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How to: Building a Whole-House Guitar Distribution System

Integrator uses standard multiroom audio system and some simple but clever engineering to distribute guitar riffs throughout the house. Planet Waves saves the day with MI connectors.


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Guitar plays through the whole-house audio system; just plug it into the wall.

If you love playing guitar, why not be able to enjoy the music in every room of the house? That’s exactly what home systems integrator Joe Whitaker was after when he engineered a “whole-house guitar distribution” system in his St. Charles, Mo., home.

Whitaker got the idea while installing a home automation and whole-house A/V system for a client.

“I couldn’t help but notice the guitars placed all over the home,” he says. “In the basement were a couple of decent electrics; in the hearth room sat a really nice electric acoustic while another made by Peavey was located in the family room. There was even one in the home office.”

Naturally, the client did not have a full set of audio gear to accompany all of those guitars in all of those spaces.

“As I watched him lug amps, stacks, pedals and other bulky gear up and down the stairs from room to room,” says Whitaker, “I thought there must be a better way.”

RELATED: Read Joe Whitaker's product reviews on CEPro.com

Whitaker had already installed the backbone for a whole-house music system, including premium speakers in every main room of the house. So why couldn’t the client simply plug his guitar into the wall to tap a centralized audio-distribution system?

A longtime A/V integrator, currently with St. Louis-based The Soho Shop, Whitaker figured he could “buy a guitar distribution system” from a music store or specialty distributor. To his surprise, though, such a thing did not exist. So he built one from scratch.

Building a Guitar Distribution System


Whitaker explains that his first challenge was determining what type of “source” or processor to use in the centralized equipment rack. Since he had recently purchased the music-video game Rocksmith for the PS3, and enjoyed the options for multiple tones, amps and pedals, he figured that would make a natural “source” for whole-house guitar.

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Schematic: whole-house guitar
Whitaker uses off-the-shelf products for everything except a single interconnect that he custom-made from Planet Waves parts (click to enlarge)
But what about more advanced guitar players? Paul Wood from the Guitar Center recommended AmpliTube recording-studio software and the StealthPlug USB guitar interface from IK Multimedia.

Whitaker loaded the software onto a Mac Mini installed in his equipment rack. Now With the consumer-friendly PS3 with Rocksmith and the semi-pro Mac Mini with AmpliTube, “I now had two choices to rock the guitar,” Whitaker says.

Then came the challenge of distributing the music throughout the house. Whitaker explains that a number of professional synthesizers, preamps and simulators would fit the bill, “but I wanted to do this with minimal effort and expense.”

He decided it would be easier to employ an analog distribution model than going with an end-to-end USB solution.

Most houses, he notes, already have coaxial cable running to several rooms of the house, and these days many abodes feature multiple runs of Cat 5 cable. So then what?

For the nuts and bolts, Whitaker turned to Rick Sant from Planet Waves, the cable brand of D’Addario & Co, a leader in musical instrument (MI) accessories. Whitaker already used cabling solutions from the custom installation group at Planet Waves (now Cleerline Technologies). So it wasn’t a stretch to reach out to the group for this project.

Whitaker noticed that Planet Waves’ HD audio/video cable looked just like the cable included in the company’s guitar cable kits. Indeed, the two cables were the same, he learned. Bingo!

He wanted to distribute each of the two “sources” (PS3 with Rocksmith and Mac Mini with AmpliTube) to four different rooms. In traditional multiroom audio, a 2x4 system is simple stuff. In this case, however, Whitaker had some extra considerations: how to split out the signals, how to balance the impedance over long cable runs, and what connectors to use along the way.

Thankfully, Paul Wood from the local Guitar Center in Bridgeton, Mo., provided much-needed guidance on balanced audio and impedance changes with musical instruments, Whitaker says.





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Article Topics

News · Product News · Audio · Distributed Audio · Truaudio · Control4 · Joe Whitaker · Guitar · Planet Waves · Hydra · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

4 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Jason Knott  on  02/15  at  11:24 AM

Ingenious. Wasn’t high-quality direct whole-house distribution of audio from musical instruments the basis for the Gibson Guitar MaGIC system?

Posted by Joe Whitaker  on  02/15  at  04:29 PM

Media-accelerated Global Information Carrier was a great idea that was a partnership with Gibson and 3com that started way back in 1993. It was bi-directional audio plus power for instruments. Although it was created for studio and stage implementations it could be set up for whole house audio. You did hit the nail on the head with MaGIC as it was part of the inspiration for this. The only issue with MaGIC is the price to deploy. This entire setup was about the cost of 1 of the pieces of the puzzle required for MaGIC.My intent was to create a scalable, cost effective “that even I could afford” solution that was easy and fun to use. Thank you for reading about this fun little pet project. It was an educational experience as well, and had it not been for some of the experts involved it might not have worked out this great. I personally will never carry around an amp in my house again!

Posted by boz  on  02/23  at  03:03 AM

not quite sure about some of this. If I was doing this I would have a standard guitar jack socket in wall with a passive Di box behind ( a guitar player who pulls out lead will also stretch bnc? ) all rooms fed back as balanced signals into a mixer ie alessis,mackie etc and then fed into house system.

Posted by Joe Whitaker  on  02/23  at  06:48 AM

That is a good observation. I have also tried it that way. Now I have even went as far as to having all the leads in the house fed down to an amp in my music room that is mic’c then fed into the whole house music system. The above is a less expensive easy to use and set up system. The object was not to create a virtual studio or concert quality audio in everyroom, but rather be able to create multiple practice and jam session areas. However the sound quality in this manner is better than your average small venue. As for the passsive DI being in every room. This is actually not needed in my situation as only 1 jack is used at a a time. There are not multiple players in my house. If there were I would then use multiple DI’s.

I chose BNC as I made the cable with plenty of lenght so I wouldn’t tug it, but I wanted to avoid accidental disconnects.

Thanks for your comment. Glad it has made the wheels start turning in your head as well! Since this first version I have went on to create some REALLY unique set ups. The possiblities are endless adding mic’s etc.

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