Keeping Your Ego Out Of The Song’s Way

Thanks for coming to this page but it’s moved!

You can find it now on Guitagrip.com.

Thanks for dropping by.  I hope to see you at guit-a-grip!

Hardware vs. Software – Or Praises And Perils In Live Laptop Use

Before I drag this article kicking and screaming down the bloody cobblestones of memory lane, I’ll mention that the kick off for this post was a recent effort to stabilize my laptop rig.

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A couple of months ago I found out that the 4 gig chip that my laptop would support had come down in price.  This would allow me to max out my elder laptop at 6 gigs instead of the current 4.  I surmised that had to improve performance overall.

After saving up some cash – I ordered the chip from OWC.  It came very quickly and installation was a snap.  I turned on the laptop and seeing the memory say 6GB – was thrilled for about a ½ hour.

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At that point, the laptop screen did a big wipe down and I got an error message of death – you need to shut off your laptop, which I did.  It powered back up and 10 minutes later did the same thing.  I took out the memory and added the old memory back and everything worked fine.  I contacted OWC – they had me try a few things, and then sent me an RMA so I could send it back for free.  The promptly sent me another chip.

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I got that chip in the mail on Monday.  I installed it in my laptop and everything was fine.  I ran it all day and there were no issues.  I got it home and was streaming a video while I was working out and sure enough about an hour in the laptop screen did a big wipe down and I got an error message of death – you need to shut off your laptop, which I did.  This time however, when I turned off the laptop, I felt underneath it – I had the laptop elevated to get it some air to help cool it down, but even so – it was still hot enough that you could fry an egg on it.  I set the laptop on its side to cool it down and once the back was cool to the touch – maybe a couple of minutes later – started it up and it’s been working fine ever since.  I think it was the combination of the poor airflow and table lamps I have to increase the lighting. I’ll have to go to staples now and get one of those self cooling USB fan jobs and hope it doesn’t mess with the audio signal.  But it was an important reminder about the precarious nature of laptops as signal processors.   The reason I was trying this in advance was because at the next gig I have, I don’t want the laptop to shut down mid song and leave me stranded.

All of this got me rethinking the laptop vs hardware debate that I partially discussed here but is worth a broader examination.

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The obligatory history lesson to stave off initial pointed questions of, “Do you even know what that stuff is supposed to sound like?”

As with many of the things I do, my entry into laptop guitar was completely unplanned, but in retrospect not that surprising.

When I first started playing guitar, the amp I had was a no frills, no name combo amp with a 12” speaker.  Given my influences at the time (Hendrix, Sabbath, Ozzy, etc.), it’s no surprise that almost immediately I started looking for distortion.  Then every dollar I could put together was going for other effects: wahs…chorus….delays… anything I could get my hand on to try to replicate those sounds.

When I was playing in the Committee of Public Safety (my avant-garde core French Revolution fixated band with voice, guitar, bass, cello and drums) – my signal chain was really small.  I had a Marshall JCM800 50 watt combo amp with a single 12 (this was run through a 4×12 Marshall 1960A cab).  I had a channel switcher for the amp, a volume pedal and a TC Distortion/Boost pedal.  The committee lead tone was the TC preamp before the Marshall distortion channel – and it was a creamy tone.  I want to say there was some kind of cheap delay in there as well (maybe an Arion), and from what I remember  that was it.

The Marshall got stolen from a rehearsal space in Allston while I was trying to resurrect mach 2 of the Committee.  The stolen amp was my cue from the universe that it was time to move onto another project.  In the meantime, something interesting started happening.  The more I got into pedals, the more I started getting into sounds that didn’t sound like the tones I was initially trying to emulate.  Soon the more a pedal disguised the fact that I was playing a guitar, the more I wanted that pedal.

At the time, I was working at a music store and an Ampeg guitar amp came in, and I got it for a super low price.  I started picking up some EH pedals at the time as well (including a really sweet 1st generation Russian Big Muff Pi), and I found an old tube echoplex.  I remember playing a gig and the sound man took a look at my pedals and said, “Wow – this would be a state of the art rig in like ’72.”  It was meant as a dig, but I took it as a compliment.  The rig had character, the tones were right there and it sounded as guitaristic (or non guitaristic) as I wanted it to.  That amp eventually gave way to amps by Seymour Duncan and Gibson before settling on a 4×10 Hot Rod DeVille (really a pretty great sounding amp with some mods by Tom at AzTech Electronics).

