For a long time, I've been using GarageBand with my guitar.
This article contains nearly everything I know about using GarageBand for playing and recording guitar at home. In this guide, I've included information regarding two different versions of GarageBand:
Now, at the time of writing this guide, the most recent stable versions were the following:
- 10.2 for the Mac version
- 2.2.2 for the iOS version
As I'm able, I'll do my best to update this article along with future releases of GarageBand. You'll be able to tell by checking the date at the top of the article. That's a "most recent update" tag and not the date of original publishing. If you're looking for something more along the lines of lessons, checkout Guitar Chalk's roundup of mobile guitar lesson apps.
What I Used to Make the Connection
These are a few of the devices that I actually use in my own home studio to connect my instruments to Garageband. If you buy through the orange buttons, it helps support the site at no extra cost to you. If not, no worries.
PreSonus Audiobox 96 USB Interface
Mackie CR3 Studio Monitors
ATH-M50x Studio Headphones
What this Article Covers
In this guide, I'll cover everything you need to know about setting up, configuring and using GarageBand with your guitar as the external input. We'll cover the amp models, pedals, audio interfaces, monitoring options and all the general tweaking tips and tricks that you need to know to make it work in your situation.
Over the past few years the GarageBand software has gotten extremely powerful, and I've found myself using it more and more, even for live situations.
Here's what I'll cover:
The Basics: What is GarageBand?
If you are already familiar with the software, feel free to skip ahead to the connection and physical setup section. In chapter one, I'll go over a basic intro to the program, what it is, what it does and how to obtain it.
In short, GarageBand is Apple's music production and audio processing software. It's also a recording suite, with an emphasis on creating your own music, with or without instruments. If you're interested, Scott Watson has a great series of GarageBand tutorials here that includes a good overview segment.
You have two different ways to obtain the software.
How do I get GarageBand?
First, GarageBand comes pre-loaded onto all Mac computers. It also comes pre-loaded on iPad Pros. That's the most common (and only) way to obtain it on a Mac laptop or Mac Mini. It's not available for purchase or download on any other platform. The iOS version can be downloaded for iPhone or iPad, though in the past Apple has charged a few bucks for the mobile version.
As far as I can tell, it's now a completely free download from the app store.
How do I download GarageBand on iPhone or iPad?
If you're going to use GarageBand on an iPhone or iPad, and it's not already installed on the device, you can download it via the app store.
First, start the app store via this icon:
Use the search bar to search for "garageband."
Once you've found the app, download it and wait for iOS to finish installing.
You can now boot GarageBand from your iPad or iPhone.
How to Open GarageBand on a Macbook or Mac Mini
Anytime you've got a Macbook or Mac Mini running the latest version of Mac OS, you'll find the GarageBand app by clicking on Launchpad and searching through the list of installed applications.
Use this icon to start Launchpad:
From the listing of apps that follow, you can just click on the GarageBand icon to launch the software.
Updating GarageBand on a Mac
The app store on your Mac will automatically pull down updates for GarageBand if and when they're available. Make sure you check the app store for updates to either your Mac OS or the GarageBand software itself.
If any updates are available, make sure to install them before launching GarageBand, so you know you're working with the most recent, stable release.
Now that we have the software, we can move onto the physical setup needed to monitor the input of an external instrument.
Namely, your guitar.
Connection and Physical Setup
In this section, I'll cover how to setup GarageBand to receive input from your guitar.
I'll also limit this part of the article to focusing on setting up with a Macbook or Mac Mini and not an iPad or iPhone, since I'll have a separate section to deal with the peripherals and devices needed for that.
For now, we're focusing on the "desktop" version of the physical setup.
To get GarageBand to actually hear your guitar, you'll need a couple of extra things:
- Some kind of USB audio interface
- Studio monitors or headphones
- A few extra TRS instrument cables
The signal coming out of your guitar will go into the USB audio interface, which can then be "listened to" by GarageBand, allowing GarageBand to serve as a signal processor for your guitar, which then outputs the processed signal. The studio monitors or headphones will allow you to hear the output of GarageBand going back through the USB audio interface.
