Archetype: Rabea is one of very few modellers to include guitar‑synth sounds, alongside the usual amps, cabs and stompbox effects.
Rabea Massaad is the latest guitarist to collaborate with Neural DSP in order to create a signature plug‑in simulation of his guitar rig — he follows in the footsteps of Adam ‘Nolly’ Getgood, John Petrucci, Tim Henson, Tosin Abasi, Cory Wong, Plini and the band Gojira. Through his work with rock/metal/prog bands such as Toska, Dorje and the Totemist, as well as gear reviews and guitar tuition (through his own popular YouTube channel and that of retailer Andertons), and as guitarist in fellow YouTuber Leo Moracchioli’s FrogLeap live project, Rabea has created a fanbase of which many more mainstream artists could be envious. Indeed, the chances are that you could walk into almost any guitar store on the planet and bump into a fan. So if you play the guitar and haven’t yet checked his YouTube channel, consider this a recommendation!
I reviewed Neural’s Archetype: Nolly plug‑in back in SOS January 2020 and it impressed, and their Quad Cortex hardware‑based guitar modeller went on to be voted Best Guitar Technology Product in the SOS Awards 2022. So I think it’s fair to say that, despite the company’s relative youth, Neural DSP have already established themselves as one of the market leaders in amp‑modelling technology.
Archetype: Rabea follows broadly the same format as the previous signature plug‑ins, but with an added twist, which I’ll get to in a moment. You get sophisticated models of a compact set of stompbox effects pedals, guitar amps and matching cabs, dual microphone modelling, a flexible four‑band EQ section and post‑amp effects, all chosen to capture Rabea’s signature sounds. These modelled gear choices are all housed in a flexible front‑end that includes MIDI support, a tuner, a noise gate, audio transpose, automatic doubling, a metronome, and a well‑stocked preset system.
Like many manufacturers, Neural avoid using the real names of the modelled amps and stompboxes, but the core gear here comprises three amps (chosen for clean, crunch, and high‑gain duties, respectively) three cabs (you can mix and match the amps and cabs, and load your own IRs), and four virtual stompboxes, which cater for two stages of compression, an up/down octaver, fuzz and overdrive. The last three of those each have a Vintage/Modern switch, to provide very distinctive flavours of each effect, and the post‑effects section consists of a very flexible dual delay, and a reverb with an interesting ‘freeze’ function.
From a typical guitarist’s perspective, the only really obvious omission is any form of modulation effect — but I reckon this can be forgiven, since the plug‑in is intended to emulate a specific rig. It’s a particularly interesting rig too, since the aforementioned ‘twist’ is the inclusion of a monophonic synthesizer engine, which I believe is a first for Neural. While this guitar synth only works with monophonic input signals (in other words single‑note melodic lines; the pitch‑tracking system won’t translate chords), there’s no need for any specialist hardware or pickups. This means you’re able to transform any guitar’s audio into a range of synth sounds, pretty much instantly.
Neural’s amp, cab and effects modelling have always been up there with the very best, and Archetype: Rabea is no exception. The clean amp is, for the most part, very clean — it’s capable of Fender‑like, crystal‑clear tones, with plenty of note attack. The crunch amp can also do clean at low gain settings, but as you dial in more gain it gradually gets more ‘rawk’. If high‑gain modern metal tones are what you are after, the ‘lead’ amplifier will have you covered, whether you’re looking for aggressive gain or smooth saturation. Rabea is well‑known for using Victory Kraken amps (he was involved in their development), and that’s undoubtedly an inspiration here. Alongside the usual amp‑style tone options, all three of these amps offer some additional tone‑shaping controls, such as mid‑ and high‑boost switches, or Depth or Tight knobs for additional low‑end control.