In between a lot of other pedals and effects crossed my path. This included a 1st generation Jam Man (with additional memory slotted in which really turned my head around) and eventually sold, a Rhythm and Sound (also sold), various distortions wahs and other filters.   By the time I was playing in Visible Inc (and later in The Bentmen/Tubtime/One Of Us) – my full rig was a tuner, Ernie Ball Volume Pedal, Digitech Space Station, T.C. Electronics Chorus, Memory Man Delay (original), Guyatone MD-2 delay, Akai Headrush looper, Vox Wah and another Ernie Ball volume pedal that went into the front end of a Fender Hot Rod Deville (4×10 amp).   The full rig sat in an 88 key keyboard flight case that would not fit width wise across my car seats.

During all of this, I was constantly investigating different digital options.  I had the original zoom effect that I used for quite a while, and when the line 6 came out – I remember getting a used 2.0 bean and just being blown away at the flexibility of it.  Even later – my B-rig (and the one I used primarily with Annette Farrington) was the pod bean with a line 6 pedal board, the looper, wah and volume pedal.  (Later in a cover band – it was only the Pod 2.0 in front of the amp). And that rig sounded pretty damn good in front of my amp.  Even the band’s sound guy went from dismissive to begrudging concession.  It really didn’t sound AS good as the full board – it sounded different – but it worked and it was a hell of a lot less stuff to bring than a huge pedal board.

This is all mentioned because about a month before I left Boston to go to CalArts, my rig was stolen out of an uninsured rehearsal space.  The only thing I had taken home with me was the space station and the Akai Headrush – the amp and all the rest of the pedals were gone.  The band hadn’t been rehearsing for a while so I had no idea anything was missing until a month later.  By then there wasn’t much of anything to do – but leave Boston and start what would now be my acoustic studies at CalArts.

My first year at CalArts, my wife got me a Pod XT for a Christmas gift – and that was my ticket back on the crazy train of gear.  But back when I was rocking a G3 ibook – I remember thinking that someday I’d be able to get guitar tones from a laptop.  The day would come that I’d be able to bring a guitar and a laptop and leave all those pedals behind.  And now I can say – that day is partially here.

Computer guitar tones are the best they’ve ever been, but there are a number of issues big and small that I think need to be acknowledged.

1.        Laptops do not sound like tube amps.  They just don’t.  Even running a laptop with a Marshall patch through a tube amp – doesn’t sound like a Marshall.   Having said that,  it doesn’t sound bad.  In fact, it sounds pretty damn good.  What laptops have all over traditional amps and pedals is flexibility and portability.  Knowing that I can bring a laptop and a guitar and (if the venue has a PA) get through a live show makes touring a LOT easier for me.

2.       Pedals don’t often break – but when they do – they can be bypassed and the amp still used.  The downside is that when the laptop goes down – you’re done.  I’ve never ever had a hardware POD breakdown at a show (other than one time when the venue lost stage power and ALL the amps (and PA) lost power.  I have had laptop programs crash mid set and it’s very nerve-wracking in a live context in the best situations.  In the worst situation – the show’s over.

Laptops are fragile and pedals are built for durability.  I don’t have to worry a well-built pedal getting ruined at a show (unless someone pours their beer on it) – but any one of a number of things could be the end of my laptop.

3.  The technological barrier to true emulation will be cracked.  The news of the new Thunderbolt protocol in mac books is stunning to me.  12x faster than firewire 800?  At a certain point the algorithms will be improved enough, the data transfer rate and processing power will be so high – that you will no longer be able to tell if something was recorded on tape or not.  You will no longer be able to tell if that’s a real tube amp you’re playing through.  It isn’t a question of if it will happen – only when – and honestly I think we’re only about 5-10 years away at the most.

4.  Emulation allows for sounds not feasible in the real world.  Do I want to get an idea of what running a guitar through 6 tube echoplexes sounds like?  Digitally? No Problem.  In the real world – you’d have to first find 6 working tube echoplex units – and the hiss would be unusable, trust me on that one.