GarageBand and Guitar Setup Diagram
Here's a full setup diagram:
Note that this signal doesn't necessarily have to come straight from your guitar.
For example, the last pedal in my chain is a Line 6 DL4 delay modeler which has stereo outputs allowing me to run a signal into both channels of my USB audio interface (most have at least two). This means that you can run your guitar into your pedals or pedalboard just like you normally would, then plug the output from those pedals into your USB interface.
Example Using the iRig Pro DUO
For the audio interface, I used an iRig Pro DUO (we reviewed it here) by IK Multimedia, which is typically used to hook up to an iPad or iPhone (again, we'll cover more about iPad and iPhone use later). It works with a USB connection and a Macbook all the same. I've also used a PreSonus AudioBox, which works just as well.
Since the DUO has two channels, I ran both outputs from the my Line 6 DL4 into each one.
Here's a helpful connection diagram that IK Multimedia provides with the DUO:
As you can tell from the above diagram, you can run a separate instrument into each of the two channels.
On the DUO, there's also a headphone out or "direct monitor" where you can plug headphones in, if you don't have a pair of studio monitors on hand. This is a common feature included in most audio interfaces.
Whether you use the DUO or some other USB audio interface, this is always how you'll deal with the physical setup, whether you're using a guitar or other instrument. It can be a bit confusing at first, but once you set one up, the physical side of it will quickly make sense.
Since the DUO is simpler than most interfaces, I'll cover another example using the PreSonus AudioBox.
Deciphering The PreSonus AudioBox and Other USB Interfaces
The PreSonus AudioBox is one of the most commonly-used USB audio interfaces, partially because it's so affordable, but also because it's a well-designed and simple solution for sending a guitar signal into your computer. The only thing about it that can be tricky is the front panel, which contains all of the following knobs:
- Main Output
- Phones Volume (monitoring volume)
- Channel 1 Gain
- Channel 2 Gain
- Mixer (balance between input and output)
I've isolated and described the functionality of each knob for those who are trying to set things up with this device.
The Main knob is the overall volume of the signal coming from the box. This doesn’t effect the signal going in to your computer and audacity, but rather effects what you hear in your headphones or speakers. It's essentially the output volume.
The mixer is useful if you are listening to a song on your computer while playing. You can use it to adjust the volume of the song compared to your guitar signal. It's basically controlling the balance between input going to the AudioBox and output coming from it.
Turning it one way or the other will either make your guitar louder, or the song louder.
Again, this has no effect on the signal going into your computer.
This is simply an output controller for the signal going into your headphones.
Left Signal (2)
This allows you to adjust the gain of the left signal when recording in stereo or into just that channel.
This does effect the signal that your computer and GarageBand would receive. If you turn this knob up, then the left channel (assuming a stereo connection) in GarageBand will get louder and vice versa.
Right Signal (1)
As you probably guessed, this is the same as above, except for the right channel. In most cases you’ll want the left and right signals to be the same level, or at least fairly close.
Regardless of the interface you use, the setup will always be something similar to this, particularly if you're dealing with smaller boxes that are meant for offices or home studios, being used by one musician. And when it comes to GarageBand, the interface you end up with isn't a major concern, as long as you have something that carries your guitar's signal. Still, I'll cover a few different options I'd recommend, both with a USB connection and a faster Thunderbolt connect.
USB Audio Interfaces for GarageBand Suggestions
For most GarageBand setups, a USB audio interface, as opposed to a Thunderbolt audio interface, will be totally adequate. As far as which USB device to get, I can recommend a few that I've had first hand experience with, two of which I've already used as examples:
For most, the PreSonus AudioBox or the Focusrite Scarlett Solo will be your best options. If you want your USB device to be iPad or iPhone compatible, go with the iRig Pro DUO instead.
