A guitar amp is an incredibly useful piece of equipment for a guitarist and vital to a good performance. If you want to record the sound from your guitar amp, play with a backing track, or simply with your headphones on, you’ll need to connect the amp to your computer.
To connect the guitar amp to your computer, you can connect through an audio interface with the line-out port, USB cable, Bluetooth, or the headphones port with a jack cable and audio console. Apart from these, a mic or load box is one of the easiest ways to connect the guitar amp to your PC.
In this article, I will detail how you can connect your guitar amp to a computer. I will also discuss common issues with connecting an amp to computers, and other ways of connecting your guitar to the computer without needing an amp, so read on!
1. Connect via the Line out Port and an Audio Interface
An audio interface is particularly helpful when connecting a guitar amp to the computer, especially for recording. You can connect your amp to the audio interface through the line-out port using an XLR or a jack cable.
These cables will deliver the signals from your guitar into the audio interface, which then translates them into electrical signals that the computer can process. You can learn more about how guitar amps work in my article, which explains everything you need to know about amps.
Between the XLR and jack cable, the XLR cable tends to be better because it delivers a cleaner, better-quality signal that is as close to the original amp sound as possible. Jack cables sometimes produce noise due to an unbalanced signal.
The signal conversion is why the audio interface makes it possible to use and record your guitar amp with the computer.
In addition to recording, a good audio interface offers numerous benefits. The interface offers improved sound quality, multiple inputs, and improved sound control so you can keep the tone of your sound exactly how you want it.
The audio interface can be connected to your computer using the given cable and set up on your PC. Always connect the interface to your computer, then connect your amp to the interface.
2. Use the USB Connection if Your Amp Has a USB Port
If your amp has a USB port, you can directly connect your amp to a PC or a laptop.
While you can use a USB cable to connect your amp to the computer via an audio interface, you typically won’t need an audio interface as the USB cable will convert the signals directly.
USB cables are most commonly used with digital guitar amps and are useful not only for using your amp with the computer when playing but also for updating and managing your amp. You can download necessary software updates, effects, and new sounds into your amp by plugging it into your computer through the USB port.
All you need for this is a USB 2.0 cable, and you can connect your amp to your computer directly.
3. The Headphones Port Can Be Used With an Audio Console
You can use the headphones port to connect your guitar amp to your computer if you also have an audio console.
Audio consoles or mixers differ from interfaces, as they’re most commonly used in live performances and may not have recording capabilities. They tend to have more inputs than an interface, making them ideal for playing with your band rather than recording alone.
Use a jack cable to connect your amp to the console through the headphones port into the audio input on the console. If your console has a USB connection, you can also use the USB out port on your guitar to connect it to the console, then connect it to your computer.
The many ports on the console allow you to connect your amp to any number of devices, which makes it an incredibly useful piece of equipment.
However, if you don’t have a console or want to record with your guitar amp, you can still use the headphones port to connect your amp through an audio interface. Remember that you’ll have to use an adaptor to record in stereo, as the headphone port will only allow you to input a mono cable.
You could use the jack cable and connect your amp to the computer directly using the headphones port, but the signal will not translate well without the audio console or interface.
Such poor translation will result in a reduced sound quality overall and a significant lack of control. There will be no point in using your amp, as your carefully curated tone settings will be wasted through poor signal transfer.
4. Use a Load Box To Connect the Guitar Amp to the PC Easily
A load box is one of the simplest ways to connect your amp to the computer. A load box is used instead of a speaker cabinet, making an amp safe to use and allowing you to use it with your computer to its full capacity.
You will need an audio interface for this method since you still need something that will translate the signals from your guitar to something the computer can understand. To connect your amp using a load box, follow these steps:
- Ensure your audio interface is connected to your computer.
- Connect your guitar amp to your load box through the speaker connection on the amp.
- Then connect your load box to your audio interface.
Connecting your guitar amp through a load box avoids issues that come with direct inputs (DIs) from your amp to the interface, especially if you have a speaker emulation load box. You’ll be able to receive the sound as you hear it, rather than any changes that may result when you bypass the amp speakers and connect it directly to your interface.
5. Pair Your Amp With Your Computer if It Offers Bluetooth
You can also connect your amp to your computer with Bluetooth connectivity if your amp has the option. Bluetooth amps can be paired with your computer just as easily as any other Bluetooth device and is a useful way to play backing tracks from your computer onto the amp.
You can then use the amp with your computer and headphones in, which is helpful when practicing late, in residential areas, or if you simply want to listen to music.
Remember that this method sends signals from your computer to the amp, not vice versa, so you can’t record anything when your amp is connected via Bluetooth.
6. Mic Your Amp and Plug That Into Your Audio Interface
Instead of connecting your amp directly to the audio interface, which leaves you with a slightly different sound, you can mic your amp and connect that to the audio instead.
The mic will allow you to preserve your sound and keep it exactly as it would sound live, making it an excellent option when recording your music. It is better than using a speaker emulation load box if you’re recording your music for public presentation.
Read Also: How to Mic a Guitar Amp
Common Issues With Connecting Guitar Amp to Computer
Because of the number of devices and connections involved, you will likely encounter issues connecting your guitar amp to the computer. Here are a few common problems that occur in this process and what you can do to fix them.
No Sound Comes Out
One of the most common issues when connecting your amp to the computer is that you find no sound coming out. A lack of sound may be caused by a number of things, such as the following:
- Your connections are not secure.
- The amp output is too low.
- Your guitar’s controls are not fully open.
