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.

.

No one size fits all

.

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.

.

Reverse Engineering or Start with the output

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

Organization is key

.

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:

.

Now if you look over to Setlists:

.

You’ll see I created a folder marked ATOMIC.

.

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

.

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

.

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.
.
Thanks for reading!
.
-SC

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.


WHY THE CABINET IS TRANSLUCENT.

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 guitar.blueprint@gmail.com .

Thanks for dropping by.

-SC

Tech Limbo (Neither Heaven nor Hell R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio)

So I’m packing, moving and simultaneously trying to get some stuff ready for the Cha’ak’ab Paaxil Festival in Yucatán, México June 3-5th.  My plan is to leave the amp here and to use a combination of Line 6 gear and a guitar to play the shows.

After playing with Wael Kakish and the Middle Eastern ensemble last night, I was able to open the package I got from Sweetwater and check out my new Line 6 FBV Shortboard Mk II.

The new board is REALLY cool.  It’s solid in it’s construction and small enough to fit in my laptop bag.  After I downloaded the FBV Control software from Line 6.   I tried to set up a SooperLooper session in AU lab.  The concept was to run the AU of SooperLooper in AU Lab and use a midi patchbay to make sure the signal was going from the FBV to the Sooperlooper session.  Here are the patchbay settings.

Had some trouble initially  but once I went into FBV control and reset some of the switches everything worked.

This probably isn’t the smartest series of codes to get everything to work – but it’s working.

The only gripe that I have is that I wish that some additional parameters in SL could be controlled via midi (i.e. 1/2 or double speed or main monitor volume for fades).  It’s easy enough to lean over and hit the keyboard – but it does defeat the purpose of ordering a 15′ USB cable.  The board itself though works like a charm.

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.

As a result of all of these constant parameters I’ve been experimenting with Impulse Responses in Logic’s Space Designer (and LA Convoluter) and getting some encouraging results.

Impulse Responses (IRs)

In a simplified definition:  Impulse Responses (IRs) are measurements of acoustic spaces that can be loaded into applications (Like Altiverb or Space Designer) to create different types of reverberations.

I read an article about beefing up Logic 8’s guitar amp pro by replacing the speaker sims with IR’s.  That article is here.  This got me looking for all kinds of IR’s.  For those of you who want to see how this works on guitar tracks – check out the recabinet site.  There’s a really cool pdf that talks about the different IRs and the mics used to capture them.  As of this writing they’re selling a download of something like 2000 IR’s for $15 bucks.

Now I’ve been testing these at home – the difference is night and day!

It’s late while I’m posting this – but let me give you 2 simple examples.  First here is a simple rock rhythm with a plexi type setting.  This is just the AU recording of the pod with a plexi setting and the 4×12 cabinets selected.

DirtyrhythmnoIR

Now here is a another take of the same pattern and settings but with a 4×12 IR added. It’s a little brighter but the response is different as well.

DirthrhythmIR

To my ears – the second is a little more natural sounding particularly on the ascending chords.  Here’s one more example with a clean tone.  It’s subtle but noticable.  First with no IR

BluevelvetnoIR

And with the same IR as above added:

BlueVelvetIR

The non traditional guitar sounds have various degrees of success, some sound better some sound worse.  But this made a HUGE difference on the headphones.  I’ll try them through speakers later.

For those of you looking for free links here are a couple of them.  I’m in the process of downloading these myself – so no guarantees for the sounds themselves.

First some very cool non-guitar specific responses here:

Then some more guitar and bass specific IRs here. But I’m digging the redcabi.net IRs so far…

I found an AU ( LAConvolver ) that supports IRs and runs in AU lab – if I keep the wet gain at 50% it works well.

The advantages of AU lab are several (including low CPU use and that you can route audio OR midi through it) but the main advantage is that when you save the session all of the parameters in all associated plug-in’s applications are saved.  In other words – when I get it set up for use with a PA – it’s done.  No more re-inventing the wheel.  This is particularly helpful when you’ve set up a series of midi commands for Sooper Looper.

Here’s the laptop setup:

FNH Guitar -> Radial Dragster ->Pod x3 Live -> (Stereo out) ->Behringer FCA 202 (I hope to sub this out with an Apogee Duet eventually) -> Macbook Pro (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 Ghz – older model) ->Aulab running LAConvolver and Sooperlooper->(Stereo out) ->Behringer.

Here’s the AuLab set up – I’ve put SL on a Bus – but I since I can mix wet and Dry in SL I could have just left it on channel 1.


Here are some sample LA Convolver settings (these are both from the 4×12 greenback IR’s in redcabi.net):

And finally 4 instances of SL.

I’m still experimenting but this is the current plan.  Now to apply all of this to mainstage to get synths and percussion in the mix….

This may not make any sense.  The goal to to fit everything into 1 bag – except for a guitar and a gig bag.  Hopefully I’ll have photos soon.

Also the title of this references the passing of Ronnie James Dio.  I enjoyed his work with Rainbow and while he and Vivian Campbell had a pretty miserable falling out – their 1st 2 cds had some great moments vocal and guitar (particularly Last in Line with perhaps the quintessential heavy metal guitar solo).  Dio was 67 on hitting the stage with Black Sabbath (ok fine – Heaven and Hell) at an age many people are bed ridden.  It reminds me of my favorite quote on retirement ever:

All I do is play music and golf.  What do you want me to retire from?” – Willie Nelson

Rest in peace Ronnie.