Thunderbolt Audio Interface Suggestions for GarageBand
Thunderbolt audio interfaces, like the Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII pictured above, are faster connections that only work with Mac computers or with PCs that have some kind of Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter built in.
Thunderbolt interfaces are typically utilized by professional musicians and mid to pro-level recording studios.
You can read more on Thunderbolt audio interfaces here to see if they might be better suited for your situation, or if the USB option is enough. Since our context is limited to Apple products (GarageBand only runs on Mac and iOS) Thunderbolt technology is a viable, if not more expensive, option.
Physical Connection and Setup for iPads or iPhones
In a lot of our examples, we'll reference the iPad version of GarageBand. To actually connect your guitar to an iPad (or your iPhone) you'll need some extra peripheral items that you may or may not already know about.
Just like when you use your computer, through a USB audio interface, to serve as your guitar's digital processor, you'll use the iPad to serve in the same manner.
The only problem is that iPad's don't have USB ports.
Here are a couple devices that can help you get around that:
iRig Pro DUO
This device can work with Mac, PC, Android, iPad or iPhone products. The manufacturer, IK Multimedia, is one of the first companies to have ventured into the mobile amp modeling arena and they still run the show.
The iRig Pro Duo, while a little on the expensive side, is a great option if you want to bounce back and forth between recording to a computer and a mobile device.
Remember, these are only necessary if you want to use the iPad or iPhone version of GarageBand. Otherwise, you're fine to go with a more conventional interface like the PreSonus AudioBox.
You can checkout reviews and used options for the iRig Pro DUO via the link below:
Focusrite iTrack Dock
Another option I've used is something called the iTrack Dock which is made by Focusrite. This is a docking-style interface that you can actually fit your iPad into and use as an amp modeler with whatever software you prefer.
The above image is a stock photo of the product, but here's a look at how I've setup the iTrack for use in my office and when I play at church:
Whether I'm playing acoustic, electric or bass, my input always goes through this device and into GarageBand. Setup is also quite simple in that you just dock the iPad on the device and set your input in GarageBand to whichever of the two available inputs your guitar is going into.
We'll cover the process more in-depth in the software section below. Once again, I've included a link to Amazon reviews and deals for the Focusrite iTrack Dock.
Mac OS and iOS GarageBand Setup
Assuming you have all the hardware setup correctly the software configuration will be your next step.
When I hook up any kind of audio interface to my Mac, before doing anything else, I make sure the Mac OS recognizes my device. At the same time, I use the Mac sound settings to "preemptively" set my input and output devices to listen for the that device (the iRig Pro DUO in this case).
In this section, I'll explain that process.
We'll do the Mac OS first, then iOS with an iPad.
Mac OS GarageBand Software Setup for Guitar
On you Mac computer, open up System Preferences.
If you click "Sound" the following window appears. Select the "Output" tab and make sure that the name of your device is listed.
Double-click on the name to select it as the default output device. This will send the audio going through your Mac back out to the interface and into your monitors or headphones.
Now, click on the "Input" tab and again verify that your device is listed and selected.
With the input selected, this means that your computer will listen for sound coming through the device and allow you to either monitor or record that stream.
Once this is done, whatever audio or DAW software you use (in this case GarageBand) should recognize that the Mac OS is already listening for your device.
You're now ready to open up GarageBand on your Mac.
iOS (iPad) GarageBand Software Setup for Guitar
Setup with the iPad version of GarageBand with an external device is fairly simple. Once your interface is connected, like the iTrack Dock or the iRig Pro DUO, you'll need to go into input settings to turn on the "Monitor" option and select the correct input.
The input settings icon is in the top left corner of your interface (looks like a little guitar cable):
This will give you the following options:
- Channel selection
- Monitor toggle
- Noise guitar and reduction threshold
Toggle "Monitor" to on and select the channel, which will usually be input 1 or 2, depending on the device you're using. For example, I was using the iTrack Dock which, as you can see, has two inputs:
This means that if you run your instrument into INPUT I on the back panel, you'll need to select that input in GarageBand.
