(Since this is dealing with music-making equipment, I think Cafe Society is the place for it; if the mods here disagree it’s their call of course.)
I’ve never been able to record my voice or guitar into my computer. It does have a built-in microphone, and I’ve tried it using that, or using a USB mike which probably was intended more for dictation, but I couldn’t even get that to work. On the other hand, background noises like car engines and horns in the street outside get recorded just fine.
I made the following discovery: If the guitar is plugged into the amp as usual, I can use a second cord and a .25"-3.5mm adapter between the amp’s headphone jack and and the 3.5mm microphone jack on my laptop, and record my playing easily. The obvious advantage of this is that I don’t have to worry about background noises. The question is, though, could I harm anything–especially my computer–by doing this? Does it make any difference if I plug headphones into the computer and bypass the built-in speakers? Incidentally, for this to work at all it seems that I have to remove the clips from the speaker cone on the amplifier.
I think the amplifier that’s meant to drive the headphones could very easily overload the inputs on your computer. Also, the bias is probably wrong (meaning that it would sound like crap). It’s a bit hard to tell without knowing what your guitar amp is.
If you really want to record, your best bet is to get a USB recording interface. If you’re at all interested in recording music you’re going to end up with one or several of these anyway, so you might as well bite the bullet and get one to start with. You’ll want one with a High-Z input (which is usually marked High-Z, or instrument) so you can plug your guitar directly into the interface.
Once you can get a clean guitar signal into your computer, you’ll need some software to record it. Try Reaper. It has a free trial. There’s plenty of others too, but you’ll want one with VST support (which pretty much rules out Audacity). The idea is you record a clean version of your guitar part then make it sound right by putting a VST amp-simulator on it.
That might sound a bit involved, but it’s the cheapest, easiest, and most versatile way to record electric guitar on a computer.
Are the recording tools you mention intended for you run the guitar through the amp, and then through the recording interface via the headphone jack? Or do you simply run the guitar straight through the interface, not using the amp at all?
I have a Fender 75-watt transistor amp that’s really just for practice or informal jamming. I hardly ever use it because I usually try to achieve a clean, straight “guitar” tone–i.e., when practicing on my own I really don’t need amplification. Recently I was surprised and delighted when I got together with some guys in a studio to jam. It was the first time I’d done this in years, and, as it happens, you don’t need to bring your amp to this studio unless you’ve got something unique that you insist on using. The hourly rent on the studio includes the use of amplifiers and a PA.
Your use of the phrase “bite the bullet” is discouraging, though. It sounds expensive, because I can’t think of any other reason a guitar player minds going into a music shop and buying something.
ETA: Is Reaper or a similar product absolutely essential, if you’re only going for a lo-fi garage-rock sound? IOW, can you use the recording interface to record directly into the laptop’s wav recorder?
You might be out of pocket for a couple of hundred dollars – I’m not sure though, because I’m in Australia. In the US, or somewhere else where this stuff doesn’t have to be shipped halfway around the world, you might get a more reasonable price. But even so, it’s a hell of a lot more reasonable than the thousands pro-audio guys spend on their Protools HD rigs.
On the plus side, once you own an interface it becomes fairly simple to do pretty much anything you want, recording wise. You can have a pretty good setup with just the interface and some bits of free software you can download. If you aren’t satisfied with what you can get from your laptops built-in microphone, you’re not going to do much better without an interface.
Well, on your first attempt, I imagine you won’t get much better than garage rock sound anyway.
You will need Reaper or something like it. As far as I remember, Windows wave recorder only lets you record 60 seconds of stuff at a time. Don’t fear the Reaper, because you can try it out for free, and the trial version isn’t crippled in any way.
The one I personally use is Zynewave Podium, and that has a free version. But it’s Windows only, and the interface takes a bit of learning. Let me put it this way, Reaper is easier to learn but harder to master – Podium is harder to learn but easier to master. Reaper is slightly better on the features list, but I’m guessing at this point, you don’t really care about the high end features anyway. There’s also Energy XT, but let’s not complicate this any further.
Here’s an example of what I can do with just an interface running into my computer, recording with Zynewave Podium: Kiama. I’m using an amp simulator for bass and lead guitar. The effects are all free VSTs I’ve downloaded from the internet and set up to use in Podium. And mind you, I don’t own a drum kit or play drums.
Needless to say, I freakin’ love modern computer-based recording.
No amp necessary. You would just plug your guitar straight into the High-Z/Instrument input on the interface. With that setup, your “guitar amp” is an effect you apply to the track in your recording software.
I should probably point out at this point that Line Level Inputs, Microphone inputs, and instrument inputs are three different things, and you should only match like with like. The kind of interface you’ll want has all three types of inputs (plus phantom power for condenser mics, but let’s not go there).