5 Ways to Record Guitar Tracks Without an Audio Interface


If you want to record guitar tracks for your songs, you would typically use an audio interface for direct input. If you don’t own an audio interface, don’t worry, because there are a couple more alternative solutions to track your guitar. However, some of the methods are not going to sound as great without the translating power of an external audio interface would, it can still work for recording or practicing electric guitar using your DAW and VSTfx.

If you are in a rock band and want to record demos, or you just want to simply add guitar tracks to your songs, you can still record your guitar by trying one of these five different methods:

OPTION NUMBER ONE: USE A MIXER WITH USB CONNECTIVITY

A mixer with USB connectivity can be an alternative to an audio interface. It will have more inputs so you can record guitar, bass, keyboards, and vocals at the same time. Some USB mixers would have phantom power, so you can also record vocals with higher quality. Here is an example of a USB mixer you can purchase:

BEHRINGER XENYX 302USB MIXER

(Price: $59)

This device is not precisely an audio interface, but USB mixers such as this one can do the same function.

A mixer can also be used for playing live. Its five inputs can make live recording possible. You can record up to 5 instruments simultaneously. When you connect it to your laptop, it will be recognized as an audio interface by your computer so that you can use your collection of software amps and effects.

OPTION NUMBER TWO: USE A USB MICROPHONE

If you have an amplifier, you record your guitar by using a USB microphone. Without an audio interface, you can still record vocals and instruments by connecting a USB microphone. All you need to do is create an audio track in your DAW. Then, place the microphone near the speaker of your amplifier. Make sure that you adjust the amp levels to capture the right volume and try to find that sweet spot on where to place your microphone. Usually, for higher gain instruments such as your guitar, you would need a dynamic microphone.

To mic in guitar amplifiers, follow these easy steps:

  • Place the mic directly pointed at the center of the amp’s speaker.
  • Experiment various distances and angles.
  • Test how it sounds on your DAW
  • Make sure you adjust the noise gate on your DAW so that it gets the sound of the amp and not the sound of your strumming.
  • You can see the waveform building-up on the screen of your DAW when recording. Make sure the sound waves are above 50% of the center, but not too much that it would clip.
  • Leave enough space or headroom for editing and mastering.
  • For condenser mics, the right angle is usually 45 degrees and about 8-12 inches away from the amp.
  • The audio interface has an LED light that indicates clipping. Use it to your advantage.

OPTION NUMBER THREE: USE GUITAR TO USB CABLE

The third option on the list is by connecting your guitar by using a 1/4” jack to USB cable. It kind of looks like your standard guitar cable, but the other end would connect to the USB port of your laptop or computer. It may be another alternative, but I would not recommend this method if you are going for high-quality recording. However, it can be a fun way to record ideas and practice using your software amps and effects.

OPTION NUMBER FOUR: USE AN AMPLIFIER WITH BUILT-IN AUDIO INTERFACE

Before I bought myself a decent audio interface, I used the built-in audio interface on my LINE 6 AMPLIFI 150. It worked very well. However, I needed an audio interface to record other instruments like bass and vocals. An amp with a built-in audio interface will only allow you to use the built-in or external effects, at least in my experience. You can try to use the amp and edit out all the effects so you can have room to use your software amps and effects. But, if you have a good amplifier that sounds great, you can use those onboard effects and record them straight to your computer as an audio track. Here are some amps that have a built-in audio interface:

LINE 6 AMPLIFI 30/75/150

(Price: $150 to $400)

No matter which variant of the AMPLIFI series you choose, all of them have a built-in audio interface. This amp is a simple and clean looking device that has everything you need. It has tons of onboard effects, Bluetooth connectivity, and access to presets shared by other AMPLIFI users all around the globe.

BOSS KATANA 100 MK II

(Price: $360)

The Boss Katana is a revolutionary amp that contains all of your classic and favorite Boss guitar effects built-in in one fantastic amp. It also features an audio interface so you can record the guitar directly to your laptop or computer with the options to use any of the effects in its collection.

