How to Record Guitar on PC and Mac (Quick Guide)

If you play guitar, you may be interested in recording yourself. This offers many practical benefits, from allowing you to track your progress to letting you build-up a lick library.

The great news is that the recording technology available for guitarists today is better than ever. You can record easily in your own home using a Mac or a PC and some basic equipment.

That said, if you have never recorded yourself playing guitar before, you may be intimidated by the process. Don’t worry. It isn’t complicated. This guide explains how to record guitar on PC or Mac, taking you through everything from equipment requirements to set up.

The Benefits of Recording Yourself on Guitar

Recording yourself playing guitar offers many benefits. Read on to find out what they are.

Perfect your skills

As a musician, you have to be very detail-oriented. When you are just starting out playing guitar, you begin by learning individual chords. You can later expand to play licks and songs.

A great guitar sound comes from clean transitions between licks and chords. Recording yourself will help you achieve this goal. At the end of the day, you have to be able to identify a problem if you’re going to fix it. Recording lets you do just that.

When you’re playing, you’re in the moment. What’s more, your ears tend to “lie” under pressure. Something that sounds excellent mid-song to you may not sound great to the audience. Conversely, what seems like a “mess up” to your ear, may not be noticeable to others.

Additionally, when you’re performing, you’re entirely focused. You don’t want to stop mid-song. This can make for frustrating guitar practice sessions — the last thing you want. The guitar is supposed to be fun, right?

Recording yourself and then re-listening to what you just played allows you to pinpoint errors that you can then go back and fix. You can play, record, and listen as many times as you want until you’ve got it down just right.

Improve Your Writing

As you progress in your guitar studies, you will likely start to write your songs. Writing your own songs is more complicated. There is nothing more frustrating than hearing a fantastic riff on guitar in your head but not duplicating it in real life.

More mature songwriters can efficiently translate what they hear in their brains into music. They know what works and what doesn’t.

However, it takes time to build up this kind of musical prowess. Recording yourself is an excellent way to get your musical ideas into a tangible format. You can then tinker with and tweak what you’ve created.

This also takes away the stress of trying to write down what you have in your head. You can take it straight from your head to your guitar and then write it down later once you have perfected it.

When you record yourself, you can write faster, write more, and write better. All of this adds up to better music in the long run and increases productivity in your songwriting.

Train Your Musical Ear

Your ears have two different modes of listening: evaluating versus conceiving. When you are in evaluation mode, you pick up on the more minute details. You will notice if a note is flat or sharp or be able to pinpoint a rocky transition.

This is very different from the conceiving mode. When you are conceiving, you connect with the music — but you are not getting into the technical details. Basically, evaluation is about technical skill, while conceiving is about musical passion.

Both of these modes of hearing are important for musicians. However, it can be challenging to flip the switch between the two methods.

Recording fills in the gaps for you. You can practice a song and get into the music while listening in conceiving mode. You can then switch to evaluation mode as you listen to the recording later, taking a more analytical approach to your listening.

This makes for more enjoyable playing and allows you to hone your craft while having fun. You don’t have to stop and start constantly. Instead, you can seamlessly get through a practice session and enjoy every minute — and then evaluate it later.

Additionally, you can use this approach to practice to help train your ear. Being able to transition between conceiving versus evaluation mode will serve you well throughout your entire musical career. Eventually, it will be an effortless process.

Share Your Music

If you are dedicated to recording, you may even opt to create professional-quality tracks suitable for distribution. This will require some more advanced technologies and methods than what’s outlined in this guide.

While this guide isn’t intended to help you create professional tracks for distribution, it’s worth mentioning this benefit of recording nonetheless. Being able to share your music with the world is one of the joys of musicianship.

Additionally, you may need pro-quality tracks at some point in your career. If you want to try to get a recording deal or play paid live shows, for example, you will have to submit demos. At this point, you should focus on professional-grade recordings.

What You Need to Set Up to Record Guitar on Mac or PC

So, now you know the benefits of recording yourself as a guitar player. But how is it done? Before you hit “record,” you’ll have to take care of some preparation. Here’s what to do.

