Just as mixing desks and reel-to-reel tape machines used to be central to any recording system, nowadays laptops and computers are equally as important. You can hook up any device to a laptop, including guitar amps, interfaces, preamps, and monitors.
How to connect the guitar amp to your laptop – there are several methods you could use.
The easiest way to connect a guitar amp to a laptop would be to link the two devices with an audio interface. Alternatively, some amps offer USB outputs specifically for connecting them to laptops and computers, or other line outputs can be used.
Ultimately, it depends on what you’re hoping to achieve by connecting a guitar amp to your laptop.
If it’s solely for recording, you’ll need to take a direct output from the amp and connect it to the laptop via a recording device like an interface.
If you’re trying to download software or presets onto a digital solid-state amp, that requires USB connectivity. I’ll explore all of this and more in the following guide.
Using An Audio Interface To Connect A Guitar Amp To A Laptop
If you’re wondering how to connect your guitar amp to a laptop to record yourself playing, there are a few simple ways to do this. The first involves acquiring a device that essentially links the laptop to the amp.
Audio interfaces are the most common devices used for this purpose. Staples of every digital recording studio, the availability of interfaces has made music production and recording accessible to the masses.
- Connecting a guitar amp to a laptop via an audio interface is very simple, assuming the amp has an auxiliary output.
If it does, all that you need to do is connect the output to the preamp input on the audio interface using a jack cable, and the interface will receive the audio signal from the amp.
If your amp doesn’t have an auxiliary output, don’t worry, there are some alternative methods you can use to connect it to an audio interface, and then to your laptop.
- Most amps have a line-level headphone output.
This can be used to take the signal from the guitar amplifier and transmit it to the input on the audio interface. The method is the same as the one I just described – using a suitable cable to send the signal from the output to the input on the interface.
In some cases, the headphone output may be a 3.5mm jack connector rather than a conventional guitar jack size. This would mean you’ll need to use a cable with a smaller connector, and perhaps use an adapter to make it capable of fitting the 6.35mm input on the interface.
Once the guitar amp is connected to the audio interface, you can record directly into your DAW. The amp settings you choose will influence the tone and sound of the recording, as will the gain settings on the interface.
The only potential problem with this simple method is that there may be some electrical hum or buzzing sound present in the recordings. This is usually due to a sub-par cable being used, or a low-quality adapter.
Using the headphone output is more likely to create noise issues than using a dedicated aux output which is designed specifically for recording the amplifier’s sound.
Another option would be to use a noise gate pedal with the amp, or EQ the buzzing noises out in the post-production stage.
Digital Amps & Software
If the reason you would like to connect the guitar amp to your laptop is to link it to software or edit the digital aspects of the device, you’ll need an amp that facilitates this. Many solid-state amplifiers now have USB connectivity installed.
This makes it very easy to hook the amp up to a laptop or computer.
You may need to download specific software designed by the amp manufacturer. Many of these programs feature downloadable presets, sounds, settings, and effects which you can add to your amplifier’s memory bank.
The USB port is usually located on the back panel of an amplifier. If you’re unsure whether your amp is USB compatible, examine all of the connection ports to see if you can find a USB output.
All you need to do then is simply use a USB 2.0 cable to form the connection between the amp and your laptop.
You don’t need an audio interface, as the USB cable carries the information between the two devices and allows you to change the amp’s characteristics within the specific software.
BOSS, which is one of the best-known manufacturers of solid-state amplifiers, has extensive software which allows you to download presets, effects, and amp modelers from a vast collection. The Katana MkII is a good example of this. Many other manufacturers also offer the same service.
Recording the amplifier when it is connected via USB is also possible in most cases.
The software you use may facilitate this, but if not you should be able to choose the amp as an input device in your DAW, then simply arm the track to record and play guitar through it.
USB connectivity is surprisingly reliable when it comes to connecting audio-related devices. A good example of this is USB condenser mics, which plug directly into the laptop and can record without the need for an interface or external device.
There is a chance that the USB connecting could lag when you use it to hook your guitar amplifier up to a laptop. This can be rectified by using a high-speed USB cable or tweaking the sample rate and buffer settings within the software.
Amp modeling is a common feature on solid-state guitar amplifiers.
This allows you to access the settings of other amplifiers, mainly “classic” devices, and reproduce them. By connecting the amp to your computer, you can access a wide selection of amp models and download them to your device for later use.
Using Amp Software
If none of the above methods seem practical for your guitar amp, there is another easy option you can consider. This involves using a VST plugin rather than a physical guitar amp.
Plugins have become so good in recent years that it’s very hard to tell them apart from genuine guitar-amp tones. Guitar Rig is one of the finest examples of this, but there are many other capable options out there to choose from.
This video explains the basics of guitar plugins thoroughly.
The advantage of using guitar amp software rather than connecting an actual amplifier to your laptop is that it is much more convenient. You can access the amp sounds anywhere, providing you have your laptop to hand.
Within these guitar amplifier VST plugins, you will find hundreds if not thousands of presets.
You can pair certain cabinets with amp heads to create unique blends and choose from some of the best amps to ever be created. Ever wondered what a tweed cab would sound like with an Orange-style amp head? VSTs allow you to create combinations like this in seconds.
In my experience, the only danger of relying heavily on software rather than using a real guitar amplifier is that it’s very easy to become consumed by the sheer volume of options at your disposal.
Whereas guitar amplifiers may have a handful of presets, the software offers unlimited possibilities, and this can lead to your creativity being stifled if you’re not careful.
With that being said, I’ve found that having a clear idea of the amp sound I’m trying to create before using the software is a good way to stay on track. By all means, experiment with the various settings and presets to find your desired tones, but don’t let that get in the way of your creative process!
Here’s a table summarizing the options I’ve covered in this guide:
|Audio Interface||USB, Firewire||Aux output, jack cable|
|Direct Connection||USB||Solid-state amp, software|
The option you choose for connecting a guitar amplifier to your laptop depends on the specifics of your setup. If you have an audio interface or would consider purchasing one, then I’d say that this is the most reliable method.
Alternatively, if your amplifier is of the digital, solid-state variety, you can simply use the USB output to hook it up to your laptop. This provides the benefit of using dedicated software to shape the sound of the amp and customize it to suit your style.
Can you connect a guitar directly to a laptop?
To connect an electric guitar to a laptop you’ll need a jack cable which is 6.35mm on one side and 3.5mm on the other. Then, simply plug the larger connector into the guitar, and plug the smaller one into the laptop’s onboard microphone input.
How can I record my guitar amp without an audio interface?
The easiest way to record your guitar amp’s output without an audio interface would be to use a microphone. The mic should be positioned in front of the speaker, and connected to the laptop either via USB or directly being plugged into the mic input.
Do tube amps have USB connectivity?
No, amps that have USB connectivity are predominantly solid-state devices with digital capabilities. Tube amps generally don’t have any digital components installed, which means they can’t be used with digital software on the laptop.