One of your most frequently asked questions is how do you record a guitar on a PC, Laptop, iPad or Mac. How do you record the best, most engaging guitar sound?
But before we start. To get your perfect guitar recording, you will need to experiment, listen, tweak, and try again.
There is no single way to get a great guitar sound. However, there are some standard ways to record your guitar, so don’t be afraid to try them all, and keep experimenting until you get the guitar sound that really moves you! You can use the same guitar recording interface and a few items of recording gear to try them all. So watch the video below, then read on for more detail!
How To Record Electric Guitar
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1: Record direct from your guitar into instrument input on audio interface
- audio interface with instrument input (… eg Focusrite Scarlett Solo)
- guitar lead (… learn more about audio cables)
- recording software (… read more on music making software)
- plus an electric guitar or bass (obviously!)
Connect the audio interface up to your computer (or using a powered camera connection kit, to your iPad). Make sure you follow the instructions with your audio interface. Then simply connect your guitar direct to the instrument input on the interface.
You may not like the sound – in fact you almost certainly won’t! However, what you do is enhance the dry signal from your guitar with various plug-ins. These will allow you to get a really decent guitar sound by adding distortion, delay, chorus etc. or by simulating amps.
The great thing about this is you can keep tweaking and changing the sound of your guitar after you have recorded.
There are literally hundreds of fantastic fx and amp simulators to choose from. Start with Garageband for free, and work your way up. My particular favourite is Guitar Rig from Native Instruments.
2: Record direct from your guitar via guitar-usb interface
Other than your guitar, you just need a guitar-usb interface. These are devices designed as a one-stop solution, so you can record your guitar directly on your computer with one purchase.
This is a good budget solution, quick and easy. You will find these devices are not so well reviewed as the audio interfaces. However they are cheaper. But, if you also want to record vocals, and other instruments, either now or in the future, then you might want to purchase an audio interface or USB mixer for that extra versatility.
3. Connect your guitar into your amp, then connect your amp’s line output to the line input of your audio interface
- guitar lead
- guitar amp
- appropriate cable to connect your amp to the line input (depends on model of amp and interface. You can read more about audio cables here)
- audio interface
- recording software
This is a good way to record your guitar if you love the sound of your amp, but you don’t want to go to all the expense and trouble to mic up the speaker. You simply connect your guitar to your amp as usual, then take the line out of the amp into your interface, and you are ready to record in the software of your choice.
When you follow this method, you have three volumes to tweak and control: your guitar, your amp and your interface. So you will have to take some time to tweak all the settings until you get the sound you are looking for.
Top tip: start with the volumes low and gradually increase them. Saves the risk of blowing anything!
4. Record the sound of your amp with a microphone
- 1 – A microphone + XLR lead + audio interface with mic input OR 2 – USB Microphone
- Recording Software
This is the old standby approach, because you get to record the actual sound you’re used to hearing from your amp. And if you love that sound, then this might just be the best way to record your guitar. To get the best sound, place mic between 2 and 12 inches away from the cabinet, with mic pointing at the centre of one of the amp speakers.
Option 1: Dynamic Mic
The easiest mic for this approach is a dynamic mic. This is the most forgiving type of mic as it is not so sensitive and so you are less likely to need acoustic treatment to get a pristine recording. It is perfect for getting a nice punchy rock guitar sound.
If you use an XLR mic, such as the Shure SM58, then you need an XLR lead to connect the mic up to the microphone input of your audio interface. For this to work you will need an audio interface with XLR microphone input. Starting from scratch? Then you could buy a complete recording studio package with interface, mic, software, XLR lead and headphones.
Another option is to use a dynamic USB microphone such as the Samson Q2U. (And the benefit of this one is it is dual format so it doubles up as an XLR mic too).
Option 2: Condenser Mic
You will get a nice clean sound with a small diaphragm condenser mic such as the AKG C1000s – and this is a nice compromise between dynamic and condenser. In fact, a small diaphragm condenser is like the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of mics and is perfect for a whole range of home recording situations.
Or for a warm, full-bodied sound try using a large-diaphragm condenser mic. This is your archetypal ‘studio mic’ but because it is more sensitive you may find that it picks up more of the ambient sound of the room. To get a good recording you might also have to consider some acoustic treatment of your home recording studio too.
You will need to experiment with mic placement, and again the various volumes of the guitar, amp and gain control on the mic input.
5. Connect your guitar to an amp simulator, then from the amp simulator to the instrument input
As well as everything in method 1 above (ie audio interface, lead and recording software) you will also need an amp simulator such as the Behringer TM300 Tube Amp Modeler. Or, you could try running your guitar through any of your effects pedals. Then connect the output from the pedal into the instrument input of your audio interface.
This can give you a good guitar recording, and many people love this solution. It works well if you already have pedals that you love. The big disadvantage is you cannot tweak the guitar sound so much after recording. The advantage of the ‘dry signal’ in method 1 is you have infinite possibilities after recording.
6. Consider a Portable Digital Recorder
This is not so much a different method to record your electric guitar. However, you could use any of the above recording methods and combine with a portable digital recorder such as the Zoom H4N Pro, rather than an audio interface. The benefit of this is you do not have to have your computer or tablet switched on and connected to make the recordings. You record then transfer the recordings later into your recording software. The Zoom has built-in high quality mic pre-amps, you can connect your guitar direct, you can record line in too. And it has built-in mics as an alternative to purchasing a separate microphone.
In any case, the Zoom also doubles up as an audio interface, so you can use it that way too.
