Recording your own playing is a vital part of growing as a musician, and it’s the only way to get music out into the world. However, recording guitar at home can seem daunting, leaving many guitar players wondering how to record guitar at home.
Recording guitar at home is relatively easy with the right hardware. The process requires a computer, recording software (or DAW), and an audio interface. For acoustic guitars or amplifiers, you’ll need a microphone and preamp as well. Once you have your gear, all you need is time and practice.
As a quick note, it is possible to record guitar without an audio interface, but it does make life a lot easier. We’ll talk a lot more about this later in the article.
Guitar recordings do require skill. But, once you acquire the proper gear, the skill can be learned. Let’s take a closer look at how to record guitar at home and the gear that you need to do it well.
Set some expectations with your home studio
Start off by answering the following questions:
What are you hoping to accomplish?
Are you looking to simply practice your guitar and want to hear yourself playing back? Are you wanting to create Spotify ready tracks?
Knowing your end goal helps a ton when you’re starting a project. If you’re just looking to record basic guitar tracks to hear yourself play, a high-end microphone and other equipment is definitely not necessary.
What style of music are you creating?
If you’re mostly creating lo-fi garage rock that’s very grungy, you might be able to get away with the very basics of recording tools. You might not even need an audio interface if you have the right computer and DAW.
However, if you’re making very clean pop or singer songwriter types of tracks, you’ll want hardware that allows every nuance of your guitar to shine.
This isn’t to say that heavier music shouldn’t be recorded well. It should. Just put into perspective what you’re recording.
What type of quality are you expecting?
This goes back to what you’re hoping to accomplish, but it’s a bit more detailed regarding your finished product. Regardless of the style of music you play, or where it will end up, are you expecting extremely high quality sound out of your recordings? If so, you’ll need equipment to match your expectation.
What do you need to record guitar at home?
Recording guitar in a home studio can be a challenge, but with the right equipment, the process becomes a lot of fun.
Recording guitar at home requires a combination of equipment such as a computer, various connection cables, an audio interface, a microphone, recording software, and a quiet room. There are some other optional pieces of equipment, but these are the basic requirements for recording a guitar at home. And keep in mind that what equipment you’ll need depends on what and how you’re recording.
Guitar recordings are particularly difficult to capture well because the guitar is such a complex and versatile instrument. So, having gear that is well suited for recording guitar is vital for capturing good-quality recordings.
For these reasons, it’s critical to use the best equipment and software that you possibly can to ensure that the quality of the recordings is as high as it can be. Basically, buy the best equipment you can afford, and you’ll be much happier in the long run.
Let’s go over some of the recording equipment necessary for recording guitar in a home studio, regardless of the size of your budget.
How to record guitar: Hardware requirements
A good computer
For the modern home studio, the most important piece of hardware is a good computer for recording. A good computer, regardless of the operating system, is essential. Your computer will run your recording software (DAW), and it will often store all of your recordings. A computer is used for editing, mixing, and other post-production such as mastering as well.
Most modern computers can run at least a very basic DAW to get you started. But, make sure to check the specifications before you buy one, and then check the requirements of the DAW to make sure they’re compatible.
If you know you’re going to be recording and producing more music in the future, get the best computer that you can afford. You will be much happier in the long run.
An audio interface
The next most important bit of gear is an audio interface. This is important for recording both electric and acoustic guitars. An audio interface serves as the connection between an instrument and the computer. Your interface will translate your guitar signal into something that can be easily used and processed by your recording software.
There are ways to record guitar without using an audio interface, but an interface is the easiest way to send guitar signals to a computer for recording. While you technically can record guitar without one, this is the piece of gear we recommend not skipping if you can help it.
We recently wrote up an article on the differences between a sound card vs audio interface along with a little history. Check it out.
Connection cables for recording
Next on the list is the correct connection cables. It’s important to have the right cables to connect your instrument or microphone that you’re using to the audio interface and from the interface to the computer.
Decent quality cables will last you longer, be more of a pleasure to use, and can possibly sound better as well.
Think about what you’ll be connecting up. You may also need adapters to get certain cables to connect each piece of hardware. Plan ahead so you won’t be sitting around waiting on a shipment, unable to record.
