One of our most frequently asked questions is how do you record a guitar on a PC, Laptop or Mac. There are a range of ways to do this. Depending on your budget, you could purchase a simple computer guitar cable. Or better, a dedicated guitar recording interface. Here are quick links to the different ways you can record your guitar:
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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
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, 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, 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.