Record Guitar on a PC computer, Laptop, iPad or Mac

Alesis Guitarlink Plus Computer Guitar CableOne of our most frequently asked questions is how to record a guitar on a PC, Laptop or Mac. There are a range of ways, depending on your budget, from purchasing a simple computer guitar cable to dedicated USB solutions or upgrading your sound card set-up:

The Computer Guitar Cable or Adaptor
USB Audio Interfaces for Recording Guitar
Using a Microphone to Record Your Guitar
Listening to your results

The Simple Computer-Guitar Cable or Adaptor

There are several ways of recording your guitar directly onto the hard drive of your computer. If you play an electric guitar, then the simplest way is to connect the headphone/line out from your amp to the line in of your soundcard. All you need to do this is a simple Computer Guitar Adaptor which has a standard jack input for your guitar lead on one end, and a mini-jack on the other. You can try out how this sounds by using the built-in Windows sound recorder software although better still download Audacity which is free and easy to use recording software. It’s also possible to buy a guitar cable with 1/4″ jack on one end and 1/8″ mini-jack on the other.

You can also experiment by plugging your electric guitar directly into the mic-in socket on your sound card (or the mic in on your laptop). This will work but it may not give the high quality performance needed for a more professional sound. In general, electric guitars need a high impedance input, but although most computer soundcard’s mic inputs have a high impedance, it is not as high as a normal guitar input. This lower impedance can result in quality problems.

To help you find your way around generally if the sockets on your sound card are colour coded then the microphone will be pink, the standard single channel line-out or headphone will be green, and line-in will be blue. If you are using a laptop then usually there is a mic input next to the headphone socket.

If you have a standard generic sound card, then you may find that the above solution gets you going but the recording quality is not too good. Ordinary sound cards are better at sound output than recording and will often produce noisy low-quality recordings. You may also find that many laptops and macs do not have any line-in socket at all, and that the microphone socket, if available, is quite noisy. If this is the case or you want to make a huge improvement, then there a whole range of specially designed USB solutions for recording your guitar on your computer. The price range is huge so there should be something that suits your budget.

USB Audio Interface For GuitarUSB Audio Interfaces For Recording Guitar

Although the computer guitar cable is a simple and cheap solution, there are a whole range of dedicated devices which will offer massive improvements in quality. For the guitarist with a slightly bigger budget seeking a higher quality solution, there are a tremendous range of USB devices which have been specifically designed from the ground up to with your recording needs in mind. All of these eliminate the need to use your existing sound card for recording and provide a dedicated external solution with all the hardware and software you need to record your guitar. We are big fans of these dedicated devices, they are easy to use and install, have special inputs for guitar, usually come with a great software package and will massively improve the quality of your recordings.

If you are right at the budget end, and just looking for a simple connection, take a look first at the Alesis GuitarLink Plus. This is as simple as it gets – a guitar-USB connector that is just plug and play. Perfect for PC and Mac. Works on an iPad with Apple’s USB adaptor. And for less than £20 actually comes with Guitar Rig LE software too. The GuitarLinkPlus has been so successful, Alesis have now launched AcousticLink Acoustic Guitar USB Interface which has a pickup for acoustic guitar, USB connection cable and Cubase LE recording software all in the box.

Many guitarists also want to be able to record vocals, so prefer to look for a device which will successfully record both guitar and mic. Fortunately there are plenty of dedicated interfaces available especially designed for guitar and microphone to USB recording and there is something to suit every budget.

All the USB audio interfaces that have guitar and mic input can be used to record guitar alongside a dynamic vocal mic. Look for devices which also have on-board phantom power if you want to use a condenser mic too or instead. These all-in-one devices offer great value because you need very little additional equipment to get started – just the device, a guitar cable, a decent microphone and then a pair of headphones or powered speakers and you’re away. The idea is they are all the computer hardware a guitarist needs to record guitar and vocals and most come with software too.

If you want to build a small guitar recording studio around a condenser mic, you’ll need to spend a bit more to get a device with phantom power and also the condenser mic will cost more too. As a suggestion, try combining the Alesis IO2Express with the Samson MTR101 or the M-Audio MTrack is also a good budget device .

Don’t forget, these devices bypass your built-in sound card to give a great result, but you will need to listen to them through headphones or powered speakers (monitors) , as the sound will no longer come out of your existing computer speakers. Newbies often plug them in, start recording, then contact me because they can’t hear anything!  But the added benefit of buying one of these USB audio interfaces for recording your guitar and/or vocals is you can also set it up as your default audio output device (or sound card) so it gives your whole audio set-up on your computer a complete upgrade. Great for YouTube video and general music playback

Spending a bit more

We have looked at a couple of real budget solutions. What do you get if you spend more? Well you may want more inputs and outputs, more expensive devices often have a larger number of microphone inputs for example so you may have to consider how many things you want to record at once. And of course high end devices will have better analogue to digital conversion for a more pristine result. The old ‘you get what you pay for’ is true. On the other hand, if this is your first time out then you will find many of the sub £100 devices offer fantastic value and will get you up and running. Plus they have a great resale potential on eBay or Gumtree when you are ready to upgrade.

