How To Play Guitar Through Your Computer [Complete Connection Guide]

guitar connected to laptop

Whether you’re just looking to get in some practice time and don’t have an amp, or if you want to record some of those riffs, then you might be interested in connecting your guitar to your computer.

In order to play your guitar through your computer, you’re going to need an audio interface and a DAW (digital audio workstation). That’s the short answer of how to connect your instrument to your PC or Mac.

Personally, I’m a fan of the following setup: BEHRINGER Audio Interface, 4-Channel (UMC404HD), Adobe Audition, and Guitar Rig 5 as the amp modeler. Below we’ll give you some tips on getting your own setup for your guitar playing needs.

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Reasons To A Connect Guitar To PC/Laptop

If you’ve wondered what you might be able to do if you can hook your guitar up to your computer, then let us introduce you to the possibilities.

Do you want to play an electric guitar, but don’t have an amp? You can use your computer as an amp for your electric guitar.

Do you want to record yourself playing your guitar? You cannot plug into your computer and lay down those tracks in your own mini home recording studio.

Do you want to experiment with different things like effects, amp simulators, plugins, etc? Playing your guitar through your computer lets you do all that.

It’s also a great way to play your guitar through headphones if you want to get in some practice without disturbing anyone else in the home.

How To Connect An Electric Guitar To A Computer

Connecting an electric guitar to your laptop, PC, or Mac is deceptively easy, however you cannot directly connect the two. Instead you need an audio interface as a pass-through to convert the guitar’s sounds into something your computer can actually use.

You may be tempted to use an adapter in the computer’s audio input port to directly connect the guitar to the computer. Don’t do this! It can damage both the computer and the guitar.

What You Need

Before you attempt to hook up your electric guitar to your computer, make sure that you have everything that you need to get started.

Here’s what you should have:

  • Your electric guitar
  • Your guitar cable that you would normally plug into the amp
  • A laptop, PC, or Mac with an open USB port
  • An audio interface
  • A USB cable to connect the audio interface to the computer
  • DAW software on the computer

It looks like a lot, right? Well, the good news is that you probably already have the first three things.

And, when you buy an audio interface, it should include some DAW software and the necessary USB cable. So, all you probably have to buy is the audio interface.

Recommended Audio Interface for Beginners:

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface (Gen 3)
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface (Gen 3)
☆ BUDGET PICK ☆
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BEHRINGER Audio Interface, 4-Channel (UMC404HD)
 
BEHRINGER Audio Interface, 4-Channel (UMC404HD)
★ EDITOR’S PICK ★
➤ Get The Best Price Here

Once you have an audio interface, getting everything connected and setup is really simple. But the first thing that you’ll want to do it get that DAW software installed on your computer.

It’s a good idea to start out with the free software that is included with the audio interface that you bought. And later on, once you get more comfortable with the equipment, then you can upgrade to something more robust.

Now, all you have to do it connect your electric  guitar to the audio interface via your guitar cable. Then, connect the audio interface to your computer with the supplied USB cable.

connect electric guitar to laptop diagram
Diagram: connecting an electric guitar to a laptop with audio interface

The audio interface uses phantom power, so it will work once you have it connected to the computer.

The DAW software on the computer is where you will receive the sound from the guitar and be able to manipulate it any way that you want to do so.

This is also how you’ll save your music so that you can upload it or export it however you prefer to share it with the world.

If you’ve never used an audio interface before, then you’ll discover that you can use it to connect a microphone and other instruments to your computer.

And if you need to keep the sound down due to living in an apartment or another shared space, then you can usually plug your headphones directly into the audio interface.

Don’t Have An Audio Interface? Other Options!

Hands down the best way to play your guitar through your computer is with an audio interface. But what if you need to connect to your computer RIGHT NOW and you don’t have an interface?

There are other options!

Though they’re not really ideal options, you can also use the following equipment to connect to your computer:

  • your amp
  • multi-effects pedal

Honestly, these two options are only recommended in pinch.

Guitar Amp

Did y0u know that some guitar amps have a USB port on the back? Well, that port can be used to connect directly to your computer.

When do you this, you’re basically using the amp as the audio interface.

Here’s what you need to do it this way:

  • cable to connect guitar to amp
  • amp with USB port
  • USB cable to connect amp to computer
  • DAW software

Basically, getting this all set up is as simple as plugging the guitar into the amp and then connecting the amp to the computer via USB cable.

But you still gotta have that DAW software to turn that guitar sound into something that your computer can work with. Though, you may actually be able to get away with using something like Audacity to lay down a rough track (I haven’t tried it this way).

The cool thing about this setup is that it lets you record the tones coming from your amp without you needing to mic the amp.

Multi-Effects Pedal

Like some amps, you can often find a USB port on a multi-effects pedal. So, if you already have one of these pedals that has the port, then you can use a USB cable to connect your electric guitar to the computer.

In essence, this lets the multi-effects pedal function as an audio interface.

And like the amp, the cool thing about using the pedal as your audio interface is that it means you can directly record those effects that you enjoy.

But still, it is highly recommended that you get yourself an audio interface for the best results.

How To Connect An Acoustic Guitar To A Computer

Don’t have an electric guitar and wondering if you can connect your acoustic model to your computer?

Well, that really depends on what type of acoustic guitar you have. So, let’s look at your options.

Acoustic Electric Guitars

If you have an acoustic guitar with an internal pickup, which are commonly referred to as electro-acoustic guitars, then you’re in luck! It’s actually super easy to connect one of these to your computer.

With an acoustic electric guitar, you connect to your computer the same way as you would an electric guitar.

So, you can just follow the steps for an electric guitar above and you’re all set. We still recommend the same audio interfaces for electro-acoustic guitars.

Standard Acoustic Guitars (No Internal Pickups)

If you have just your normal acoustic guitar that has zero internal pickups built into it, then you have to about about this a bit differently.

With no inbuilt pickups, there is no way for you to directly connect the guitar to an audio interface.

Instead, you have to use a microphone to pick up the sounds of the guitar, and then have that microphone connected to an audio interface.

acoustic guitar to laptop
Diagram: connecting acoustic guitar to laptop with audio interface and microphone

If you’re just laying down a quick and dirty track, then a single microphone will be enough to capture a rough cut of your track. But if you are a bit more serious about it, then you’re going to need more than one mic so you can position them in different places around the guitar and you need an audio interface with multiple mic inputs.

And if you’re being serious about this, you’re also going to need a room that you’ve optimized for home recording, but that’s something we’ll cover in another guide.

Tip: You can also opt for a USB mic to plug directly into your computer and bypass the audio interface. But the results are typically worse sounding this way.

How To Use A Computer As A Guitar Amp

If you’re not really interested in laying down some tracks, but instead just want to use your computer as a guitar amp, then we’ve got some tips for you on that.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • adapter to plug directly into your computer
  • amp simulator software that models guitar amps and effects

So, with this setup you’re not really using an audio interface to play through to your computer because you’re using an adapter to connect and then the software works to emulate the sounds and tones you normally hear from a standalone guitar amp.

That being said, you can certainly use an audio interface for the connection instead of the adapter for better sound.

There are a few different software programs out there that can do this. Some options to consider include:

  • Helix Native by Line 6
  • AmpliTube
  • BIAS FX
  • Guitar Rig

You should check those out, read up on some reviews, and determine which of them best meets your needs.  Some have more features and effects than others, so really do your homework comparing them before you make the decision.

One thing to keep in mind when using one of these amp simulator programs is that you’re going to notice the lack of body compared to using a regular guitar amp.

 

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