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My switch from pedals to a laptop

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by MSUsousaphone, Aug 16, 2012.

  1. MSUsousaphone


    Dec 4, 2009
    Lake Charles, La
    Endorsed Artist: Myco Pedals
    So I've been contemplating this move for a long time....finally made it. I'm about two weeks in. The jury's still out but I figured I'd chronicle it so that the few people who follow can find a blue print to what to and/or not to do.

    Right before the switch, my board looked like this:
    Custom DIY board with ATA flight case; Cheap tuner > IE Polytope > Swell B-Peg> Badger Schism (First Loop: Mountainking Megalith...Second Loop: Foxrox Octron > FC Unpleasent Surprise) > Infanem Faye Sing > RF Brain Freeze (loan from Behndy) > Dr S Tremolessence > Strymon Timeline.....and an Expressionator and Moog EP-2.....I even still have an Infanem Faye's Her that I'm still waiting to get in so that I can sell.

    So I had a HUGE board. Great high end pedals. Lots of versatile sounds. Anyways, lots of life happens. Classic story. Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. Boy knocks up girl with quintuplets. And I started looking for ways to scale down, get a mobile rig....maybe even save money. But be able to do EVERYTHING that I was able to do before. I traded my Mesa Bass 400+ in for a Class D amp (Glockenklang Blue Sould) and sold one of my two cabs (fEARful 15/6s). The biggest thing I had left was my board.

    Local bass phenom guru guy has been running his effects through a laptop for years. He's amazing. Super awesome ear. He finally had the ammunition to convert me. And I trust him. He's been endorsed by Zon, Status, Glockenklang, etc. He wouldn't be doing something that's not top of the line or has lag problems.

    So I say so a lot. Big deal. You wanna fight about it.

    So I sold all of my pedals one by one…well…all except for the Megalith and Swell B-Peg as I don’t think the software can cover OD and fuzz as well as an analogue pedal. Raised the funds and bought this laptop (upgraded to 16GB):


    I have stripped it of all program but those needed to run the software. It will not be used for anything but effects/recording/sound processing. So no viruses. No malware. No Caeman blue tooth hijacking.

    And this audio interface/midi controller (very familiar setup):


    The software I’m running right now is Guitar Rig 5. I plan on picking up a copy of Ableton Live 8 and MAX at a later date.
    So…SOOOOOOOO…the experiment is on. I will be posting clips and thoughts in this thread as I go. The big points I’m going to be looking at are:

    Sound Quality – I had some high end pedals and I’m playing through a Glock amp and Status S2-Classic…this stuff needs to be able to hang with the sounds I’m used to.

    Versatility – I had some really cool effects that I was running in combination. It needs to be able to cover what I was doing and give me great ideas that keep me moving in the future.

    Latency – This is a huge issue with the laptop/midi setup. Obviously, the latency needs to get to a point where it’s not noticeable at all.

    Reliability – It has to be something I’m confident using night in and night out for live shows, without causing me more than the usual issues (pedals have issues, too. Everything does. It needs to be manageable).

    I’m sure I’ll think of some more, and you guys will, too, so I can add to that list as this thing goes on.

    The issues that other’s might have that I’ve already laid to rest might be size (the laptop/midi setup is WAY smaller and easier to move around), longevity (a very valid point in that pedals last much longer than laptops…I’m hoping that by stripping it of most programs and ONLY using it for effects/recording/sound processing (no web browsing) I can get this to last 4-6 years), price (it wasn’t even close, the laptop/midi setup was about ¼ what my pedal board would be new)…type some others and I’ll explore them as we go.