All of the effects, whether pre or post types, sound excellent. Getting the most out of the dual compressor can take a little experimentation — you need to develop a feel for balancing the attacks of the two stages — but there are plenty of options here, and it is particularly effective at controlling the dynamics of clean, rhythmic playing without completely killing the note attack. The fuzz and overdrive both sound great, but I really enjoyed the octaver. The octave down option adds impressive beef to riffs (and works a treat paired with the fuzz), while the octave up lets you go all Royal Blood with a DI’d bass. On a related tack, a Transpose function offers up to ±12‑semitone pitch‑shifting of your audio input in real time, for an instant bit of down‑tuning without the faff of actually down‑tuning! It is very effective. The same can be said for the doubler effect, which creates a very convincing faked double‑track from a single input.
The delay and reverb perform their conventional duties with aplomb, but both have tricks up their sleeves too. Particularly impressive is the reverb’s freeze feature, which allows you to capture and then sustain a sound, indefinitely. So if you play an ambient chord and hit freeze, you can then improvise over the top. It might not be the first processor to offer this feature, but it is very cool — and very handy to have it built into your main amp‑sim plug‑in.
What this all boils down to is that Archetype: Rabea is, to me, totally convincing as a guitar rig sim. Still, it’s important to note that, as with any software‑only amp sim, if you’re to obtain the best results you must pay attention to the quality and level of your DI signal — especially so if you want to optimise the signal‑to‑noise ratio for high‑gain tones. On a similar note, if you plan on using this plug‑in for live tracking/performance, you need to be playing/monitoring through an audio interface whose performance is rock solid at the low latencies required for maximum comfort when playing.
But having said all that, there’s clearly more to this thing than amps and effects! As I mentioned earlier, the synth engine, which is named Overlord, is monophonic. It can be passed through the stompbox/amp stage or not, as you prefer, and in either case you can set the desired blend between the dry guitar tone and the synth tone. Compared with a conventional ‘keyboard’ synth plug‑in it may be relatively simple, but there’s still more than enough to play with. Two oscillators, each with four waveform options and various detuning choices, are joined by basic amplitude envelope controls, a filter with cutoff, resonance, envelope and drive controls, and a pretty interesting arpeggiator. The dual oscillators mean there’s scope to create some seriously fat tones, while the envelope controls make it easy to go from rapid‑attack short notes to slow‑attack sustained tones, depending upon your musical needs.
This isn’t the first software to generate synth sounds from a monophonic audio source, an approach which removes the need for additional hardware such as a hex/MIDI pickup or pitch‑to‑MIDI converter box. For example, several iOS apps can do something similar, and Jam Origin’s MIDI Guitar (the latest version of which can handle polyphonic sources) has been around for a while now. But Neural’s first take on this process is instantly impressive. The engine tracks your playing really well and while, as with all such things, you’ll hear some sonic glitches if you accidentally hit more than one note, for single‑note lead lines this algorithm asks very little of you in terms of adjusting your playing technique. That can’t always be said of solutions based around MIDI pickups! In short, this is an immensely playable guitar synth.
There’s more to it than the playing feel, though. For example, the arpeggiator function is clever. It takes your single‑note input and turns it into a major or minor arpeggio, based on a user‑defined root and specified scale intervals. It can be tempo‑sync’ed to your DAW, too, and offers multiple‑octave note generation, with the usual up, down, and random note patterns. It really is a heck of a lot of fun (check out the ‘Why is it always Stranger Things’ preset if you want to see what I mean!) but, importantly, it’s also very usable.
Overlord might not the last word in guitar synthesis (there’s no realistic recreation of acoustic instruments such as orchestral strings or brass, for example), but the simplicity of its design makes it really easy to grasp and encourages experimentation, which I think is great. So if you want to add some very playable synth tones (including some that are at least string‑like or brass‑like!) to your sonic palette, Overlord is right on the money. It can sound great on its own, but when blended with the guitar rig modelling, things can start to sound seriously epic.
If you’re one of the many fans of Rabea’s playing, it’s probably a no‑brainer choice. But the audience should extend much wider.