Here's a picture of how I set mine up in my office:
You can't see it, but on the back panel, my electric guitar is plugged into INPUT I, which I then select on my "Input Settings" in GarageBand to engage the device.
At this point, you should be able to hear your guitar playing through the amp model, assuming all the volume levels on your interface are setup correctly. If you don't hear any audio, or if your guitar isn't reacting to the amp model, here are a few things to try:
- Is the gain control for your channel turned up high enough?
- If you're using monitors, do they have a volume control? Is it up high enough?
- Have you selected the right channel as your input?
- Does your audio interface have a "Direct Monitor" button? Make sure it's on.
- Does your audio interface have a control for the monitor volume? Make sure it's high enough.
Chances are, one of these things will solve the problem of not being able to hear audio via your guitar with everything hooked up and configured.
Best Practices and Configuration Advice
Unfortunately, with a setup like this, there are a lot of variables that I can't account for.
However, I can point out best-practices that have worked for me in my own home studio and warn you about some potential pitfalls.
Let's start with the possibility of external pedals between your guitar and GarageBand.
Possible issues with running stompboxes into GarageBand
While GarageBand has a lot of its own built-in effects (more on those later) and is designed to function well without an external pedalboard, I've found that I much prefer to have my actual pedalboard involved when running into any kind of recording interface.
It's just what I'm used to.
Unfortunately, it can present a few problems.
Noise issues and discrepancies in volume are, in particular, common concerns. Yet, they are also easy to deal with.
The most common problem you'll face while running a pedalboard through GarageBand is excess noise.
While this can happen for a litany of reasons, the most likely culprit is a non-isolated power supply. A non-isolated power supply is something like a daisy-chain, or interconnected wall-wart.
Something like the following:
These are often the cheaper power supplies.
Disappointingly, cheap power supplies are usually not isolated.
They are notoriously noisy and better off to be replaced by something like the Voodoo Lab Iso 5 or Pedal Power 2, both of which are isolated sources of power and will greatly reduce your odds of having noise problems that are pedal-related.
At the same time, it should be noted that the more pedals your signal is running through, the more chances there are for crossover and noise issues. Simply reducing the amount of pedals can help to alleviate feedback, fuzz or unwanted hissing.
Take Dave Navarro's pedalboard, for example:
A far better "GarageBand-friendly" example might be Julie Jay's "drumhead" board:
So, nothing new here - just common sense.
The less pedals you use, the less noise you'll have to deal with.
A couple other options would include:
- Use 9V batteries instead of a daisy chain (9V batteries in each pedal - though a pain - is a form of isolated power)
- Put a noise suppressor like the Boss NS-2 at the end of your pedal chain
Preamp Gain Levels
With your pedalboard going directly into the USB interface, and ultimately GarageBand, you'll need to treat GarageBand as your final power amp. This means that the pedalboard is in a kind of preamp role, with the potential to send enough gain into GarageBand to create unwanted noise or even distortion.
This is something I have to watch with my compressor and EQ pedals, since they both have the ability to boost my signal. If you're too loud in GarageBand, you'll see the red clipping indicator in the top right corner where the master volume is located.
This means you'll need to back off the signal you're sending into GarageBand from your electric guitar and/or pedalboard.
You should also note that the amp models in GarageBand 10 provide a simulated preamp/power amp combo, meaning you'll have a gain knob on the amp and a master output (more on that later).
Now that we have everything configured properly, we're ready to move onto talking about navigating the interface. In the following section, we'll cover the basics of getting from the GarageBand splash screen to the digital amps within the software.
It'll be a quick chapter, after which we'll devote chapter six solely to manipulating the amp models.
Navigating GarageBand's Main Interface & Guitar Amp Modeler
In this chapter, we'll look at the basic navigation and amp modeling section of the Mac version of GarageBand first, then go through the same process for the iPad version.
As of GarageBand 10, the navigation and user interface has been vastly simplified and, in my opinion, works a lot better than in previous versions.
