body resonance
- Release and finger noise volumes
- Round-robin reset time (see below for explanation)
- And one rather unexpected effect: “12STR”
The “12STR” effect approximates a 12-string guitar by adding notes an octave higher to the low strings (up to G2) and unison notes to the high strings. To the best of my knowledge, in the real world there is no such thing as a classical nylon 12-string guitar. But this is the digital age, so why not?
The 12-string effect sounds best with chords and fast-picked melodies. Tracy has panned the top strings apart, which gives a very pleasant spread-out sound for chords and fast melodies, but can result in slow single-note sequences jumping around strangely in the panorama. If this effect is too much for you, I suggest pulling the panning in using an external plugin such as the free Flux:: Stereo Tool [LINK: http://www.fluxhome.com/products/freewares/stereotool-v3].
RR Alt Time
Another unusual control whose purpose is not immediately obvious is a slider labeled “RR Alt time”. Here’s what that’s about.
The instrument automatically alternates between up- and down-strokes as you’d expect for a sampled guitar. However, you also expect that the beginning of each phrase begins with a down-stroke. The “RR Alt time” slider sets the time interval that delineates separate phrases. Slide it all the way to the left and you get all down-strokes all the time; push it all the way to the right and the alternating up and down pattern is enforced until there’s a 3-second gap.
The default position resets the up/down pattern after about a one-second pause, and that works fine most of the time.
Vibrato is also essential to authentic-sounding stringed instruments. Renaxxance features an automatic vibrato that requires zero effort for live playing, with the amount set by the mod wheel.
There is a control to set vibrato depth, but not for other parameters such as speed. However, because this feature is implemented using Kontakt’s built-in modulation features, it can be tweaked if you’re comfortable messing with Kontakt’s innards. Like all of Tracy’s instruments, the internal Kontakt controls and scripting are not hidden as they are for many commercial instruments with custom UIs. Even if you’re a Kontakt novice, it’s quite educational to peek behind the curtain and see how an expert does this stuff.
Renaxxance uses Kontakt’s built-in compressor, but Tracy has applied some clever scripting to turn it into an ultra-simple one-knob effect. The single knob’s values range from “none” to “too much”. I found the default setting just about right for most things, and the “too much” extreme setting significantly raised the noise floor. For delicate solo guitar parts, I prefer to turn the compressor completely off.
The “BODY RES” control brings in Kontakt’s convolution processor and a body-resonance impulse response file made from the very guitar that Tracy sampled. This turns the instrument from a generic nylon-string into a specific nylon-string guitar with a distinct personality.
In practice, the effect is subtle and can be disabled to save CPU cycles if the instrument isn’t featured nor heard in solo. But for solo parts, it does add a bit of realism.
Other Instruments: Harmonic Dance / da Vinci PPM, RenaChords and RenaDrum
Harmonic Dance is a clever instrument that looks like an arpeggiator/sequencer, but it’s actually a pair of echo generators with harmonics samples as the sound source. It can sound a bit like a hammered dulcimer, or you can play low notes for rhythmic beds. You can hear this instrument in the opening for the Renaxxance demo (the first YouTube video seen earlier).
In version 1.2, an enhanced version of Harmonic Dance was added, called da Vinci PPM. This version adds the ability to loop sequences, as well as filter, drive and phaser effects that can radically alter the sound of the instrument.
RenaChords.nki is a chords-only instrument, with separate octaves for up- and down-strokes (left octave is up, right octave is down). It takes a little practice to get the hang of alternating two fingers to emulate alternating strum directions, a skill I haven’t quite mastered, but it’s no problem programming them via the PRV.
Because these chords are created by triggering sequential notes (rather than sampling full chords), strum speed can be adjusted. There is also an optional relationship between velocity and strum speed (which is adjustable as well) so that higher velocities cause faster strums.
Just as the deadline was approaching to wrap up this article, Tracy sent me an email saying “wait! I’ve added two more instruments”. Yikes, it’s hard to keep up with this guy! What he’s done is add two new instruments to the Extra Instruments collection: Ukemandolele.nki and Unkemandolele Chords.nki.
These turn Renaxxance into a kind of hybrid ukulele / mandolin thing, by doing essentially what guitarists do when they want to fake a small instrument: use a capo. These add a virtual capo, along with a body resonance IR from a mandolin, to produce a ukulele-type tone. Everything else works the same as the main instrument, including the “12STR” option. Yes, a twelve-string ukulele. Don’t you just love making music in the digital age?
Lastly, there is one other extra instrument included called RenaDrum. It’s a collection of chromatically-tuned percussive one-shots made by slapping the body of the guitar.
And that’s about it. It’s not a terribly complicated instrument, and that’s a big part of the attraction. It’s instant gratification, a great-sounding instrument right out of the box with minimal effort.
What you’ll need: the full version of Kontakt 4 or 5 and 45 bucks (~42 EUR). Get it here: