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

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

Home For The Holidays – Gator Viper Gig Bag Review

Gator Viper Gig Bag

With the acquisition of my new Schecter 8 string, I realized that I would need to get a new gig bag to go with it.  After some searching –  I found the Gator Viper Gig bag. The bag lists at $149 and usually sells for $100 but Amazon had it listed for $37-$39 (as of this writing J&R music is selling it for $39.99 shipped via amazon).

I picked one up and just had Santa get me another one for Christmas.

Here’s the bag:

The Exterior

First and foremost – This is a rugged bag.  It’s almost more like a case than a gig bag.  I was surprised that it was heavier than I though it would be when I picked it up.  The zippers are larger than the ones used on other bags I have.  They’re luggage quality and seem durable.  The ad copy mentions that the bag is dual lined for protection and I believe that.  I would have no worries about this bag protecting the guitar in any kind of rain/snow/ condition.

If you look at the back of the bag:

you might notice that the two straps are padded for comfort.  There’s an optional sternum strap for stability as well.  The bag also features back cushions:

which help distribute the weight.  If you want to carry it by hand – the handle is reinforced.

The Interior

If you look at the headstock interior (quilted foam):

In addition to the heavy padding around the back and sides – you also get a neck rest.  The additional string guard on the head stock and the bridge:

is a nice touch as well.

The interior has what the company calls a “Universal ergo-fit design for most Strat- and LP-style guitars” – my non traditional shaped FNH Guitar fits in there fine.  The Schecter with a 26.5″ scale fits in the bag as well.

The bag has two compartments ( It’s hard to see in this photo – but there is a separate zippered section by the headstock which could easily hold picks, string, capos, etc.)

In addition to the front zippered section, the front pocket is spacious.  I can easily fit these full size headphones in the case with no issue.

For $30 more you can get a model with a separate laptop compartment.  I like the idea a lot – but it adds additional weight to the front of the bag.

The Sum Up

The short of it is – this is one of the best deals out there. Given that a garbage gig bag will probably set you back $20-$30 it’s impressive what you’re getting in this bag for a few dollars more.

Happy Holidays!

-SC

Toothpicks And Their Proper Place In Guitar Maintenance

A dilemma of growing up in a small town is that you don’t always have access to information that would be helpful to you.

In my senior year of high school, I had a problem as my beloved Aria Pro II Knight Warrior (Yes – with the Kahler.  No – not with the studded leather belt and the buxom model in my arms) had an ever-widening hole where the lower strap button was screwed into and would fall out occasionally.

I asked what I should do about this and was told that you could always stick a toothpick in the hole and that would fill in the gap.  And that worked pretty well. For a while.  Then I would go to 2 toothpicks, then 3…

That year, I entered the annual talent show with some people who I was playing with and we had I think a 2 song set.  One tune we were playing was Ace Frehley’s  Rock Soldiers.  I have no idea why,  but at the time I was really into the song.  Maybe because it was the rock version of The Devil Went down to Georgia.

At the point of the solo – I was ready to fully fly into it and really show off (or so I thought at the time) – when – you guessed it –the strap button fell out and some 20-30 tooth picks came gushing out of my guitar.

I dropped to the floor to prevent the guitar from falling, but what I hoped would be a moment of triumph turned into a very limp guitar solo and much embarrassment.

At that moment I realized that I should learn something about guitar set up.  I studied it a bit, did a lot of guitar set ups (and some repairs) when I was at Sandy’s Music  and got to the point where I could do basic maintenance and minor repairs on my guitars.

Recently I noticed that with the  tremolo  installation on my guitar that the high E string in particular binds up a bit and so as a first step, I decided to lubricate the nut slots to see if that helps with binding.

In this case I’m using Guitar Grease, a graphite paste which I got from Stu-Mac

and one of those dreaded tooth picks mentioned earlier (which I probably got with a lunch somewhere along the way).

You don’t need to buy a special paste to do this – you could just as easily use a pencil – but I have a difficult time getting the groove evenly lubricated with a pencil and this seems to work better for me.  Additionally as you don’t want to use more than necessary –   I find the tooth pick helps with controlling the portion of graphite I’m applying.

Removing the string from the nut slot – I just scoop a little graphite paste onto the tip of the toothpick and lubricate the nut slot particularly focusing on the entering point and exiting point of the string – as that’s where it typically binds.

If you’re a beginning guitarist you should gain some familiarity with basic repair and maintenance.  In addition to saving yourself some cash – if you ever have to take it to someone for repair – you’ll be able to speak about the problem intelligently and save some bench time (and money).

To use a non-guitar example  see the difference in price next time in going to an auto mechanic with a specific problem (“there’s something wrong with the ignition – the battery is fully charged – I get power to the radio, lights, etc – but the car won’t start”) versus “I hear a knocking sound”…

Next post – a more radical solution.

