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I'm a guitar player, and I basically want to practice playing my electric guitar and pedal effects along a backing track or an actual song I wanna play along with.

How I usually do this is:

1) Play with amp, and my laptop using loud speakers.
2) Play with amp in headphones and my laptop also in headphones 
(left-amp and right-laptop/mp3 ear using single phone each ear)

I cannot play loud all the time because I get complains from my neighbors, and headphones kinda feels incomplete (plus I can't hear all the parts if the song is in stereo).

I need to have the sound in a single output, but I don't know where to look. So, what's your solution to get the guitar amp output and the backing track/mp3 playing in a single audio output? Software/device recommendations would really be great.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

What I would suggest is to use an Apogee Jam to plug the guitar into the laptop, where it can then use Amplitube to model the sound of a guitar. Then just play a backing track on the laptop, and listen with headphones. There are some disadvantages to this approach but it has been fairly convenient and produces a reasonably good result. You can also experiment for instance by panning the backing track 70% left and panning your guitar 70% right. It's nice to be able to both hear the backing track and also keep your focus on your own sound, and I do think it can be hard to get this balance in a simple, easy-to-use practice solution.

As an alternative, you could use a small mixer (or a program such as Garageband) to distribute the signal to your headphones. Or you could use a line in to plug your amp in to your computer, and use a simple DAW (Garage Band or similar is fine) to distribute the signal that way. Though usually when people use Garage Band it's with a non-amplified guitar signal.

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this is by far the simplest. Without much hardware and stuff. –  muffin Jul 9 at 2:22

If you have a "line-in" input on your laptop, I have three suggestions:

The quick and dirty one is to get a cheap adapter jack, connect your guitar to your laptop through the line-in input and use one of the zillions of free or commercial amp simulators on your computer.

Unfortunately this will not give you good tone, because the guitar output is not suited for the line in input (mic input will be even worse), you'll experience lots of "tone sucking", that is, high frequency loss. But it's easily solvable by using a buffer. Almost any stomp box with no "true bypass" functionality can be used as a buffer in bypass mode. I also successfully used a flat eq pedal for this purpose.

But the most comfortable solution would probably be to buy a hardware amp simulation unit. I don't think they sound as good as the state of the art software solutions right now but I routinely use my Pod X3 Live for home practice (yep, a bit bulky but that's all I have). You can either connect this unit's headphone output to your line in or you can connect a pair of speakers (or headphones) to your unit and connect your computer output to its aux-in (if it has one). Actually the unit that I use also functions as a USB sound card, so I just connect my speakers to it.

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There are quite a lot of products available which take guitar signal and an aux signal, and combine them into a headphone. Here's some photos of some - one cheap, the other more upmarket.

I googled "pocket practice amp aux".

A pocket practice ampA more upmarket practice amp

With these one, you would plug the large input jack into your guitar. You would connect an MP3 player (or whatever) into the 3.5mm aux-in, and headphones into the headphone socket.

This one does its own overdrive effect.

You could also use other pedals and plug this device into the output of the last pedal in the chain; and you could connect the headphone signal to the aux-in of any amplifier, to practice without headphones.

There are also similar devices designed to be used with computers, phones and tablets, in which effects are emulated by the computer. This is more expensive, but more flexible, and adds opportunities such as recording.

If "pocket" isn't a feature you want, you could look at using a PA amp with multiple inputs. I have an Alesis portable PA amp with mic, instrument and phono inputs each on a separate gain control. It also has a headphone socket for private practice. If you use something like this, you probably need an amp simulation pedal to make the guitar sound musical. Zoom's multi-FX pedals are a cost-effective option.

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As the other answers show, there are various ways of combining multiple devices to meet your needs.

However, Tascam have a line of great stand alone devices for your purpose.

I have the CD GT2 and have found it indispensable, it is without a doubt the best music related purchase I've ever made in terms of improving my skill level.

http://tascam.com/product/cd-gt2/

It is completely portable, I have used mine on long bus rides & camping trips.

The newest model is mp3 based and also has recording functions:
http://tascam.com/product/gb-10/

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Everyone so far has offered software solutions but as I read it you want to practice using your amp and effects pedals rather than substitute with an software based amp sim so I would suggest getting a cab emulator such as the Two Notes Torpedo CAB and run a line out from your amp bypassing the amps internal speaker, use the cab simulator to emulate your own amp (eg. 1x12" combo, 2x12" cab etc) and choose a mic setup that sounds the most natural to you. Then run the output from the Torpedo into your Audio Interface for your laptop and use a DAW or whatever to play the track while monitoring the input from the Torpedo so that you can alter levels. Just an idea.

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