Building Blocks – or more examinations of a laptop guitar setup.

If you’ve ever seen the American dubbed version of Mad Max (the whole movie plays very differently with the original voices – I’m just so used to the original American release’s versions of Night Rider, Toecutter and the Goose –  that that’s the only one I can watch), there’s a moment where The Goose realizes that the person they’re about to arrest is an associate of ToeCutter, and the camera closes in on his face as he says,

“Well well well…”

I wanted to go a little more in depth with the laptop guitar rig I’ve been toying around with.  I’ve posted a couple of things about this but I realized that it may be more beneficial to examine each component and see how it fits in the puzzle.  I tend to focus these on distorted sounds as those to me are the most difficult to replicate.  Even Logic has some decent sounding clean amps built in – getting a useable dirty sound is still the challenge at least for me.

So what I did was improvise a little idea in a C# minor tonality and then played a series of versions of it through different versions of the laptop set up – to show the evolution of where I have things now.

There’s still a great deal more work to do in this area, but at least these are some starting points and may at least shed a light on the process I’m using.

As a starting point you may want to look at the gear page or my previous entries on this topic here or here.

The (salt) lick

To begin with, here’s an mp3 of the first thing I improvised:  C# min improv .

* Note:

occasionally mp3’s don’t load properly when I check them in Safari.  When I refesh the page they come up.  If you have this problem – it may work for you.  If you still can’t hear the mp3 just leave a comment and I’ll re-post it.

And here’s the notation

The first part of the lick is somewhere between a scale passage and an arpeggio which makes it a little interesting to me.  This approach is something I use a lot in my soloing to get away from the temptation to go on autopilot and just run scales up and down the whole time.

Visually, I’m initially thinking “G#min arpeggio”, and then dropping the lowest notes by alternating 3rds to extend the tonality.  This is an arpeggio trick I use all the time to get new sounds out of old shapes.  I’ll detail this process here:

Here’s a G# minor arpeggio:

When I look at the distance between the G# and the B – that’s a minor 3rd.  By alternating 3rds ( either major-minor or minor-major) I can extend the tonality.  A major 3rd down from G# would be E.

If I drop the lowest note to the “E” on the A string – I’d have an E maj 7 arpeggio. (E G#, B, D#).

If I drop the lowest note to the “C#” on the E string – I’d have a C# minor 9 arpeggio. (C#, E, G#, B, D#).

(If you wanted to go further you could continue the process to A, F#, etc.)

The next thing I do is to add the F# on the A and G string.

This makes G# min7 / E maj 9 / C# min 11 depending on the chord it’s being played over or how you’re visualizing it.

Now that I have the larger shape – I fill in some 3 note per string patterns on the G and high E strings.

There’s a slight 2 string variation on the A string that’s hammered instead of picked, but otherwise the picking pattern discussed on the swept pentatonic lesson is the same approach that’s used here.

This is very similar to the 3 note per string / 1 note per string pentatonic patterns that I’ve been exploring in the online lessons area of the blog (you can see a pdf here).

The process that I’m detailing is how I began to practice these things and then develop them into more complex ideas.  I tend to see sounds like this as one large pattern now ( note:  the GuitArchitecture process is all about sonic visualization – i.e. associating shapes with sounds so that sounds can be created and manipulated in real time) .  So when I improvise, I’m not really too conscious of exactly what’s happening theoretically – only sonically.

This ends in a pretty pedestrian B major (C# Phrygian) scale run.  In soloing I would typically try to develop it into something else – but for the purposes of a sound demo – it makes sense to have a short lick with a definitive ending.

The sounds

First I’ll play the lick with the sound used at the ending point of the process.  Here are some screen shots of the set up.

The FNH guitar on the neck pickup goes into the Apogee duet into AU LAB:

I run PSP Vintage Warmer

into Pod farm 2.01 Ilok version

I’m using the Marshall side of this rather than the Soldano – so I’ll show the signal chain there (it’s the same for both setups shown).

I’m going to start with the mixer and then go from there:

Since I’m only running a single line in- I’ve set both inputs to left.

There’s a little tonal secret hiding in plain sight here as well.  If you look carefully – you’ll see that the DI is set to about 18%.  This allows some of the dry guitar signal to come through as well.  This give the tone a little body and clarity that’s lacking from just the straight signal.

You might find that to completely not be the case – and again – this is just one person’s process detailed here.

Here’s the gate.  I tend to keep the levels low so it doesn’t kick in when I’m playing – but kills the noise when the volume is off.

The gain on the Marshall is set around 22%.  I tend to crank the mids a little to help make sure the sound cuts through in a live mix (note the use of the term “help”.  In reality – sound at any live gig is only as good as the sound person.  I just do what I can on my end to make sure I can hear myself on stage.).

Before the Marshall for the “lead” sound I’ve put in a tube screamer.  Here are the settings for that:

Here’s the lick with the tube screamer (same as above): with tube screamer

Here’s the lick without the tube screamer:  without tube screamer .

To give you a sense of how important the amp gain is to the overall sound – here’s a variation of the lick above with the amp gain set around half:

Here’s the lick with the tube screamer (same as above): TS_ON_50%_gain .

Here’s the lick without the tube screamer:  NO_TS_50%_gain .

I actually like this amount of saturation for lead lines – but the reason I’ve gone with the lower gain is that chords (outside or Root-5th diads) – tends to just crap out and turn to sonic mush with higher gain settings.  So to balance the 2 I’ve been working on lower tweaks.


Oh that’s easy.  It’s because I’m not using it.

Instead I’m using Impulse Responses from Recabinet in LA Convolver (See the links above for more info).

Here are the settings:

The IR’s are from the Recabinet Modern 2.02 Mac and PC-> 1960 4×12 cabinet settings.  You’ll notice that I don’t have anything fancy in terms of mikes set up on the cabinet,

Here is a major component of this process.  Recabinet comes with something like 2000 IRs.  I could spend weeks doing nothing but checking tonal variations on all the different cabs mikes.  Someday when I need to get really deep into this – I will.

In the meantime – to cut down on the number of parameters and just get to a tone – I went with the KISS (keep it simple stupid) approach.  I thought about what cabinet could be a constant for all my sounds clean and dirty – and the 4 x 12 came to me.  I’ve heard a DeVille through one and it sounded good so I decided to use that as the standard and tweak the amp around the cabinet.  Live, a 57 on the grill sounds good to me.  I tried 2 different variations of the same thing and went from there.

To contrast this:  here is the sound of just PodFarm – with the PodFarm cabinets but with the PSP and post preamp off.

Here’s the lick with the tube screamer (same as above): NO_IR_YES_TS .

Here’s the lick without the tube screamer:  NO_IR_NO_TS .

Some of you may prefer these sounds.  I happen to think that “initial” mp3 – has a bit more character than these.

Here’s the rest of the signal chain:

Here’s the pre-amp (post amp! – this is a very useful tweak!):

Here’s the delay:

Here’s the reverb:

So to quote the Goose, “Well well well…”

It’s still a work in progress.  I’d like to work on tweaking the preamp after the cab to carve the tone a bit more and experiment with using an outside delay later in the AULAB signal chain – but for now this is where it is.

I hope this helps!  If you have any questions or comments please fell free to leave them on the blog – or e-mail me at .

Thanks for dropping by.


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