You can start the program by simply opening up the launchpad and clicking the
GarageBand icon. The first image that pops up will be the project window, which allows you to start a new project or open one that has been saved previously.
Concerning guitar, you'll want to start with the "Amp Collection" options on either of these screens, which will take you to an interface that is essentially an amp modeling and effects processing area for GarageBand.
On the Mac, that interface will look something like this:
This interface has several different components, together allowing you to choose, setup and use a specific amp model. I'll go through the purpose and functionality of each component, starting with the library and channel selection to the left of the interface.
Amp Library and Channel Selection
If you look to the left of this interface, you'll see two vertical windows. For those who don't have the software in front of them, here's a closeup look:
This section of the interface allows you to choose sounds or digital amp models from the library to use in the mixer, which is directly to the right of the sound library.
Once your amp is in a mixer channel, you'll have the following controls to utilize it:
The most important part of this section is that little orange button that looks like a Wi-Fi signal icon. Before clicking it, that button will be grayed out, which means the channel is off and not processing the input from your USB audio interface.
When you're ready to use the amp model, you'll need to click it and make sure it's showing orange.
The channel volume basically acts as the gain knob on a mixer, controlling how loud that particular channel is in the mix. Predictably, the L/R knob allows you to fade the signal from that particular channel to the left or right of the mix. For example, you might want one guitar on the right and a second, layering guitar on the left.
Once you understand this interface, you'll be able to do the following:
- Browse all the amp categories and amp models
- Use amp models to process input form your USB interface
- Adjust volume and mix of the amp models you're using
Now that we know how to do all that, we can start tinkering with the actual amp model and making changes to our guitar tone.
Basics of Recording Navigation
You can easily record your guitar's input in GarageBand via the record and playback controls that are at the top of your screen. At any time you can click the record button or access the track and mixing interface.
Since recording is somewhat outside the scope of this article (it can get really involved and doesn't have a lot to do specifically with guitar), I'm just going to mention the most critical aspects of the software.
There are primarily four different aspects of the recording interface that you need to be aware of, whether you're using the iPad or Mac version.
Just to give you a quick rundown of each:
- Amp/Mixer Toggle (only in iPad version): Switches between your amp and mixing panel view.
- Controls: Recording and playback buttons
- Toggle Metronome: Turn the metronome on or off
- Recorded Input: If you've recorded anything, it will be displayed next to the instrument you used.
Generally speaking, the recording interface in GarageBand is intuitive and easy to use. Again, there's more to it than what I've mentioned, especially in the Mac version, but I want to keep the context of this article limited to things that most directly impact guitar.
If you have more questions about recording, leave it in the comments section below and I'll take a look.
Now that we've covered the interface, we can jump into setting up our amp models.
Setting Up Amp Models
At this point, GarageBand is functioning as a digital preamp, meaning you can use the interface to manipulate your signal, just as you would any other amplifier. From here I'm going to use the iPad version of GarageBand, since it's a great deal easier if you're working with just the amp models.
Here's a shot of the Fender-style amp model in the GarageBand amp modeling section:
There is a difference between the iPad and Mac versions that should be mentioned here. On the iPad version, the above photo is the only view you'll have of the amp's interface, while the Mac version gives you an additional window with options that include the following:
- Type of speaker cab
- Type of microphone
- Position of microphone on the speaker cab
For example, here's an amp model in the Mac version, where I've labeled a button in the bottom right hand corner:
Clicking this button opens, in a new window, a much more advanced control scheme for the amplifier. Here's what that interface looks like:
Now, the iPad version doesn't have the speaker cab and mic feature, though in most cases you won't particularly miss it, unless you're trying to get really specific about your tone.
