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A couple of years ago, I brought a cheap Yamaha electric guitar (a pacifica 112j). The guitar is a pretty solid beginner level budget guitar, and was a very good start. Unfortunately, I had to run it through a cheap multi-effects processor and listen to it through my laptop's output speakers. This was good enough for me when I first started playing, but as I'm getting better, I'm finding that my rig is very lacking in both tone and output sound quality.

I'm not looking for anything high-end, but want something that sounds moderately good. I was thinking I could upgrade my guitar's hardware (pickups, bridge, tuners, etc.) and then getting a better multi-effects board (probably a Line 6 POD model). My biggest problem is with the output: Do I get a guitar amp, or can I settle with a high-end set of computer speakers (such as the logitech Z623)? I'm mostly a hobby player, so I don't want anything too loud, but still want something that can give me a high-quality sound.

I guess my question is what's the best way to set up a budget-priced, bedroom guitar rig? Amplifiers? Cabinets? A set of computer speakers? Do I need a specific set of audio cards for my laptop, or should I stick to running my guitar away from a personal computer?

  • Even if you are not in a band, go for a 15(-ish) tube amp. Your sound quality will be improven drasitally. Also, why not buy a new guitar? It's always nice to have a backup guitar :). – Valentin Grégoire Feb 4 '15 at 9:20
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I suggest you play your guitar through a real amp/effects setup as-is before deciding to start changing the guitar itself... you may find the guitar is still fine and you just need a multi-FX unit and a cheap practice amp. Can you take it into a local store and try things out, or do you have friends with better kit, you can take your guitar round their houses?

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I'd ask myself… do I ever want to turn this into a recording setup, or am I only wanting to play 'live'?

If you want to record, then invest in good speakers for the compy & maybe look at [if you're keen on Line 6 & there's no reason not to be] a UX1 or UX2 audio interface, which contains all the 'Pod' effects, both 'in the box' & also as VST plugins for your recording setup, plus is a USB audio interface, 2 in, 2 out, + headphones.

If you want to play 'live' either on your own or eventually with a band etc, then I'd look at a dedicated guitar amp - which is a whole subject in itself.

To clarify…
'Better speakers' could be anything from the Logitech Z623 you mentioned, right up to something like the Dynaudio BM6A that I use at home, or onwards & upwards til your bank manager weeps...
&
'a live amp' could be anything from a tiny 10W practise amp to a Marshall stack;)

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Guitar amps are "the right tool for the job" because if you buy anything else, you're simulating a guitar amp anyway. Trouble is they can be pricy for a nice one, with good effects etc (if that's what you're after). Practicae amps are portable though, and some go quite loud so thye're handy if you want to move about or jam with anyone else.

If you're really not looking to play outside of said room, then a nice stereo setup might be a good idea, with an effect box to tame your guitar's output and turn it into something your speakers can handle. Guitars played through home stereo / pc speakers can ruin the speakers because of the the attack & dynamic range. You'd need somethign to tame the output a bit like a Compressor or Amp Simulator. The line6 device you mention would probably do the trick.

One added bonus of a stereo setup is that things like stereo chorus, phaser, reverb or ping-pong echo give the sound a huge depth which you may not (probably won't) get from a mono guitar amp. If you're paying quietly, such things can give the sound some oomph without it being louder - just sounds "bigger".

To me it seems inevitable that you'll eventually want to move on from something like PC speakers as you progress with your guitar playing, so if you do want to upgrade later, the speakers are just speakers (could be used elsewhere) and the line6 is good kit so would probably be useful with other amp setups in the future.

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I'm new to this forum but have been playing for over 20 years. It’s true that regular tube amps are great (I love them) but I also use Line6 amp-sim technology as well because it’s incredibly convenient. If you’re a hobby player (never want to play in a band?) the Line6 stuff is great. You can simulate any amp out there; some sound better than others. For example, I can get a perfect “The Seeker” (Who) sound with my Line6 POD, but the metal sounds aren’t as perfect. The presets are good and I rarely spend much time tweaking them (I do with the metal sounds however).

I’ve played gigs with it too; it works great but I’d use a POD pedalboard with an actual amp for the best of both worlds. Tons of possible amp sounds sent through a regular power amp to smooth it out.

If you’re just into home playing and recording it’s perfect (for most things). Just starting out? It will be a great thing to build on. You could probably do with a cheaper Line6 amp and drive it with a POD pedalboard. Running it through a good set of speakers is an option, but it’s nice to just turn on the amp and start wailing.

