My New Live Looping Rig: Total “Faylor”

I haven’t posted any new video in months and months. It’s not just laziness or business, though I suffer from both. I’ve just been locked away in my studio, trying to create a new live looping system.

I still haven’t nailed it down, so I’m not going to get into a complete run-down yet. But here are the basic ideas.

I’ve moved from a hardware looper to software looping. When I started this godforsaken looping project years ago, I’d just finished a lot of work on Apple’s then-new MainStage software. At the time, the program’s looper simply wasn’t reliable enough for live performance. Also, my intense signal processing was pushing my MacBook Pro to its limits. But since then, the program has gone through many upgrades. Meanwhile, after years of relative stagnation, Apple finally issued a major MacBook Pro upgrade in 2017. Between the more powerful computer and the refined software, I could finally shift looping and signal processing to the computer. Yeah, there are a couple of disadvantages. For one thing, MainStage’s looper lacks a “copy” function, something I’ve come to rely on a great deal in my arrangements. But it sure is nice not having to run the entire mix through the relatively cheap hardware looper convertors — just the snazzy ones in my Apollo interface. (Of course, now that I’ve transitioned, Electro-Harmonix has just announced a compelling-looking 6-track looper. I’ll have to check that out…)

I’ve put aside for now the Fishman TriplePlay MIDI pickup. I have no complaints about TriplePlay, which is far and away the best MIDI pickup ever created, and a product I recommend without reservation. But I wanted to be free from the hardware setup. This way, I can plug in any guitar, any time. (I’ve been experimenting with acoustic looping — more on that soon.) I’m still using MIDI sounds, but again, it’s all in software via Jam Origin’s brilliant MIDI Guitar plugin. It works incredibly well without a MIDI pickup, but it’s not nearly as fast as TriplePlay. It’s fine for doubling, or for melodic and textural stuff, but it’s just not speedy enough to play MIDI drums at even moderate tempos. Which bring me to the other big departure …

I confess: I’m playing to a drum machine. I’m triggering and changing patterns using a KMI !2 Step foot controller. I really wrestled with this decision. I loved the idea of using no machine tempos — it all came from the hands. But at some point I realized that the main reason I was committed to that approach was for bragging rights: “No prerecorded tracks, and no machine rhythms” I could boast. But who cares except geeks like me? Anyway, I still have misgivings about the change, but I’m going with it for now. I think that means, though, that I’ll create more arrangements without percussion, just so I’m not locked to the machine for an entire set.

Meanwhile working with a tempo clock lets me do fun stuff with synchronized effects. I’m especially besotted with Sugar Bytes’s Effectrix, a mind-bending multi-effector that lets you activate and edit effects on a note-by-note basis. You hear it a lot in the “solo” in this video.

I’ve played a few shows with the new setup. The first one was flawed but promising. The second was an unmitigated disaster. Then I doubled up on practicing and (not kidding) started meditating again, which helped a lot. Last time I tried this live, it went really well! We’ll see how it goes at my gig this week.

Anyway, it’s still a work in progress. I’ll keep the curious updated.

I played this cover tune with no irony whatsoever. I love the original.

12 comments to My New Live Looping Rig: Total “Faylor”

  • gilles sy

    Great !
    Thanks for this update about your rig.
    I hope that that you will explain soon how you are using the 12+10 KMI pads…
    And sorry, but I was not able to find what is the original tune covered here ?
    Thanks again !
    Your demos are always a huge driving force for me !

    • MoerkB

      That’s Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’. Hence the joke in the title.

      Search for Jamie Oliver (yes, the chef) and Swift on the interwebs (“bake it off!”).

  • Oinkus

    Very cool stuff Joe , change is really hard when you have been using something as long as you have. Did not happen overnight either. Pretty good setup and it will improve with use , it is not like you automatically could use the Boomerang instantly the first time you turned it on too.

  • Bloody brilliant Joe! I loved that, so many textures. You make live looping look so easy and also interesting to watch. I always have trouble getting the loop to join up, I just can’t seem to get the beat right. Do you have any advice on that?

    BTW I have a Lollar gold foil on order and I plan to look in to the ‘doesn’t clean up’ mystery.

    • Joe Gore

      Thanks for saying so, Terry. But my god, running that looping rig is the greatest technical challenge I’ve faced since my mom taught be the F chord when I was 11. Different loopers loop differently. (That sentence is almost a palindrome!) It may depend on mechanics of the switch. Accuracy seems to be easier with soft-touch relays than traditional click switches. Boomerangs always seem to be on the players side in that regard. Maybe experiment with a few other mechanisms? Please, let me know what you uncover regarding the gold foil. I’ll definitely share your findings with Jason Loller and Kent Calvert of Roadhouse Pickups, who did the cool new Supro pickups.

  • What’s the deal with the mini house PA System on this video – set dressing or in use here? Love the Mooncaster and the take on Taylor. Just bought some Stew Mac Golden Age Lipstick Humbuckers and will fit them into a double cut Telecaster with a Warmoth wide neck (I have big hands) 1 and 7/8th nut. I learned to play on a classical neck. Took me a long time to make electric necks work for me – still trying. Sometimes the best notes are the so-called clams. Great work Joe. Inspirational. Keep it coming.

    • joe

      They’re Fishman SA300s. There’s a subwoofer on the floor. I’ve been using them for my digital shows, running straight out of my audio interface to play material like this. They replace the two Fishman LoudBoxes I’d been using. (Those were great, but these are epic.) But ironically, you don’t hear them here because I plugged straight into the studio computer to record this performance.

  • Ian Mason

    Thanks for the details, (scant as you may think they are), and sorry if I hit a hidden nerve on FB when I asked about syncing with the drums… I’m aware you’re linked to Mac, and I’m glad to see the new setup (in a way), makes things a little less complicated.
    Lately, I have been listening almost non-stop, (on loop – seriously), David Torn’s Was fur ein Tag on Soundcloud, that you linked to here, and thus ended up on youtube checking out some of his other stuff. Searching for more info, particularly on his curernt guitar, led me to Ronin. I don’t know if you’ve experienced them close up, but from what I can hear, their “foilbuckers” do clean up, and retain the goldfoil characteristics, but are actually some kind of bastard humbucker/goldfoil love child.
    Man, I’m wishing for a pot of gold, so I could throw it their way in exchange for a Mirari, or Morning Star, fully specced!

  • Merciful fishhooks! those Ronin guitars really put the Boo! in boutique. Hofner teacup knobs are obviously a key ingredient. I really wonder how they get away with their machined billet aluminium pickup covers. A ring of relatively thick aluminium like that acts as a shorted turn around the pickup and normally results in tone destroying eddy currents. If all their pickups use two coils in a humbucker configuration, the case forming a shorted turn around the outside of both coils isn’t so much of an issue. I have to admit though that the demos sound fabulous.

    • Joe Gore

      I can’t explain why it sounds good, Terry — but I can testify that it does, especially in Torn’s hands. He makes the most of the microphonic aspects. It’s a unique sound for a unique player.

  • ToFF

    Hi Joe,
    maybe best software looping will be for you.

    • joe

      Thanks for showing me that — I hadn’t heard of it. It looks cool! It wouldn’t work for me, because I need something that can run as an audio unit plugin, not a standalone app. Still, I’m eager to investigate.

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