If we bounce back over to the iPad version, all the other features of the amplifier are provided on one interface. Click on the question mark in the top right hand corner to see labels for all of the available functionality:
To summarize, here's a simpler rewording of everything you can do from this section of the app:
- Change input options
- Switch between guitar and bass amps
- Change amp models
- Recording and playback
- Tune your guitar
- Change the length of your recording
- Toggle stomboxes
Now, all those things are happening outside of the digital amp model itself. Thus, I wanted to add a graphic that details what the amp can actually do in terms of modifying your tone and making changes to your guitar's signal, just like a regular amplifier would.
Here's a summary:
Just like you would have with a physical amp, you've got a gain control that adjusts volume going into the preamp, along with EQ and, in some cases, some onboard effects that process the signal before it goes through the power amp. The "Master" and "Ouput" controls will adjust volume at the power amp level of the amplifier.
- Gain (preamp volume)
- 3-Band EQ (bass, mids and treble)
- Onboard effects (varies but usually reverb and tremolo)
- Output (power amp volume - overall output)
This is the setup for most amp models, both in the Mac and iPad version of GarageBand. The only thing that will vary is the inclusion of particular effects and sometimes the presence knob will be missing.
Otherwise, it's a pretty straightforward setup that's modeled after the above example.
Basic Amp Tweaking in GarageBand
Many of the amp models in GarageBand bear a striking resemblance to real-life amp brands that you'll likely recognize. For example, there are obvious Fender, Marshall and Orange brand amp lookalikes that have made it into the software. All of these amps are made to model a digitized version of a particular tone. For example, these are all amps under the "Clean Guitar" category:
- Surfin' in Stereo
- Country Gent
- Brit and Clean
- Chicken Pickin'
- Cool Jazz Combo
- Dyna Trem
All of these amp models boast their own unique tone and effects setting, where in the Mac version they are usually onboard effects with settings already adjusted.
The bulk of "tweaking" can be done by simply switching between these amp models.
I would treat these menu options as your primary method of switching up tones and sounds, where you have first the categories section, then the list of sounds and tones within that category. The actual dials on the amps (EQ, reverb, effects, etc.) should be used for minor adjustments and very small changes in tone.
For example, start with your four different category options:
Choose a category first.
You can see from the above screen shot, you've got four to choose form in the guitar category (three for bass):
- Clean Guitar
- Crunch Guitar
- Distorted Guitar
- Experimental Guitar
Once you choose your category, you'll have a variety of different sounds that are inside that parent folder. Within each folder you'll have a lot of different material to choose from. Once you find the one you want, use the amp modeling interface to make subtle changes as opposed to trying to manipulate a tone heavily from any single model.
External Guitar GarageBand Examples
Now that I've gone through all the setup, I want to share a couple of samples with you that I recorded via GarageBand on my iPad.
The first one uses a Marshall-style amp with tremolo, reverb and a high mid/treble boost.
I also used the delay effect from the blue echo pedal (more on pedals later), pictured here:
And here's the final product:
The next sample used the GarageBand amp model called "Sunshine Drive" which is modeled after the Orange Amps brand, and is slightly more distorted with a bit of a grungy lead edge to it.
Mids and treble are backed off a bit here while bass and presence get a small boost compared to the previous sample.
The result was a nice, bluesy overdrive sound that made good on lead licks and softer soloing. I'm not the greatest lead player, so the riff is a take or leave type of thing, but at least it illustrates the power of these models.
Here's the sample:
Before publishing this article, I wrote a piece on a cascading delay effect in the Mac version of GarageBand, which gives us one more sample to add in here. Though it was setup on a Mac instead of an iPad, the process is exactly the same.
Here's the amp model and settings I used:
After selecting the amp model, I used the advanced modeling panel to dial in the following settings:
The results were pretty cool. I did one by itself, then added a cool drum track behind the second record. If you want to checkout the entire process, the article covers every step.
Without Drum Track
With Drum Track
The second riff is modeled a little different than the first, but you get the idea. Little projects like this are really easy in GarageBand and do a great job of allowing you to mod your external instrument with some really powerful digital creativity.
Take some time to experiment with the amp models and get used to the different sounds you have available.
