Roland GR 33 Vs GR 55: What’s the Difference and Which Is Better?

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If you’re curious about the Roland GR 33 vs GR 55 guitar synths and how they differ, you’ve come to the right post!

Guitar Synths Explained

The development of synths was a huge breakthrough in the music industry. But another breakthrough came after the development of digital synths. With such technology, the sky is the limit.

The category of guitar synths encompasses a lot different options. In fact, the category is really difficult to define. On one hand, we have digital instruments that are, more or less, in the form of a guitar.

They’re essentially MIDI controllers in the form of a guitar. They come with strings, although these aren’t in tune. They’re just a set of plastic controllers, so to speak.

Then we have regular guitars with MIDI pickups. To understand this fully, you’ll need to know what MIDI is. Essentially, it’s digital information about musical notes. MIDI is a set of information rather than an audio signal.

A MIDI pickup translates your string vibrations, or analog signal, into digital information. It carries information about volume, pitch, duration, and other parameters. This allows you to turn your guitar into a sampler controller, so to speak. Of course, guitars with MIDI pickups won’t do anything without an appropriate additional device.

This is where synth pedals and devices that process your tone as an audio signal come in.

Roland GR 33 Vs GR 55

Roland’s synths are mostly the ones that work with a MIDI pickup. They’re pretty much the biggest name in this field. So let’s take a closer look at GR-33 and GR-55.

Roland GR-33

Roland GR-33 Preset Sounds

Roland’s GR-33 is an older model. It was released back in 2000 and was on Roland’s production line until 2009. Although archaic at this point, it’s an important evolutionary step in guitar synths and effects units.

The unit offered a relatively simple interface and display. It came with four footswitches and an expression pedal.

And, in the heart of it, we have Roland’s JV-1080 module. It comes with a total of 384 instruments and numerous effects. It was a pretty advanced one for its era, enabling smart operation with some effects. For instance, you could harmonize diatonically in a given key, which was pretty awesome.

Aside from the MIDI pickup input, we can find other inputs and outputs. This is where things get interesting. You also have MIDI in and out for advanced features.

Then we have a regular guitar output that bypasses the processing. You can use it to go straight into an amp. But you can also use it to go into return outputs if you need an effects loop. For the full processed signal, you have two jacks for stereo or mono operation.

There’s also an additional bank shift jack. Essentially, you can use it with external footswitches and expand GR-33’s controls.

Overall, the GR-33 sounds pretty great. Even for today’s standards, it’s more than a decent guitar synth. Even its switching and functionality are more than okay.

Roland GR-55

Roland GR-55 video review demo Guitarist Magazine HD

Roland’s GR-55 is the company’s next step. They introduced it back in 2011. And, at this point, it’s still in their arsenal of products. You can find it in most well-supplied music instrument stores.

It’s a similar setup to the GR-33. You have the 13-pun MIDI input for the pickup. Then there’s also the MIDI in and out for advanced users. Of course, there’s the guitar out and the regular output, as well as the headphone out.

However, this one doesn’t come with the return input which is somewhat of a letdown for an advanced unit like GR-55.

Nonetheless, it comes with such an abundance of onboard effects. 93, to be more precise. But, most importantly, it comes with no less than 910 different tones. And, as you’d probably expect of modern Roland stuff, they’re all incredible.

Another thing that I’d point out is that they update it regularly. This includes both functionality and sonic versatility. There’s some incredible stuff that you can achieve with Roland’s GR-55.

Roland GR 33 Vs GR 55: Which Is Better?

Now, what’s pretty obvious here is that GR-55 is not only newer, but it’s still in production. So it’s easier to find and you get regular updates. And when it comes to synths and advanced digital devices, this means a lot. If we’re comparing it with GR-33, it has a huge advantage here.

But although you can only find it used, GR-33 is far from a bad purchase. In fact, it’s pretty functional, sounds great, and is much cheaper compared to GR-55. This makes it a great option for someone who wants to get into the world of guitar synths.

Additionally, the GR-33 has an effects loop which can be an advantage for some users. On the other hand, with GR-55’s incredible library of effects, it’s questionable whether you need any additional effects pedals. It’s a standalone piece.

What’s more, GR-55 has a USB connection. Two of the ports allow you to either connect it to a PC or add a pen drive. And there’s even an onboard audio player that allows backing tracks or sampling.

Finally, GR-55 is also superior in terms of sound quality. Emulated instruments are, honestly, much better. Overall, if you need a pro-level synth, I’d always pick GR-55 over GR-33. There’s no discussion about that.

Having regular updates is also a huge advantage, not to mention the fact that it’s much easier to get your hands on a GR-55 these days.

But what if you own a GR-33 and are thinking about an upgrade? It depends on what you need. If you’re already used to GR-33 and it gets you covered, you don’t need a new synth. But I’d always recommend GR-55.

In my opinion, the only reason for getting a GR-33 instead of the 55 is if you’re new to synths. It’s simpler and cheaper.  


I hope this article has helped you think through the differences between these guitar synths and which is best for you.

And if you want to read more about guitar synths on this blog, check out:

Lastly, feel free to leave a message in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!

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