Rarely comes along a device that changes the way electric guitars are
recorded in the studio. Little Labs' PCP Instrument Distro will not only
change how you set up guitar amps and overdub parts but it will have you
rethinking the possibilities for recording the best amp sounds.
Ease of Use: 3
The Little Labs PCP Instrument Distro is a distribution amplifier and
switching matrix for sending electric guitar signals to multiple amps
and/or to professional outboard signal processing gear at the same time.
PCP stands for "Professional-to-Cheesy Pedal" (really!). The delicate and
high impedance nature of guitar signals has always imposed certain
limitations when using them in the low-impedance, line-level world of the
professional studio. The Distro correctly converts guitar jack level
signals to full +4dBm line levels without demolishing your guitar sound in
the process. It will also, at the same time, convert +4 signals back to
high-impedance and level-correct guitar signals. This opens up all kinds
of possibilities for using guitars or guitar pedals in the recording
studio as well as using pro, line-level processors with guitars or
Inputs and Outputs
The 1/2-rackspace unit has four inputs: a front-panel guitar instrument
input jack (which is duplicated on the back panel) and three XLR +4dBm
studio line-level inputs you can use for "reamping" already recorded audio
tracks. The front panel switching matrix allows you to route any
combination of these inputs to any one or all three separate outputs to
guitar amp heads.
Each output has a separate master level control, but note that the Distro
is designed to replicate the exact input level at the guitar jack when the
master level controls are full up. Routing two or more signals to the same
output results in an equal mix of them. The Distro takes care of all
grounding issues when the guitar amps and pro gear are hooked together.
There are separate ground lift switches for each output and for the direct
box output. In the instruction manual, Little Labs warns users to always
check for voltage difference between amps to avoid electrocution. Of
course, I ignored that and received a good jolt when I touched an old
British Vox AC-50 top and the studio patchbay at the same time. Yowl!!
DI and Line Driver
The Distro has a single-channel direct box built in with an XLR
low-impedance output connector on the back. It's an active DI so there is
plenty of output here at line level, negating the need for an external
microphone preamp. You can take your guitar"s direct signal while playing
through any or all of the amps. The Distro will also simultaneously output
an unbalanced low-impedance line driver signal out of a standard 1/4"
jack. This line driver is great when you want to play out of a combo amp
but sit 30 feet away in the control room, listening to yourself along with
the mix on near-field monitors. If you ran a 30-foot guitar cable out to
the amp (like we all used to do), you'd lose a lot of sound, especially in
the high frequencies. This box solves that age-old problem. I also used
this output for an "always on" signal output going to my digital tuner.
Little Labs has packed several other features into the Distro. Phase flips
are available for each of the three outputs, resolving the problem of
running multiple amps that have different phases from one another. There's
a slave jack allowing you to slave a second Distro for up to six total
outputs and stereo operation. And the box's matrix switching system has
LED status indicators letting you know what is going to where. The Distro
is powered by an external 48-volt power supply and comes with a cool,
shock-style traveling case.
For a recording engineer, the process of getting good guitar sounds is
always about experimentation. An engineer needs to find amp and guitar
combinations that work for the particular guitar part and then mic and
record them properly. Of course, individual playing style and proficiency
play the biggest part, along with the player's and the production team"s
aural tastes. The versatile preferences and options available with the
Distro leave plenty of room for performance and recording variables.
I used the Distro the first time with a guitarist who was unsure whether
his amp was going to be good enough. We were using Pro Tools, and I took a
direct signal at the same time as recording the amp. After getting the
performance down there were questions about the amp sound, particularly in
the verse section. The player had a familiar complaint: "I love the guitar
part and played it right, but I wish I had used the Marshall instead of
Here's where the Distro shines. Since I had recorded the direct sound on a
separate track from the amped sound (although we never listened to it
other than to check to see that it was getting there), I routed the direct
signal from Pro Tools through the Distro out to three different amps we'd
rented. I took an ear-break while the producer and guitar player fussed
with different amps and settings until they found a better sound for the
guitar part in that verse. Then we simply routed the direct signal, via
the Distro, to the preferred amp.
It is quite a new experience having the performance nailed and recorded
and then being able to tweak amp sounds! This is total fun time in the
studio. We ended up using both the original amp sound with some of the
newly created reamped sound in the mix. This method offered a whole new
whole universe of sounds beyond some of the Pro Tools guitar-amp
We developed a system for subsequent guitar parts on other songs. We ended
up using three heads: a 50-watt Marshall, a Naylor and an Egnater, all
running at the same time to three different cabinets. I also hooked up a
Vox AC-30 to the line driver output. When we worked on guitar sounds and
parts, things now went much smoother, faster and more musically. From an
engineer"s perspective, I was more ready to experiment with different mics
and positions because all the amps were playing simultaneously and I could
easily compare and mix them right on the console in front of the studio
The PCP Instrument Distro sells for $950 with a three-year warranty. Just
before we went to press, Jonathan Little of Little Labs reminded me that
the Distro is also perfect for sending multiple wireless receiver outputs
to different guitar amps on stage.
For more info, contact Little Labs at 6711 Whitley Terrace, Hollywood, CA 90068.
Telephone: 800-642-0064. Web to: www.littlelabs.com