Get the Necessary Equipment

Before you start recording yourself on guitar, you’ll have to invest in some essential equipment. These are the items that you will need:

●  Mac or PC

●  Audio interface

●  Cables and stands

●  Headphones

●  Guitar

●  DAW

You may also want microphones, an amp simulator, and a guitar amplifier. However, these items are optional.

Don’t worry about spending a lot of money on this equipment, especially if you are a newbie. Start with essential gear and learn how to master that first. You can invest in pricier gear later if you decide to continue recording and want to expand your options and capabilities.

Set Up Your DAW

A digital audio workstation, DAW, is a type of software designed to help you record, mix, and edit audio. There are many types of DAW programs available. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Popular options include Reaper and GarageBand.

Reaper works for PC, Linux, and Mac. It’s relatively cost-efficient (less than $70) and provides many features, giving you a good bang for your buck.

Reaper Software Download Page (above)

If you are a Mac user, GarageBand is probably your safest bet. It’s user-friendly and accessible for Apple users. You can also use it as a training ground for Logic Pro.

Logic Pro is a more advanced DAW that is not worth investing in as a beginner to DAWs but that you may want to upgrade to down-the-line. Garageband and Logic Pro share a lot of similar capabilities.

Set up Your Audio Interface

Your audio interface allows you to plug a studio microphone into your computer. However, beware that the computer will not recognize where the microphone is plugged in automatically. You will have to take action and adjust the input/output (I/O) settings manually.

I/O is a setting inside the DAW that tells the computer what the input is (the microphone) and what the output is (where you are listening). You have to make sure your chosen audio interface is selected as both the input and output. You can do this in your computer’s audio settings.

If your interface doesn’t show up automatically in your audio settings, you may require an interface driver. An interface driver is software that helps your computer connect to the interface. You can download a driver online.

You will probably have to restart your computer after downloading the driver. Once it continues, turn it back on and reopen your DAW. You should now be able to control the I/O settings.

Select Your Recording Method

There are a few different ways you can record guitar on Mac or PC. This depends in part on whether you are working with an electric or acoustic guitar.

Electric Guitars

If you are working with an electric guitar, you can plug it directly into the interface. Alternatively, you can use microphones to record the sound coming out of the amplifier. Either option is acceptable. Choose the one that you are most comfortable with and that fits your equipment.

If you record using an amp, you will need a mic stand. A short mic stand is ideal for positioning in front of an amplifier. Place your microphone on the stand, plug it in using an XLR cable, and you are good to go.

To position the mic, look for the cone. This is a circle in the center of the amp. The closer the microphone is to the cone, the better it will pick up higher frequencies. This makes for more precise recordings. Position your mic stand to get the mic as close to the cone as possible.

Alternatively, if you want a darker and moodier tone, you can move the mic slightly to the left or right of the cone. This means you will hear fewer high frequencies.

If you are new to this, it’s best to experiment with microphone placement to see what kind of sound you prefer.

If you are recording directly, you don’t have to worry about the amplifier. You can plug the guitar directly into the interface using a ¼” cable.

You may find that the instrument sounds flat without an amplifier. This can be pretty uninspiring. 

The good news is that you can fix the problem with an amp simulator, which digitally recreates the amp sound. You will run your guitar signal through the amp sim, which will make it sound like you’re playing through a real amp.

Again, you will probably want to experiment with the amp sim to see how you like the sound before recording.

Acoustic Guitars

If you are recording an acoustic guitar, you are best off using a condenser microphone. In general, acoustic guitars have a brighter sound than electrics. A condenser mic is ideal for recording those high, bright frequencies.

Where should you position your mic when recording an acoustic guitar?

It’s totally up to you. Some musicians claim that it’s best to put the microphone in front of the guitar’s soundhole. However, others are adamant that the microphone should be pointing at the 12th or 15th fret.

Again, either option is acceptable. If you place the microphone at the soundhole, you will get more low and middle frequencies. If you put the microphone by the 12th and 15th frets, you will get higher and brighter frequencies.

This is purely a matter of personal taste and mood. It’s up to you which choice you want to pursue. You can try both options and see which one you like better.

How to Record Guitar on Mac or PC

With the above setup complete, you can start recording. Finally, you get to the fun part of actually playing your guitar! Follow these steps for how to record guitar on Mac or PC.