OPTION NUMBER FIVE: USE YOUR GUITAR EFFECTS PROCESSOR

Just like using an amplifier with a built-in audio interface, you can also use a guitar effects processor. Most of the modern multi-effects processor has USB connectivity that you can use to connect to a computer and record your guitar tracks. Most of the time, only digital effects would have this feature. Unlike using a microphone, you do not need to worry about the condition of the room or the external noise when recording directly from your guitar effects processor. Here are some guitar effects processors that you can use for recording guitar tracks:

ZOOM G3X GUITAR EFFECTS PROCESSOR

(Price: $220)

This device is an example of a guitar multi-effects processor with a built-in audio interface that is suitable for recording guitar and bass tracks. It features 22 amps, 94 stompbox pedals that you can use in any combination you want.

Key Features:

  • Three large LCDs with an intuitive user interface
  • 22 amp models
  • 94 stompbox effects
  • XLR output
  • USB connectivity
  • Includes Steinberg Sequel LE recording software

LINE 6 HX STOMP

(Price: $590)

There are two words to describe this device; compact and powerful. I know this guitar effects processor may be a lot more expensive than an audio interface. But, if you are in the market looking for the best sounding effects slipped into one compact device, the HX Stomp is the one for you. Aside from the built-in audio interface, you can record high-quality guitar tracks using some of LINE 6’s excellently engineered sounds. You are not just purchasing the audio interface, but a collection of the best effects for your guitar all-in-one. The difference about using VSTfx and a hardware effects processor is you can use the HX stomp for live gigs without bringing a whole lot of equipment.

Key Features:

  • More than 200 onboard effects
  • Up to 6 simultaneous amp and cab sims
  • Intuitive control and editing
  • Pristine audio quality

RECORDING BASS

For recording bass, make sure you use the methods that do not involve any guitar amps and guitar effects processors. However, all the other options are suitable for recording bass. I tried recording bass using my guitar amp, but the amp was not ideal for bass. The built-in guitar effects compromised the bass sound, which did not sound very good on the record. I would suggest the USB mixer option if you want to record bass without an audio interface.

You can use your bass effects processor if it has a USB connection. It may not be the case for all your devices, but if your device has a USB-B port, it probably has a built-in audio interface. To be sure, check the specs before purchasing one because of that reason.

RECORDING ACOUSTIC GUITAR

There are a couple of ways to record acoustic guitar at home. If your acoustic guitar has pickups, you can plug the jack directly into the audio interface or any other techniques mentioned above and capture the sound without the use of a condenser or dynamic microphone, which is the more natural way. You can also try recording the hard but better way, which is using a mic to capture the real acoustic sound of the wood. The latter will require a lot of effort, such as acoustic treatment and mic positioning, but it will surely sound better if you get the technique locked down.

To learn more about recording acoustic guitar, click here.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED?

If you do not have an audio interface, you will need a laptop or computer to try one of the methods mentioned above. You can also use a mobile interface such as an iRIG, or Apogee Jam to record guitar tracks onto a mobile device like an iPhone or iPad. Make sure you also have a DAW installed on your computer or mobile device. Here are examples of mobile audio interfaces you can use with your phone:

APOGEE JAM

(Price: $159)

Apogee Jam is one of the best mobile interfaces right now. It is small and compact, so you can record live audio wherever you are. This device is seamless and will work well with iOS devices. I suggest iOS 10 or higher for better results.

            Key Features:

  • Connect guitars and bass to iOS devices, Mac, and PC
  • A clear signal for better quality recording
  • USB input
  • Headphone jack
  • LED indicators for precise level adjustment
  • Works with most iOS audio apps
  • Little to zero latency for monitoring and recording

IK MULTIMEDIA iRIG PRO

(Price: $150)

The iRIG Pro is going with the flow of technology by including all the necessary ports and plugins so you can use it with your iPhone straight of the box. Its HD audio compares to some of the best audio interfaces used for computers. The iRig Pro is Ultra-compact for mobile use.

Key Features:

  • High-definition 24-bit audio sampling rate
  • iPhone 7 or higher ready with a built-in headphone jack
  • Volume and gain control
  • Volume and gain LED indicator to avoid sound clipping
  • Includes lightning cables (no adapters required)
    • Ultra-compact

You will also need a good guitar. Investing in an excellent sounding guitar will sound a lot better in recording and live playing. Usually, a guitar with a well-known brand uses high-quality wood, and better electronic parts that will have less noise and hissing sounds when it comes to recording. Another good tip is to change the strings before any recording session, a new set of strings will have the ring you want with more sustain and a brighter tone.

