Solutions for guitar players
to start and stop their backing
tracks using a footswitch contol
Sadly there's much less call for bands nowadays. With good
backing tracks, a solo act can get just as good a sound as a
band and it's cheaper for the venue to pay one person rather
than pay a four or a six piece band.
Bands also often have a limited shelf life before they eventually
split (usually citing "artistic differences" which
really means they split up over arguments about money or women...usually
both)! Ok, I'm joking. Some band members just become too busy
with their other jobs or leave the band to pursue other careers.
Other members may move to another town or city (usually with
another band members wife). Take it easy, I'm joking again!
All light-heartedness aside, there are less bands around today
than there used to be which has prompted many ex-band members
strap their guitar over their shoulder and re-invent themselves
as a solo act. These guitar players use guitar
backing tracks to create the sound of a full band, playing
live guitar on top of the tracks.
But finding a solution which allows them the ability to start
and stop their backing tracks without taking their hands off
the guitar has always been a bit of a dilemma for guitar players.
The ideal solution would be some sort of footswitch which, when
pressed, will start or stop or pause the backing track.
At the time of writing I know
of a couple of solutions to this problem. They consist of start/stop
controls for a laptop, a minidisc, and the iPod.
Laptop and Minidisc Footswitch
I only play guitar in the studio these days, not live on stage,
but I regularly work with
a guitar playing friend of mine and over the years he has used
both a laptop with a footswitch and a minidisc player with a
footswitch to great effect.
These were not off-the-shelf solutions though. He employed a
local electronics engineer to create these start/stop footswitches
specially for him.
So first thing you should do is pop in to your local music shop
and have a word with the engineer there and ask him his advice.
If you explain exactly what you're trying to achieve with the
footswitch and the hardware you are curently using for playing
your backing tracks, he may just be able to advise you of an
off-the-shelf device that will do the job or he may be able
to build you a bespoke solution.
iPod Start Stop remote control
The start/stop workaround that I suggest for the iPod is not
actually a footswitch, so may not be entirely suitable for a
guitarists purposes. But don't write the idea off yet - read
on...it could still get around the problem of your hands needing
to be on your guitar.
The solution is a wireless
(RF) remote control which is small enough to stick on to
your guitar body (I suggest using a piece of double-sided velcro)
so it's within easy reach. Using this solution, you only need
to take your right hand off your guitar strings for a split
second to operate it.
This should work fine for
most songs because if you use good guitar backing tracks they
should all have count-in before the track starts which gives
you plenty of time to start your iPod and then move your hand
on to your guitar strings.
Similarly, at the end of
most songs you will most probably be sustaining a chord - normally
you would sustain the strings on your guitar with your left
hand while your right hand performs the last and final "strum",
leaving your right hand free stop the iPod via the remote velcroed
to your guitar body.
Even songs where there
is a bit of a "rall" or a busy guitar piece right
at the end where you will be playing some stuff over the final
bar, you should still have more than enough time to hit the
stop button on the iPod remote on your guitar. And even if you
don't, inserting one of our silent
songs for the iPod will give you that extra few seconds
Navigation and set lists
All three (laptop, minidisc deck, and iPod) allow you to navigate
between songs and make up pre-programmed sets etc.
The laptop certainly does this job better than the others. Queueing
up songs and organizing set lists is easier purely because of
the large size of its screen and the amount of software that's
available for laptops.
The minidisc deck is not so versatile when it comes to organizing
set lists, although you can move around the order of
backing tracks on a single minidisc to put them in to a particular
order. Just be careful if you're doing this - I know one singer
who did this and accidentally wiped his full disc! You see to
"move" the tracks around on a minidisc deck, you have
to unprotect the minidisc first because the page function you
call up on the deck to move a track uses a function which is
usually only available through the edit button and that same
edit button is also used to divide tracks, combine tracks, and
yes you've guessed, ERASE tracks too. Make one wrong slip and
you could be left with an empty minidisc in the machine!
The iPod has fantastic navigation
albeit a small screen. You can organize your tracks in to albums,
make up playlists, and also use the on-the-go playlist function
to make up a playlist literally seconds before you go on stage.
Little tips and tricks you can use is to give all your backing
tracks the same album name (e.g Kennys Trax) and
that'll keep them all in one single folder making them easy
to access during a gig. This helps keep your backing tracks
seperate from other music you may have in your iPod like background
music that you perhaps play during a gig break or even just
your own personal listening music.
An alternative tip to keep your
backing tracks seperate from the other music in your iPod is
to precede the name of every backing track with a particular
number or character so that they display together within the
big pool of music that's on your iPod and can be easily identified.
I can think of nothing worse happening than starting your backing
track of "Hey Jude" only to find you selected the
Beatles singing "Hey Jude" by mistake because you
had the original song AND the backing track on your iPod!
So an example of how to avoid this problem may be to label your
backing track 00My Way, 00New York New York, 00 Strangers in
the night (which means all your backing tracks will appear right
at the beginning of your list so you don't need to scroll too
far to select them during a gig). Another example may be traxMy
Way, traxNew York New York, traxStrangers in the night (you
get the idea).
For a list of backing tracks specially created for guitar players
with all the guitar parts removed (so you can play live along
with the track) have a look at our guitar
backing tracks secion.