How to use my computer as a guitar effects pedal

Written by matt gerrard
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How to use my computer as a guitar effects pedal
Effects emulators are ideal for those that want to experiment with new sounds without having to spend thousands on stomp-boxes. (electric guitar image by Jeffrey Zalesny from

Most high-end studio effects units, such as those used by a guitar effects pedal, possess only a fraction of the processing power available in your home PC, so it could handle the job of processing all that audio data. Chances are, your PC already has the required hardware, a pair of audio jacks for input and output, so there's no reason your PC can't be used as an effects pedal or processor for your guitar.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Guitar
  • USB/FireWire Audio Interface

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  1. 1

    Connect the USB / FireWire Interface to the appropriate port on your PC. Plug in your guitar using a standard 1/4-inch jack cable, and power up the computer. Ensure all the gain and volume controls on your interface are turned to zero, then launch the emulator software.

  2. 2

    Activate the input channel of the effects software, and gradually increase the input gain. Touch the strings lightly and watch the input level monitor for any spikes. Once the level fills up most of the green section, without tipping over into the red, you can turn on the monitoring channel. Gradually increase the output volume until it is at an appropriate level.

  3. 3

    Connect the audio output of your PC's sound card to the instrument input of your amplifier. Alternatively, if your amplifier has an effects loop, connect your guitar to the amplifier input as you normally would, then connect the effects loop "Send" to your PC's input and "Return" to the PC's output.

  4. 4

    Experiment with different effects chains. Altering the order in which the effects units appear in the chain; it can have a drastic effect on the sound. Save your favourite effect setups, so they can be recalled later.

Tips and warnings

  • You can use the processing software to emulate amplifiers, when recording directly to the PC on which the software is running, or you can take a live output from the PC and connect it to an amplifier, using it as a live effects unit.

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