Note that the Mac version is going to have more variety and tweaking options than the iPad version.
GarageBand Pedals and Pedalboard
In addition to amp models, GarageBand provides a surprisingly comprehensive amount of digital effects pedals that you can use as you would physical pedals in your signal chain. In this section, I'll take you through the process of adding those pedals, tweaking and engaging them. In so doing, I'm going to once again use the iPad version, which has a core grouping of pedals, though far less than the larger Mac version. I'm using the iPad version since it covers the most important effects, the principles of which would apply to the extra ones you'll find in the Mac version of GarageBand.
What's important to note, is that these stompboxes function exactly as you would expect their physical counterparts to function.
You line them up, pair them together, adjust their knobs and engage them via a bypass switch, just the same as you would an actual pedalboard, so don't overthink the process.
Activating the Pedalboard in GarageBand
You'll notice in the amp modeling section of GarageBand that there is an icon in the top right corner that looks like a tiny guitar pedal, which is placed right next to the tuner icon.
Selecting this button will switch you over to the pedalboard interface which will usually have a couple pedals already placed and activated (depending on the amp models you're using). On this page, the rest of the interface is exactly the same as before, with the exception of the amp model has now been hidden. To go back to the amp model, simply hit the same button again, which you'll now notice is shaped like a small amplifier instead of a pedal.
You can swipe the existing pedals down to remove them, or click/tap the empty spot to add a new stompbox, which will give you the following options:
If you need more empty spaces, GarageBand will automatically add them whenever you add new pedals, regardless of how many you're using. In total, there are 10 different stompboxes you have to choose from in the iPad version.
Using the GarageBand Stompboxes with your Guitar
Using these effects pedals is completely intuitive and simple, just like you would an actual stompbox.
Simply click the button, to engage the pedal (they each have an indicator light and default to "on" when you drop them) and drag the knobs to make changes to the pedal's tone and EQ settings.
For pedals that impact the volume of your signal, you'll need to balance this with the output of your amp's channel and the overall output of your guitar's channel.
For example, the vintage overdrive pedal has a "level" control.
The "Level" control increases the output of your guitar's signal going into the preamp of your digital amp model. This means that, theoretically, you could cause your channel to clip red, which would make for unwanted distortion. If you want to increase distortion at the pedal-level, meaning before it gets to the preamp, use the "Drive" knob on the stompbox.
Volume is just something you'll need to keep in mind when making adjustments to pedals that can impact it, because you don't want to modify it too much at the pedalboard level.
Here's a way to visualize where your volume is being impacted and how to manage it:
This means that you should adjust the volume on your pedal and amp in GarageBand the same way you would a physical overdrive pedal and amplifier. In total, this gives you four different areas where output can be adjusted between your guitar and studio monitors or headphones.
Let's make a list of each one just to make sure it's easy to understand:
- Pedal levels (overdrive, boost pedals, etc.)
- Amp volume levels
- Channel volume levels
- Master output level for GarageBand
Getting this all lined up can be tricky because it's a lot of variables to think about. One thing that's helpful to keep in mind is that GarageBand functions a lot like a mixer in a recording studio. The master output is just what you hear from the entire mixing board going to a pair of speakers, monitors or headphones. The channel volume for your amp is like the gain setting on a mixer's channel.
Getting all this to sound right and avoid clipping is often times a matter of trial and error. Though I'd recommend starting with everything at its default levels, which GarageBand opens with, and your guitar's volume knob maxed. If adjustments are necessary, you can use that as your control point and work out from those levels, starting with the GarageBand pedals you're using and going up from there.
Setting Up GarageBand with an Acoustic Guitar
When you're dealing with trying to play and/or record an external acoustic guitar in GarageBand, you've got a few variables to consider. First, it's important to figure out whether you'll be using an acoustic preamp or a microphone. Generally speaking, most acoustic guitars come with an onboard preamp, in which case you'd setup the acoustic guitar just like you would an electric guitar, with a TRS cable going from the preamp to your USB audio interface.