If you’re planning on using a laptop live – here are some suggestions I have for you

1.  Optimize it.

  • From the get go, get the fastest processor, maximum memory and fastest hard drive you can afford initially. It doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest – it just needs to be relatively fast and expandable.  For my live looping rig I have a 2-year old Macbook Pro (2.4 gig Intel Core Duo) with 6 gigs of memory and an internal 7200 rpm drive.  I bought it with 2 gigs of ram and a 5400 rpm drive .  My initial upgrade was 4 gigs of memory and a 200 gig 7200 rpm drive as that’s what I could afford at the time.  The first time I looked at a 4 gig chip the cost was $150.  The one I just installed to get the machine to 6 gig was around $90.
  • As time goes on (and costs decrease) plan on upgrading when necessary.


  • Count on needing an external drive if you’re going to do any recording.


  • Defrag your drives – frequently. When I went from the 200 gig drive to the 500 gig drive I defragged it during the drive cloning and my system speed increase was about 30%.  It makes a big difference.

2.  Back it up.

The first time you lose all your data – you will know how important this is.  I’m especially bad at this as well and only back up once a week or so.  A hard drive is a very delicate thing.  If you knew you easily it lost information, you would lose sleep at night.

3.  Make Multiple patches and back them up as well.

Patches take up almost no drive space.  I probably have 40-50 different AU Lab settings.  The reason for this is that AU LAB remembers all of the patch parameters as you save them.  So if, for example, you finally optimize your work flow and settings and accidentally close the mixer window and save it when you close out  –  that window is gone when you reopen it – and there isn’t  a way to recall it.  What that leaves is no way to change parameters, levels etc.  In other words – you start from scratch.  I do this with POD FARM patches as well (multiple variants of tones so if I can call up parameters at will), SooperLooper, Apogee Maestro and FBV preferences as well.  Hugely helpful in sessions – believe me.

3.  Related to #2 and 3 – organize your folders and label them logically.

In working on my book, you would be amazed at the amount of time lost digging through folders with vague titles looking for old graphics.  All my patches are in one place and backed up to a flash drive.

4.  To the extent you can – run real world tests before going live.

If the stage has hot lights on it, it’s going to be doubly warm for your laptop – will it operate correctly in a live context.  In a related note, record yourself when you’re playing and check levels etc.  As I’ve said before, there’s a substantial difference in sounds that work when your practicing with headphones, sounds that work at low volumes and concert level sounds.  The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to keep it all together.

5.  Keep it compact

Typically in live performance you won’t have an hour to set stuff up.  5-10 minutes is optimal.  To the extent that you can, try to pre-cable all of your connections.  Don’t assume that the venue will have clean, continual power.  I have a surge protector built into my strip – it’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing.

6.  Go with the highest resolution your system will handle.

SooperLooper freaks out when I run anything higher than 44.1k – so if I’m looping – everything runs 44.1.  If I’m not looping everything runs 88.2, or 96k.  The clean sounds have more definition and the dirty sounds are a whole different ball game at 88.2 vs 44.1.  Again, this is where having multiple AU patches comes in handy.

7.  Be flexible.

Have a backup plan when things go wrong.  In a worse case scenario where the laptop completely fails – I can go directly into the amp and get a signal.  There won’t be any effects, but at least I don’t have to stop playing while it gets sussed out.

8.  Be calm.

This took a while for me to get my head around.  The problem with getting freaked out – is that it just exacerbates the situation as typically it leads to bad decisions which leads to more freaking out.  The more you can calmly assess what’s going wrong, the more quickly you’ll be able to solve the problem.

9.  Bring Extras.

I bring a trouble shooting pack to every gig it consists of:

  • duct tape – to tape down cables/or hold things together if need be.
  • a mag light – things get lost on stage very easily.
  • a small tool bag with screwdrivers, pliers and a wrench
  • a black magic marker and post its – in case I need to make any patch changes, write up set lists, etc
  • 9 volt batteries (for my ebow – also for my back up tuner)
  • strings and a string winder
  • back up usb and firewire cables
  • an extension cord
  • a flash drive with back up patches for everything

10.  Bring your A game.

Stage presence is a difficult thing to bring to a laptop performance, but to the extent that you can – show that you’re engaged (or at least don’t look bored/frightened) and come out from your laptop once in a while.  If it’s engaging for the audience, it’s going to make the performance go easier for you as well.

Thanks for reading!

-SC

New SooperLooper Update 1.6.16

For those of you who use SooperLooper – it looks like Jesse snuck a new release under the radar back in January that I’m just catching now.

