Wanting to record guitar on your computer seems simple enough, but the process itself can often be somewhat confusing, especially when you throw in multiple operating systems and software options.
To clear things up, I'm going to tackle the two most popular options.
While these two programs are free, there is some additional gear that you’ll need.
In particular, you’ll need a USB audio interface to connect your guitar to your Mac or PC.
Here’s everything I used to complete my own recording setup at home:
What you’ll need and what I used
- PreSonus AudioBox USB
- Audacity (free software download)
- GarageBand (free with Mac OS)
- Planet Waves Cables
- Line 6 Spider IV 150-Watt Modeling Amp
- Skullcandy Headphones
The USB interface that I use...
I've used this interface from PreSonus to record onto both Mac and PC-based computers for several years now and have yet to see any trouble from it. The unit works perfectly without any delays and is great for recording guitar tracks or anything where you only need a couple of inputs.
You can piece some of this together or use a different USB interface if you’d like.
The PreSonus Audiobox is a great option though if you’re needing to buy one before getting started.
It works great with either Mac or Windows.
Depending on your OS and software of choice, I've put together two different sets of instructions:
Toggle either Mac or Windows instructions
Mac users click here (GarageBand)
How to Record Guitar into Garageband
This section will show you how to record guitar into Garageband using a Presonus Audiobox or similar USB interface.
Assuming you're using the Presonus Audiobox, here's a quick list of initial steps to get started:
Windows users click here (Audacity)
How to Record Guitar into Audacity
Here’s a full list of steps for Windows users who are recording guitar with Audacity:
Hooking up your guitar amp (or preamp) to the USB audio interface
This process is the same regardless of whether you're using Mac or Windows and should occur after the interface has been succesfully connected to your computer and recording software.
While I've used my own USB interface and amp for this demo, most amps and USB interfaces will be connected in the same (or similar) manner.
If your amp does not support speaker outs (like the Line 6 pictured below), you can go straight from your guitar, or use a DI box. Though most amps have some sort of output jack(s) that you can use.
Find those jacks on your amp.
You will need two extra cables to go from these jacks to the front instrument jacks in the PreSonus box.
Once you’ve done this, you are ready to turn your amp on and go for it.
I’d recommend using the headphone jack provided in the front of the PreSonus box (you can see it to the left marked “Phones”), or if you have speakers, they can be plugged into the back of the box.
Either way is fine, though I personally prefer headphones.
Understanding the volume settings and dials on your USB interface
The last thing you will need to do is figure out the settings for your amp and the PreSonus box.
This can involve a lot of trial and error but I’ll at least get you oriented enough that you can figure out what works best for you.
You want to avoid clipping or sending too much signal to audacity since that will end up giving you a muddy sound.
Therefore it’s a good idea to keep your amp at a modest master volume.
Hit record and watch the waves on the track to see how loud you can turn up your amp before it starts clipping. Go about 10% below that point and then leave your amp’s volume there.
PreSonus AudioBox (or other USB interface)
I’ll cover the PreSonus box by going over each knob individually.
Main: The Main knob is the overall volume of the signal coming from the box. This doesn’t effect the signal going to your computer and audacity, but rather effects what you hear in your headphones or speakers.
Mixer: 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.
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 to audacity.
Phones: This is simply an output controller for the signal going into your headphones.Left Signal (2): This allows you to adjust the volume of the left signal when recording in stereo (which audacity does by default).
This does effect the signal audacity receives. If you turn this knob up, then the left channel in audacity 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 more or less the same.
This has really been a great setup for me.
It’s inexpensive, easy to use and the sound quality is quite good.
It at least does the job for YouTube covers.
If you are having trouble with the setup, or have any questions about volume or alternative methods, please feel free to give me a shout and I’ll do my best to assist.
Other Music Production-Related Content
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Connection your Guitar to a Computer: Four step guide to connecting a guitar to either a Mac or Windows machine for recording.
Best Headphones for Guitar: Rounding up our favorite headphones to pair with a guitar and amplifier.
Best Cheap Studio Monitors: A roundup of our favorite studio monitors under $500, both active and passive.
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Cheap Headphones for Music Production: Rounding up our favorite headphones to pair with music production software.
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Music Production Windows PC: Building a Windows PC that can handle all the heavy lifting of music production software and DAWs.
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