Laptop Guitar Setup Or Notes From A Live Show

For the Onibaba show last night, I decided to use only the laptop rig that I’ve been working with and not use the typical Atomic/Pod X3 rig that I use.  The short of it is that from a technical standpoint – it worked without a hitch.  I don’t think that anyone noticed that there weren’t “real amps” there and tonally it fit the bill.  There were, however,  a few little quirks that needed to be sussed out.

1 The room we were playing in had very high ceilings and was really boomy.  Sounded great on acoustic instruments – but I had to be really careful of not getting washed out tone wise.

2 The midi assignments for Sooper Looper stopped working when I used the FBV express board.  The board worked fine – but I’ll probably just return it and get a breakout box instead.  The FBV Express can control about 6 functions – but ultimately I’d like to control about 10-12 functions – so I think it makes more sense to just trigger it manually.

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No one size fits all

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As I’ve mentioned here, there are a number of variances that occur with modeling:

“I’m in the process of working on sounds on the X3 Live for the show – and tweak PA vs. amp sounds.  One thing I’ve noticed with modeling is that there are at least 4 different scenarios for setting up sounds:

1.  Headphone patches – i.e. practicing or recording

2.  Playing through an amp at low volumes

3.  Playing through an amp at high volumes

4.  Playing through a PA.

You might think that there wasn’t a lot of variance – but the differences between these parameters are huge.  I have patches that sound mediocre at low volumes and sound really good when the volume gets goosed a bit.  Headphone patches that work well at home and fall apart live – and vice versa.”

So along this line  I knew I’d have to tweak some patches I’d been using  and make some new ones for the show.  I decided to pull some patches I liked and demo them at low volumes in my apartment and then try to fix anything glaringly wrong at the show.

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Reverse Engineering or Start with the output

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A while ago I mentioned I bought a back up Atomic amp from Guitar Center for $149.  The listing was for an Atomic Reactor 1×12 – but both the 50 watt and the 18 Watt are 1×12 – so what I got in the mail was the 18 watt.  Initially, I was a little disappointed – but given that you can run it on 115V OR 240V – I figured it was a good investment and that in a worse case scenario I could sell it and make my money back.

When I set up my sounds – I set them up on the 18w.  There’s no master volume knob – it just runs at 18 watts – but I could control the output with my duet and set things up at a low volume.

The Atomics in general are very bass heavy so I knew from the get go I’d have to roll a lot of the bass down and tweak other mid and high levels.

AfterI got a tone set up on a lark I decided to try to run it stereo.  I pulled out the 50 watt Atomic and there were some weird grounding issues.  While I was trying to suss that out I decided to A/B the amps – and see if there was a difference.  Suprisingly  the 18 Watt sounded MUCH better than the 50 watt.  The 18 watt does use different tubes (2 EL34’s and 1 12ax7a as opposed to the 6l6GCs and the 12AX7 in the 50 watt) – but I think that just having the amp full bore made a big difference.  The more I cranked the output volume on the Duet – the more the tone sagged in a very pleasing way.  Also the 18 watt is DEAD quiet so that solved the issue of the loud fan on the 50 watt version.  I knew the 18 Watt was loud but I wasn’t sure if it was fully going to be able to hang with drums, bass, amplified trombone and the awesome sonic terror of Vinny Golia – but it did.

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IMPORTANT DUET NOTE: 

When setting output volume on the unit – if you choose “Instrument amp” – you get a flat volume that you are unable to control – by setting it to “Line Level” you can adjust the output with the knob on the Duet.

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I think the Duet output went to ten – I never went higher than 5 – and at one point turned down to 3.  18 Watts was more than enough for the gig.  The drag now is I like the amp enough to sink more money into it and have I have the desire to get the amp re-tolexed.  Maybe with like a fender tweed or something.  In the meantime I used the 18 watter as a low volume template and could then tweak it further in the space as I needed to.

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Organization is key

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One reason to go digital is the rigs themselves they take up so little disk space you could save hundreds of them and have individual configurations for almost any situation.  This is also one reason NOT to go digital as it’s easy to get overwhelmed with options instead of narrowing it down to a few.

A great feature about POD Farm 2  is that you can create and organize folders with drag and drop ease.

For example let’s begin by looking at how I built my live setup:

First – here’s a sample patch:

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Now if you look over to Setlists:

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You’ll see I created a folder marked ATOMIC.

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Tip:

If you want to control changing setlists from a Midi Controller – Just control click on the up or down arrow, in the Setlist window and then press the midi controller feature you want to use to control it

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Within that setlist, I have a series of patches – I name them all Atomic – so I can find them easily if I have to.

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Another Tip:

If you want to control changing Programs (i.e different patches) within a setlist  from a Midi Controller –  Go to the top of the screen – where the patch name is:

Just control click on the up or down arrow to the right of the Patch name, in the and then press the midi controller feature you want to use to control it.

I’ve set it up to be used withthe up and down arrows on the right of the shortboard.  I decided to have one  folder marked Atomic and then just scroll up and down through the folder to get to patches. You could just as easily set up multiple folders and organize patches (and if you have only 4 tones per Setlist – you could just A/B/C/D them with the shortboard and use the up and down arrows to go between setlists – just like the setup on the PODs).

When I used the pod X3 with the docking station in the Atomic – one feature I would use a lot was the dual rig feature with one rig with a speaker sim – and one with none – It gave the sound a lift in a pleasing way.  At the gig I just ran them all through the 4×12 IRs I’ve been using and it sounded fine – I may put the IRs on a bus and mix the two to see how it sounds – but this is the rig I’m using as of this post.

Clarity wise – I felt it had a noticeable advantage over the X3 – but I’ll have to do more experimenting.  In a future post – I’ll detail a Dual distortion tone I’ve been developing and discuss some more specifics with using a laptop as a guitar processor live.
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Thanks for reading!
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-SC

2 thoughts on “Laptop Guitar Setup Or Notes From A Live Show

  1. Hey, great read. I am in the process of creating a rig using a guitar > TonePort GX > Laptop > Pod Farm (2.5 platinum) > Out to DI > Sound System. It sounds really good. There are two things I am wondering, maybe you can help me out with them:

    1. I want to reduce the stage volume so I want to stay away from wedge type monitors. Can you provide some options regarding different, and affordable, monitoring systems

    2. In Pod Farm there is a way to use two amps and AB them and have them separated to their corresponding left and right speakers. How can I hook up my laptop via Toneport GX to retain this same sound separation to the PA speakers?

    Thanks a lot for your input.

    • Hi Joe,

      Thanks for the e-mail!

      1. I don’t have an opinion on monitoring systems with POD farm – so I can’t really help you there. I use an Atomic 50W amp – and just run the signal through the FX return. It acts as the amplification and as the monitor for me. I know some people like Full Range Speakers – and this definitely isn’t one – but I think that the tubes push the volume in a way that’s musical. You might want to try the mackie personal monitor. It clips to the mike stand and just pushes out small volume. A lot of it really depends on what’s blaring on stage. Having the pod go through a floor wedge might not be a big deal if you don’t have an amp on stage – usually the amp + monitor equation is where you start getting a lot of stage volume. You could geek out and just wear a pair of headphones as well to self monitor – but then the issue becomes a question of how the rest of the band hears you in the mix. That’s either in ears for everyone or a stage wedge.

      2. I don’t have the Toneport – so I don’t know the answer to that question – you can pan the channels hard left hard right in POD Farm and separate them that way.

      Just my $.02. I hope that helps though!

      -Scott

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