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It depends on what you want to accomplish:

There are basically two routes to go and a hybrid:

PC with Software

You use a VST host and do all the aplifiery bits (the tone shaping, distortion etc.) inside the computer in software.

Software wise you will need a VST host application of your choice (really, any will do), and effects, amplifier modelers and guitar cabinet modeler plugins.

There is both great free and commercial software for this out there: A good starting point would be the excellent free "le poulin" plugins together with effects plugins you may find googling for free "VST effects". Search the interwebs for "cabinet impulse files", which are basically models of guitar cabinets and can be used by most cabinet modeling software (I recommend Le poulin's "Lecab").

In your VST host the signal chain then goes something like this: Input -> Effects -> Amp -> Effects -> Cab simulator -> Effects -> Output Of course you are free to put any or none effects wherever you want (Reverb generally goes after cab simulator, while distortion goes before amp etc.).

If you want to foray into commercial software, there are three major contenders I know of: Amplitube (which also offers some of it's plugins free), Guitar Rig and Revalver. These come packaged with everything you need effects, amp and modeler wise. At least some of them can also be used in a standalone fashion (you just run the program, no VST plugin host needed).

Hardware wise you can run directly into your sound card, but you will have high latency issues and bad sound quality. You can get yourself a USB audio interface (essentially an external sound card) to alleviate this. They set you back about 130€ if you want a decent one (a cheap one might do the job, too).

Pros:

  • You can play with headphones or computer speakers and it will sound good at any volume.
  • Unlimited flexibility Layout wise. You can use each plugin multiple times without having to buy it again. You can do stuff like reverb after cabinet simulator where you would have to mic a cabined and record it to do in hardware.
  • Some of the free stuff is professional studio grade. Sound quality is way above practice amps.
  • Cheap.
  • You can easily record yourself, practice over it, write yourself some drum loops to play along etc. The sky is the limit. Perfect for improvising.
  • You are not locked into a limited number of sounds.

Cons:

  • Can't gig with it.
  • Suffers from feature overload. You tend to tinker more and play less.
  • Might be complicated if you are bad with computers.
  • Lacks the mojo.
  • Can't gig with it (well, you can, but I wouldn't. It's easier to just buy an amp).

The cheapo practice amp

You get yourself a little practice amp, like a roland cube, Line6, blackstar ID, etc. You can get additional pedals or multieffects units, though most such amps offer some built in effects. Not much to say here. Most of these also have headphone outs.

Pros:

  • Portable.
  • Easy to use.
  • Can gig or just go to a friend and play together.

Cons:

  • Takes more space.
  • Might not sound as good as software.
  • If you want additional good effects, you have to buy them.

The hybrid approach

Get yourself a little practice amp that has a USB audio out. Make sure that it has a "dry" output (that is, the unaltered guitar signal, basically acting as the audio interface). Now you can use both approaches with one device! Most of the newer practice amps have a USB output, I myself have a Yamaha THR-10, which does the job, but I have to confess that nowadays I only use it as an audio interface and never on it's own, as I have other physical amps when not at my PC.


It depends on what you are looking for, at least for my uses (which include recording and jamming with myself) the software setup is superior.

PS: If you use your PC's sound card to connect a guitar, get yourself the free ASIO4All driver. It's a low latency driver so the VST program can directly access your sound card. If you just use the regular driver, there is a noticeable delay between hitting a string and sound coming out of the speaker.

  • You definitely can gig with it. My iPad is my entire rig when I play - pedals and amp. And I know there are 'proper' performers who do this too for the convenience when travelling. With something like a MS Surface Pro you can have an entire powerful PC in a tablet form factor! – Mr. Boy Feb 4 '15 at 10:53
  • Yes, you can gig with it, but you will have to bring your own poweramp with speaker or completely depend on the venue having decent sound and monitoring. We are talking about a beginner here, so it's reasonable to assume that a possible venue (let's say a small bar) might not even have a sound system at all. There are also more points of failure, from recieving a skype message during a gig to the operating system crashing. – kmaibba Feb 5 '15 at 11:58
  • Fair point. However if you're providing your own PA you're going to need regular speakers anyway for the vocalist and maybe an acoustic guitar. So you can still just mix your modelled output into your own mini-mixer - one benefit is you can control the guitarist's volume :) – Mr. Boy Feb 5 '15 at 12:02

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