So, is Archetype: Rabea the right amp sim plug‑in for you? Well... it could be. Of course, if you’re one of the many fans of Rabea’s playing (he currently has around 350,000 YouTube followers!), it’s probably a no‑brainer choice. But the audience should extend much wider than that; I’d say that this plug‑in could be an ideal platform for anyone producing music requiring modern guitar tones, be they clean, crunch or high‑gain sounds. It’s probably not the sort of thing to go for if you’re after your very first cover‑all‑bases virtual guitar rig, since, just like all the signature Neural plug‑ins, it’s based around a fairly compact collection of gear. But it is still a collection that can cover pretty much any musical genre, as ably demonstrated by the generous preset collection. As well as a folder of tones designed by Rabea himself, and more by other A‑list artists, there’s a huge range of very usable conventional tones, from sparkly cleans, crunchy blues and rock, smooth leads, through to skull‑crushing modern metal patches.
The quality of sounds generally on offer here is very good, it scores highly in terms of ease of use, and, of course, there’s the added bonus of the Overlord synth module. No, it’s not a particularly ‘deep’ synth engine, and it isn’t a comprehensive sound module that can meet all of a producer’s synth needs. But it can certainly deliver some fabulous sounds, it’s phenomenally easy to use, requires almost no adaptation to your playing style, and it is a heck of a lot of fun to boot. Overlord is considerably more than just a novelty addition.
So, whether you are fan of Rabea Massaad or not, Archetype: Rabea shows Neural DSP at the top of their game. Like the man himself, it’s a class act and I’d encourage any guitar player to give it a try. And that, of course, is something you can do for free, courtesy of a fully functional 14‑day trial.
Checking out the amp modelling first, the Clean amplifier, with its somewhat steampunk panel design, can go from clean to a growly, moderate crunch, while Crunch acts more like a typical master‑volume rock head going from almost clean to the dirty side of classic rock. The voicing filter switches to the left of the panel offer some useful tonal alternatives. Lead is where the high‑gain tones live, as suggested by the front panel’s decorative tormented faces. At minimum gain you get something like classic rock, whereas at maximum it suggests something more Scandinavian, probably involving bats and seven‑string or baritone guitars! I like the idea of offering a choice of EL34 or 6L6 modelled output valves for the Crunch and Lead amps, and switching speaker cabinets or editing the miking arrangements also gives some useful variation.
While the Overlord synth is pretty basic, it is capable of some very credible analogue synth sounds, especially big, aggressive basses. As the synth engine is purely monophonic you do have to be a bit careful when playing, but I found its tracking to be reasonably forgiving as long as you’re not tempted to play pinched harmonics or hit two notes at once — otherwise, as with many other such guitar synths, you may find notes spinning off into random or harmonically‑related pitches. I’ve found it can also help the tracking if you roll off some of the high end using the guitar tone control, or try different pickup combinations. I liked the unison feature, which can create up to five layers with variable detuning and, because of the routing options, you can put the synth through the guitar amps to dirty it up too. Some will have fun with the Arpeggiator/Sequencer section, with which you can set up anything from a Stranger Things vibe to fake shredding effects (though I don’t have much use for those effects in my own music). Some of the best sounds are achieved by mixing the synth sounds with the processed guitar sound, using the onboard delay and reverb to add a sense of space.
Overall, then, Archetype: Rabea sounds good and is easy to use. The amps cover a usefully wide range of tonalities, from clean to extreme dirt, though it’s worth noting that using heavy compression and overdriven amps or pedals, especially at the same time, can bring up significant noise — you may need to use the integral noise gate to counter that. Archetype: Rabea would not be my first choice for classic rock tones (for which there’s a lot of competition out there!), but if your style is more experimental then there’s a lot of scope for producing sounds that are hard to come by anywhere else. Definitely worth a trial. Paul White
- Offers a very diverse palette of guitar tones for almost any musical style.
- Overlord synth module sounds great and is a heck of a lot of fun to use.
- As ever, Neural DSP’s amp, cab and effects modelling is top‑notch.
- Compact virtual gear list might deter the more general user.
Archetype: Rabea might be a signature plug‑in, but it’s still capable of a huge range of guitar tones, and the integrated synth is an impressive addition.
- Archetype: Rabea v.1.0.0
- Cubase Pro v12.0.30
- iMac 3.5GHz Intel Core i7, 32GB RAM, running Mac OS 10.15.7