The only release note is that the AU unit is now more stable under various hosts,  for those of you with AU validation issues – this might help out a lot.

For those of you who have a Mac and aren’t using SooperLooper – now’s the time to get on board.  SooperLooper is a shareware application that uses a lot of the functionality of the Oberheim/Gibson echoplex looping unit.  It’s leagues above the looper that you get with Mainstage and could be all you need to do a 1 person show.

(If  you do start using it – you should definitely send a couple of bucks Jesse’s way for all the hard work he’s done on it.)

-SC

Recabinet 3 Announced – New IRs And A New AU/RTAS/VST Shell

For those of you who have been exploring the laptop/tech aspects of the site – Recabinet announced yesterday that the new 3.0 update will be sold on the  http://recabinet.com site on January 18th, 2011.

In addition to a number of 20 cabinets and 8 mics, you also get a new VST/AU RTAS Shell for hosting IRs in Mac or PC.

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(Screen shot taken from Recabinet website)

Here’s what I find appealing from a first glance perspective:

  • Drop down menus for the cabinet and mic positions are big time savers
  • The eq functions are a good idea
  • Individual gain controls (in addition to the host gain) offers a lot of flexibility
  • A number of bundled presets – also a very good idea

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Here’s a list of the cabs and mics

(taken from Recabinet website)

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Cabinets:

  • 1960 – based on a Marshall 1960AV 4×12
  • Angora – based on a Line 6 Vetta 4×12
  • Blackface 4×10 – based on a Fender ’65 Super Reverb 4×10
  • Chordal – based on a Roland JC120
  • Damien – based on a Marshall 1936 2×12
  • Dazed – based on a Supro Thunderbolt
  • Eagle – based on an ENGL Pro 4×12
  • Excel – based on a Randall RS412XLT100 4×12
  • Genzie – based on a Genz Benz G-Flex ported 2×12
  • Green – based on an original 1970s Marshall 4×12
  • Igor – based on a Krank Krankenstein 4×12
  • Manatee – based on an Ampeg SVT 8×10
  • Motown – based on an Ampeg Portaflex B15N
  • Ogre – based on a Bogner Uberkab 4×12
  • Oversize – based on a Mesa Standard 4×12
  • Sterling – based on a Marshall Hand Wired 4×12 (late 1960s reissue)
  • Tangerine – based on an Orange 4×12
  • Top Boost – based on a Vox AC30
  • Tweed 1×12 – based on a Fender ’53 Deluxe 1×12
  • Zodiac 2×12 – based on a Selmer Zodiac Twin 30

Recorded with the same mics as before

Microphones:

  • 57 – based on a Shure SM57
  • 545 – based on a Shure Unidyne III 545
  • 121 – based on a Royer 121
  • 409 – based on a Sennheiser MD409
  • 421 – based on a Sennheiser MD421
  • i5 – based on an Audix i5
  • Reference – based on an Earthworks M30
  • U87 – based on a Neumann U87

Pricing

While the cost for new users is $130, users who purchased the Recabinet 2.0:

  • between November 1st, 2008 and October 22nd, 2009 are eligible for a FREE upgrade (only between January 18 and January 26, 2011)
  • on October 23rd, 2009 or later can upgrade to Recabinet 3 for $60

If I understand this correctly, this means that even if you were remiss in not getting Recabinet before – if you buy Recabinet 2.0 before January 18 for $15 – you can get the new plug in for $60.  But, since this is a presumption based on the information on the website and not and official policy of recabinet, you should contact them to see if this is the case before purchasing.

If this is the case – it’s a smart incentive to get people to use their impulse responses.

Laptop Guitar Must Buy – Gator Viper Electric Gigbag w. Laptop Compartment Review

I know that I promised to scale back on the gear reviews – but because it’s the holidays, and because some people will procrastinate on shopping – I’ll try to get a few more of these out before Christmas.

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This will be a very short review – because the majority of features on this gig bag are the same as the Standard Viper gig bag  and have already been well documented in my earlier reviewAt the end of that review – I posited that perhaps the laptop addition would be convenient – but I wasn’t sure how necessary it was.

