For hosting the plug-ins, I decided to use Sonar. It ships with the Digital Les Paul, but more importantly, it’s my main DAW software and I know it like the back of my hand.
Here’s Sonar’s console view, as set up for using the Digital Les Paul. Why seven channels with six strings? This will be explained later, but basically, the fourth string gets sent to two places: Through an octave divider, and also, to a send that processes the string with compression and modulation. To the right of the seven channels are two buses, and fully right, the interface output that feeds the amplification system. Note the Digital Les Paul custom track icons; they’re available for free from the downloads section of this blog.
I had hoped Sonar’s real-time pitch stretch algorithm could do the necessary octave division, but those were false hopes. The sound was nowhere near as good as the RP250, so I had to use an amp simulator…but as they tend to push a CPU pretty hard, I didn’t know if the laptop would be up to it.
There are certainly plenty of choices: Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig, IK Multimedia’s Amplitube, Waves GTR, and Line 6’s GearBox plug-ins. I’ve used them all, and they’re all very capable and have their own advantages and limitations. Which one would be right?
My first thought was what would be best if there was a computer meltdown while on the road. I couldn’t count on internet authorization in the middle of a gig. Guitar Rig will run for a certain amount of time without authorization, but eventually, I wanted to carry two computers and be able to switch between them at a moment’s notice. GR does allow two authorizations, so I could have it on each computer and ready to go. It was in the running.
Another advantage of Guitar Rig 2 is it has lots of “futuristic” sounds like step sequenced filters, which I thought would be a very cool complement to the futuristic nature of the Digital Les Paul. However, I had to keep my laptop’s capabilities in mind. The more functions you add, the harder it has to work.
Next up, I really like the sound and functionality of the Line 6 plug-ins, but they require bringing a Line 6 interface that I wasn’t going to use – sort of a “big dongle.” So that was eliminated, as I could tell that pedalboard space was going to be at a premium. Oh well. There’s always the studio…
Waves GTR 2.0 is sort of squirrely with Sonar, and its detailed sound quality really pushes a CPU. It just wasn’t possible to load up what I needed without feeling the CPU was being pushed too hard. For a live performance setup, I wanted to make sure the CPU never had to deliver more than 50% of its power. Anything else was not a sufficient margin of error.
So it came down to Guitar Rig vs. Amplitube 2, which uses a dongle so it’s also easily transportable between computers (load the program on both computers, then just switch the dongle if you need to switch computers). GR gives a lot more options than Amplitube, but ultimately, I decided that I’d use whichever had the best octave divider sound for what I wanted to do . . . and that was Amplitube 2.
The picture shows the Stomp Box section of AmpliTube 2, which is pretty much the only section being used…the software is basically serving as a host for its effects processors, as the amp emulators are not in play. Note that the EQ has all the highs rolled off; this gives more reliable triggering with the octave divider.
Bottom line: I installed AmpliTube 2 and called it a day, figuring I had things nailed – but while leaving open the option to re-visit Guitar Rig 2 in the future, as it has a lot of sync-to-tempo options and other processors I want to be able to use.