Thanks for reading.

And by the way, listening to Rock Soldiers for the first time since high school I don’t get it now either.  But  I did just listen to Loudness’ Let it Go looking for this clip and that brought a smile.

Setting Up “Testing Environments” Or Multi Layered Tones In AU Lab

One site that I always forget to link to and need to do so now is the Guitar Amp Modeling Blog,  which is just a really tremendous resource.  It’s really inspiring to me to see so many people working on pushing more and more into alternate live and studio approaches to guitar.

A couple of days ago I went to the Speaker Cabinet Impulse section of the forum and found that RedWirez, a company that sells a high end collection of speaker impulses is giving away their impulses from a Marshall 1960A with Celestion G12M 25-watt Greenbacks to celebrate their birthday!  The folder is about 107 MB of impulses that go from 44.1 KhZ – 16 bit to 96 KhZ – 24 bit.

There are 17 different types of mikes used for each IR set AND there are ambient mics to capture the back of the cab at various distances, room and wall mics as well. You can go to the link for that here.

I still have the recabinet set – which at $15 for something like 2000 irs is an amazing bargain as well.

But one thing that comes up in something like this is how do you sort through all those speaker sounds?

My solution is to set up a bunch of instances of LA convolver on multiple busses in AU LAB.

In this way I can set up one bus at a time and mute the other channels to be able to a/b/c everything.

Additionally, you can set up more complex sounds by combining different IR’s.

For example here are the IR’s used in bus 1:

and bus1 is the tone.

Here are the IR’s used in bus 2:

and bus2 is the tone.

Here are the IR’s used in bus 3:

and bus3 is the tone.

And the final tone of all 3 together:

To my ears, this creates a more full bodied sound than any one channel.  Each plug in takes up more processing power – so it may be a balancing act based on resources – but since AU LAB uses so much less CPU than something like Logic, it’s easier to pull off here.

In case you’re interested – here’s the patch the sound is based on:

Thanks for dropping by!

Where To Get Your Guitar Repaired In LA Or Lessons For The Self Employed Musician

Yesterday, I took some cash from a gear sale and had a Wilkinson tremolo installed on my FNH guitar which was a long overdue modification.

I started by calling Andy Brauer, to see about getting the work done.  The first thing Andy said to me was that the scope of the job (i.e. routing out a cavity on a guitar with a hard tail bridge) wasn’t something that he would be willing to take on, but he said if I called him back in a half an hour he’d get a phone number to me.

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Lesson 1:  Have a clear concept of what work you are willing to do rather than half ass something you don’t want to do. Since this isn’t an option for someone of Andy’s caliber – he made a referral for me so I could get the work done


I called him back a 1/2 hour later and Andy got the number for me. He told me to give Seth Mayer a call (818-427-1543).  I got in touch with Seth and he seemed like a nice and knowledgeable guy and told me to bring it by his workshop that evening.  As Andy had referred Seth (and Andy’s reputation is unimpeachable to me), I went to Seth’s knowing that I was going to get my instrument sorted out.

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Lesson 2:  When you refer people to someone you build good will but you put your name on the line.


I brought it by Seth’s and he explained that the holes from the original bridge might need to be doweled and might not be completely covered up by the new trem.  This was fine with me.   I said he didn’t even have to sweat putting a back back plate on the route  as my main concern was that it was functional instead of being “pristine”.  Seth said he would do what he could to try to accommodate both aspects and that it would be done within a week.

I got a call today (2 days later) that it was done.  Here’s the guitar:

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When I went to go pick it up, I found that Seth had recessed the trem so I could pull up on it like I asked.

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He also threw a back plate on it and did a great job setting it up in general.

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Lesson 3:  When you tell someone you’ll do something – do it.  

But if you can improve upon that it’s to your benefit to do so.


Seth could have hung onto it for a week and done the job and I never would have known.  Instead, he turned it around asap.  He could have tried charging me a rush fee.  (I’ve had plenty of guys try to pull that before.) Instead – he did much more than I asked him to do.

Do you ever wonder why certain stores go out of business?  The ones’s that don’t repair things competently or when they say they are going to?  The one’s that leave you a bad taste in your mouth after you’ve gone there?  Do you ever wonder why certain musicians who flake on sessions don’t get call backs?

Now when anyone asks me where to take a guitar to get repaired in LA – I’ll send them to Seth.  This is the same level of referral that you should work towards as a musician.

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Lesson 4:  This is what it means to be a professional.  In your interactions as a professional musician – your word is your bond.


Seth Mayer Guitar Repair

818-427-1543

smayer@yahoo.com

myspace.com/guitarrepair

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