Using a Microphone to Record Your GuitarUsing a Microphone to Record Your Guitar

Another option is to use a microphone to record the output of your amp (in the case of electric guitarists), or your acoustic guitar. A dynamic microphone is usually the first choice if you want to record your amp. For real ease, choose a USB mic then you don’t have to worry about any other equipment. The Samson Q2U Recording Kit is a particularly good choice because you can use it either as a USB or a standard mic, and you can monitor what you’re doing with the headphones it comes with. Any of the devices we have already looked at that take a microphone as well will be just as good for this recording scenario. If you want to record your acoustic guitar then you should buy a condenser mic and an audio interface with phantom power – or consider a USB condenser mic such as the Samson C01U Studio Condenser USB Microphone.

More information about recording using a microphone can be found in our sister article on connecting a microphone to your computer .

Listening to the results

With all the above guitar recording solutions you can monitor your results using headphones , but sooner or later it is likely you will want to play your masterpieces to your friends and family. Again, dedicated speakers will greatly enhance your music making experience, and there are speakers at a range of price points which will work well whichever route you opt for.

Guitar Recording SoftwareGuitar Recording Software

Once you are getting a satisfactory recording from your guitar, then you will probably want to think about the best software for recording and then adding backing tracks, effects etc. There is lots of fantastic music making software around, some of it free or very low cost. Take a look at our article where we look at some entry level recording software. Most come with huge libraries of loops and riffs to help you create complete performances behind your killer guitar tracks.

If your main aim is to improve your playing then we think that it’s really worth giving guitar tuition software a go. Especially as you can get a whole course for the price of a couple of lessons. So much easier than just working through books.

 

Comments

  1. Joel says

    I thank you for all the info you provided. I been learning the guitar all over. I re applied my recording soft ware into my desktop. With upgraded sound card and other things.
    I also bought a new line 6 amp. So now that I have more free time. I want to do some of my own recordings.
    With the info you had provided
    Im excited to get started in the
    days to come. Thank- you and
    stay playing. Joel R. Fiegel.

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi Joel, thanks for getting in touch, good to hear you are making progress and enjoying your playing and recording. All the best, Jane

  2. Rick Bellamy says

    Hello Jane,
    I’ve been trying to do some recording on my laptop for a while now but always struggle. Because of the poor quality sound card on my laptop I decided to buy an audio interface but the only free software that I have found to record via USB is Audacity. What is happening is when I record singing along with backing tracks mixed and into the interface and then from the interface to the laptop is the music records beautifully but there is a delay on the vocals and they are quiet. I have tried recording to a mini disc player first which makes lovely recordings and then I’ve tried recording from my mini disc player to the laptop using the above method but exactly the same is happening. Can you please tell me where I’m going wrong. Thanks.

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, first make sure that you are using the Audio Interface as the input and output device. Does it have a direct monitor feature that would help you overcome this problem? Also does it have ASIO drivers. Audacity does not come with ASIO support directly, but it is possible to download a version for private use. There is more information here about reducing latency and using Audacity.
      http://wiki.audacityteam.org/wiki/ASIO_Audio_Interface

      If your vocals are quiet, it may be that there is not a good enough pre-amp for your microphone on the interface.
      How are you connecting up the mini disc player? Is there a suitable line input on the audio interface? Have you checked the volume levels in the device’s control panel?

      Without knowing exactly which interface it is, cannot help further but hopefully the above suggestions will get you started.

  3. Mike says

    I have 2 questions after reading these posts.
    1. Will any of the software packages work with the current audio interfaces on the market. Some of these come bundled with software that might be too complicated at first, so would a basic package work until I’m ready to move forward.
    2. Do these AI’s allow you to burn your composition to a CD in MP3 or WAV or whatever format when you are done with your composition?

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Once you have an interface correctly installed you should be able to use it with any software, including very basic packages. Most recording software enables you to export in at least *.wav format. Many will also allow MP3 (depending on the licensing). Then creating a CD from the files you have made is very straightforward using Windows Media Player.

  4. says

    Hi,

    I have a guitar and a nice multi-effects pedal, but when I plug that directly into my PC, the quality that comes through when recorded is quite muffled and doesn’t sound at all like when I’m playing it live.

