Live Guitar with No Effects (Pedals) and No Amp!

As you may know, I am allowed to play guitar with the Macworld All-Star Band once each year. We celebrated our 10th gig together at Cirque du Mac (a.k.a. Party 4.0), that fabulous gathering brought to you by the nice folks at The Mac Observer,, and Backbeat Media.

What I'd like to share is how I used my MacBook Pro running IK Multimedia's fabulous AmpliTube 2 GarageBand plug-in in lieu of an on-stage amplifier and outboard effects.

Note: If you don't play guitar and/or love GarageBand, you might want to tune out now...

So here's the deal...for a live gig a guitarist usually plays through an amplifier on the stage. A bunch of different effects pedals are strung together on the floor and connected to that amplifier. And the guitar is connected to the first pedal's input jack. Then, a microphone is dangled in front of the amplifier's speaker so the guitar can be mixed into the house sound system (the "PA").

Here's what that setup looks like:

Old school analog on-stage guitar setup: Guitar -> Effects Pedals -> Amp -> PA system.

For our gig, however, I did away with the effects pedals, the amplifier, and the microphone in front of the amplifier, using my MacBook Pro and an M-Audio FireWire 410 audio interface to route the guitar into GarageBand and then out to the house sound system via a "direct input box" rather than a microphone.

Here's how that worked:

(Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.)

The guitar goes in through the input, is processed by AmpliTube2 in GarageBand, then sent to the direct input box through the output.

So here's what happened on stage: I had a real instrument track set up for each song in GarageBand with the AmpliTube 2 settings just the way I wanted them for that song. One press of the down-arrow key and I was ready for the next song on the set list. It was a piece of cake compared to adjusting three effects boxes on the floor and all the different settings on an amplifier. And GarageBand has a built-in stroboscopic tuner so I was never (OK, rarely) out of tune.

Here's what the GarageBand file I used on stage looked like:

A quick tap of the down-arrow key and I'm set for the next song.
(Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.)

As you can see above, each track had a different preset that was just right for that particular song. Each preset has four components -- amplifier, cabinet/speaker, stomp-box, and rack-mounted effects. The combination of these four things defines your guitar sound. AmpliTube 2 comes with over a hundred of preconfigured presets as shown below, or you can make your own from scratch as I've done in the example that follows.

Just a few of the myriad of presets that come with AmpliTube 2.

Now allow me to deconstruct the preset I made for the Joe Cocker tune, "Feelin' Alright." We'll start with the amplifier model, which looked like this:

Just a few of the myriad of presets that come with AmpliTube 2.
(Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.)

In the Amp section I've selected the American Tube Clean 2 preamp model, the British Tube 30TB EQ model, and the 50W 6L6 amp model. And for that amp's speakers I chose a 4x10 vintage open backed cabinet with a dynamic 57 (i.e. a Shure SM57) mic placed off-axis and near the speaker as shown here.

My cabinet model settings for Feelin' Alright.
(Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.)

Next I set up my stomp (effects) boxes -- an auto wah-wah pedal with a little bit of chorus on top of it as shown here.

My stomp box model settings for Feelin' Alright.
(Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.)

Finally, I added rack mounted tube compression to even things out as shown below.

And a little tubular compression to smooth things out just a little.
(Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.)

This setup gave me the full-yet-restrained amplifier sound of British Invasion bands in the 70s complete with a vintage funky wah-wah effect.

Showing you all these pretty pictures is great and all, but at the end of the day it's all about the sound, isn't it? That's why I created this little demo file for you to listen to. It consists of 4 measures of rhythm guitar played with each of the tracks shown in Figure 3 in order. So the first four measures are the Feelin' Alright preset, the next four measures are the Listen to Her Heart preset, the next four are Breeze, and so on. That should give you a sense of the wide variety of sounds you can create using AmpliTube 2.

(By the way, I'm sorry I'm such a crappy guitarist but I couldn't get Bryan Chaffin or Paul Kent to come over and record for me on such short notice.)

There are many advantages to using this setup both on stage and in the studio:

  • No stomp boxes underfoot reduces clutter and noise.
  • All solid-state setup means fewer mechanical devices (effects boxes and cables) to mess up.
  • Fewer cables means fewer ways to screw up and fewer ways to introduce unwanted noise.
  • The presets I created in GarageBand are exactly what I want for each tune.

I am completely sold on AmpliTube 2. My little Marshall amp sits in the corner collecting dust. I can't bring myself to sell it but I haven't used it in over a year.

You don't have to take my word for it; you can download a 10-day demo and listen to samples of what AmpliTube 2 sounds like in the hands of a professional at the AmpliTube Web site.

IK Multimedia
AmpliTube 2; SRP $399.
AmpliTube 1 Live (including AmpliTube LE plug-in); SRP US$99.

And that's all he wrote...