8 Tips for Using Laptops Live

Whether you play modern metal or experimental electronica, employing a laptop onstage can offer instant access to an endless array of tones and effects.
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STS 9 rocks its laptops.

Whether you play modern metal or experimental electronica, employing a laptop onstage can offer instant access to an endless array of tones and effects. The processing power of current computers means amp emulations come astoundingly close to the real thing, and latency has been reduced to a non-issue. In addition, the quality of amp and effect emulations is now remarkably consistent, so your sonic weapon of choice comes down to personal preference. Whichever software you choose, however, here are some tips to make your onstage experience optimal and trouble free.


If possible, use a laptop that has nothing on it but your emulation software. The more CPU dedicated to guitar processing the better, and there’s less chance of other software crashing your machine.

No Multitasking

Kill your Wi-Fi connection and shut down your email. You don’t want the audience to hear “You’ve Got Mail ” in the middle of a tune. Wi-Fi also eats up CPU.

Fancy Footwork

A MIDI footcontroller with at least one expression pedal is a must for switching programs, turning effects on and off, and manipulating wah-wah simulations. Expression pedals can also be assigned to control parameters such as delay lengths and feedback, tremolo speed, and even panning between rigs.

Quality In/Quality Out

Use the best audio interface you can afford. A high-quality interface will transmit the true sound of your guitar into the software, and extract the highest- quality emulation tones. It will also keep latency very low.

Bag the Guitar Amp

Amp simulators are designed to sound ultra-realistic through studio monitors and full-range P.A. systems. The accuracy of a Fender simulation will suffer if run through a Marshall stack or a Vox AC30. Try going through the P.A. and monitoring through floor or in-ear monitors. If you prefer a personal monitoring system, be sure to use a clean power amp and full-range speakers, or run your audio interface directly into powered, full-range speakers.

Or Don’t…

Of course, some players use amp-emulation software just for the effects, and run their laptop into an actual guitar amp. Feel free to shut off the software’s amp and cabinet emulations, and plug straight into your Bogner head and 4x12 cab. If you go in the instrument input, make sure your audio interface is outputting the kind of signal an amp likes to see. If you are using largely modulation and ambient effects, try running the interface in the amp’s effects loop.

Bring on the DAW

Running your amp emulation software as a plug-in inside a DAW such as Ableton Live or Logic opens up another world of possibilities—including spectral and granular effects unavailable as guitar pedals, advanced looping capabilities, and recording your performance.

Call For Backup

Today’s laptops tend to be reliable. Still, the best scenario is to have your software and patches installed on a second laptop ready to go. Failing that, keep amp-emulation hardware by Line 6, Vox, or Tech 21, and a couple of effects pedals on hand to take over.