How To Plug Your Guitar Into Your Computer

How to plug your guitar into your computer is one of the most mysterious concerns of many players new to the recording environment.

The thought of how to pipe a physical instrument like an electric guitar into the digital confines of a computer system can boggle the uninitiated mind quite easily.

This process is, however, a basic part of the learning curve when it comes to tracking guitars in any Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW, like Pro Tools, Logic, or Reaper.

Really, it’s just learning a new type of signal flow than you’d use with tape machines.

This is the way the world records now, by and large, so you’re going to want to understand the basics of it unless you’ve got a couple Studers laying around the house, in which case we’ll be over after work.

Assuming you have a functioning computer and some kind of recording software, the most important piece of kit you’ll need is an interface.

An interface is the magic box that gets all your audio into and out of your computer.

Not only will you plug your guitar into it but it will also handle any microphones you might be using.

It will also send a signal to your monitors and headphones during tracking and playback.

There are scads of choices when it comes to these things, and they connect to your computer in a couple of different ways.

The most common and affordable kind is the USB interface.

These are surprisingly low in price and high in capability.

They’re made to get you up and running in a hurry and most today are plug-and-play, meaning the device and your software find each other on their own when connected, which you’ll love.

Here’s one of the most popular USB interfaces!

Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
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Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
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The Focusrite Scarlett USB audio interface is one of the best-selling devices of its kind on the market.

The company makes a few different versions of this popular product, but this is the easiest one on which to begin.

The Focusrite Solo offers one preamp input for mics and one dedicated to instruments.

Each input has its own gain control, and the instrument channel can be switched to accept Line or Instrument level signals.

It also features a pair of RCA jacks on the back for your stereo studio monitors, a single headphone jack and it’s bus-powered, which means it runs itself off of your computer and no other electrical connection is required.

All you need to do is connect this Focusrite to an open USB port on your machine, and you’re good to go.

It even comes with a USB cable and a ton of downloadable software to get you tracking right away, including Pro Tools First, which is an easy, entry-level version of the popular DAW used by millions around the world.

The next thing you’ll need is a good-quality instrument cable to connect your guitar to your interface.

Spectraflex Original Series GCO18NYEL Instrument Cable, 18-Feet, Neon Yellow
  • 20 AWG Ultra Pure Copper Center Conductor
  • 100% Copper and conductive polymer shield coverage
  • Low 39 pf/ft. Capacitance

Spectraflex is one of the finest cable companies out there, and its products are a good balance between high build quality and affordable pricing.

Cables are an easy place to cheap out after spending cash on a computer, software and all the rest but don’t yield to that temptation.

You don’t need cords that cost $500 each, but an industry-standard pro cable like this Spectraflex will do much to get the tone of your sweet ax into your interface and DAW of choice.

The Spectraflex Original Series cables are built for performance and durability.

They sport a 20 AWG Ultra Pure Copper center conductor, 100% Copper and conductive polymer shield coverage for noise control, low 39 pf/ft. capacitance
and a Fluorescent Neon braided outer covering that’s both protective and attractive.

These, of course, come in various lengths but it’s always a good idea to buy longer cables than you anticipate needing.

Eighteen feet is a good size that’ll give you the slack you require to get positioned as you wish to be.

Ten feet sounds like a long cable, but it’ll seem a lot shorter when you start attempting to route it through your rig.

Size matters.

Longer is always better.

Armed with these items and the aforementioned computer and software, you should be ready to plug your guitar into the digital world.

DAW software packages, no matter who makes them, are all designed to do the same job, which is recording and processing multiple tracks of audio material.

This means that, in the big picture, they’ll all operate in similar ways.

It is, though, a sound idea to start with something simple like Pro Tools First or Apple’s ubiquitous GarageBand if recording is a new adventure in your life.

Full-scale DAW programs are deep water, and it can be easy to become discouraged and overwhelmed.

Here’s How This Works:

Connect your interface to your computer’s USB port and boot up your machine.

Connect your guitar to the Instrument input on your Focusrite and set the gain control at about half.

Plug some headphones into their dedicated jack.

Now, launch your DAW software and create a new, blank session or project.

Within that new session, create one new mono audio track.

Think of this audio track as one channel on a mixing board.

It’ll be where your guitar lives in this session.

Set or enable the track to record.

This step gets your guitar routed into the track so you can set levels.

Use the gain control on your interface and the visual meter on the track to set an input level well below 0dB.

Make sure you’re getting signal in the meter and sound in your headphones.

What you’re now hearing is the raw, unprocessed sound of your guitar.

Assign one of the amp modeling plugins in your DAW to the track and dial in your tone just like you would on a physical amp.

Hit the Record button once you hear something you like, and you’re making music.

It’s that easy.

Not so mysterious anymore, right?

The plug-and-play aspect of modern audio interfaces is pretty amazing and saves the new recordist a load of headaches.

Get yourself a Focusrite, hook up and start tracking your masterpiece.

I hope you enjoyed this article about how to plug your guitar into your computer and feel confident about doing this on your own.

See you again soon with more musical knowledge!

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