Recording Guitar Tricks

How to connect guitar to the PC

If you want to record your music on your computer, the first thing to know is how to connect your guitar to your home recording workstation. Here's several different options.

In today’s world of modern technology, almost every single industry has been affected in a positive way. The music recording industry is no exception. Long gone are the days when musicians had to seek out expensive recording studios to pursue their art; with advances in today’s technology, it’s very possible to make very good sounding recordings from anywhere, even from the bedroom!

The personal computer has evolved into one of the biggest home recording tools today. To record your guitar directly into the computer, all you need is your favorite axe and a few pieces of equipment that help convert the signal from your pickups to whatever software you choose.

Straight adapter: simple and cheap

The most basic way to get the signal from your guitar to your PC is to purchase a simple 1/4” to 1/8” adapter and plug straight into your line in (usually marked by a microphone). You’ll probably have to switch your audio source to “line in” depending on your sound card and digital audio software. The benefits to this approach are that it’s very easy to do and very cheap. These adapters are available in everyday hardware stores; you don’t need a special music store to find one. They’re also not guitar specific, so you can use them for any piece of electronics that needs to fit into a 1/8” input. The drawbacks to going straight in through a common adapter are that it’s not the best sounding approach and it limits versatility that you can get from some of the other options we’ll discuss here. For example, you can only record one instrument at a time, and you can’t tweak the settings on your signal before it gets recorded. Also, some of the newer laptops and even tablets don’t have a “line in,” which can make this approach difficult. But if you’re looking for a very basic way to get your ideas from your guitar to the PC, then this is the easiest way to go.

Audio interfaces: more options and more versatility

If you’re ready for a step up from the basic adapter approach, then audio interfaces are certainly worth checking out. They are more expensive than just a basic adapter, but offer exponentially more features. One example of a basic interface is the Behringer Guitar Link UCG102 USB Interface. It costs around $30 and doesn’t require any additional software or drivers to use. For the amateur home recorder, this is a very affordable yet effective option. It plugs into your USB port, which means less signal loss from your guitar, and has a very user-friendly layout. You plug your guitar into the input next to the “guitar” logo, just as you would an amplifier, and connect the UCG102 to your USB port, and you’re good to go! This is best suited for practice or demo tracks, as there is only one input, but for the price, it’s tough to beat something like this for an entry-level audio interface.

If you’re willing to spend a few more dollars, you may want to consider the TASCAM US-122MKII USB 2.0 2 Channel Audio/MIDI Interface.While that may sound like a mouthful, this handy little box is quite the workhorse for right around $100. It features two XLR (microphone) inputs and 2 analog inputs for instruments. It doesn’t require an external power supply, which makes it even more portable than it already is. It features switchable 48V phantom power, which means you can record with your favorite non-powered microphone. Another cool feature of the TASCAM US-122 (and most other higher end interfaces) is that it can replace your PC’s sound card, allowing you to watch videos or listen to music with much higher quality.

One example of a higher end interface is the Behringer FCA 1616 Firepower.Featuring 16 inputs and outputs, plus a MIDI output, this rack mountable audio interface is compatible with many of today’s leading digital audio workstations, including Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Cubase, and many others. This is the real deal – professional level recordings can be made on the FCA 1616. Coming in at right around $250, you get plenty of bang for your buck. It comes with a dedicated power supply, so it’s not as portable as some of the other audio interfaces, but if you’re looking for a useful, professional addition to your home studio, the FCA 1616 is a very good way to go.

Conclusions

As with anything, the higher up you go in price, the more advantages you have. Many of these audio interfaces feature preamps, and the higher up the chain you go, you generally get more inputs. It’s also a good ideal to keep an eye out for software deals; often software companies will include interfaces with their packages, or the audio interface manufacturers will include some basic software in with their products. Whichever route you decide to go, recording with a PC is easier – and more functional – today than it has ever been before.

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