Another thing to keep in mind is the cables you use. Make sure that your guitar cables are in good condition. It may be subtle, but sing high-quality wires will reduce the noise and hissing when you record high-gain and distorted guitars. Invest in good cables and patch cables, and do not forget to change your strings!

ELIXIR ELECTRIC GUITAR STRINGS OPTIWEB

(Price: $12.99)

These strings are built for long-term use. The Optiweb coating technology protects against common corrosion and debris buildup. Although, you will notice that you are losing the new string sound after a while of use.

ERNIE BALL REGULAR SLINKY PARADIGM ELECTRIC GUITAR STRINGS

(Price: $15)

These strings have the new state-of-the-art wire drawing process that dramatically increases strength. These strings still feel like the regular Ernie Ball strings with the reinforced Nano treatment.       

ERNIE BALL WONDER WIPES STRING CLEANER 20-PACK

(Price: $7)

These wonder wipes will help extend the life and tone of your strings. It eliminates acid, dirt, and grime.

MOGAMI GOLD ¼” GUITAR CABLES

(Price: $50)

This guitar cable provides a crystal-clear tone with noise reduction. The construction of this cable is durable using a conductive polymer shield and an Ultra High-Density spiral shield for low noise, low feedback, and heavy-duty use.

MXR PATCH CABLE 3 PACK

(Price: $12.99)

The MXR patch cables are durable and flexible. The flat angle of the ends is a pedalboard space saver. These patch cables are equipped with a spiral shield for lower noise.

IF YOU HAPPEN TO BUY AN AUDIO INTERFACE

If you decide that you want an audio interface to record guitar  tracks as well as other instruments, here is a selection of some of the best value and affordable audio interfaces that many home music producers use to record instrument tracks:

M-AUDIO M-TRACK 2×2

 (price: $99.99)

This device is a high-quality signal capturing audio interface. It is compact, so; it won’t take a lot of space on your desk, and you can also use it for mobile recording. The low-noise feature is essential for getting the most out of your record.

Key Features:

  • Two inputs
  • XLR input
  • Crystal power preamp
  • ¼” guitar input
  • 24-bit/kHz response

FOCUSRITE SCARLETT SOLO

(Price: $99.99)

This brand has been well-known throughout most professional music producers. It has low latency, a preamp, and outstanding qualities for its low price. The 24-bit sample rate is best for recording guitars and vocals.

            Key Features:

  • Two inputs
  • XLR preamp input
  • ¼” guitar input
  • Indicator lights for levels
  • Gain Control
  • 24-bit sample rate

RELATED QUESTIONS:

  • Can you record vocals without an audio interface? Yes, you can record vocals without an audio interface. You have two options; option one is to use your computer’s built-in soundcard and plug a mic in the 3.5mm jack input. This method will not really sound right on your recording; the onboard soundcard of your computer does not have the same power as an audio interface in terms of gain, translation, and preamps.

Option number two is much better. You can use a USB condenser microphone that you can connect to our computer without an audio interface. Here is an example of a USB condenser microphone:

AUDIO-TECHNICA AT2020 USB

(Price: $129)

Unlike the original Audio-Technica 2020, this one is connected via USB and does not require Phantom Power from an Audio Interface. If you don’t plan on recording any guitars, you can save a lot of money with this.

  • How can you record a full demo without an audio interface? You can record a full demo without an audio interface if you use one of the methods for recording guitar and bass from above. For vocals, you can use a USB microphone, and for drums and synths, you can use VST instruments and program the notes on the MIDI editor of your DAW. If your music does not involve guitars, you can record and program all the instruments in your DAW via MIDI.

CONCLUSION

An audio interface may be an essential item in your home music studio, but there are a couple of alternative ways to record some instruments without one. But if you do not have on by now, I suggest that you go out and get one if you can. It is a very convenient external soundcard for your computer, that you can utilize for recording more acoustic instruments. (not just your guitar)

To learn more about the essential equipment you need to build a home music studio, click here.

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