Santa came a little early this year – and while I had just asked for the standard case, I gave him the website for this listing which had the grey version of the laptop bag for $47.99 with free shipping (or if you’re really desperate – you can get the same version of the case – but Red – for 52 dollars more.  In other words  – yes – getting the red version of the bag is more expensive than buying TWO of the grey bags.).  While this is nominally more expensive than the Amazon listing I cited in the previous review, here’s the short of it:

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If you use a laptop guitar rig like I do – this is the case for you.

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There are two big differences between the bags that make me say that you should spend the extra cash on the laptop bag if you can.

1. Storage.  The storage compartments in the bag have probably twice the space of the standard bag.  If you use analog pedals – there are 2 pedal compartments built in.  Here I have my Apogee and my hard drive in them. I was able to fit my entire laptop rig in the gig bag (minus the shortboard).  Which is a big deal for me because that makes the rig much more portable for touring.

2. The weather sleeve.  In addition to all of the protection that already comes with the bag, behind the headstock is a zippered compartment holding an elastic rain coat for the gig bag.  This is huge for me – because even though I liked the idea of a laptop compartment – I was still a little worried about potential water damage.  Not now.

Even at $30 more than the standard bag (as originally priced on Amazon) this would still be a great deal.  At the $47.99 price – it’s an absolute no brainer.

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Part 2 of the chord scale lesson is coming up as is a post about the installed Bare Knuckle Cold Sweat 8 string pickup (spolier alert – it’s pretty sweet!)

See you next time.

-SC

X Code 3.2.5 / AU Lab 2.2 Now Available – Caveat Emptor

Here’s a pretty tech oriented post for those of you who have been using AU LAB for an audio unit host.

For those of you using AU Lab – the new X code 3.2.5 update is now available – which includes an update in AU Lab to version 2.2.

I did the update this weekend – and couldn’t get AU lab to work for the life of me.  If you’re using a newer mac – you might have better luck – but I was unable to get audio routing to the channel and the program would crash when trying to open a new document.

Based on the release notes I was able to see – the biggest update to the software was an automatic aggregate device configuration.  Which I don’t really get as setting up an aggregate device in Audio MIDI set up is well documented.

That may be the issue with the problems I had but in the meantime I had to go back and install the previous X code version over 3.2.5 to get a working version of AU Lab.

Like I said – You may have better luck if your system is more up to date.  Here’s what I’m running (note: I running 32 bit instead of 64 bit).

Special Note:

This suggestion only involves not using Software Update to install the new X code tools.  If you want to install the rest of the tools and skip AU lab – you’ll have to do it manually

  1. just follow the directions below
  2. choose X Code 3.2.5 instead of 3.2.2
  3. When down downloading choose Custom Install and install what you need

What to do if you DO need to re-install AU-Lab

Re-installing AU lab is not as straight forward as you might think.  There are probably multiple ways to  do it – but this is what worked for me.

While there are a series of paid subscriptions – you can sign up for the Apple Developer Program for free.  This will give to access to previous versions of X code tools (which has AU lab as a component).

Once you register and get to the login screen: Look for a screen called Downloads and Programmer Assets.

Then look for Developer tools.  If you scroll down you’ll see X code 3.2.2 Developer’s Tools – which has version 2.1 of AU Lab.

“Xcode 3.2.2 Developer Tools

Xcode 3.2.2 is an update release of developer tools for Mac OS X. This release provides bug fixes in gdb, Interface Builder, Instruments, llvm-gcc, Clang, Shark, and Xcode. It must be installed on Mac OS X 10.6.2 Snow Leopard and higher. Xcode defaults to upgrading an existing installation but may optionally be installed alongside existing Xcode installations. See accompanying release notes for installation instructions, known issues, security advisories.”

Download Name File Size Date Posted
About Xcode 3.2.2 (PDF) 131 KB 30 Mar 2010
Xcode 3.2.2 developer tools (Disk Image) 744.7 MB 30 Mar 2010

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The download will take a while.  Just do the full install and it will replace the old files.

While not a very elegant solution it is a functional one.

I hope this helps!

-Scott

Rough Hewn Trio – Some Live Excerpts

The Rough Hewn Trio –  an instrumental trio consisting of Chris Lavender on Warr guitar, Craig Bunch on drums and myself on guitar are getting back into the rehearsal cycle and gearing up for some shows this spring.  To get a feel for what the shows will be like here are some live excerpts from some improvisations we did this fall.  The live sets – will include a combination of pre-composed and improvised material.