    So anyways, I'll be posting clips and thought in here.
  2. MSUsousaphone


    Dec 4, 2009
    Lake Charles, La
    Endorsed Artist: Myco Pedals
    Ooooooo. Forgot. This is a blue print thread....so anyone already doing this, please post. I'd love to know your fav VSTs, cool software, tips to destroy latency. Anything and everything.
  3. Cost only 1/4 of your pedal board?? That is cool! Glad to see it progressing so well, that controller looks perfect for this application. Looking forward to more reports.
  4. DeltaPhoenix

    DeltaPhoenix Supporting Member

    Apr 6, 2011
    I think he means 1/2.
    Also, last I heard, the Swell may be history soon for Sousa...
  5. Johnny Crab

    Johnny Crab ACME,QSC,Fame/Hondo/Greco user & BOSE Abuser Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 11, 2004
    South Texas
    Our guitarist/keyboardist uses the laptop/midi method for both. I'll find out his suggestions, gear advice, etc. It HAS, once in a blue moon, locked up and required re-booting.....maybe twice in the course of hundreds of shows IIRC.
    He does carry a spare laptop with duplicate software, etc.
  6. MSUsousaphone


    Dec 4, 2009
    Lake Charles, La
    Endorsed Artist: Myco Pedals
    Thanks, man. I look forward to it.

    I bought all of the stuff for about half of what I sold all of my old pedals/board and stuff for.....but if I priced that board at brand new prices....woof. I've spent WAY too much money on pedals. Way too much.

    The laptop, software, controller, and stuff totaled me at $1200.

    Yeah. I'm still on the fence about the Swell. I didn't think the OD on the software would be able to compare to a pedal's.....especially and analog one.....but...whoah. The software is pretty impressive. I've still got a few days worth of playing around before I review and demo it, though.
  7. Knettgummi


    Sep 28, 2011
    Hey, good luck with the transition, sir!

    I'll start off by saying, in the most encouraging fashion, that I personally moved the other way - from laptop to boxes - about two years ago. :p Incidentally I was using a RigKontrol interface, hooked up to GuitarRig and Ableton Live, so my experience should be somewhat relevant.

    Here are some of my thoughts on running a laptop based effects chain:

    1. - Latency, first of all, has never been an issue for me with this kind of setup. When you're mainly running a single audio track through your software, you'll get away with using a very small buffer size, which equals low latency.

    2. - If you like real dirt/fuzz/tubey overdrive, you are right to hold on to that in stompbox form. The digital emulators are decent, but there is a sputtery, organic quality to analog circuits that is very hard to achieve through a laptop.

    If you are patient enough, however, you can still get good results with just GuitarRig (which is a great piece of software, BTW). A lot of the GR effects modules have bass tone controls if you open the advanced settings, and there's also an AB-mixer module that can be used to blend in clean signal. I still felt, from time to time, like the effected signal going through the interface was lacking a bit of low end. If I was going to run the same setup today, I would probably keep the RigKontrol in a parallel mix with my true clean signal.

    3. - As for versatility, I'll guarantee you that the computer setup can match anything you could do with stompboxes by a wide margin.

    In fact, part of the reason why I like stompboxes is that they impose some restrictions on how I can work with my sound, which in turn forces me to be little more creative. The computer does no such thing! GuitarRig covers a whole lot of ground with regards to mimicing existing effects pedals, and if you can think of something completely new and weird, go for Max/MSP (another fantastic program - a personal favorite :)).

    Having some knobs and/or faders available is a good idea if you want to be able to tweak your effects on the fly. I recommend getting something like a Korg nanoKontrol for this - it's cheap, works well, and is easy to set up and transport.

    If you're playing very strictly rehearsed music, you can make use of pre-programming presets in GuitarRig to control several parameter and effects changes with a single footswitch. Personally I like to keep the setup more spontaneous, with each footswitch simply corresponding to a single effect bypass (the extra MIDI knobs and faders come in handy here). The latter approach is better suited for improvising IME, but you lose the efficiency of the presets, of course.

    4. - Make sure to test your setup rigorously! Reliability issues are by far my biggest gripe with a laptop rig. GuitarRig does relatively well IME; Ableton Live is slightly worse.

    My band's guitar player runs his entire effects chain through a laptop with Live, GuitarRig, and some other stuff (Max for Live being one element). The sonic possibilities are virtually limitless, but when the software craps out or some MIDI controller doesn't cooperate in the middle of a gig, he might as well be playing air guitar.

