Recording electric guitar directly into your computer isn’t as difficult as you might think. (pic: ignatsevichserg / Pixabay)
The typical way of recording guitar involves putting one or microphones up to a guitar cab, tweaking the positions and levels to get the sound right, and recording your amp, rather than the guitar itself. In a professional set up, with expensive microphones and even more expensive guitar amps, this can get pricey! For a musician working at home, this isn’t always practical. Fortunately, there are other options. Possibly the most effective is recording guitar directly into your computer, and we’re going to look at how.
I know it’s in the title, but I just want to reiterate that this article is referring to electric guitars only. Acoustic guitars are a whole different proposition. Electro-acoustic guitars, on the other hand, could be used in the same manner we’ll describe here, but the sound you get won’t be nearly as rich as if you treat it like an acoustic guitar with extras, rather than electric guitar. Enough of that, on to the good stuff!
Recording Electric Guitar DIRECTLY Into Your Computer
The first and most basic way to get guitar into your computer would be to just simply plug it in. To do this, you will need a cable with a 1/4″ jack for your guitar and (most likely) a 3.5mm jack for your computer input. You can also get adaptors for the cables if you can’t find the right one. From there, you simply open your recording software of choice (Audacity is a good free option), hit record, and start playing.
Sound too easy?
Well, yes, that’s because it is. You see, unless you’ve bought a special machine, or upgraded yours, your computer is not the best device for this. Nor is the cable. Nor the software. The signal you record won’t be the best quality, and it will be dry. No nice amp distortion, no reverb, nothing. But it is the cheapest way to get your guitar into your computer!
Recording Electric Guitar Directly into Your Computer Using Audio Interface
To get around the quality issue, the cheapest, easiest option is use an audio interface. Audio interfaces can come in many forms, but the most typical for a budget set up is a small box that connects via USB. These interfaces will give you inputs to connect your instruments or microphones. The number and type of inputs varies from interface to interface. For guitar, you need to make sure any interface you buy has a 1/4″ input jack, ideally with a “Guitar” or “Instrument” setting. Fortunately, this is a fairly common feature in audio interfaces.
The range covered by audio interfaces is quite wide to say the least. Stretching from single input to eight channel monsters. You can of course get more channels, but you’d be getting into professional grade equipment at that point. You can find my review of one popular audio interface here.
Getting That Sweet Tone
Both the above options will get your electric guitar into your computer, but the signal will be dry. If you’re a good guitar player, that dry signal can still sound good, but if you’re a good guitar player you’ll probably appreciate the need for more. As mentioned, the typically way of recording guitar would involve putting a mic up to your guitar cab and recording that. Some amps, such as the Hughes & Kettner TubeMeister 5, have a special output for connecting directly to an audio interface.
A more compact option, however, would be to use an amp software simulation. This kind of software can be expensive, however there are many free versions that offer a good deal of functionality. One of the bigger players in this game, Amplitube, is now available in a pay as you go model. Amplitube Custom Shop lets you download and use the base amp collection for free, and you can buy individual pieces of “gear” as you need, rather than paying hundreds for the whole thing. The performance you get from this may vary depending on your system when it comes to live playback (latency is an issue), but it should be fine for recording.
So that’s it, that’s the end of my post on recording electric guitar directly into your computer. However, if you want to know a bit more about other methods of recording guitar, such as mic’ing an amp, check out this post. But most importantly, have fun, and make music!
An eclectic range of occupations and interests, expect posts on guitars (because I like them), automatic transmissions (because I fix them), and a host of other interests including game development, science fiction and fantasy novels, music, and occasionally sports.