COMPUTERS WEREN’T DESIGNED FOR REAL-TIME
operation, but that’s what guitars want, so performance
is key. Although desktop Macs give
high performance out of the
box, companies making custom,
music-oriented PCs (such as
ADK, MusicXPC, PC Audio Labs,
Rain Recording, Sonica, and
Sweetwater) often deliver exceptional
performance at a lower
price. Want to hedge your bets?
Intel Macs can also run Windows
programs (but the reverse is
Laptops are super-convenient
for live performance. MacBook
Pros are sweet, but pricey. Office
supply store PCs are iffy, so far
safer choices come from companies
specializing in laptops for
music. If treated carefully, laptops
are reliable. I’ve used Macs
and PCs onstage since the ’90s,
and I’ve never had a meltdown.
If ruggedness is paramount, Panasonic’s Tough-
Books (PC only) are expensive, but almost indestructible.
Some guitarists run amp sims on
Netbooks, but try before you buy, as that’s
pushing the technology. Still, at sub-$300
prices, you can buy a backup Netbook, and still
spend less than a laptop.
Although laptops have
built-in audio, quality is
consumer-grade, and you
won’t find 1/4" jacks. You’ll
need an audio interface to get
audio in and out of your computer.
The crucial interface feature is a
high-impedance, guitar-friendly input.
Line 6, Native Instruments, and IK Multimedia
make guitar-centric interfaces—
some of which include pedals and footswitches.
IK’s Stomp I/O, for example, is a versatile
pedalboard/interface that’s built like a
tank, and it can minimize dealing with your
computer during a set. Some standard audio
interfaces (such as MOTU’s 8Pre, which connects
through FireWire) also include instrument
inputs, and Cakewalk’s V-Studio 100 is
a multipurpose interface/control surface/
mixer/recorder that’s ideal for gigging guitarists.
The interface typically connects to your computer
via a single FireWire or USB cable. To
avoid stressing the computer’s connector, put
your laptop on a stable surface, and tape down
the interface cable. You’ll need a standard guitar
cable to connect your instrument to the
interface input, as well as output cables to go
to your amp or a mixer. For laptops, a USB
mouse can be easier to use than the built-in
touchpad. Also, get a rugged, hardshell computer
case—although computer bags from companies
such as Targus are reasonable
alternatives. Don’t forget to practice data safety
by being redundant. Store important files on
a USB memory stick—not just your computer’s
To improve your laptop’s real-time audio performance,
disable anything unneeded: internal
wi-fi (important!), automatic index updating
for search functions, etc. Also, disable “sleep”
mode so your computer runs at full-tilt,
and don’t run off your battery. Most laptops
downgrade performance to increase
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