How to Record Acoustic Guitar on a Laptop

You found this post because you’re trying to figure out how to record a guitar on a laptop or device. Either you’re a guitarist, or you know someone who is a guitarist that needs help with this problem.

Luckily, there are a couple simple solutions that you can take a look at. And it’s not only for guitarists, you can use this same method for any instrument that requires an amp or microphone pickup.

This could be anything from an electric keyboard, to a violin, or a voice. All you need is a couple of the right tools, and you’re all set.

Let’s take a closer look!


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Recording Guitar on a Device

What you may need to record a guitar to a computer

That’s pretty much it.

Either you get a microphone, which is a studio mic that you hook up to your audio interface, which then hooks up to your laptop, or you get a USB microphone (that way you don’t need an audio interface).

Either way, you will need a recording software, which would either be a DAW or Audacity.

Let’s get into more details to explain what each of these things we mentioned are, and how they all fit together.

What is an Audio Interface & DAW, and why may you need them?

An Audio Interface is a device that allows you to plug a microphone and/or an instrument into your computer, laptop, or device software.

It does this by providing some connector preamps for your instrument or microphone plugs. This device takes the signals from your audio source and feeds them as digital data to your device via a USB or Thunderbolt connector.

If you’ve noticed, your laptop computer and iPad comes with the standard 1/8th-inch phone connector that you’ll find on any consumer electronic device. This is good for things like tablets and mp3 players (do people still use those?), but when it comes to recording instruments, you need a connector that can facilitate a better transfer of audio signal for high-quality audio. These are normally facilitated by 1/4-inch phone connectors.

This is because you don’t want to plug your guitar into your laptop only to hear a lot of pops and glitches in your recording or audio feed. This is bound to happen with a typical consumer 1/8th inch connector. And if you try to get something like 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch adapter to convert your large plug to a smaller plug so it can fit in your computer, you’re bound to run into some problems. I even tried this back in the very early days of experimenting-with-ignorance, it was a disaster. Don’t do it.

What an Audio Interface does

As a solution, you need something that will “interface” between your computer and your audio source (instrument or microphone, in this case, your guitar).

What an audio interface does is receives the electrical signals (otherwise referred to an “analogue” signal) created by your instrument. After receiving these analogue signals, it converts them into high-quality digital data signals which your computer or device software will be able to process. Once your computer or device software processes these signals, you can record your tracks, or listen back live through speaker monitors or headphones.

Read: Best Audio Interfaces for Home Studio

Once you have an audio interface, you need one more thing: recording software.

This can be a digital audio workstation, or Audacity. Digital audio workstations are prefered however because of they were designed with the intention of making and arranging music. But let’s investigate it a little more closely.

Digital Audio Workstation

If you recall from earlier, we mentioned that an audio interface will convert your electrical signals to “digital data signals which your computer or device software will be able to process.”

This computer software is the digital audio workstation. DAW for short.

What Does a DAW Do?

A digital audio workstation is a music production software. The primary purpose is to allow the user to record or load audio files onto their laptop or computer to edit and create musical arrangements. Entire musical compositions are created within this software, from simple to complex.

If you know anything about some of the music superstars lately, they all use a digital audio workstation to some degree, sometimes using it as live software instrument itself.

Read: Best Digital Audio Workstations; Free Digital Audio Workstations

Step-by-Step: How to Record a Guitar on a Device

  1. ✓ – Once you’ve got yourself an audio interface, you plug your audio source (guitar, or microphone) into that device.
  2. ✓ – You then connect your device via USB or Thunderbolt cable (depending on what connection your laptop computer or iPad uses) into your laptop computer or iPad.
  3. ✓ – On the computer/iPad side, you install the music software or iOS app. Install the drivers where necessary (follow the manual). Switch on your audio interface, start your software, and get to recording.
  4. ✓ – To listen back, you simply plug your headphones or speaker monitors into the audio interface itself, not the laptop or iPad. This is because your audio interface will be bypassing your computer’s sound card (all audio interfaces are designed for high-quality audio conversion, in and out. Consumer audio quality will not be sufficient).
Alternatives?

Yes.

If you recall from easier in the post, we talked about not actually actually bypassing the whole audio interface step. While an audio interface is preferable, especially for serious use, there’s another option you can look into.

That being said, this particular option is great for acoustic guitars and instruments that require a microphone to pick up its sound, not for electric guitars.

With this option, you do not need an audio interface, as your USB microphone would already have a built-in audio digital audio converter audio interface that bypasses your device’s soundcard.

Read: Best Studio Mics (Yeti Pro USB Mic is mentioned.

USB Microphone vs Audio Interface

So since we mentioned the caveat before the introduction of USB microphones, what’s the pros and cons between a regular studio mic and a USB mic?

As mentioned before, if you get an audio interface, you’ll find that it’ll easily suit your electric guitar or instruments that require an instrument cable. This would give you the best quality sound over the alternative of using your computer’s mic jack.

But even if you’re on an acoustic, if you get an audio interface you’re also able to customize or upgrade your toolchain. With the USB microphone, you may find that you need to upgrade either microphone or the built-in audio interface in the USB microphone, which will mean you’d have to get an entirely new USB microphone. With an audio interface plus analog microphone setup, you can easily upgrade and switch your microphones and audio interface independently.

However, the benefits of a USB microphone, as mentioned before, is that you can simply plug your microphone into your computer or device via USB port and record your acoustic instruments.

So you can record your Guitar directly to your device… now what?

Well, ever wanted to do something like this with your guitar?

Read: Best Looper Pedals for Guitar and Vocals

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