    This is another good reason to keep an external effects loop hooked up: that way you can always bypass the entire system in case of emergency. No effects are better than no sound at all, after all (although browsing these forums might leave a different impression :D).

    I seem to recall reading about the effects setup of Jonny Greenwood that they would keep two different computer systems running his Max/MSP effects simultaneously, so that the sound guy could simply switch him over on the secondary rig whenever the first one crashed and had to reboot. So, sh!t happens even if you are Radiohead, better to plan for it...
  8. MSUsousaphone


    Dec 4, 2009
    Lake Charles, La
    Endorsed Artist: Myco Pedals
    Ahhhhh. Great advice on the Korg nanoKontrol. I guess I can do a review thing of the Rig Kontrol in a bit, it's pretty cool, but it's BIG weak spot is that it doesn't have knobs on it that you can assign parameters to for tweaking. That was my biggest complaint on the whole rig, so far. You're totally right, it's doooooable with the laptop but would be soooo much smoother and quicker if the dang controller had knobs. Thanks for that, I'll check it out.

    Also good call on the blender. I've got an order in with Danndubblewe for a TB looper....that has a clean blend. Figured the Megalith could use the clean blend and the laptop needed a "killswitch" (like you said) so that if it starts going nuts I can just go clean. It wouldn't be the worst thing in the World with my band. Would lose some flavor but the show wouldn't be lost. I think that's where I have an advantage over keyboardists/guitarists with this. The effects are more flavor for us where as it's the core of their sound. I figure I'd try this out for a month or two before finalizing anything on the DannBuilt so that I know exactly what I need.

    Thanks, man. Good insight.
  9. Sub'd. I'm anxious to here how this goes. Should be fantastic for others going down the same path too.
  10. MSUsousaphone


    Dec 4, 2009
    Lake Charles, La
    Endorsed Artist: Myco Pedals
    So first unexpected potential dealbreaker, tonight (and before I start, I'll state that I'm just typing as I go....haven't spent more than five minutes trying to solve the problem, yet). My Glockenklang Blue Soul (new amp, WOOT) came in and it sounds AMAZING. SO. MUCH. TOANZ. I mean....it somehow is dark, thunderous, and all out power while at the same time is lightning fast, articulate, and clean. So crazy. So good. I know those adjectives normally don't fit together when describing a sound but this isn't hype. Glocks are amazing. Anyone that's played on one knows.

    Anyways, I plug in the laptop (Guitar Rig) and try to go clean....it still sounds good.....but loses a little...something.....it just doesn't have that Glock magic that it did before going through Guitar Rig. I've taken off all of the effects and amp (even the bass one) on Guitar Rig....so it's supposed to be totally unaffected....but...eh.....it just sounds like your average every day non Glock amp.

    I suppose, if I'm really thinking about it, it's the Status (my bass) sound that I'm losing......but in any case....no laptop, it's the best sound I've ever had.....with laptop, it's still great, but missing something.

    Now....again...I haven't tried very long to solve this, just updating as I'm going....gonna do some reading. Seeing if there's other things I can do get that mojo back in it. Maybe it's losing some EQ and I just need to add in a little of that.

    And yeah, I totally still plan on getting a TB looper with a clean blend on it. That would probably get most of my Glock/Status mojo back....but I don't want to use a clean blend while using certain effects (filters, delays, phasers, flangers...etc). I'd prefer those are full go.

    I'll work on this a little bit more, tomorrow. When I'm refreshed and I'm able to crank up since the wife is sleeping, now.
  11. What's your sampling and bitrate?