- You’re using incorrect or damaged cables and adaptors.
- You’ve connected the amp directly, and your computer can’t process the input signal.
- You didn’t use a stereo adaptor for your mono jack cable.
Always ensure that your guitar’s controls are on full when connected to the amp so it receives the best possible sound. Use the right cables to connect your guitar to the amp — directly or through the pedal board — and ensure that the amp is securely connected to the audio interface.
This video by Stamatis Stabos on YouTube demonstrates how you can use various cables and methods to connect your amp to the computer safely.
You may also need to update your microphone settings or drivers in your PC to ensure that the sound from your amp comes through clearly.
Always try to plug your amp in through an audio interface, especially if you’re trying to record yourself playing. The interface will ensure that the analog signals from your guitar are correctly converted to digital signals without compression, so you don’t lose any sonic information.
Check out our guide on the Best Microphones for Guitar Amps
Poor Quality Sound Is Recorded
You might find that while you can record some sound, the quality is poor. Unfortunately, some methods of connecting your amp to your computer are better than others.
Using the headphones port on your amp to connect using a jack cable often produces low-quality sound. It is cheap and quick, but jack cables deliver a less balanced sound than aux or XLR cables. Moreover, you can only connect a mono jack to your headphones port, so you’ll need an adapter which may lead to signal loss during transmission.
If you’re not using an audio interface, poor signal translation may affect sound quality, as discussed earlier. You might also find that your computer’s sound card cannot handle the amount of information from your amp, leading to a poor-quality recording.
You might also find it easier to add effects like reverb and distortion when mixing rather than adding them from your amp. Doing so will reduce the load of transmission, reducing latency, and will offer your greater flexibility when making music, resulting in a better quality sound overall.
Read Also: How to Record a Guitar Amp
Overloading Your System
If you don’t have a professional-grade sound card, you might overload your PC with voltage, leading to sound card failure.
Not using a load box with your amp, especially if you have a tube amp, may also cause a voltage overload. This kind of overload can affect both your PC and your amp, causing electrical damage to both pieces of equipment.
Using a professional sound card like the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy PCIe RX 7.1 card (available on Amazon.com) will help prevent issues of voltage overload. This card improves your computer’s overall sound quality and is perfect for recording amp sound through a mic or a direct line. While it has some limitations, the cards are a good value for money overall.
Alternative Ways of Connecting Your Guitar to Your Computer
Connecting your guitar amp to the computer is just one way to use your guitar with your computer. Here are some ways to connect your guitar to your computer without an amp.
Connect Guitar Directly to Your Audio Interface
You can connect your guitar directly to the interface without plugging it into your amp. All you need to do is use a jack cable with an XLR connector on one end to plug into one of the ¼ in (0.64 cm) inputs on the interface. As always, remember to do this after you’ve connected your interface to the computer.
A benefit to this method is that you can play with tone, volume, and effects when you’re mixing, giving you great flexibility.
If you use the amp’s settings, you can’t change much in the mixing stage. But when you record your guitar directly, you effectively have a clean slate of music to play with.
Use Your Pedalboard To Connect
Most modern multi-effects pedals come with USB ports, so you can use an appropriate USB cable to connect your guitar to the computer. Depending on your pedalboard and PC, this may be a Type-B to Type-A connector or a Type-B to Type-C, so make sure you check while preparing to record.
A good pedalboard will preserve your guitar’s sound as it is while offering you the opportunity to add effects while you’re playing, which allows you to be versatile while you’re playing.
Connect the Mic to Your Computer
Micing your amp is the best way to record the amp’s sound so you don’t bypass the speakers. But if you don’t want to use an amp, you can still use your mic to connect your guitar to the computer.
If your mic has a USB port, it’s an incredibly easy process to simply set up your mic in front of your guitar, plug it into the computer and start playing. You can also connect the mic to your audio interface if you’re using one, so your guitar is connected to the computer through the interface instead.
Mics are the only way to record your acoustic guitar directly to the PC. Even if you’re using an amp, the best practice is to connect the mic to your audio interface or your computer so you get the best quality of sound to work with.
Get a Pre-Amp and Use That To Connect Your Guitar
Pre-amps are typically used to boost the signal from your guitar, so your amp, interface, or console receives a cleaner ‘line-level’ input. It is not a replacement for an amp because even your amp needs you to turn your guitar signals to full to produce the best sound.
Pre-amps are a great way to connect your guitar to the computer without pulling out your amp because they will enhance the signal from your guitar, so the computer has more to work with.
The sound quality will not be as good as through an amp or an interface, but it will work just as well as using a multi-effect pedal or a mic. Multi-effects pedals typically have pre-amps built in, so they’re also a great way to connect your guitar to your PC.
Can I Use My PC as a Guitar Amp?
You can use your PC as a guitar amp by downloading amp simulator software and connecting your guitar to the computer through an audio interface. For best results, mic your guitar, connect the mic to your PC with a USB cable, and run your amp simulator.
While there are many amp simulators on the market, Neural DSP is widely regarded to be the most accurate amp simulator available, though it’s fairly heavy on the CPU. You can use this software independently or with a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
Use the line-out port and XLR cables connected through an audio interface for best results when connecting your guitar amp to your computer.
However, to preserve the sound quality exactly as it emerges from your amp, you should mic your amp with a USB mic and connect that to the audio interface. You may also consider connecting your guitar directly to the computer through your audio interface, multi-effects pedal, USB mic, or pre-amp for a quick recording session.