A good microphone
You’ll need a microphone for recording an acoustic guitar that doesn’t have a pickup or a preamp. You’ll also need one for recording an electric guitar played through an amplifier. Along with a microphone, if you happen to use one, a good microphone preamp is a great benefit. Other microphone accessories are also helpful, such as microphone shields. Also, using the correct cables for your microphone is imperative.
Good headphones or studio monitors
Another essential aspect of recording a guitar is a means of listening to your recordings in high quality. This requires a good set of studio headphones or a decent pair of studio monitors.
Listening to your guitar recording played back on terrible speakers is just as bad as producing a terrible track in the first place. Don’t skimp on your playback devices if at all possible.
Other helpful equipment
So, these are the basic hardware requirements for a good-quality guitar recording in a home studio. But, of course, there are several items that can be helpful as well.
Some optional equipment includes:
- An amplifier for electric guitars.
- A microphone stand.
- A microphone pop filter.
- Effects pedals for electric guitars. (Hardware or VST plugins)
- A preamp pedal for acoustic guitars.
- Sound treatment panels for the recording room.
Software requirements for recording guitar in a home studio
Recording guitar at home requires more than just recording hardware. You’ll also need a recording program, or a digital audio workstation (DAW).
A DAW is imperative for recording any instrument at home. These programs capture the audio that’s sent to the computer. They also allow you to process the recordings and perform all editing, mixing, and mastering of the recordings as well.
There are numerous DAWs available at every price point. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but they all perform the same basic functions. We focus a lot on Ableton here, but my other favorite DAW to record live instruments with quite easily is actually Garageband.
The high-end DAWs are very sophisticated and powerful. They’re able to perform many processes and can be used for every aspect of recording. They handle plugins and effects very easily, and they can perform all post-production tasks.
The more full-featured the program is, the more it costs. However, there are free-to-use or significantly less expensive DAWs available as well. There is definitely a DAW to fit every budget.
Free to use or very cheap DAWs are great for those on a budget. Most of them are capable of producing good guitar recordings too. The only downside to these programs is that they’re unable to run all of the functions of the high-end versions. Also, they usually offer far fewer features and options.
Every DAW, including the low-end varieties, requires a decent computer to run them. The more sophisticated the program is, the more computing power it will require to run well. This is especially true if you want to run VST plugins and lots of other effects while you record.
Most DAWs can be equipped with digital effects and hardware plugins such as amplifiers and guitar pedals that can affect the tone of the instrument that you’re recording.
Whether you’re using a high-production DAW or a more simple recording program, it’s necessary to use recording software of some kind to record guitar on a computer at home.
Some of the most popular recording programs include:
- Pro Tools
- Logik (Mac IOS)
- Bitwig Studio (Linux)
How to record acoustic guitar
Recording acoustic guitar can be more challenging than recording electric guitar, especially if you’re using a microphone rather than an audio interface.
Recording an acoustic guitar well involves using a microphone to capture the true sound of the instrument and using a preamp to boost the signal of the microphone to improve the audio quality. The sound from your microphone is sent to your computer via your audio interface and into your DAW.
This is the best way to record an acoustic guitar, but there are alternative methods such as using an acoustic guitar with a built-in pickup or preamp and sending the guitar directly into the audio interface without a microphone.
The truest sounding tones from an acoustic guitar are very challenging to capture because they are so nuanced. It’s especially difficult to do with limited resources.
Acoustic guitars sound best when they’re recorded with a microphone because the ambient sound of the instrument is the best quality sound it can produce. Even acoustic guitars with very good built-in preamps tend to sound better recorded acoustically with a microphone.
Recording an acoustic guitar with the built-in preamp or pickup is possible if the guitar is equipped with the hardware, but it may not sound as good. However, this is a far easier recording method than using a microphone.
Recording an acoustic guitar with a microphone
To record any acoustic guitar with a microphone, first, connect the microphone to your computer. This can be via an audio interface or directly into the computer’s microphone input, provided you have the correct cables.
