It seems like a pretty simple question: how to connect guitar to computer, like PC, Mac or laptop, smartphone, or tablet?
It may or may not come as a surprise to learn that our helpdesk is asked this question a lot, and that’s okay, as things like this are not always as straightforward as it sounds.
Connecting your guitar to a PC or music production laptop gives you a way to start recording your performance, experimenting with different amp simulators, effects, plug-ins, and more.
The good news is that you only need very basic equipment to connect an electric or acoustic guitar to a PC or laptop.
On this blog, we cover all the ways and means you can plug in your guitar and start playing and recording.
Table of Contents
Reasons to Connect Guitar to PC/Laptop
If you’ve been wondering what you could do if you could connect your guitar to your computer, let us introduce you to the possibilities.
Want to play an electric guitar, but don’t have an amp? You can use your music production computer as an amplifier for your electric guitar.
Do you want to record yourself playing your guitar? You can’t connect to your computer and put those tracks in your own mini home recording studio.
Want to experiment with different things like effects, amp simulators, plugins, etc.? Playing your guitar through your computer allows you to do all of that.
It’s also a great way to play guitar through headphones if you want to get some practice going without disturbing anyone in the house.
How to Connect an Electric Guitar to a Computer
Connecting an electric guitar to a computer is easy, but it requires a special piece of hardware called an audio interface. The audio interface as a step-through for turning guitar sounds into something your computer can actually use.
To connect your electric guitar to a computer, you need to use an audio interface that safely processes the signal from your guitar into something your computer can use.
If your computer has audio input jacks, you cannot directly connect your electric guitar and must use an audio interface.
If you try to connect your guitar directly to your computer’s microphone or line-in jacks using an adapter, you risk damaging your guitar or your computer.
The audio input connectors were not designed to handle your guitar input and will not work.
There are a couple of different options for connecting an electric guitar to a computer, so let’s go through each option.
What You Need
Before trying to connect your electric guitar to your computer, make sure you have everything you need to get started.
This is what you should have:
- Your electric guitar
- The guitar cable that you would normally connect to the amp
- A laptop, PC, or Mac with an open USB port
- An audio interface
- A USB cable to connect the audio interface to the computer
- DAW software on the computer
Sounds like a lot, right? Well, the good news is that you probably already have the first three things.
And, when you buy an audio interface, you must include some DAW software and the necessary USB cable. So all you probably have to buy is the audio interface.
The most popular way to connect an electric guitar to a computer is through an audio interface. An audio interface is a simple box that allows you to connect your guitar or other inputs and converts the signal into a digital signal to send via USB to your computer.
While there are a lot of buttons and knobs on the box, the basic idea is that it allows you to connect a guitar cable from your electric guitar to the interface. The interface then processes the signal from the guitar and sends it over USB to your computer.
You can see that the above interface allows you to connect multiple instruments (or microphones) at the same time. This is great if you plan to record, as you can record multiple microphones or multiple instruments at the same time.
The little interface may not have the ability to process multiple instruments or microphones at the same time like the Focusrite Scarlett, but it’s a good option if you just want to connect one guitar to your computer.
You can also use it to connect to a Mac, iPhone, or iPad (Android is not supported). This means you can use the iRig to play guitar on the go or even if you don’t have a computer with you.
Different interfaces have different characteristics, so think about what is important to you. All interfaces will do the basic work of connecting your guitar to a computer.
Don’t Have An Audio Interface? Other Options!
Without a doubt, the best way to play guitar through your computer is with an audio interface. But what if you need to connect to your computer RIGHT NOW and it doesn’t have an interface?
There are other options!
Although they are not ideal options, you can also use the following equipment to connect to your computer:
- Guitar Amp
- Multi-effect pedal
Honestly, these two options are only recommended in a pinch.
How to Connect an Acoustic Guitar to a Computer
You don’t have an electric guitar and you wonder if you want to connect an acoustic guitar to a computer.
Well, that really depends on the type of acoustic guitar you have. So, let’s look at your options.
Acoustic Guitars with Internal Pickups
If your acoustic guitar has a built-in pickup and you can connect a cable to it, you can use any of the options mentioned above for electric guitars.
Acoustic guitars with an internal pickup are commonly called “electro-acoustic” guitars.
So you can follow the steps for an electric guitar above and you are good to go. We continue to recommend the same audio interfaces for electro-acoustic guitars.
With an audio interface like this, you can connect your guitar directly to the first input jack, then optionally connect a microphone to the second input jack and record both at the same time.
This means that you can capture two different sound signals from your acoustic guitar at the same time. This is a great way to record a blues acoustic guitar because it gives you flexibility with your tone.
You can combine your recording between the two inputs depending on what you like the sound of.
You can place the mic anywhere you want to capture different tones that are not possible with the internal pickup alone.
It is highly recommended to have two different tonal recordings of your guitar parts.
Acoustic Guitars Without Inbuilt Pickups
If you’re just creating a quick and dirty track, then a single mic will be enough to capture a preliminary cut of your track.
But if you take it a little more seriously, you will need more than one mic to be able to place them in different places around the guitar and you will need an audio interface with multiple mic inputs.
And if you’re serious about it, you’ll also need a room that you’ve optimized for home recording, but that’s something we’ll cover in another guide.
If you want to connect your guitar to a computer because you don’t have a guitar amp, this option won’t help. But if you have an amplifier, you may want to check if it has a USB connector on the back.
Many modern amplifiers include a USB port that allows you to connect your amplifier to your computer and use it as an audio interface.
You can see that it includes a USB connector along with all the other common connectors you usually see on a modern guitar amp.
If the back of your guitar amp has a USB port like this, you can probably use it to connect to a computer.
The great advantage of connecting your guitar amp to your computer is that you can play and record your guitar using any tone produced by your amp.
So if you love the sound of your amps transmits channel, you can record that tone directly without having to use a microphone in front of your amp.
While the most popular option for connecting an electric guitar to a computer is with an audio interface, most modern multi-effect pedals can get the job done too.
Almost all multi-effect pedals today have a USB port that allows you to connect your pedal to your computer and use it as an audio interface.
Like some amps, you can often find a USB port on a multi-effects pedal. So if you already have one of these pedals that has the port, then you can use a USB cable to connect your electric guitar to the computer.
In essence, this allows the multi-effects pedal to function as an audio interface.
And just like the amp, the great thing about using the pedal as an audio interface is that it means you can directly record the effects you enjoy.
But still, it is highly recommended that you get an audio interface for the best results.
How to Use a Computer as a Guitar Amp
If you’re not really interested in creating some tracks, but just want to use your computer as a guitar amp, we have some tips for you.
This is what you will need:
- Adapter to connect directly to your computer
- Amp simulation software that models guitar amps and effects
So with this setup, you are not really using an audio interface to play on your computer because you are using an adapter to connect.
And then the software works to emulate the sounds and tones you normally hear on a standalone guitar amp.
There are a few different software programs that can do this. Some options to consider include:
- Helix Native by Line 6
- BIAS FX
- Guitar rig
You should go through them, read a few reviews, and determine which of them best meets your needs.
Some have more features and effects than others, so do your homework and compare them before making the decision.
One thing to keep in mind when using one of these amp simulation programs is that you will notice the lack of body compared to using a normal guitar amp.
Everyone can be recorded today. With today’s modern technology, connecting your guitar to a computer to record tracks is a breeze.
Hopefully, these beginner tips above will help you learn how to connect your guitar to your computer.