Whether you’re a professional musician or just messing around in your friend’s basement, the desire to record your sounds will inevitably arise. But don’t worry, you don’t need to pony up thousands of dollars hiring out a studio and an engineer. Starting with the computer you already have and adding a few inexpensive accessories, you produce a decent quality recording to share with your friends or use as a demo to get that all-important first gig. For most applications, recording at home is simple, straightforward, and pretty cheap.
The straightforward answer is no, you do not need a preamp to record your guitar on your computer. A preamp works to boost the original signal from your guitar before feeding into the amplifier. Its main function is to produce a higher output signal, which will create higher levels of distortion and feedback. So you do not need a preamp to record on your computer unless you intend to produce that classic distortion sound guitar legends, like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, made famous back in the 1960s. Recording without a preamp will not affect your computer's ability to interpret the electronic signal from your guitar or amplifier.
Guitar Recording Options
Multiple options exist for recording your guitar on your computer, and depending on your budget, the sound quality of your recording will be determined by how the electronic signal from your guitar gets interpreted by your computer and the sound card in your computer. The simplest option requires a cheap, but effective, guitar cable with a built-in headphone jack on one end. Plug the guitar jack into the line out or headphone jack of your guitar or amplifier, and plug the smaller, computer jack into the microphone or line in on your computer. Test the sound using your recording software on your computer.
Due to the higher frequency of the guitar’s signal, you may notice feedback or buzzing on your recordings. If this is the case, you can purchase a USB interface with headphone pickups. This will allow you to plug the computer guitar cable directly into the USB interface. Plug the guitar jack into the line out on the guitar or amplifier, plug the smaller computer jack into the USB interface, and test your sound by recording a sample track. This will allow you to bypass the inferior quality of your built-in microphone or line in input, and let you record straight onto the computer’s sound card.
The final, more expensive option, requires purchasing a MIDI USB audio interface. This option will produce the highest quality sound for your recordings by allowing you to bypass your computer’s sound card all together. This option really is the easiest and best way to record all of your music, because it lets you plug your normal guitar cable directly into the interface, allows you to control volume and tone levels, and plugs straight into your USB port. Some of these devices even let you plug multiple instruments into the interface, so you can have your guitar, bass and microphone all connected together.
Currently based in Minneapolis, Minn., Eric Blankenburg has been a freelance journalist since 2000. His articles have appeared in "Outside Missoula, Outside Bozeman," "Hello Chengdu" and online at GoNomad.com and various other websites. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the University of Montana.