REPLACING A STACK O’ GEAR WITH A LAPTOP
running amp and effects simulation software is
appealing, but it’s more complicated than just
plugging in an amp. Here are the top ten tips
for having a sweet relationship with your liveperformance
Avoid onboard audio. A separate USB or
FireWire audio interface offers better audio quality
and more durable connectors. Disable the
onboard audio so it doesn’t interfere.
Physically secure your laptop. If someone trips
over the power chord, expect a crash to the floor.
I mounted the laptop that handles my Digital
Les Paul hex outs in a pedalboard that sits on
the floor (Figs. 1 and 2). Once it’s set up, I don’t
need to adjust much, as it handles bass and
rhythm. (Bonus: The pedalboard is the ultimate
hardshell case.) For leads, the Digital Les Paul’s
standard magnetic pickups feed a DigiTech
GNX3000, whose sound I can change with
Don’t run on battery power. When using batteries,
laptops often reduce performance automatically
to extend battery life. You need the
highest possible performance for real-time guitar
Redundancy is good. If you can’t carry a backup
laptop, have backups of your data and programs.
One reason I use Ableton Live for performing
is because you can download a fully-functional
demo that does everything except Save. If my
laptop dies, I can get another computer, download
Live, load my data, and be up and running.
With Windows, turn off unneeded services. Run
the msconfig utility to disable unneeded
startup programs, and also turn off system
restore, indexing, automatic updates—anything
that reduces performance. And with all
computers, disable any network or internal
Wi-Fi card as these can mess with audio performance.
Mac vs. Windows.Windows laptops are easier
to replace or repair on the road, but Macs are
easier to configure for audio. I’ve used both, but
if you go for Windows, seek out a company that
specializes in integrating laptops for audio (such
as PC Audio Labs, Rain, ADK, etc.). It’s well
worth the few extra bucks.
No on-the-job training! Never use new hardware
or software (including updates) onstage
before testing everything under real-world conditions.
Carry a spare hard drive. Laptop hard drives are
more delicate than desktop drives. Fortunately,
they’re usually easy to replace. So if you don’t
have a second computer, carry a second hard
drive that “mirrors” the one you use (Norton
Ghost is good for mirroring), along with any
tools needed to install it.
Don’t plug USB memory sticks or copy protection
dongles directly into the computer. Use a USB extension
cord to prevent the USB device from breaking
off at the base if pressure is put on it (this
might also damage your motherboard, meaning
a big buck repair).
Laptops are easy to steal. Bring a backpack to
the gig, and as soon as you’re done, stash the
laptop in the backpack and wear it.