For most musicians, the main thing they connect their electric guitar to is an amp. That’s simple enough – it’s what the instrument is designed for, and the connections are all in place to make things easy.
Some musicians may get a little more creative, and plug their guitar into pedals, foot switches, and rack-mounted processors to influence the sound. Even then, this process is relatively simple. These products are all designed to work with one another, and a little research can yield the proper setup to make an entire effects lineup easy to configure and use.
But what about connecting an electric guitar to another device? Like your Mac?
That can be a bit more complicated, but it’s something plenty of musicians have done throughout the years. Combine the design-focused features of a Mac with the creative artistry offered by an electric guitar, and you have a perfect match. The only question is how to make the two work together.
Using an interface, many people record their guitar straight through their Mac. Whether it’s a Mac laptop or an iMac computer set up specifically for audio recording, connecting your guitar to one of these systems is easy.
There are several options you can use in terms of the interface, adapter, and cable you’ll need. Having a proper set up means you’re prepared to plug and play, record, or even use the setup to help improve your playing technique.
Here’s a bit about how to connect your electric guitar to a Mac.
Step One: Finding a Compatible Interface for Your Setup
Connecting your guitar to your Mac requires a bit of additional equipment. If your electric guitar is like most, it only has one input, and that’s for the standard 1/4 cable. Unfortunately, Macs don’t come with inputs for these types of cables. This means you’ll need an interface to help the two devices communicate effectively.
You’ll need to invest in some type of interface that is supported by your current system. This could be a standard box from a company like Behringer with multiple instrument input slots on it, or a mobile-style interface such as the IK Multimedia iRig 2.
You’ll want to make sure these devices are compatible with Mac, as some are made for Android and Windows devices only. In most cases, you’ll connect the device to your computer via a FireWire or USB port. It’s also possible you can use adapters to bridge the connection here if your interface and Mac don’t have the same ports – just remember, every piece of gear you add to your setup represents another piece to keep track of and another potential source of latency during recordings.
Next, you’ll want to verify your Mac has registered the device, and then plug your guitar in to the 1/4-inch connector on the interface. You may also decide to get an audio input-to-1/4-inch converter, allowing you to plug your guitar directly into the Mac that way. Either option can suffice, and it depends largely on your budget and preference.
The way to ensure compatibility is by checking the audio interface or audio converter’s specs. It should be compatible with macOS and Core Audio. You may also be required to install particular drivers on your system to get the device to function properly.
Step Two: Configuring the Device’s Connection for Use
Once you have your guitar plugged into an interface that is plugged into your Mac, what next? How do you go from simply having the instrument plugged into the computer to actually being able to hear playback and record?
Let’s say you’re using one of the most tried and tested audio processing solutions in Apple’s library – GarageBand. To start, you want to make sure your instrument and interface are recognized properly. The computer itself should provide you some indication that the device has been recognized, and most interfaces usually have a signal light to identify when input is being received from an instrument.
Next, open up GarageBand or your preferred digital audio workstation – some of these programs vary, so remember that these directions could vary depending on your system.
Start out by creating an audio track and using the Smart Controls button to open up the corresponding pane. Then access the Input popup menu. If the guitar is connected to your computer’s input port via an adapter, all you need to do is choose Built-In input. If that option isn’t available, go to Preferences then choose Audio/MIDI, then you should see the Built-In option on the Audio Input menu.
It’s also important to choose the corresponding input to match your channels – meaning you’ll choose mono input for single channel instruments, and stereo input for dual channel instruments. Once you’ve established the connection and can see the instrument connected in your audio recording program, you can adjust the input level volume to control how loud or soft the sound signal is.
Sometimes you may find the recording slider is greyed out, which means you’ll need to control the volume via your interface or via the guitar itself. You can also click the Monitor button to listen to the input in real time, and Record to record a track.
Step Three: Resolving Common Connection Problems
Connecting an electric guitar to a Mac is usually a simple process, provided you have the right equipment on hand. A good interface and/or adapter are usually all you need – but even with quality equipment, sometimes you may be experiencing some problems.
Here we’ll list the common problems and a brief troubleshooting guide for each.
No Sound in Your Headphones or Speakers
Your interface has been detected, your guitar is plugged into it, and everything seems set to go – yet when you play, you aren’t able to hear anything back. Remember to make sure you have the proper audio playback device selected. This can be either speakers or headphones, and can be changed in the standard audio settings menu.
Don’t forget that some audio recording programs, including the software that comes packaged with some interfaces, have their own audio settings. Make sure those settings are configured exactly like your main sound settings, then restart the audio program to check and see if you have sound.
Nothing is worse than trying to listen back to your instrument through an interface and hearing an ear-piercing hiss instead of music. Make sure the monitor settings are turned off if you aren’t playing. It may seem like a pain to turn the setting on and off again, but it can do a lot for the quality of your sound – and save you from a nasty earache!
You should also consider using headphones rather than speakers or monitors in some cases. While this may not be recommended for high-quality audio engineering, it can do a lot to help reduce feedback especially when you have other instruments or active microphones around.
Not Enough Volume
If your guitar is cranked up to 10, you should be able to hear it loud and clear – right? Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes people may find they have trouble getting enough volume. This isn’t just for the sake of rocking out loud, either. Having enough volume is crucial to being able to play along to a backing track or in a mix.
Make sure your speakers, headphones, and interface all have their individual volume controls turned up. Also check to make sure none of them have dampening effects active. You should also ensure the playback volume of your chosen device is set on the right level. And finally, make sure your cables are in good shape – a short can take a lot away from your volume.
These are the main problems a person will have when it comes to connecting their electric guitar to a Mac. While these aren’t the only problems that can occur, they’re the easiest ones to run into but also the easiest ones to get around.
Benefits of Connecting an Electric Guitar to a Mac
Now that you know how to connect an electric guitar to a Mac, you may want to know exactly how doing this can help you. Obviously, you’ll have the ability to play your guitar through your computer. But in what ways can this prove valuable?
For one, you can record multiple tracks and layer them in a digital audio workstation. This allows you to jam with friends and more. It’s also easy to practice guitar using online tools like metronomes, backing tracks, and digital lessons. You can even use it to stream live jam sessions, provided your computer has the specs to handle it.
Connecting an electric guitar to a Mac is simple if you have the right equipment. For musicians, connecting these two creative tools together can unlock a wide variety of possibilities for creativity. Recording, practicing, editing, layering, and harmonizing are just some of the activities you can take part in once you connect your electric guitar to your Mac.