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My ultimate Studio/Live RIg. Cheap? You decide.

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How cheaply can I put together a minimalist (sort of) do EVERYTHING home studio that doubles as a touring rig.


Extremely easily provided cheap is relative. And all these amounts are in Australian dollars.


Hoping the end result of this journey is useful to any of you wondering how to maximise your setup.


So, in some rough order, what I purchased, why, for roughly how much, and what it can do.


First purchase was a Line6 Variax JTV-59. Bought it for the ability to use alternate tunings on the fly as I could not afford multiple guitars. It should be noted the guitar modelling was a bonus, not the main reason for purchase. Bought used from a dealer in Brisbane for $1200


Already had the M-Audio Fast Track interface, cost me about $100 from a dealer in Canberra in 2011.


The Shure SM-58 was even older, couldn’t swear to it, but I think it cost around $150 new at the time.


So now I own:


(A) a bunch of completely customisable virtual guitars (electric, acoustic, banjo, sitar, etc) with a bunch of completely customisable virtual tunings.


(B) An interface that effectively DI’s guitar (or keyboard if you’re so inclined) as well as vocals with adjustable gain and output.


(C) A highly respected industry standard vocal microphone.


I won’t bore you with the computer build, but back in 2017, to upgrade my Mac Pro to Mojave REQUIRED the purchase of a Radeon RX580 (specifically this card, I’m not kidding!) Which happens to have 5 Video outputs, And that’s when I started to think about how to set this whole thing up.


Anyway, my Mac Pro cost a bit under $2,400 start to finish 18 months ago and should frankly see me through for quite a long time to come. It also runs 3 dummy accounts in the background which feed 3 individual iTunes libraries to different AppleTV’s. Partially why I’m a bit trapped in the Apple walled garden. Please note that I have an extensive background in Apple hardware and software, so I designed accordingly. But this system would work equally well with a PC based setup at significantly less cost, so if you’re a PC guy, adjust the figure accordingly.


So that’s $3,600 so far. Not pocket change, but far cheaper than any equivalent multiple guitar setup.


Next was the Bass. Always, repeat, ALWAYS wanted the Kubicki. (Stu Hamm you ruined me you horror show of a bassist, LOL!) Way out of my price range, so I cheated. I bought a 30 year old unauthorised Japanese prototype (Google it, it was a pretty much a literal world class screw up in communication) gutted the electronics and bought all original pickups, hardware and electrics directly from Karla at Kubicki. Who had no problem with what I was doing whatsoever, for the purists screaming foul at this point. An absolutely lovely lady who did everything she could to help me realise my little dream. So go buy stuff from her.


Anyway, the entire exercise came to $2,200. Again, not pocket change. But hey, for your DREAM vintage bass, with genuine BRAND NEW electronics… well, you do the subjective math. But at the end of the day, this system works with the cheapest bass guitar you’re happy to play, so again, adjust the figures accordingly.


So it’s $5,800. And with Garage Band on a powerful Mac, jamming along to iTunes is happening, and the basics are all happening.


But I want more… more, more, hahahaha!


I then decided on the Helix LT. Why? From a background of pretty much everything electrical, AV, Hi-Fi or IT based from a VERY early age, here’s one of the few across the board statements I subscribe to… “Buy the best you can afford and don’t upgrade until it dies!” This is my second pedalboard. Ever. My first was THE first. The Boss ME-5, and yes I still own it and yes it still works as well as it ever did. THAT”S why.


So why Helix and not Kemper, Headrush, Custom Board, etc ad nauseam? A number of reasons.


(A) Drives the Variax power and software via a Cat6 Neutrik lead.


(B) Effects remain compact, easily accessible, instantly portable.


(C) Amp and Cab sims at a top level tier. The Kemper/Helix debate rages, personally I’ve come to my own conclusion that they’re slightly different beasts and if you’re the type who truly needs the n’th level of modelling accuracy then you should probably own both. Or pay more attention to your actual playing and composing than the whole ’tone wars’ silliness. IR’s for cabs are easily used as well.


(D) Enough inputs and outputs. My system is for 90% home use, 10% for taking to a mates house. Didn’t see any possible future need for more I/O or scribble strips on the Helix Floor for my application. And I already had a headphone amp and microphone interface. YMMV.


So $1500 and a brand new Helix is mine, coincidentally from the same dealer in Canberra I bought the M-Audio interface from all those years ago. I’m in Maitland, go figure.


Total so far, $7,300. For any guitar, any tuning, any amp, any cab, any effect in any order, any mic at essentially any distance and all recordable and portable.


