by Paul Kucharski
last update June. 2020
This review is intended to accomplish a few things. First and foremost I want it to be an information resource to guitar players who are looking for TAB software to use for their compositions. Secondly, I'd like to use it as a way to provide visibility to the great software vendors out there who are creating alternatives to the grossly inadequate ASCII TAB that permeates the web these days. As anyone who has ever tried to learn some music from ASCII TAB already knows, it provides no timing information. If you haven't already heard the piece of music, there is not enough information in ASCII TAB to figure out how to play it. These software packages will at least allow the author to convey the timing of the piece along with the fingering.
Here you will find my assessment of what I believe to be the best of the low cost packages on the market; all of which I have personally used. They are all Windows based software except for TablEdit which now offers a version for the Mac. All four share one common overriding and compelling feature:
.... they are low cost with superior functionality!
Which package is best for you of course depends upon what you are trying to accomplish. Each has their particular strengths, so you just need to decide which strengths match up best with your particular goals. For example, if standard notation is not important to you, you can focus on only the TAB features of these packages. Or, you may have an extensive set of ASCII TAB files you created and want to be able to import those files to avoid having to re-enter them all by hand, then this becomes a must have feature. If your goal is to generate MIDI output files rather than obtain printed documents, then focus on which generates the best MIDI and place less emphasis on print quality. Lastly, if you want very detailed control over the notation and are willing to accept a more complicated interface to get it, then you need to focus on the degree of edit ability they provide.
I personally have found good reasons to have any one of them as you'll see when you read the overviews. It's like looking in your toolbox for a wrench; an adjustable wrench could be made to work reasonably well for most bolts, but using a wrench specifically sized for that bolt makes the job considerably easier.
So, without further ado, here they are:
Unlike the overly expensive professional notation packages that implemented TAB as an afterthought (with most of these you enter everything in standard notation and the TAB is generated later), with the packages below you can enter the TAB directly and the standard notation is generated automatically (what a concept..eh Encore?). What's great about this is when you're working in new and unfamiliar open tunings. I find it a huge hindrance to have to know the fretboard well enough to mentally convert to standard notation before you can capture something in a new tuning.
With these packages you just tell them what tuning you are using, enter the TAB and the standard notation falls out as part of the process. Now, if you want, you can go back and edit the standard notation to suite your needs without ever having to figure out the whole fretboard first.
But also, there are many musicians who don't know standard notation and don't want to take the time to learn it. With these packages, you can simply ignore or turn off the standard notation and just work in a pure TAB environment. You get the best of both worlds and you don't have to climb that standard notation hill to get started.
I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say this package is just outstanding and it just gets better and better with every release. TablEdit is a fully featured TAB and Standard Notation package from France that is powerful and easy to use; a real bargain for $50. Because of the TAB is displayed, it's easy to see the different note duration's on a beat even if the standard notation is turned off. TablEdit accurately reflects these different duration's in the MIDI output so a fingerstyle piece that has independent bass and melody lines, will be accurately reproduced. Also, if you notate an embellishment like a bend, slide, or brush, the MIDI output will emulate the sound appropriately. The software also allows you to organize the playback with what it calls a "reading list" to take into account repeats, Codas, and playing instructions so that the MIDI is recorded exactly as it would be played....nice touches that makes the MIDI output one of its biggest strengths. Listen to my arrangement for Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" as produced by TablEdit. To get an idea of what a printout would look like, here's the Standard Notation and TAB (.pdf 91K) for "Over the Rainbow" as generated by TablEdit.
Floating toolbars are provided to facilitate selecting notes and duration's, dynamics, embellishments, and some of the more common operations like changing time signatures on a measure. I particularly like the fact that it can notate grace notes (which play back correctly in MIDI).
Another nice feature is the Chord Builder. This dialog box allows you to construct a chord by diagram and insert it into the notation. When the insert is complete, the chord diagram, TAB, and standard notation are all inserted. So you only need to define the chord once and you get all three entries together. The reverse is also true, as you enter TAB, the software is always searching for the correct chord in the background and when it finds a match in its library, the diagram is inserted automatically.
Along with the ability to import/export ASCII and MIDI files, if you have work done in "Buckett oTab" or Tabestry, it's able to open these files also.
Last but not least, because it comes from Europe, it supports multiple languages. This is something I'm sad to say is rarely done in American made software.
Did I mention I really like this package! I plan to do a lot more with this software in the near future. If you need standard notation with TAB and good MIDI output is important, this package should be your top choice. A demo is available so you can try it for yourself. If you do decide to buy it, please tell them you found out about it here.
Since the initial review of this package was written in 1998, TablEdit has add such an impressive list of new features it would take far too long to describe them all. So what I will do is just mention some of the additions I was elated to see.
a. A fretboard display which shows the tab on the fretboard
b. A full screen work space. Instead of the original single line scrolling edit system, the software takes advantage of the entire display screen (a great improvement).
c. Track window to help you see were you are in the overall notation and the ability to quickly move to a particular measure.
d. Multiple files open at once. This makes it possible to cut and paste between files.
e. They also now offer a free viewer program that allows anyone who downloads a TablEdit file to view, listen to, and print it without having to purchase the editor itself. To me this shows a tremendous commitment to the TablEdit user base.
This $50 Windows based package just keeps getting better and better. As of their latest release they now also display standard notation with the TAB. I use it primarily now for arranging music and every time a new version comes out, I continue to be amazed at how much better it gets.
If you're still notating in ASCII TAB, you'll never go back after using this package for an hour (and it imports ASCII Tab and MIDI, so you won't even loose your work!). This package excels in ease of use. I've used this package for many months and have yet to look at the help files... it's very intuitive ... I can whole-heartedly recommend it.
It's best feature has always been a very powerful chord wizard. You can include these diagrams into your Tab, but this isn't what's so special about this feature. After you enter your TAB on a particular beat, just double click on any of the notes and the chord wizard pops up. The first thing it does is analyze the notes entered on that beat and attempts to identify the chord (it automatically takes into account what tuning you are using also).
First of all, if you don't know what chord you just entered, it'll tell you what it thinks it is and all it's alternate names. Second, if you want to explore other possible fingerings, it'll provide a bunch of diagrams for all the other chord positions and voicings for that chord all the way up the fretboard. Let's say you discover that you can finger the same chord much easier on the 5th fret, just select the alternate diagram and then go back to change the TAB to reflect your new fingering. This is a great resource for composing or arranging! I wonder how I ever got along without it.
Another useful feature is its ability to optimize fingerings. Suppose you found this great MIDI tune and you want to figure out how to play it. Set up Guitar Pro for your best guess at a tuning and then import the file. Then tell Guitar Pro to optimize the fingering. If that tuning doesn't appear to suit the music, change the tuning and import the file again. You can keep doing this until you find a tuning that works best.
But even if you don't notate your own music, it's worth getting just to be able to view the very extensive library of TAB files they offer on their web site. They recently did an excellent job at reorganizing this library and now it's far easier to find that tune you were dying to learn!
And last but not least, because it comes from Europe, it supports multiple languages...this is something I'm sad to say is rarely done in American made software.
A Demo is available for download, so you can try before you buy. If you do decide to buy it, please tell them you found out about it here