If possible, connect a microphone preamp between the mic and the computer to improve the quality and usability of the recording.
Place the microphone on a stand if you have one, and face the microphone towards the position that you will hold your guitar when recording.
Next, set up the recording on your computer. This will involve creating a new recording track and queueing up the recording so it’s ready to go. At this stage, you can apply any effects you want the recording to have, or you can apply those after the instrument has been recorded.
Once everything is set up for the recording, position yourself so that your guitar is roughly 12” – 16” (about 30 – 40cm) away from the microphone. The microphone should point at the guitar, preferably directly in front of the 12th fret.
This mic placement may offer the best overall tone for recording an acoustic guitar. However, changing the placement will allow you to capture other aspects of the tone or even other sounds, like any percussive techniques you might use. Place the microphone so that it records the sounds you’re looking for, rather than according to any textbook.
Once the mic is set up, press record on your DAW, and play away. Remember that the best recordings come from the best performances. If you want your recording to sound great, practice!
Recording an acoustic guitar with an interface
Recording an acoustic guitar with an interface is a much more straightforward process.
This method eliminates the need for a microphone and a preamp, but it does require that your acoustic guitar has a built-in pickup system of some kind.
If the guitar is equipped with such a system, it can be run directly into the audio interface, as with an electric guitar. Once the guitar is plugged into the audio interface, set your DAW for recording as before, and play your piece.
This recording method is simple, but the quality of the guitar’s output hardware determines the audio quality. It may not sound as good as a microphone recording, but it should be very usable. Also, it can be enhanced digitally in the DAW after your finished playing.
How to record an electric guitar with an audio interface
Direct in to your audio interface
Recording an electric guitar with an interface can also be done in two ways. The first and most widely used method is to run the electric guitar directly into the audio interface.
The interface is key with this instrument, as, without it, the guitar’s audio signal might be too weak to be usable within the recording software. But, this is up to you and your goals. Sometimes, going direct into your DAW will work just fine.
To record an electric guitar this way is super simple.
- Plug your guitar into your audio interface
- Connect your interface to your computer
- Make sure your DAW recognizes your audio interface
- Queue up your recording
- Hit record and play
Be sure that the interface and the DAW are properly set up and communicating well with one another before attempting a recording. This is by far the most complicated step. Each DAW will have its own method of setting up inputs, as will each computer OS.
Using an amp and microphone to record your guitar
The other method for recording an electric guitar with an audio interface is to play the guitar through an amplifier in the room and use a microphone to record the performance.
This method requires some mic placement skills, as finding the optimum mic position for your amplifier can be a challenge. The most straightforward way to achieve the best mic placement is to take a recording while moving the mic to various positions in front of the amplifier and listen back to the recording to determine which position you like best.
Using a microphone in this way will also work best with a microphone preamp, but other than that, the process is quite simple. It’s very similar to the microphone process above.
- Connect your microphone to your audio interface
- Place your microphone near your amplifier
- Set the interface up with your computer and DAW as above
- Hit record…and play
The advantages of recording with this method are that the guitar will sound good in the recording without requiring any added effects. As long as you place the mic correctly and you have a good amplifier, you should have great sound. It will still require some processing, but the amp tone will already be in the recording.
The drawback of recording with this method is that if you don’t like the amp tone in the recording, you’ll have to re-record the piece without the amp to remove it. If the recording is done directly through the interface, the guitar tone can be altered very easily through your DAW.
How to record guitar at home: Our conclusions
Recording guitar in a home studio is relatively easy, provided that you have the right equipment.
With a decent computer, an audio interface, a microphone, a mic preamp, a mic stand, some studio monitors or headphones, and a recording program, almost anyone can record exceptional guitar sounds at home. It’s even possible to get passable results with a guitar, a computer, and a basic DAW. It’s all about what results you’re looking for.
The trick to this process is taking the time to learn the skill of recording, rather than just pressing record and strumming away. Take the time to properly understand your DAW, and get to know your hardware and how to get the very best out of what you have.
Get the best computer and interface that you can afford. Practice your instrument, and know your piece before recording. You’ll be recording excellent guitar tracks sooner than you may expect!