Playing and recording an electric guitar used to mean hitting a recording studio and plugging into an amp, recording with microphones and processing with racks of effects units and a huge recording console. Digital recording now allows musicians to easily capture signals from electric guitars directly onto a desktop or laptop computer, without ever having to leave home.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Things you need
- Electric guitar
- Guitar cable with 1/4-inch jack
- USB Guitar link digital interface
- Monitor speakers (optional)
Choose a USB guitar link cable. You'll be plugging your electric guitar cable directly into this interface, which will be connected to the computer via a USB cable. There are several brands on the market, and most will do a fine job amplifying the signal from your guitar and transporting it into your computer. Although these devices vary in price, most are very affordable, and some include amplifier modelling software that enables you to replicate the sounds of certain amplifier and speaker combos.
Install the driver software for the USB guitar link cable. This is done by inserting the CD-ROM that comes with the device and following the on-screen instructions. Don't plug in the guitar link cable at this point; instead, wait until you are prompted to do so. The unit will have an indicator light that will show you when a connection has been established with your computer.
Install the recording software that came with the device. You'll do this in the same way that you installed the device drivers, using your computer's CD-ROM drive and following on-screen instructions. The type of recording software you'll be using depends upon the manufacturer. Many of them bundle stripped-down versions of professional recording and editing programs with their interfaces, such as Pro Tools, Cubase or Sonar. Also known as sequencers, these programs will allow you to record and edit the sound from your electric guitar onto its own track, and then mix it together with more recorded guitar tracks. This process, known as overdubbing, makes it possible for you to build a complex piece of music all by yourself.
Plug your guitar directly into the guitar link unit using a regular 1/4-inch jack guitar cable. Then, plug in a pair of headphones into the guitar link and audition your guitar sound. If your particular device came with an amplifier modelling feature, experiment with the built-in tones and effects until you have the guitar sound you're happy with.
Check your recording level on the interface of your recording software. This is usually an LED meter that displays your input level. There will also be a "gain" control that will allow you to raise the recording level until you have a nice strong signal to record. Pay attention to this to make sure that your signal doesn't go above 0dB on the meter. If it does, the LED lights will flash red, which means that your signal is "clipping." This means you're losing part of the audio signal. It also results in an unpleasant digital distortion, so avoid it by turning down the gain control.
Record your first track. Your recording software display will have control buttons (similar to those found on old analogue tape players) that you click on to execute certain functions. The "record" button is usually marked with a red circle or dot, and the stop button is usually a black square. Clicking the record button will arm the track to record, and clicking on "play" (usually an arrow pointing right) will actually begin the recording. When you've played your guitar part, listen back to your performance, and if you're happy, save it as a file. You can then repeat this process, continuing to add more guitar parts onto new tracks as you see fit.
Tips and warnings
- For a more-accurate representation of the sound of your guitar tracks, you may want to listen to them played back on powered studio monitor speakers rather than on headphones. In this case, simply plug in the monitor speakers using the same headphone input on the guitar link.
- Audio files tend to be quite large and will fill up your computer's hard drive quickly, so consider recording your guitar tracks directly to an external hard drive. As well as freeing up your computer's hard drive, this will give you added portability should you wish to take your tracks elsewhere to collaborate with other musicians.
- Don't begin recording until you've disabled unnecessary programs that run when you start up your computer. These use memory that might compromise the performance of your recording software. If you have previously enabled automatic updates to your operating system, disable them before a recording session. The last thing you want when recording a guitar part is to have your computer shut down and restart in order to install updates.
- Make frequent backup copies of your recordings. Computers do crash occasionally, and files can become damaged, so you need to safeguard your valuable recordings in case the worst happens.
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