NOTE: Yes, this is a lot of text. You can read it for your own enjoyment, or just look at the pictures, or watch a Youtube video I made of the project: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdxbemSbjYI&fmt=18. Also, I accidentally posted this in the electric guitar forum before, so here it goes in the correct section.

I've always liked messing around with audio cables and plugging odd things together to create an improvised sound system. One time I hooked up two sets of speakers, a boom box, and a TV to a CD player with one headphone jack

When I first started playing guitar, I only had a crappy Dean Markley starter amp that I hated. Eventually I got tired of using it and used things from around the house to improvise my own digital amplifier using my desktop computer. I used my computer amp for months before I got a Roland Micro Cube. Today I recreated my original desktop amp so that I could share it with others. I hope you at least enjoy reading about it, and if you happen to be strapped for cash and have the right parts, maybe you could even make your own!

There are many different ways you could create a similar sound system, but the most important part here is a good sound card that includes real-time effects you can apply to an incoming signal from the microphone port. Here is what I used:

*Desktop PC with Sound Blaster Live! A400 digital sound card (not pictured)
*Sound Blaster USB sound card
*1/8th inch male-to-RCA male audio adapter cable
*RCA male-to-1/8th inch female adapter cable
*1/4th inch male-to-1/8th inch female adapter (they come with many headphones)
*Standard 1/8th inch male-to-male audio cable (not pictured)

(This is not in any way an advertisement for any company, it just happened I had two Sound Blaster cards.)

If you are lost in the terminology, 1/8th inch is also called "minijack" and is what most headphones use. 1/4th inch (usually "quarter-inch") is what guitars use. RCA is what most video game consoles and DVD players use, with (normally) a red jack and a white jack. Male means it has a pointy jack and female means it has a hole for a male jack to plug into. Yep, that's actual terminology.

My setup uses the Sound Blaster Live! card in my desktop, along with its software, to do the final amplification and effects and output to speaker. The USB sound card is actually just a preamp I used to feed a usable audio signal to the Live! card - the computer isn't actually using it as the sound card. I will explain this process better shortly, but you don't have to have a USB sound card - just anything that you can use as a preamp to get an audible guitar signal to the computer (including a regular guitar amp with a headphone or out jack).

First I plugged the 1/4 inch-to-1/8th-inch adapter into the guitar. Next I took the 1/8th-inch to RCA cable that is male on both ends, plugged the 1/8th inch end into the adapter in the guitar, and plugged the RCA ends into the RCA "Line In" ports in the USB sound card. I used plugged the RCA ends of the other adapter cable into the "Line Out" ports, and then plugged the 1/8th inch audio cable into the female end of the adapter.

Sorry, that's a confusing explanation, and the picture doesn't help much because you can't see the other ends of the RCA adapter cables. You will probably be able to see what is going on better in a later image.

Anyway, then I plugged the USB sound card into the desktop. The next step is important if you use a USB sound card preamp as I did - you need to go to "Sounds and Audio Devices" in the Control Panel (or right click on the sound icon in the system tray and choose "adjust audio properties"). Then in the Audio tab, you must change the default "sound playback" and "sound recording" devices back to the desktop's internal sound card (for me, the Live! card).

This way the USB sound card gets power to amplify the guitar signal but the computer will still read the sound from the "microphone" jack in the desktop sound card.

Here is the complete setup:

This is enough to give you a "clean" sound (it might have static or hiss depending on your preamp, your guitar, and your sound card). Personally, I think it's rather bland like that, so I used the special effects that come with the Sound Blaster Live! software. The effects are found in the "AudioHQ" "EAX Control Panel" with the Live! card. There are many effects are used in electric guitar, including distortion, wah, reverb, flanger, and chorus. Here's a screenshot of how the distortion effect is set up.

Unfortunately, the software will not let you have very many simultaneous effects because it is too CPU intensive.

That's about it! I hope you enjoyed reading about my endeavor.
Last edited by thelonesoldier at Dec 10, 2008,
That's actually pretty neat.
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Quote by Kyle-Rehm
Please don't tell me I'm the only one that clicked this thread thinking I would learn how to make my guitar sound like a grizzly bear.
That's pretty cool actually.
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sounds too digital.


no i'm just kidding xD I always thought it'd be kinda neat if someone made a computer based LIVE guitar rig. haul in a 4x12, a tube poweramp and a laptop, being able to switch FX on the fly with midi or something.
Grammar and spelling omitted as an exercise for the reader.
Thanks, everyone!

Quote by sunnyloko
maybe the wires cost that =P

Well, they just happened to be lying around the house. That's half the fun of improvised equipment! Seeing what you can make without buying anything.

Quote by Kivarenn82
sounds too digital.

*beats you to death with a modelling amp*

Quote by Kivarenn82

no i'm just kidding xD

:P: Haha, yeah. It does sound somewhat digital compared to most amps (even modelling amps, which don't really sound digital to my ear...) but there are advantages to this as well. With a ring modulator effect and a few others you can make dial tones and R2-D2ish droid beeps and oldschool video game noises. I should make another video to demonstrate that...

Quote by Kivarenn82
I always thought it'd be kinda neat if someone made a computer based LIVE guitar rig. haul in a 4x12, a tube poweramp and a laptop, being able to switch FX on the fly with midi or something.

Yeah, I'd like to do that sometime. If I ever am good enough to do gigs . I have a few different ideas for pedals or effects controllers.
If you're not getting enough gain, you should totally just daisy-chain some solid state amps with headphone jacks together. Remember: Need gain? Use a chain!
Quote by Normul
You spell things like a jackass
Last edited by thelonesoldier at Dec 10, 2008,