You can also have external preamps, like this iRig acoustic stage which uses a clip-on soundhole pickup:
Preamp or no preamp?
However, there are a lot of people who prefer to go with a microphone and not a preamp, instead using GarageBand as their only source of tone manipulation. If you do opt for some kind of mic'd acoustic scenario, here's a diagram that could help you with potential placement of that mic:
As far as the type of mics to use, that's not an area where I have much experience or knowledge to speak on. Though there are plenty of other great suggestions out there. In most cases, I opt to use a preamp, just because it's simpler and less cumbersome to setup.
Amp Model Suggestions for Acoustic Guitars in GarageBand
Once you have an acoustic guitar running through your interface into GarageBand, the Mac version of the software actually has some preset acoustic guitar options for you. Unfortunately, these same options are not available in the iOS version.
To get there on your Mac, start GarageBand and select the "Songwriter" option from the project menu:
Once you do you'll have some options to work with in the acoustic guitar section.
Here are a few samples I recorded with GarageBand and the iRig acoustic stage.
Bright Preamp Setting
Nylon + Natural Preamp Setting
Warm Preamp Setting
FAQ about GarageBand
There are a few questions that I notice seem to come up fairly regularly in regards to GarageBand. While they don't necessarily relate to guitar directly, they're still helpful and relevant to the scope of this article. If I notice additional questions that come up as this article ages, I'll post them here as well with a time stamp, particularly if they show up in the comments section.
Which is better for basic recording, GarageBand or Audacity?
Audacity is an open source recording software that's lightweight and free on all platforms. For basic and quick recording, it's probably a better option than GarageBand, obviously for PC users, but also for those who want a simpler setup.
Otherwise, it's not nearly as powerful as GarageBand, nor does it provide the vast instrumentation and tone modeling resources.
Why is GarageBand so slow?
GarageBand is a heavy piece of software that's going to run far better on Mac's with a stronger spec sheet. As a general rule of thumb, I'd recommend the following as a baseline:
- 16 GB of RAM
- Run MacOS off a solid state drive
- i7 processor upgrade
The 16 GB and i7 processor are upgrades available that I'd recommend getting if you want GarageBand to run really smooth. For any DAW, these specs are a good target to aim for.
Otherwise, GarageBand slowing down could be an issue with background programs on your Mac. Here's an article on how to turn them off.
Will GarageBand work in Windows?
While there are plenty of click-bait articles written to target this topic, I'm extremely skeptical about anyone who claims to have successfully pirated, installed or finagled a way in which to install GarageBand on a PC. To date, I've never seen a resource provided that I'm comfortable recommending, so my formal position is that to use GarageBand, you must be running the Mac OS or iOS on a proper device.
What if I don't have any kind of audio interface?
When it comes to using guitar with GarageBand, especially an electric guitar, it's going to be a tough sell without some kind of USB or Thunderbolt interface. You can certainly use the microphone on your computer, but it's a massive downgrade compared to going directly into the sound card.
I've found that the Mac OS and iOS versions of GarageBand have been extremely useful, both for recording and for performing live. In fact, I usually just take my iPad and set things up with the iTrack Dock when I play at church.
For home recording, the Mac OS version of GarageBand is one of the easiest ways to set things up.
And while it's not sophisticated to the point of something like Ableton Live or Logic, Apple has given it a lot more attention in recent years, making it one of the best effects and amp modelling processors available to guitar players. If you already own a Mac or an iPad, it's an easy call.
For questions about the setup, software or anything else related to playing guitar through GarageBand, leave it in the comments section below.
References, Credits and Additional Resources
The iOS version of GarageBand iTunes page
- The Mac version of GarageBand iTunes page
- Dr. Scott Watson's GarageBand Tutorials
- Our Thunderbolt audio interface roundup
- Equipboard blog on daisy chain power supplies
- Article on how to turn off background programs on a Mac
- Setting up a cascading delay effect in GarageBand