For those of you who are interested – this session is all drums and laptops.  I’m running Pod Farm and Sooperlooper and Chris is using Guitar Rig. (an amp was used to re-amp the guitar in 1C – which had some gnarly digital distortion tho…)

Note:

mp3 playback is sometimes a little glitchy in Safari.  If it doesn’t play in your web browser – you may just have to reload/refresh the playback page.

Enjoy!

-SC

Improv 2b

Improv 2a

Improv 1c

POD HD vs Pod Farm: A Cost Comparison

One thing that occasionally drives me crazy is trying to find out about a piece of gear – finding a googled link – reading through a multi page posting involving specific gear only to get to a final point of, “Oh I don’t have the unit and I’ve never tried it – but I’ve read the specs.”

Having prefaced this – with any luck this post won’t make you crazy.

I have been taking a good look at the POD HD 500.  One thing I like about the laptop rig is being able to set things up quickly – but as a friend of mine once quipped about another unit, “…you can’t check your e-mail on dedicated hardware – but it’s also much less likely to break down on stage.”

Another nice thing about dedicated hardware is the fact that it’s self contained.  There’s something about being able to plug something in and be up and running in no time at all.  Even as compact as my laptop rig is – it would still be faster to run through the HD than setting everything up on my laptop.

The price tag – Part I

The POD HD 500 will run about $500.  For that you get the same ins and outs that you got with the POD X3 – 16 amp and cab models (apparently the modeling is built from the ground up in a completely different way than the previous pods – hence the “HD”), about 100 effects and an onboard looper that can loop audio up to 48 seconds (in 1/2 time mode – 24 in regular speed).

If you’re running POD Farm 2.0 on a laptop consider this for a moment:

A second generation Macbook will run you at least a grand.  You really need a 7200 rpm drive – and that isn’t standard on most computers so you’re looking $50-$100 or more (assuming you’re installing it yourself) and 4 gigs of memory or more (if not already installed – again let’s say $50-100 depending on memory and model) – so let’s just average $150 ($75+75) for memory and drive costs.

You’ll need an audio interface.  If you use line 6 gear – you can get a cheaper rate on Pod farm but it’s usb… Let’s assume for a moment you’re going to go whole hog and go with a high quality audio interface.  An RME Fireface will run you at least a grand – so let’s also assume you’re going to go “budget” and get an Apogee Duet for $499.  If you upgrade to a break out box – it’s a minimum of $95 more for the unbalanced version.

You can get Pod Farm Platinum for $149 on Amazon (and for $184.99 get the Ilok key as well) – This is opposed to the $299 you’ll be charged from Line 6 for Platinum alone.

From a software standpoint I use AU Lab (which comes free on the OSX installer disc) and Sooper Looper (which is shareware – but you should pay Jesse something for the product – it’s one of the best software investments you can make).

If you don’t want to have to click on a mouse for a set – you would need a midi controller.  I like the shortboard mk II (approximately $199 – but it you may want to spend the $7-10 bucks for a 10-15 foot USB cable if running it live).  It’s usb powered, well constructed and works really well (except for the fact that Line 6 currently doesn’t support displaying patch names on the controller – only midi values – this is a big minus for live use – because you have to stare at the screen to see what patch you’re playing.

So for a live laptop rig (from scratch) or The price tag – Part II

Computer:  1000 + 150 (average memory and drive cost) + $599 (Duet + breakout box)+  $184.99 (Pod Farm + Ilok key) + $199 shortboard = $2133!!!!

That $1995 for an Axe-FX ultra is starting to look like a steal (although the Axe-FX midi controller is $799 – which makes the shortboard look better and better all the time)!  Comparatively, an Eleven Rack Mount will run you about $760 or so.

This doesn’t include a laptop bag, external drives (for looping/recording to), IRs  (impulse responses), conditioned power supply, USB hubs, breakout boxes or other expenses.  To put it in perspective however, you probably already have a computer and an audio interface of some kind so many of these other expenses are not critical.

From a cost perspective – there is no comparison between a POD HD and a laptop rig running POD farm.

But here’s my thought on it.

I can’t imagine Line 6 not issuing a POD farm version of the HD models.  The code for the models is already written and they already have a wrapper (Pod Farm).  My guess is that they’ll wait a while for hardware orders to fill up and then release a POD farm version.