    I’ve read this post here and just want to clarify – if I buy a £20-30 USB adaptor, will the quality of the signal from my pedal sound more like the way it should?

    I want to get back into making music again using modern technology, but was a bit disappointed last time I tried to record anything into my PC.

    Thanks in advance!
    Nick

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi Nick, yes if you buy an appropriate USB interface you should be able to get much better recording quality. Obviously you get what you pay for so the more you spend, in general, the better the quality. But you should be able to get a considerable improvement on just hooking the pedal direct up to the input of your PC. All the best with that!

  5. John Mann says

    hi thanks for all the information but im still A little confused! I have A laptop windows 7 and want to record electric guitar and maybe vocal, probably over A backing, nothing to fancy! It is all for my own entertainment but I would like to be able to put the tracks on A cd or mp3. Im on A tight budget and its only for fun so if I get an interface will I still need recording software, if so what is best for my needs? would be gratefull for any help you can give me. thanks John

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, pick an interface that comes with some recording software, or download Audacity – it’s free and really good for simple recording like you describe!

  6. Saminda Karunarathna says

    Got in to your musicrepo page, good stuff. I’m from Sri Lanka. I have this question.
    I have a YAMAHA PSR E433 Keyboard. I’m trying to record my music covers I play using my PC windows 8 64 Bit. This keyboard only has one USB output and one Headphone output. When I insert headphone out to Mic in of the PC sound card that allows me to record (Since this is home use I can hear what I play when I play the recordings) but since it disables the Keyboard sound I cannot hear what I play at the same time. I was trying to hear the sound from computer Line-out but that didn’t work well may be a mistake I did or that is not possible. Hope you understand my problem. Well this is without the help of an Audio interface. I know that one answer for my problem is to use an Audio interface or an Audio Mixer but I’m trying to achieve this without an audio interface. Can you give any guidance for this?

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, I think what you need is a headphone splitter then you can listen through your headphones and record at the same time. Just something like this will do the job, something like the HOSA YPP-118 or similar depending on whether you want 1/4″ or 1/8″
      This would postpone the need to buy an audio interface and should solve your issue

  7. Fred Jansohn says

    Hello,
    I’m playing bass for myself at the moment and want to record backing tracks on a covers’ basis to well known rock tunes.

    I have a reasonably powerful PC, Carvin bass amp, and a Mesa Boogie speaker (in addition to the computer’s satellite and sub-woofer speakers).

    Also I have a bass guitar-to-computer jack/USB cable for direct-to-computer recording, which I do through Microsoft’s Movie maker.

    When I plug in to the computer, load Moviemake, and play the track I want to “dub” to I can’t hear the bass through the computer’s speakers. However, having chosen the “USB device” from the “options” list of MM’s drop down menu I find that the muted notes I barely hear while I am playing have translated richly to MM’s audio function when I play back what I just recorded. So I have a good video of me playing and a really good sound but disconcertingly there is no monitoring function making it very hard at times to know if I am playing the right notes.

    What I did then was to plug that same cable (guitar one end, with USB the other) into the Carvin amp’s “tuner out” hole, while leaving the guitar itself also connected to the amp. And of course the Carvin amp remained connected to the Mesa Boogie speaker

    The sound quality was not as good but it actually did the job of giving me a defacto ‘monitor speaker’ through my Mesa Boogie speaker!

    I guess what I need to know is how to be able to record myself playing a bass backing to a classic (You-tube or CD) music track while being able to hear myself playing in real time, and simultaneously being able to record the audio and the vivdeo so as to be able to upload the finished product to Youtube.

    As I am a complete dunce at this, I would need the most straight-forward, “idiot-proof” instructions.

    What would also help is an equally simple step-by-literal-step guide on how to stitch together the audio and video file, and to know the Youtube uploading procedure.

    Sorry for this long-winded letter, but some of us are not as tech savvy AT ALL, as others!

    Would greatly appreciate your help,

    Cheers and regards,

    Fred Jansohn
    (Sydney, Australia)

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi Fred, your best bet is to buy an audio interface with a dedicated guitar input that will enable you to “direct monitor”. If you buy a straightforward one then following the instructions it comes with should help you to do what you want. Maybe the Focusrite 2i2 or on more of a budget the Lexicon Alpha

      • Jane Sherratt says

        By the way, I will be doing a more detailed step-by-step guide along these lines in the next few weeks so will get in touch again when it is ready. Sorry to take a while to reply, have had a lot of queries and been away for a couple of weeks.

        • Fred Jansohn says

          Hi,
          Really look forward to your article because I’m pulling (what’s left of) my hari out with this one! I know it’s not insurmountable, but for me it’s a major hurdle and learning curve.
          Thanks for your reply to date!

