by Owen Critchley
Warner/LoudThud recording artist
Author of Easy Home Recording Blueprint
In this edition:
1. Recording acoustic guitar using “direct in” method
2. Recording acoustic guitar using mike
3. Recording electric guitar using “direct in” method
4. Recording electric guitar – miking an amp
Before we begin to talk about specific methods about how to record guitar on computer, let’s agree to a line in the sand that we won’t cross. This will be the dividing line that separates good and bad practices so we don’t waste time chasing methods that will not help us achieve pro quality recording in the home studio. In other words, let’s stick to the stuff that works.
With that in mind, let’s assume that our minimum level of acceptable practices starts with bypassing our computer’s built-in sound card. Instead, as we discuss how to record guitar to pc, let’s agree that we will be sending sound in, and out, of our computer using a decent i/o (in/out) device.
In my case, I recorded the tracks for my most current song releases using the very modest, very affordable, but very effective,
M-Audio Fast Track MKII USB Audio Interface
So, it’s not like I’m suggesting anything fancy here. But let’s just avoid consumer sound cards for this article. Fair enough?
I hope you do feel that’s fair, but in any case, this site’s goal is to promote simple, affordable and high quality audio recording practices at home, and I just don’t believe plugging a mic or instrument directly into a generic computer sound card can further that goal.
1. How to Record Guitar on Computer – Acoustic Guitar “Direct In” Method
The “direct in” recording method is a convenient option for those of you who have an acoustic guitar with a pickup and an output.
Let’s make things simple here, and say that we will record guitar on Garageband recording software. Or an alternative, sometimes called Garageband for PC, the very similar Mixcraft 5 recording software.
- Plug in the FastTrack i/o (in/out) box, or whatever external i/o you will be using, into the computer. Set the audio preferences on the computer to use the FastTrack as the default device for “sound in” and “sound out.”
- Plug your 1/4″ guitar cable into the guitar’s output and plug the other end into the 1/4″ input of the FastTrack (the i/o box)
- Open your recording software (Garageband for our purposes here) and create a new track. Choose a channel for the new track to receive the guitar signal. (Using the FastTrack’s quarter inch port as in this scenario, you would set your Garageband track’s channel to channel 2)
- Play the guitar and make sure the track is receiving the signal. Assuming it is, make sure the track is receiving a healthy volume from your guitar. Adjust your track volume, the FastTrack’s volume and your acoustic guitar volume so that the track receives a level that never spikes above the “zero” point of the track meter. Our goal is to send Garageband a full bodied signal. Not too loud (risks distortion) and not too quiet (risks a thin sound.)
- At this point, all that’s left for how to record guitar on computer using the “direct in” method, is to press the record button and lay down a track.
POINT OF INTEREST: When we record guitar to pc using the “direct in” method, we can monitor (listen) using either our speakers OR our headphones. The signal is enclosed so there are no issues regarding “leakage” or “crosstalk” (in other words a quiet or controlled environment is not strictly necessary because our sound is traveling direct within the cable)
2. How to Record Guitar on Computer – Acoustic guitar using microphone
The recording guitar microphone method, the process is similar except…
- We will plugging a microphone into the XLR input of the FastTrack (i/o device)
- Create new track as described above
- For the FastTrack, open channel 1 (Garageband) to receive sound to the new track
- Try starting by placing the microphone 6 – 10 inches from the 13th fret of the acoustic guitar. (Miking the soundhole of the acoustic guitar can be a bit boomy and give too much pick or strumming noise.)
- Set your input level as above
- When using a mic to record acoustic guitar, we must control external noises and we MUST use headphones for monitoring.
POINT OF INTEREST: We cannot have our speaker playback leaking into our mic and onto our track. This also goes for every squeak of your chair, or throat clearing, dog barking, doors opening and closing etc. A quiet, controlled environment as we are recording is a must every time we use a mic.
3. How to Record Guitar on Computer – Electric guitar “direct in”
The process for recording electric guitar on Garageband or any recording software is the same basic method we detailed above. In other words we can use the “direct in” method or the mic method for recording guitar to pc.
However, with an electric guitar going “direct in,” you may choose to introduce effects pedals to the signal. In that case the path the sound will take is:
Electric Guitar >> into effects pedal >> into FastTrack 1/4″ input
Repeat steps listed above.
4. How to Record Guitar on Computer – Miking an electric guitar amp
Plug in the mic as we described in the steps above. At that point, placing and positioning the mic is all that’s left. Here’s where we can experiment to get the type of sound we’re looking for.
Decide if you would like to “take the room” out of the sound. In other words, the closer the mic is placed to the guitar amp, the less the ambience or natural reverb of your room will influence the sound.
For close mic placement try 6″ – 12″ in front of the amp’s speaker and turn the mic slightly to the left or right (ie: “off axis”)
For a live club sound, try moving the mic back from the guitar amp. The further you move it away from the amp, the more the ambience of the room will color the sound.
A useful trick is to record one track with a close mic position, and then record another identically played track with a different microphone placement. Then, blend and mix the two tracks during Garageband playback to create your desired sound.
Invitation to the full step by step Easy Home Recording Blueprint
I hope this little snapshot has been a useful glimpse at how to record guitar on computer. I’d now like to invite you to access many more step by step home recording tips like this in MUCH more detail, Including pictures and illustrations, tons of tricks so you can make hit-quality recordings at home easily and much more… you’ll see.
I’m talking about my Easy Home Recording Blueprint showing the exact incredibly simple method I use to record songs and music for movies, tv, cd release, song licensing, etc etc.
As soon as you sign up for my free home recording course, you will receive your 10% discount for the full Blueprint that you can use any time you want.
I hope to see you there. I think you’re going to love it and be surprised at how great your recording can sound… easily and very soon.