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.
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.”
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.
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)
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.
Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at email@example.com
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