First large gigs with a Macbook pro and Mainstage

Discussion in 'Digital & Modeling Gear' started by gbtommasi, May 3, 2016.

  1. gbtommasi

    gbtommasi Member

    Dec 18, 2006
    Rome, Italy, Old Europe
    So, I have been toying with my Macbook pro and Mainstage for almost two years... I made some small gigs using this computer-based setup, but did not really trusted it to use in larger venues… Until a week ago, when we had a mini tour around Italy, and for the first time I left my amps, pedals and other stuff at home and relied only on my mac-based new setup.

    I already had experience of going direct, since I have been using a Palmer PDI-03 extensively, but always had a real amp on a real stage...

    Setting things up wasn't easy... Mainstage can be a real pain, the programming time can be huge, as the capability of this app are. Anyway, this is my new (stereo) setup:

    Guitar (radial dragster) --> Apogee Duet 2 --> Macbook Pro mid '14 running Mainstage (plugins: Thermionik and S-Gear for amps and modulations, Recabinet 5 with OH IRs, Bias FX for dirt/dynamic pedals, Guitar Rig 5 for wah and delays). I also tried Eventide H3000 Factory plugin for delays, which is really nice, but I am not going to use it anymore since it’s a bit tricky to program, I prefer to keep things as simple as possible.

    Pedalboard is a Voodo Lab Ground Control Pro, with two Ernie Ball expression pedals (one for volume, one for wah/whammy)

    I had no dedicated FRFR monitors for guitar, just asked for two monitors (with stereo mix) on stage at every venue. Worked great: I thought that on large stages I did not really hear my amp anyway, since it was placed too far from me (or even in the backstage), so it is pretty the same here... I just hear the monitors. I have to try IEM...

    Here are my impressions:

    Weight / ease of lugging: here, such a setup wins hands down. No weight, little real estate on stage, everything is setup in less than 10 minutes, and everything is packed in less than 10 minutes after the gig.

    Reliability: Mainstage is rock-solid, and did not had a glitch, or a pop, nothing at all, with buffer at 128 samples and less than 8ms of roundtrip latency, which I really didn’t noticed. I could have set it even to 32 and virtually no latency - <4ms - , but i felt safer giving the CPU a LOT of headroom. But… in two gigs a preset (the same preset) did not produce any sound and I had to switch to another one… this is a programming error, but I could not figure out what the hell was going wrong, so I just lived with it. It’s the price of Mainstage complexity… On the other hand, MIDI implementation is beautiful, and going from one preset to another is as fast as it can be… spillover happens smoothly, very musical, and you can even control the time you want the previous patch delays and reverbs to go on over the new one before being silenced. I set this to 3 seconds, more than enough. I use Instant access button on GCP to turn on and off effects dynamically on the patches as I change presets, so that I could use aliases in MS and switch effects on and off depending on the song, directly from the preset on the pedalboard. Using aliases reduces the CPU usage, and has other benefits also.

    Tones: well, this mostly depends on the plugins you are using… and I have to say I am really satisfied… One of the gigs have been recorded and I will try to post something as soon as I can make a decent mix. But it was really good IMO. Again, tones are subjective and you can craft virtually anything with this setup. You can decide to use a different plugin for every sound, or just rely on one. I kept things as simple as I could given the number and tonal requirements of the songs in the setlist, and I just used two cleans, two crunches and two leads, aliased in the MS songs so that any change to anyone of them reflects to all the aliases, and I don’t have to reprogram 15 or 20 songs just because I changed the mids in one of the crunch presets, for instance. Of course, patches volumes and sends, as well as screen controls mapping, are always independent and patch-related. One word for S-gear and Thermionik, which you probably all know. If you don’t, give them a try, demo versions are fully functional for a period of time. They are very different and honestly amazing… the vintage flavor of S-gear and the authentic emulation of some amps in Thermionik (including, yes, the hiss and noise of a cranked plexi, if you ever tried one you know what I am talking about) are just to be heard, and used. I can effectively use guitar volume to clean up crunches, or to smooth tone. It works perfectly and both S-Gear and Thermionik react very well to dynamics. Finally, one word for these new Ownhammer Marshall multicab IRs also, that are just *wonderful*.

    Well I guess this is basically the same kind of experience many of you guys may have with hardware modelers, just I did not use any. Why? Because I had a beast Mac, and thought that given the money I spend on it, and that I already had tons of plugins, I could even give it a try instead of spending another 2-3 grands on an Axe or KPA J. Moreover, it was a nice challenge to set this stuff up and running… and the faces of my band mates the first time I showed off at rehearsals with a computer were just priceless! And they were right… first rehearsals were a nightmare under any point of view, but I am stubborn, you know... eventually they started to like the tones, now they love them.

    Just a final note: I posted this so that if anyone has similar experiences, curiosities on this setup or just different impressions, they can come and share/ask, and we can even point out the pros and cons of using hardware modelers/profilers against computer based modelers. I did not imply this setup to be better than an Axe, or KPA, or Helix, or whatever (actually, I don’t think it is)…


    Last edited: May 3, 2016
  2. fernubio

    fernubio Member

    Aug 31, 2016
    Hello, very nice post. I want to know what is the configuration of your mac (amount of memory, storage, processor). I´m thinking in setup Mainstage with Logic.

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