Create Rockstar Style Analog Distortion Feedback in Ableton

When sitting in front of a DAW with limitless software possibilities, it can be easy to forget that some of the coolest sounds and effects you can make can come from external effects processors. In today’s video, Mad Zach takes us through one of his favorite hardware wirings, an external distortion pedal setup. Check out the video, as well as an Ableton template and a equipment list, after the jump.


Distortion has been cool way longer than whomp. It was the staple of many an early rock pioneer, and its inception represents an important first step towards thinking of noise as music. According to Wikipedia, the first recorded creative use of feedback was by the Beatles in 1964 with their track, “I Feel Fine”, although in the year and half following the effect was extensively brandished by a veritable who’s who of rockers. Jimi Hendrix was, if not the first, one of the most important and well-known pioneers of feedback, a prime example of which was his performance of “Can You See Me?” at the Monterey Pop festival in which he used feedback for the entire guitar solo.

In a world of music dominated by heavy hitting headliners like Skrillex and Bassnectar, I began to wonder, how can one truly rock out without distortion and feedback? Today I’m going to be revealing a very exciting little trick you can do to create the kind of face-melting freak out performances that have been swept under the rug in recent years.


  1. Audio interface with 2+ out/1+ input (in the video, a Edirol FA-66, similar to the Edirol FA-101 10 x 10)
  2. Distortion pedal or unit (software won’t work properly to create the same effect – compare some distortion pedals here)
  3. Cables for routing inputs/outputs
  4. Ableton Live or software with similar routing capabilities
  5. MIDI controller with knobs and/or sliders (in the video, I use the Midi Fighter Pro)
  6. Leopard print spandex jumper


Route the audio coming from your instrument track (drums or instrument both work) to a dedicated output. I use output 3, but the main thing is that this be separate from your main output. Run this signal through your distortion pedal and back into input 1 on your interface. Create an audio track to receive this signal.

Next, create a return track that is routed to external output 3 (the same output used to route your instrument through the distortion pedal). Now, by sending your audio track (the one that receives audio from the distortion unit) to the return track that is ALSO routed to output 3, you can create feedback!

Confused? We’ve made a demo Ableton template (click to download) that shows exactly the routing used in the video.

Tips for making it awesome: It’s a fine dance – you don’t need to send very much signal to create the effect. You’ll want to play with filtering the signal going through the return track to get a dramatic effect similar to moving closer or farther to the “amp.” This is where you can really start to play the distortion and feedback like its own instrument.

Have external effects processors that you really enjoy using with your setup? Let us know what and how you wire them in the comments! 

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Comments (37)
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  • dunce

    I’m still trying to figure it out, but anyway, this is how I went with a NI Audio 4 DJ soundcard, a run of the mill cheap guitar amp with built in distortion, and a Behringer VMX300 mixer. I also wanted to make it so I could control the amount of distortion, and switch back to the normal sounds with a slider.

    physical soundcard routing:
    audio 4’s channel A output labelled mixer line in goes into a channel on the mixer
    audio 4’s channel A output labelled mixer TT/CD into a second channel on the mixer
    audio 4’s channel B output labelled mixer line in goes into guitar amp
    guitar amp output to audio 4’s channel A input labelled player TT/CD

    midi instrument set to output: ext 1/2
    distortion track input: ext in 1/2, and output: 3/4 with the monitor set to in
    return track audio to output 3/4

    midi maps:
    slider mapped to send A on instrument rack (for a wet/dry distortion mix from 100% clean to equal levels clean:distortion, to get a fully distorted mix, just drop the levels of the clean channel on the mixer)
    slider mapped to volume fader on distortion track (for feedback amount)
    slider mapped to freq knob of EQ 8 on distortion track (feedback pitch)

    most of this is just like the video, with a few exceptions. if i route the audio from the instrument rack into the pedal/amp, then back into the distortion track which outputs to master and with send going to the pedal/amp, for some reason i dont get the feedback loop when i play with the send, even though its the exact same idea behind in/out routing loop. its a bit of a drawback using up a whole channel on the mixer just for being able to wet/dry the effect, but it’s still so much fun. this sounds much wilder than the distortion effects in ableton or even on a mini kaoss pad 2. Mad props for another Mad tute!

    • dunceosaurousrexitronomatic

      update: scratch all that. i mapped a slider to the distortion volume to turn it on and off and changed the instrument output to master with the send on full.