I have no idea what the hardware is in the POD HD unit (it runs up to 96k internally) – but I have to think that:

1.  My laptop has more memory, hard drive space and a faster processor than what’s on the HD (or the Axe-FX or the Eleven for that matter)

2.  Related to this – that I can run more than 8 effects if need be on my laptop – which it the limit on the HD

3. The Apogee has to have better A/D/A conversion than the POD HD.

4.  While the built-in looper is a great addition – that it doesn’t hold a candle to Sooperlooper for features or loop time.

Does this mean that I’m dissing the HD series?  Not at all.  As you can see from the economic breakdown above – I think the HD is an amazing deal.

The Pod X3 was already useable – and even not having tried the HD (cough, cough) – I have to think it’s sonically a step forward. Heck if I could clear out some money – I might be willing to pick one up for sheer convenience alone.

But in going the laptop route – I’m making an investment in the future.

I’m putting my money on better software and better plugins and knowing that if the POD HD sounds that much better than the POD X3, that the Pod Farm version may even blow it out of the water.

There’s always cheaper ways to do things.  For a long time I ran a POD 2.0 into a Fender DeVille and always had people asking what I was using to get my tones.  As a general rule, I would suggest to get the best gear you can afford and make the most of it.

One final thought

If you own a car – you will always be sinking money into it – insurance, gas, oil, tires, breaks, maintenance, etc, etc.  It’s expensive – but it beats walking.

When I was at Berklee –  there was a shred guitarist whose pedal board had about 30-40 pedals on it and needed to be carried by two people.   This was before the signal hit the full rack space unit.  All of this gear was for 3 tones – clean, metal rhythm and lead.  Additionally, he had 2-3 Rocktron hush units in the rig.  When he stopped playing there would be a literal sound of locusts trying to break through the speaker before the gate kicked in (here’s an approximation of the sound: wheedley-wheedley-wheedley-wheedley-SCHHHHHKKKKKKK – silence).

A laptop guitar rig is kind of like a car.  If you own a guitar, you will always be sinking money into it (and the gear used with it) as well – but it beats walking with a pedal board with 30 pedals on it to a gig.

Thanks for reading!

-SC

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POD HD Flash Memory Update, POD HD500 In Live Use And More Thoughts About Gear

SOME THOUGHTS ON MODELING, GEAR ACQUISITION AND THE POD HD500

LINE 6 POD FARM 2.5 UPDATE AND POD FARM FREE ANNOUNCED

APOGEE DUET 2 ANNOUNCED

New SooperLooper Update 1.6.16

OCTAVE4PLUS A4 – .007 STRING REVIEW

BKP (BARE KNUCKLE PICKUPS) 8 STRING COLD SWEAT PICKUP

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LAPTOP GUITAR MUST BUY – GATOR VIPER ELECTRIC GIGBAG W. LAPTOP COMPARTMENT REVIEW

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS – GATOR VIPER GIG BAG REVIEW

SCHECTER OMEN 8 STRING REVIEW PART 2 – STRING OBSERVATIONS AND SOUND CLIPS

SCHECTER OMEN 8 STRING REVIEW

APOGEE DUET BREAK OUT BOX OVERVIEW

LINE 6 FBV EXPRESS MK II REVIEW

MONO PRODUCER BAG (LAPTOP BAG REVIEW)

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POD HD500 AND POD FARM CONJECTURES

STEINBERGER GEARLESS TUNERS – REVIEW

TOOTHPICKS AND THEIR PROPER PLACE IN GUITAR MAINTENANCE

WHERE TO GET YOUR GUITAR REPAIRED IN LA OR LESSONS FOR THE SELF EMPLOYED MUSICIAN

GUITAR STREET IN HO CHI MINH CITY VIETNAM

RIG AROUND THE ROSIE OR MEDIATIONS AND MEDITATIONS ON GEAR

LINE 6 POD FARM 2.0 OVERVIEW

VARIAX AC700 REVIEW/WORKBENCH OVERVIEW

FNH ULTRASONIC GUITAR REVIEW

GEAR

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Apogee Duet Break Out Box Overview

The Apogee Duet is a pretty remarkable piece of gear – and it terms of A/D/A conversion – it does a great job at it’s price point.  The Duet 1/4″/XLR cables, however,  are a little hit and miss:

You’ll notice that the connecting wires are thin and a little fragile looking.  Also – because of the way that the 1/4″ cables I use pull of the breakout cable – I feel like it’s adding additional tension to the wires.  In short, it made me a little nervous in live use.  Then I found out about the Duet Break Out Box – which mounts all of the cable’s into a single metal box with a rugged high quality cable attached and decided to give it a try.