          • Fred Jansohn says

            Hi Jane,
            Me again: Well I did what you suggested and got myself an audio interface.
            I bought the Focusrite 2i2 and, yes, it does help to eliminate the latency problem.
            In fact I also bought a pair of Pre-sonus (5″) audio monitor speakers, and connected them to the Focusrite.
            But I’m still stuck:
            To recap:
            I’m trying to record audio and video of me playing a bass line to a classic backing track. Already have a collection of Youtube files converted to Mp3 for this purpose.
            So, I have:
            *Bass guitar, plugged into
            *Focusrite, itself connecetd to monitor speakers;
            *seeing (and now hearing) myself playing along in Windows 7 Moviemaker to one of my Mp3 files (playing in the background on the computer’s speakers, not the monitors).

            The video and audio bass track is quite good. When I drop the Mp3 into Moviemaker I cannot seem to synch the MP3 sound to the video and bass track I just recorded.
            But even more problematically I don’t know how to silence the bass in the orignal recording (MP3 file) so as to make my playing the prominent feature.

            I also have Audacity, but get easily confused with the recording or dubbing functions.
            Obvious questions emerge from the above; plus, more specifically:
            1. Is it possible to record myself playing in Moviemaker and AT THE SAME TIME record myself playing bass in Audacity? (Even if the answer is yes I would not know how to configure Audacity in such a way as to import the Mp3 file, and then do what has to be done in order for me to be able to record the bass while the Mp3 files is playing and being redorded as well!)
            2. If the answer is yes, how do I silence the recording function in Moviemaker?
            3. Before I begin playing in Audacity, or even MM, is there a way of muting or reducing the sound of the MP 3 file alone, so that the bass element of that file is not so prominent? (I see this sort of thing everyday on Youtube; and wonder how in God’s name is that achieved!!).

            Dear Jane, do you see how ignorant I am with this technology?
            At one point I downloaded Reaper, plus “instruction” manual. I got as far as page 20 of the most complex jargon I had ever read and deleted the lot!

            Would greatly appreciate knowing if there are programs out there that do not need a pilot’s licence to ‘drive’, and your H-E-L-P!!!

            Cheers and thanks in advance,
            Fred Jansohn

          • Jane Sherratt says

            Hi Fred, if you simply want to make a recording of your bass, then you can easily import an MP3 file into Audacity, then create a new audio track. If you plug headphones into your Focusrite you can record to the new track while monitoring what you are playing and the backing track together. Your bass part will appear on the new track. Moviemaker is very basic video software, I am not sure if it is configurable enough to split the audio out from the video, and unfortunately I am not an expert on video, only on audio recording. It might be worth researching whether there is a better video software than Moviemaker to do this.
            Here is a link to overdubbing tracks in Audacity which might get you started on the audio recording bit at least
            http://manual.audacityteam.org/o/man/tutorial_multi_track_overdubbing.html

  8. says

    I am really pleased and grateful for finding your article, along with the useful information. I intend to purchase whatevr I need to record on my lappie, using Fruity loops or Pro tools, which have already cost me a tidy sum. However I am not so sure all the components are available in my country – Kenya. Still, I believe I can get shipping info on the web. I look forward to having an excellent mentoring relationship with musicrepo and especially; Jane Sherrat. Thanks.
    Thomas.

  9. Danny says

    Thanks for the article. I’m thinking about getting the Alesis IO2 Express. I was just wondering if you could recommend any microphones to record vocals with. I’m on a bit of a budget but do realise that with quality comes cost.

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, best studio microphone for vocals is a large diaphragm condenser microphone due to its wide frequency response and ability to pick up much quieter sounds. There are plenty of reasonable budget ones available, look for a good quality branded one. If you go to gear 4 music following the link below, they have a fantastic range at all price points. You can check which brands you like and put in a maximum price
      http://www.gear4music.com/Microphones/Large-Condenser.html

  10. Penny says

    Hey there! Thanks a lot for all that help! I still have a question. Can you tell me a good software for mixing two audio tracks( guitar audio and vocals)? Something which is easy to download. Thanks in advance :)

  11. Linas says

    Hey,

    nice article there. But I was wondering what should I do in order to be able to play along to my favorite songs. What I mean by that is I want to hear both the song in my headphones and my guitar as well. Of course, I could use a set of speakers to listen to the song and the headphones to monitor my guitar sound. But the thing is that I’m not always alone to do this in peace. Any advice would be really appreciated.

    • Jane Sherratt says

      Hi, if you have an audio interface with direct monitoring facility and guitar input then you should be able to connect the headphones to the interface and listen to both together.

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