It seems like a fairly simple question: how can I connect my electric or acoustic guitar to a computer, like a PC, Mac or laptop, smartphone or tablet? It may or may not be a surprise to hear that our helpdesk get asked this question a lot, and quite right, since this kind of stuff is not always as straightforward as it seems. In this blog, we cover all the ways and means you can hook up your guitar and start playing and recording.

How Can I Connect a Guitar to a Computer?

In Short…

Does your guitar have an output like the one you can see in the photo below? If yes, grab your jack cable and hook it up to an audio interface with an instrument-input. The audio interface is able to send the sound from your guitar to the audio software installed on your PC or Mac. This software could be a recording programme like a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation, which sometimes comes included with the computer operating system) or free software like Audacity and, for smartphones and tablets, you’ll find that masses of cheap or completely free recording apps are already available. if you need a little more help or your guitar has no output, simply read on!

What Kind of Guitar Do You Have?

Unfortunately, fully acoustic guitars will not have a jack output to send sound. If you have a fully acoustic guitar and still want to make recordings with a computer, you’re going to need a sound-hole pickup or a microphone. By placing a microphone just before the sound-hole of your guitar or pointing towards the fretboard, depending on the kind of sound you want, the microphone can then be connected to an audio interface (we’ll be talking about these in detail later). If you have an electric guitar or electro-acoustic guitar, then recording the sound to your computer is much easier. Since the guitar is already fitted with an output, you can simply connect a jack (instrument/guitar) cable and then … well, what you connect it to is what we’re going to talk about next.

How Can I Connect a Guitar to a Computer?

Audio Interface

The first thing you need to get hold of, besides a computer, is an audio interface. An audio interface or external sound-card acts as a kind of communication portal between your guitar and computer and ensures that a good quality signal is sent from the guitar to the computer. Of course, you probably have a built-in microphone and sound card on your computer or laptop, but the bonus of having an audio interface is that the audio and recording quality is usually better and most will come with proper, purpose-made microphone and instrument inputs. In the case of audio interfaces, you do get what you pay for. So, a cheap audio interface will certainly do the job but what you save in terms of money, usually costs a lot in terms of recording quality. But, if you’re a beginner, it’s best not to worry too much about this.

Special Guitar Interfaces

If you just want something that does one thing and is super-simple to use, then you might want to look at some basic (yet effective) guitar interfaces. A great example is the IK Multimedia iRig or the popular Line 6 POD Studio UX2. If you want to use your phone, make sure to check the specs since some will be exclusively compatible with Android and some with iOS. However, if you feel like you might want some more options in the future, then it’s probably best to go for a more standard interface with different kinds of connection sockets and more extensive parameters.

How Can I Connect a Guitar to a Computer?

Types of Sockets and Cables

Since an audio interface will have one or more inputs and outputs, here’s a run down of what you’re likely to find.

Connecting a Guitar Directly to an Interface

As a guitarist with an electric or electro-acoustic guitar, the most important input you’ll find is a standard 6.35mm jack input with Hi-Z. ‘Hi-Z’ stands for ‘High Impedance’ and is literally designed to handle the signal from high impedance equipment like a guitar. Sometimes, a little guitar-shaped symbol is printed helpfully above or somewhere near the input or the label ‘INST’ (instrument) to indicate that the input is meant for high impedance instruments. The jack input itself will look exactly like the sockets you see for bigger headphone plugs. You might also have an interface with a combined XLR (microphone) and jack socket, giving you the choice of using a 3-pin XLR plug or a standard big jack. If you’re connecting a guitar to one of these inputs, always double check that it’s a Hi-Z input and make sure to use a good guitar cable.

My Guitar Has No Jack Output!

If you have a fully acoustic guitar, no problem! You can still record. All you need is a sound-hole pickup or a microphone. A sound-hole pickup very simply clips to the sound-hole of your guitar and registers the sound. This pickup can be connected to an audio interface with a jack plug in the same way as any electric or electro-acoustic guitar. It can also be removed when you’re done and without causing any damage to your guitar. If you want to record your acoustic guitar with a microphone, first check that your audio interface has at least one microphone input. This will almost always be a 3-pin XLR socket and to connect up a microphone, an XLR cable will also be needed and can be found in pretty much any length you might need. However, since microphones sometimes come with a fixed jack cable and plug. If you don’t have a jack microphone socket on your interface, just add a jack to XLR adapter and this problem is quickly solved. When picking out an adapter, make sure that it turns a female jack (where the microphone jack can be connected) into a male 3-pin XLR plug (that can be connected to the audio interface input). If you need some help choosing the perfect microphone to record with, you can find it here!

How Can I Connect a Guitar to a Computer?

The Software

To record to a computer, you’ll be using some kind of audio processing software that receives the signal from the audio interface. Any amateur and professional studios will usually use DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software. This will sometimes come included with your audio interface or, if you’re a Mac user, there’s usually a free copy of Garage Band thrown in with the operating system. Otherwise, there are great free entry-level programmes available like Audacity that can be used on both PC, Mac and Linux. Once you have your software and your interface is connected, open the Settings on your computer (sometimes this needs to be done for the software itself) and find the options for inputs (or something similar) and select the audio interface as an input. Sometimes you’ll need to select the correct input when you want to record to a specific track in the programme, but once this is done, you can hit record and finally get started!

How Can I Connect a Guitar to a Computer?

Can I Record From an Amplifier?

Okaaaay, so you have a guitar hooked up to an audio interface and the dry signal being received by your software is maybe sounding a little bit boring. If you want to add a little colour to the sound, you can try to record using your guitar amplifier. This can be done by placing a microphone in front of or near the speaker and connecting the microphone to your audio interface. The most used microphone for recording guitar amplifiers is the Shure SM57 but can be fairly pricy if you’re just starting out so you might want to go for a less expensive but good alternative like the DAP PL07 dynamic instrument microphone or the Devine SM-100

Amplifier Simulators

If you don’t have an amplifier and that dry guitar sound still isn’t exactly inspiring, there’s still hope! There are loads of plug-in programmes available that offer ‘amplifier simulations’. These plug-ins can be loaded in your DAW and basically put a virtual guitar amp between the signal coming from the audio interface and the track you’re recording so you can put your guitar sound through your favourite combo or stack and get great sounding recordings. With some dedicated guitar interfaces like the iRig HD 2, this software even comes included!

How Can I Connect a Guitar to a Computer?

If you have any questions or suggestions, simply let us know by adding a comment below!

See Also …

» Audio Interfaces with Instrument Inputs
» Guitar Interfaces
» Guitar Cables
» Sound-Hole Pickups
» XLR Cables
» DAW Software
» DAW Plug-Ins

» Choosing the Right DAW Software
» Choosing the Right Electric Guitar
» Choosing the Right Electro-Acoustic Guitar
» Choosing the Right USB Microphone
» Choosing the Best Studio Microphone
» What Do You Need To Start Producing Music?
» Getting started with iPad music production

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