    Oh- and sub'd...
  12. MSUsousaphone


    Dec 4, 2009
    Lake Charles, La
    Endorsed Artist: Myco Pedals
    Ah. Good call. I had the sample rate at 9600. I'll mess with that in a bit.
  13. MikeBass

    MikeBass Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2003
    Royal, Oak, MI.
    Post up in the Ask The Pros JMJ forum.
    I know he used a software based rig with NIN and may be doing it with others as well.
    I remember speaking to him about it because I was seriously thinking of going this route. But I'm too lazy these days to be honest! LOL!!!
    Good luck and I'm curious to see how this works for you.
  14. MSUsousaphone


    Dec 4, 2009
    Lake Charles, La
    Endorsed Artist: Myco Pedals
    I'll probably do that. I'll wait a little bit to play around with it and get to know it, first, that way I make sure I'm not wasting his time with something that's just kinda "duh dur".

    The local bass phenom guy does the same thing (he even gets ZERO latency) but he's currently on the American Idol tour in Asia....I'm sure once he gets back every single problem and question I have will be answered.....but that would effectively end this thread and I probably won't be able to explain all that he did....so no one would be learning from my stumbling ways. :smug:
  15. moles


    Jan 24, 2007
    Winnipeg, MB
    What kind of interface are you using? My guess would be that the weak link in your chain is the converters....unless you've got something high-end in there that I missed you mentioning in the first post. EDIT: Okay, it's the midi controller on the floor that also acts as your interface?
    Even the GT-10B I had for a year had great signal processing, IMO, but the budget AD/DA converters they put in multi's still squash the tone. Not something I'd want to put in line with a Glockenklang!
  16. MSUsousaphone


    Dec 4, 2009
    Lake Charles, La
    Endorsed Artist: Myco Pedals
    There it is. That's probably it. And it WAS a "duh dur" kinda thing. I had a similar route as you, I went to individual pedals when I was noticing I couldn't get my GT-10B to get "totally clean".

    Hmmm...might wait until bass phenom guy gets back with his rig so that I can try it out to make sure that's what the problem is before I drop a lot more money on a better quality interface and a new midi controller.
  17. atheos


    Sep 28, 2008
    Tampere, Finland
    Looking at the laptop, get an SSD drive (Crucial M4, Samsung 830 etc.). You really don't want to have your drive heads parked because of excess vibration (bouncy stage, subwoofers, drums etc.) when the OS or software requests some data from the hard drive. Or even worse, a sudden shock may cause the drive head to hit the drive surface which could crash the computer. For the purpose, you won't need more than 120/128GB. The current prices are about $1 per GB, I think.

    Remember to protect the laptop against liquid spills, tripping over power cords etc. Also make sure heat isn't an issue. I don't know about Windows (I'm a Mac) but there is an app for OS X called SMCFanControl which allows to set the minimum fan speed above the firmware default, reducing heat and thus likely increasing the lifespan of the internal components. Naturally you'll get more fan noise, but if the laptop is far enough from any mics, you should be good. If there is an alternative for Windows, I'd give it a try.
  18. Knettgummi


    Sep 28, 2011
    My pleasure!

    96k should be plenty samplerate -- you'll notice a bigger difference in sound quality when changing the bit depth, but I'd presume it's already set to 24 bit...

    Good converters do make a big difference. High end interfaces are pricey, though, I'd experiment a bit with EQ-ing and such before dropping $1000+ on a Fireface, or whathaveyou.

    At least you can still use the RigKontrol as a MIDI controller, even if you do end up getting a different audio interface.
  19. moles


    Jan 24, 2007
    Winnipeg, MB
    OR at least do a rental on the interface if you can, to do an A/B test...
  20. MSUsousaphone


    Dec 4, 2009
    Lake Charles, La
    Endorsed Artist: Myco Pedals
    Yeah.....I might be able to swing $500 to $600 but I def can't go too far past that. I'll need to do some research and see how transparent the once in my price range can get. That's kinda the thing.....I don't think guitar players care as much as us. Not being an ass to them, just I think bass players need a more superior clean tone while guitar player can just use all the software to affect everything.....know what I mean?

    Thanks, man. I'll for sure look into this.

    I'm kinda eyeballing an RME Babyface. It's on the outer range of what I can pay.