How To Record Acoustic Guitar (4 Ways)
1: Record with a large-diaphragm condenser microphone and audio interface
- A good large-diaphragm condenser mic
- XLR lead (more information about audio cables)
- An audio interface with XLR mic input and phantom power
- A microphone stand
A large-diaphragm condenser mic is a great way to capture the depth of a guitar’s tone. You can position the mic in a number of ways. Each position accents certain aspects of the instrument’s sound. You will have to experiment quite a bit to figure out exactly where to put the mic to get the sound you want.
Start by placing the mic about 3 feet away from the instrument and point it directly at the sound hole. At this distance you will capture the rich sound from the sound hole, and the attack of the strings. However, you may find that you get some ‘booming’ and so subtly adjust the mic so it points slightly more toward the neck.
Also remember the room plays a role in the sound you end up recording. So once you have become familiar with your new recording equipment, consider whether you need to think about acoustic treatment.
2. Record direct from your acoustic guitar output into instrument input on audio interface
- audio interface with instrument input (… eg the BEHRINGER UMC22 audio interface)
- guitar lead (… learn more about audio cables)
- recording software (… read more on music making software)
- plus an acoustic guitar with 1/4″ output)
If your acoustic guitar is an ‘electro-acoustic’ and also has a 1/4″ output, then you can record direct from your guitar. Do this by connecting it to the instrument input on an audio interface.
The disadvantage is the signal you record will be quite ‘dry’ and probably won’t sound the same as the way you hear it when you play. Nor will you capture the sound of your fingers attacking the on the fingerboard.
However, the advantage is you don’t have to worry so much about the acoustic difficulties of your recording space.
3. A combination of 1 and 2 – record using a condenser microphone AND the 1/4″ output of your guitar
- audio interface (must be at least 2-channel have instrument input AND XLR input, for example the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface)
- large-diaphragm condenser mic
- XLR lead
- mic stand
- electro-acoustic guitar with 1/4″ output
- 1/4-inch guitar lead to connect to the instrument input of the interface
You will require an interface that has BOTH an XLR mic input and instrument input. And it must be at least 2-channel, so you can record both signals at once. The beauty of this method is you capture a nice clean signal direct from your guitar, which you can combine with the tone coming direct from the sound hole, plus you will pick up the sound of the fingerboard.
4. (A good budget option) record your guitar with a USB microphone
If you are on a tight budget, then purchasing an audio interface, microphone, cables etc might be too much. In which case you could purchase a good quality USB microphone. The beauty of this is that you do not need any other equipment, it’s all built into the microphone.
So no need for an audio interface etc. The advantage of this is the price, and you should get a decent recording. The disadvantage is it is not quite so versatile. However, a USB mic is a useful bit of kit to own, even if you go on purchase an interface and XLR mic in future.
More Information on How to Record Your Guitar
The All-In-One Solution
If this is your first step in recording on your computer, then one of the most cost effective ways to get a complete solution is to go for a complete studio in a box. You get everything you need to record the guitar direct, or to mic up your amp. Plus you can easily overlay vocals with the included microphone, and you get all the software you need. Read our full reviews of the best all-in-one recording software and equipment bundles on the market. Our top pick for guitar is the Scarlett 2i2 Studio.
The Simple Computer-Guitar Cables and Adapters
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 Interfaces For Recording Guitar
If you need more information before reading on then we have a whole article that explains exactly what an audio interface is for complete beginners.
If you are right at the budget end, and just looking for a simple connection, then you can buy guitar-USB linking cables which will easily and cheaply enable you to connect your guitar (electric or electro-acoustic) directly to your computer. You’ll then be able to record, add effects etc and you will get much better results than just going straight to the generic line-in on your computer.
However, 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 – see below). 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 studio condenser mic, you’ll need to spend a bit more and be sure to purchase a device with phantom power. The condenser mic will also cost more than a dynamic mic. For studio recording, if you can stretch your budget this far you will get a good result .
Don’t forget, these USB Audio interfaces 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 us because they can’t hear anything! 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 Guitar
Our pick is the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+. The Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone is also particularly good choice because you can use it either as a USB or a standard mic with XLR output, 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 ever popular and newly improved Samson C01U Pro 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
Guitar Recording Software
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.
Our Suggestions To Buy Now So You Can Easily Record Guitar
Behringer Guitar Link UCG102 – Plug in your guitar and turn your PC or Mac computer into a guitar amp and recording system without the need for any other hardware
Line 6 POD Studio UX1 Guitar Audio Interface – A convenient low noise and low latency interface for the electric guitarist and bassist with a suite of 18 guitar amps, 24 guitar cabs, 5 bass amps and 5 bass cabs, 29 essential stompbox and studio effects and 6 mic preamps
Top End Guitar-USB Interface for Mac, iPad and iPhone
If you have a Mac or are recording on iPad, then the Apogee Jam 96K is an absolutely superb high quality guitar interface. You can connect via USB, lightning or 30-pin connector. All the cables are included. It has been designed to work with Garageband and Logic, but you can use it with any recording software. Either at home or on the go.
USB Audio Interfaces With Guitar And Mic Input
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2 In/2 Out USB Recording Audio Interface. High quality mic preamps, excellent digital performance and rugged metal case
M-Audio M-Track 2-Channel Portable USB Audio and MIDI Interface. Has combo inputs with phantom power for recording vocals, guitars, bass, and more. It’s convenient and mobile to accommodate any audio source.
Presonus AudioBox iTwo 2-Channel Audio Interface A popular choice for mobile musicians and guitarists, the 2-channel AudioBox iTwo is compact USB interface, ruggedly built, and works with virtually any PC or Mac or iOS recording software, and comes with good software suite to get you started.
Behringer U-PHORIA UMC204HD Audio Interface 2×4 USB 2.0 audio/midi interface for recording microphones, guitars and instruments with 24-bit/192 khz resolution for professional audio quality. Comes with a whole suite of recording software packages.