There are 2 versions of the Duet Breakout Box (both are 100% passive and line level).  I’m using the unbalanced box – as I’m not sending signal over long cables – but the price difference is $99 versus The Breakout Balanced – which will run you $215 or so.

Sonically, I don’t hear a difference between the breakout cable and the breakout box -which is a good thing – the selling point of the unit is it’s ruggedness. The box is solid, well constructed and can definitely handle a live gig.  The enclosed cable is about a foot long  – so you may want to invest in a longer cable eventually – but for my purposes this works fine.

Do you need this unit?  If you’re doing mostly studio or home work you can probably get by with your existing cable fine.  But if you are planning on using the unit live – this is a worthwhile investment.

Mono Producer Bag (Laptop Bag Review)

If you’re only as strong as your weakest link – then it may be time to rethink your $30 laptop bag.

If you’re gonna be dumb you have to be tough

No, this isn’t a commercial for Jackass.  This is an observation that came about from several years of using laptops for various things – and being inherently (some would say almost supernaturally) clumsy.  After an eco-friendly (read – not cheap) bag that melted when a coffee got spilled on it and another “padded” bag that fell off my shoulder and failed to protect my laptop in a foot and a half fall – I decided that I would go for a sturdier route and found Mono Cases – a company that makes gig bags for instruments and DJ equipment.  The bag that caught my eye was The Producer.    There are full stats on the website – so I wont go into a lot of detail here – but I’ll detail a few things.

Excellent design

The padding on the bottom and sides of the bag is substantial.  When someone bumped into me and knocked the bag off my shoulder – the laptop inside survived a 3 foot fall with only a minor case bend on the side.

The material is easy to clean and water proof – a recent gig I did required moving the bag quite a ways in very heavy rain and all my electronic gear was dry.  The material hasn’t ripped or torn at all in the 2 years I’ve had the bag.

The handle is steel riveted and feels secure.  If I threw it over the door – I could probably attempt a pullup or two on it.  Also the zippers are very high quality.  Doesn’t sound like a big deal?  Try moving electronics in the rain with a compartment with a broken zipper and having to cover the bag in a trashbag.  Neither fun or classy.

The two front pockets are big enough to hold my power supply and Lacie drive in one and my apogee duet and cables in the other – and the two side compartments can easily hold a coffee travel mug.  The mug leaked in the bag once and none of the liquid got on my laptop – not a recommended test – but one I’m glad it survived.

The website says you could fit a 17″ laptop in the case – I have a 15″ – and it fits fine in the sleeve.  The interior compartment is plenty big enough for  headphones, cables, etc. (it comes with an optional velcro-ed divider that I didn’t end up using – but a nice feature).   I always have books and other things on me so those tend to go there.  A small interior pouch is big enough to hold keys – but I usually put flash drives and cables in there.  On the back of the bag there’s a document sleeve  I usually keep keys and other things in there during the gig.

If you REALLY stuff the bag – it won’t fit under an airplane seat – but will easily fit overhead.

Comfort

Another important point to consider is comfort.  This doesn’t sound like a big deal – but trust me – if you’ve ever had to haul a heavy bag for a distance up and down stairs (or on a subway) you know the value of this immediately.  In addition to the high quality strap – the weight distribution on the bag is excellent.  I can carry this for long distances without having to switch shoulder all the time like my other bags.

Price

Good things typically don’t come cheap.  Mono cases sells the bag on their website for $175 – but I’ve seen it here for $149.99 with free shipping.  This isn’t cheap for a laptop bag – but given that my other bags usually lasted 2-6 months at the most and this one has lasted me two years with very minimal signs of wear – it’s been a great investment.  If you end up going with a laptop guitar rig – you will need to protect your laptop like a parent would protect a child – and you don’t get much better than this for protection, flexibility and portability.

Mono cases also sells instrument bags and judging from some of the online reviews – looks like the same excellence is applied there as well.

Thanks for dropping by!