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August 15, 2017 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out the best route for using my electric guitar with a (laptop + VSTs + some kind of pedalboard) in a live context.

I'm a reluctant electric guitarist who grew up wanting to write songs first and came to fretting over instrumentation later. As a result, I've always been very utilitarian in my guitar work - I never learned about amps, tone/color, pedals, pickups, or any of that stuff that "regular" guitarists spend decades learning about and refining and obsessing over. I am envious of folks who have dialed in a beautiful sound that they've arrived at through endless experimentation and acquisition of different combinations of gear, but I'm never gonna be that guy. Ever.

However, I'm decent at taking a crappy electric guitar signal and making it glorious through the rigorous application of plugins and post-production in a digital recording environment. I'm at a point where I'm about to resume playing live for the first time in decades, and I'm hoping there's a relatively easy way to translate my studio-based experience to performance.

Here's what I'd like to do:

* Be able to design and craft guitar FX with some kind of DAW + VSTs in my home studio (as I do now for recording with Ableton and Pro Tools)
* Rig that setup to a computer-interfacing pedalboard which I can use onstage, with the laptop offstage, and access my different programmed effects with the tap of a foot
* Never think about any of this shit during a live show when I should be vibing with an audience

These are the things I don't want to do:

* Get taken out of the immediacy of the performing environment
* Spend five minutes pecking at a laptop between songs (or even seeing one at all)
* Spend $10k on an endless array of daisy-chained pedals
* Buy another cheesy, "all-in-one" pedalboard like the Boss GT-10

So, folks who have solved this problem, tell me about your setup and what you like. I have a feeling Ableton can handle this, but I'm not sure what the hardware situation looks like. Again, the idea is just to have one pedal-tap per song to get me out the door, regardless of how much work there is in terms of carving out a sonic signature on the back end. Thanks!
posted by mykescipark to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Never done this, but I assume what you want to do is get something like this midi pedal, plug it into your laptop, then configure your DAW to map the various pedals to operations in the software.

You may need to look at the laptop just to boot it up and start up the relevant software, but shouldn't need anything after that.

That particular controller appears to have midi IO, not USB, so you also need a USB/MIDI interface. While you're at it some of those also work as audio interfaces. For example, this one (no particular experience with it, just looks like it has the right specs). Then you plug your guitar into one of the audio interface's inputs, and run the interface's output to your PA/amp/whatever. That will normally get you better quality sound than using your laptops own audio inputs and outputs.

There are probably other foot controllers with USB, I haven't looked around much. And there is probably simpler hardware as well if you just want one or two switch pedals. Also, if you already have a foot switch or expression pedal that you like (e.g. from a digital piano), there are little MIDI boxes that you can plug those into.

Your guitar signal then goes guitar cable->audio interface->USB->laptop->USB->audio interface->cable to PA, and some care may be needed to ensure that the laptop doesn't introduce noticeable delay. Getting sufficiently small latency may depend on the details of your setup, and I'm way out of my depth here, so hopefully experts can chime in. They may be able to give better advice if you tell us your OS and laptop model.
posted by floppyroofing at 10:56 AM on August 15, 2017

There are any number of MIDI foot controllers out there, and that's basically where you want to start (assuming you have a low-latency audio interface already).

In Ableton, you can create an Audio Effects rack, and map the inputs from the foot controller to (a) select different chains within the rack and (b) turn on and off different effects in the chain - it's basically as simple as entering MIDI Map mode (Cmd-M on Mac), selecting the control on the effect/device (which can simply be the on/off control at the top-left of the device) you want to map, then hitting the relevant button/control on the MIDI controller.

There's a lot of information about this floating about on the interwebs and there's a lot of ways to do it - start by searching for "ableton chain selector".
posted by parm at 2:58 PM on August 15, 2017

Not sure what you find "cheesy" about your GT-10. That's a pretty high quality pedalboard overall and a much more stable platform for live performance than a laptop. Maybe spend some more time figuring out how to get it to generate the sounds you want?
posted by doctord at 5:29 PM on August 15, 2017

Uh, actually I totally overlooked the fact that the GT-10 also works as a USB MIDI controller, so if you already have one of those lying around, you're set.

You don't have to use any of the GT-10's effects, you can just use it to control Ableton (or whatever).

In fact, the GT-10 (like, I'm guessing, other multieffect pedals) also works as a USB audio interface, so in theory it's the only piece of hardware you need--hook it up to your guitar and PA/Amp just as you normally would, hook it up to your laptop with a USB cable, configure it to send the laptop's audio out to its output, and turn off direct monitoring (so no audio from the GT-10 is mixed in, only audio from the laptop).

Whether it's possible to do this while also using USB/MIDI, and whether the results will be high fidelity, I don't know. Seems worth a try. Looks like a careful read of chapter 7 of the GT-10 manual would be necessary.
posted by floppyroofing at 7:56 PM on August 15, 2017

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