So fleshing this system out was an ALTO 3000w PMPO (Lord knows what it’s ACTUAL wattage is, I literally laughed when I saw that.) $400 on special.


$7,700. Now I’m playing live… figuratively anyway.


The balanced headphone amp is not, strictly speaking, necessary. I’ve had it for at least 10 years. There is a 1/4” out headphone jack on the LT, but since I route ALL audio through the Helix, it made sense to use Hi-Fi cans through the balanced amp for listening purposes, and studio cans direct to the Helix for mixing and mastering purposes. Use what you have.


And yeah, this is a cheat. Because the monitors were actually given to me by a friend who used to use them in his DJ’ing days in Ibiza (a clever front to cover his 3 year secret mission of ridding the world of cocaine one line at a time... he failed, but we remain thankful of the sacrifices he made for our safety!) :)


$200 got me three 19” Lenovo monitors which sit above the main 32”, and a 24” which sits on the desk return with the HELIX. The 32” I’ve had for years.


The monitor stand is literally a pice of sanded scrap plank with three $15 Bunnings monitor brackets screwed to it. I got an offcut of 35x90 pine, cut the base and uprights (3. Main upright centered in line with the base crossmember. Screw the 2nd and 3rd upright front and rear to both the main (1st) upright and the base crossmember itself. Creating a 90 x 105 post footprint.) Then connect the monitor board to the main upright at the appropriate height to clear your main monitor and leave just enough space to top mount a webcam. The advantage here is it puts the 3 Lenovo’s at eye height when I play standing up.


The webcam is also not necessary, strictly speaking but I owned it and it has obvious uses. And this setup is quite capable of podcasting at a pro level as well.


Using Hydrogen as a drum program, says drums, bass, guitar, and vocals, all taken care of.


$8000 even. And it could stop there. But lets go for the brass ring! (You’ll see what I did there in a minute)


Picked up an LTD EC-10 for $200. Why? Because it’s Gibson (24.5”) scale, same as the Variax, but has 24 frets, for those times you want the high notes. Plus I use it for Rocksmith 2014 on an old x-box 360. Great little learning tool. I then (literally) bolted a $300 Floyd Rose FRX surface mount floating tremolo and lock nut system. (As an aside, I may yet switch to locking tuners, Jury still out.)


$8,500 and I now have a backup guitar that does the only two things the Variax can’t. I don’t particularly care about electronics as this guitar is for a different purpose.


I also picked up a Schecter bass with bowed neck for $50. Got a luthier going to replace the rod for (quoted $400) at some point because it’s a 32”  scale and a 24 fret neck.

Exactly the same as the Kubicki. Even the profiles the same. No laminate neck though. :(  And I will be setting it up for BEAD tuning.


By using Jam Origin’s Midi Guitar 2 Synthesiser software (and Midi Bass 1.2 Synthesiser software) for $150, I can use ANY of my instruments through the Fast Track interface for a dry guitar or bass signal to the synthesiser as either a standalone program (I do it this way to spread out the processing power being used) or if you run less cores it can be installed as a plugin to your DAW.


It can also be used in conjunction with the Helix to take advantage of the Helix effects chain.


Your guitar or bass is now… well, anything really. Drums, Piano, Keyboard, Synths, Horns (Cause you can’t have a brass ring without a brass section! See!) even further guitar and amp/effect modelling including alternate tunings.


$8,700 and into the home stretch.


To take advantage of the synth abilities in a live situation, there’s a iOS version, which costs $50USD I think? And can be run with old iPhone direct to the helix. There’s 3 or 4 youtube videos where a guy walks you through it live. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4K_Kuqdwtw


So allow $300 for the software, cables and decent old iPhone. Or maybe just a $300 laptop to run the desktop version


$9000 and I believe you have the ability to write, record, mix and master any instrument at a professional level.


The desk is a $50 gumtree corner desk I cut down to suit. The entire ’Studio’ is exactly 2 meters square (20 square feet).


They’re my monitor stands for the moment… Don’t you judge me!!!


$9,000 is a fair chunk of change. But as an apples to apples comparison that’s about the same money as a serious entry level piano. A single cello at this level sells for between $15,000 to $30,000 in Sydney (googling it as I type this).


And as mentioned throughout, a lot of alternatives (PC, instrument quality) could bring the overall price down considerably.


It’s not cheap. Its just ridiculously inexpensive in the bang for buck department. For a system that, as far as I can tell, do just about anything. It may not be everyones perfect setup… but she’ll do me.


I’m attaching pics of the Rig itself and an (I believe) complete flowchart of my connections and workflow.


I just turned 50. So hopefully this lasts me as long as my ME-5 has.