  • Millertone

    Hey Mad Zach, What distortion pedal are you using?


    • Joseph Latimer

      he is using a mm-x metal monster

  • stride9

    Wow, I’ve been wanting to make this effect for a while now but lack the equipment. Is there ANY way to achieve this or something similar all within Ableton and without an external audio interface and/or pedal? Something even remotely similar would be much appreciated! 

  • anzyM

    Really good idea ! I’m also using guitar pedals in ableton live, especially my DD3 delay plugged in a send track ’cause when you fiddle with the delay timing you have some interesting pitch fx and no clics 🙂

  • mr nice

    MAD clever!

  • Lauti

    i don’t think its such a different setup from regular external FX setups…but it does sound awesome

  • johndoe

    im using a boss super overdrive, behringer u-control uca202 interface and a novation zero slk mk II and this doesnt seem to be working for me is there any chance of getting some advice? 
    [john doe]

  • Steve

    Slightly noob question, can you use a Traktor S4 for this as the audio interface?

    • Rutger Willems

      Yes you can!

  • JuanSOLO

    hmm, routing 1 pedal on a send/return to a laptop.

    Then there’s this guy
    Routes countless pedals into a series of about 9 amps. 

    I’m always amazed by DJ culture being so ahead of times, and so far behind the times all at once.

    • subfiend

      don’t be stupid your wearing a starwars suit…..theres nothing initiative about rigging up loads of pedals with guitars and amps,its been done loads of times,i don’t see anywhere him saying this is new and im the first to do this do you? and thats not dj culture also by the way….do you see,decks? cdj’s? i don’t…so if you have nothing good to say….go play with your starwars toys Hansolo..!

  • Tom

    Well, I’ve been using a Boss BFl2 (analog phaser) wired through one of the in/out pairs of an ADAT interface for getting hihats “alive” and an Aphex “Type C” Exciter with “Fat Bottom” in line with an Alesis Limiter/Compressor at two seperate pairs, so I can send Ableton’s rhythm section through the Exciter/Compressor chain and back into the master channel. The feedback loop is quite nice – I tried it with a Sure SM65 and a Peavey Backstage Plus guitar amp (which has hell of a feedback on the “Overdrive” channel) intstead of the stomp box. Since the peavey has its own reverb effect and there also is some amount of room acoustics captured by the mike, the feedback is quite impressive. Just a little loud, maybe… 

  • Chance

    REally nice, thanks!

  • Jared Baca

    Im a fan of the Boss series, used them throughout my guitar playing days, always sounded “clean” but amazing.

  • HT

    to use this in conjunction with traktor, you would still need ableton 😛 — look up the tutorial on here on how to sync ableton and traktor, and set the audio routing in traktor to go into 4 decks in ableton, and from there you can follow this tutorial. 
    I play with traktor into ableton and use live instruments on top of mixing tracks.. this is great to put on my bass! Great article, thank you!

  • Twig

    Best article on DJTT for ages ! Great work dude …

  • Jabbajams

    I really like your article but do you have any further suggestion for pedals.  The one you suggested was discontinued.  Keep up the great work the sound is awesome.

  • djskratchworx19

    yeah can you do this is Traktor????

    • (JSM)

      as far as I am aware it’s not possible to do it in TSP, due to the limitations of routing, hence the tongue in cheek reply below.

      • Anthony Woodruffe

        Except Traktor has Distortion and I’m sure mixed with Reverb you could likely get something very similar.

        • (JSM)

          nothing like it in Traktor, I’ve tried all combinations.

    • RockingClub

      This should be possible in Traktor for sure!
       But with doing this you would lose one of Traktor’s 4 decks which then would need to serve as the live input from your external effect processor. If you didn’t want to dirstort your whole main output you would also have to route a dedicated deck (which contains the element that is meant to become distorted) to a second outpt of your audio interface.

  • (JSM)

    Now do it in Traktor  !            😉

    • Tom

      Should be pretty much the same. Just use record out or FX-send and one of the line-ins for the effect loop and assign the input/output volumes to a controller or a keystroke.

    • subfiend

      would be just the same….a midi controller is a midi controoler its up to you to learn it and map it accordingly

  • Elicio

    Nice Trick 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Ableton Live feedback without the external send-return: 

  • MrMeloD

    This.Is.AWESOME! I kind of want to buy a midi fighter just for this purpose lol

    • subfiend

      you dont need to…….any midi controller will do,unless you don’t have one,otherwise go for it 🙂