Set Your DAW Audio Channel

Check your audio channel input. Even if you’ve already adjusted the I/O settings, you still need to adjust the channel itself. For example, if your guitar is plugged into the first interface input, you should set the channel at input number one.

If these two elements do not align, the DAW will be looking for input from a channel that you aren’t using — and thus not pick up any sound.

If you are not sure how to change the channel input on your chosen DAW, check the user manual. You can also Google your specific DAW brand along with the words “channel input settings” to get the information you need.

Adjust the Volume

Next up, you have to determine how loud you want the recording to be. Ideally, the volume will be somewhere between -20 to – 12 decibels. This range will ensure that your recordings are of high quality while still picking up enough sound.

Why not go louder?

If you record too loud, your tracks will likely become distorted and mess up the audio quality.

On the other side of the equation, you will likely pick up static in your recordings if you record too quietly. This will likewise mar the audio quality, resulting in an unusable recording.

Set the Scene

Before you get to it, make sure to reduce any potential noise interference. Close open windows to keep out street noise and eliminate acoustic disturbances in the home, like a running dishwasher or washing machine.

Choosing the right room in your home can make a big difference in terms of acoustic quality. A space with many fabrics (e.g., carpets, curtains, furniture) will absorb sound. A room with a lot of bare walls will “bounce” soundwaves, which can cause reverberation.

The impact of room reflections will depend on what type of instrument and recording technique you use. For example, if you use an electric guitar and record directly via the interface, this won’t be much of an issue.

Hit Record

Now, you can press record — and start playing! While the above steps might seem like a lot, they will soon become second nature, allowing you to set up your DIY recording studio quickly. You can follow this guide step-by-step through the process until you have it down ideally.

Troubleshooting: How to Record Guitar on Mac or PC

As you progress in your recordings, you may find that you come across some issues here and there. Every newbie experiences technical difficulties in the beginning. This is normal and doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong or messed up the above steps.

Here are some basic troubleshooting fixes to deal with common problems that may arise when recording guitar on Mac or PC.

The Issue: A Humming Sound

Some electric guitars may produce a “mains” hum. This is related to the different wiring in your home emitting an electromagnetic field, affecting the guitar’s signal.

To deal with a mains hum, you have to figure out what device is causing the issue. Fluorescent lights are a frequent culprit. See if the sound disappears when you turn them off. Moving to another room can also improve mains hum issues.

The Issue: A Buzzing Sound

It can be difficult to edit a buzz from a recording. It’s best to eliminate this sound before you start recording. The solution will depend on exactly why the buzzing is occurring.

First, ensure that your amp is adequately grounded. If it isn’t, it may cause a rattling or buzzing. You can also use humbucker pickups or add a noise gate to your effects chain. A ground loop exterminator is another option.

The Issue: Reverberation

If you are getting echoing and reverberation on your recording, it may be time to change rooms. Alternatively, for a cheap fix, try hanging blankets on all of the walls to reduce echo. They will absorb soundwaves and reduce excess noise.

Pro Tips: How to Record Guitar on PC or Mac

As you gain confidence in recording, you may consider updating or adding equipment to try out some new effects. Here are two “pro tips” worth considering.

Pro Tip: Use a Second Mic

If you are recording using an amp, it’s great to invest in a second microphone. Why? Different types of microphones emphasize different types of sound. Some will pick up more clear and crisp sounds. Others will pick up more warm, mellow sounds.

If you use both mics at once, you will be able to pick up both of these tones in a single recording, making for a more robust sound overall.

Pro Tip: Use a Room Mic

A room microphone is placed further away from the amplifier. It captures the sound of the amp inside the room. This is the kind of sound you get when you listen to live recordings of professional musicians, for example.

It’s a great way to add depth and space to your recording. If you take this route, it’s best to follow the three-to-one rule. In general, you should set the room microphone three times further away from the amplifier than the first microphone.

The Final Word on Recording Guitar on PC or Mac

Every musician should know how to record guitar on PC or Mac.

Recording yourself on guitar offers many benefits as a musician. You will perfect your technical skills, improve and speed up your songwriting, and train your musical ear. If you’re ambitious, you can even create pro-quality tracks for distribution.

Thanks to modern technologies, it’s easier to record yourself as a guitarist than ever before. You can do this easily at home with your PC or Mac computer. The above guide provides all the information you need.

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