Hope this helps people. Happy to answer questions.















Home Studio and Live Setup.png

Because, OK?.JPG

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Good share - informative - TY. So I see 5 video screens. How does that work? 5 PCs?


I have two laptops available and was thinking on to run the Helix and one to run the DAW. They are both I7 processors but the DAW still gets funky sometimes. I was thinking both Helix Native on one pc - so much cheaper. But then I tht maybe Helix LT instead since it has its own processor. 



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You certainly don't NEED 5 screens, or a $2200 bass, or a $2400 Mac. 


"the ability to write, record, mix and master any instrument at a professional level. "

Mix and master?  in a room that seems to have no acoustic treatment, a corner set up and small monitor speakers?  Sure, headphones can take the 'room' out of the equation, but getting a mix to translate to other listening systems takes a fair amount of work and the better your monitoring set up, the easier it is.  Those JBLs have a low end response of 80Hz, so you can't even hear the bottom octave of a bass guitar (or kick drum, etc).

I'm sure your set up is working well for you, but looking at better monitors, and a better room set up, should be your next endeavor.

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Hey ColeK98,


The 5 screens run off a single RX580, the gpu Apple basically forced me to buy. I figured may as well use the thing, monitors are dirt cheap at this level. All 5 cost less than $500 total.


Your laptop doesn't run the helix. The whole point of the helix is that IT does most of the heavy lifting, the PC/Mac is for DAW/Apps. Partially why I went the LT over native.


My thoughts.... like I said, Helix LT and PC of choice, but tip to DAW users, single core speeds, nowhere near as important as multiple cores. If I was building a PC I'd be leaning toward 6-8 core Ryzens. Amazing bang for buck.


Hope that helps.

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Hey fflbrgst (obviously you need to clean your keyboard so it stops sticking.)


Now that's a perfect example of commenting on something I don't have a clue about and stating an assumptions rather than asking a question. Obviously your title means something.


Bit like your own assumption really.  "in a room that seems to have no acoustic treatment". LOL


APART from the fact that the "window' you see next to the desk is one of four in the room completely sealed externally and completely acoustic panelled, covered by a lace curtain for WAF. Apart from the fact that all the grey trim curtains are actual cinema cloth velvet that do an amazing job at stopping bass running down the walls. Apart from the ceiling treatment and bass traps in the three corners of the room not visible from the photo. Apart from the fact the 'Room' my little studio is in is a self contained portable 18sqm site office made completely from foam insulation with surprisingly good soundproofing from external noise. Apart from all these facts is this one. Except for a vocal microphone, no other input is affected by room acoustics. EVERYTHING else is DI.  The reason for the treatment is for playback on the listening system setup at the other end of the room setup in a theatre layout, with the lounge facing away from the recording end at just under the 2/3 room length mark.


As far as the monitors go, sorry, but on this one you're just wrong. That's not debatable, I have them in front of me, you have a specification sheet. It does both bass guitar (My main instrument) and kick drum just fine. If it WAS a problem, I would use the balanced headphone amp (Little Dot Mk VII) but the JBL's are fine. They're not the greatest monitors... but the Helix LT is not the greatest board, and the... you know what, NONE of my stuff is 'the best', but as a system, particularly (and here's the kicker) a HOME HOBBY SYSTEM, its more than comparable to an entry level studio, and lord knows I've spent enough time in crappy studios over the years to make the comparison. Sure I'd like a nicer pair, but that's a want, not a need.


If you've got legitimate questions on why I did or didn't do something a certain way, (and I sincerely hope you do, because legitimate questions from a knowledgeable power user like yourself quite frequently leads me to alternatives that may not have otherwise occurred to me) I would be more than happy to discuss potential weaknesses or improvements.


Until then, I'll go back to cherry picking all the good knowledge bits from people like yourself on here. Have a good one.



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Ok, KBX, whatever.  You show one picture of a corner set up, then 'say' you have all this other stuff.  Velvet curtains and foam do not absorb bass - unless you've got about 24" thick foam, that is. They will absorb high and mid-high frequencies, which is what most people hear as problems.  The low end 'mud' won't be noticeable until you listen back on a system that reproduces them correctly.  I am talking about monitoring (listening) to the music/mix - all this is far less important than when tracking via mic.  Corners are notorious for bouncing around low frequencies - even that 'corner' where the bureau is on the right side of your desk will bounce around sound.

Hearing bass and kick on those monitors?  No, you are hearing the harmonics of the low frequencies, not the actual low frequencies - it's physics, you can't argue with science.  Look at the frequency curves for the speakers, they can't reproduce the low notes.

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