4. Turn Your Laptop into a Virtual Guitar Amp
Here's one of the most fun uses for an old laptop: turning it into a guitar-ripping audio workstation! Now, one word of caution at this point -- audio recording does require a fast PC with loads of RAM; using an older laptop that might not have the fastest processor will still work for basic MIDI programming, connecting an audio interface and controlling a virtual amp, or for basic track recording in a sequencer, but for full multi-track audio recording we recommend a high-end rig with a fast hard drive.
Line 6 makes a great UBS audio interface that comes with virtual amp software.
To turn a laptop into an amp, you need three main components: a way to connect the guitar or other instruments, speakers that provide enough power for your axe, and virtual amp software. We prefer the Line6 POD Studio UX1 audio interface ( http://line6.com/podstudioux1/ ) because it is simple to use, works well with Windows, and is just heavy enough to sit flat on your desk when you connect up your Fender. The POD also comes with a free program called POD Farm for emulating common amps, such as the Marshall JCM-800. For speakers, you will want to use something better than the small desktop speakers that came with your PC. We used a set of Alesis M1 Active MKII speakers. Make sure the speakers use quarter-inch cables to connect up to the audio interface. If your speakers use thin 3.5mm speaker cables or even a USB connection, be careful because your guitar can overpower them.
Riffworks T4 is the free version of the Sonoma Wire Works virtual amp software.
Next, for virtual amp software, the best program we've found is Sonoma Wire Works RiffWorks T4 Free ( www.sonomawireworks.com/T4 ). This app works similar to POD Farm but offers recording features and the ability to feed audio loops and recordings to other programs. For MIDI recording and track recording, the best app to use is Reaper ( www.reaper.fm ) which is available as a free trial. For Linux users, you can use Ardour ( www.ardour.org ) which is an open source tool.
Reaper is an outstanding digital audio workstation tool that works well for MIDI and audio recording.
We used an Acer 5738PG-6306 laptop for setting up the audio station. The basic setup requires that you connect the UX1 to your laptop using a USB cable. Next, run quarter-inch cables out to the speakers. Connect your guitar, a microphone, or a MIDI keyboard to the quarter-inch input on the front of the UX1. Run POD Farm or Riffworks and set up the virtual amp software by choosing an amp and setting effects. There are large buttons on the top of the UX1 for controlling volume levels. Once you have it all set up, you can use Riffworks to record audio and make MP3s and crank out some guitar riffs.
One quick way to turn an old laptop into an audio workstation is to install the Ubuntu Studio ( www.ubuntostudio.org ), which has many of the latest audio tools, plug-ins, and libraries for create MIDI and recorded audio tracks.