Recording guitar in Garageband

Note: These instructions are for earlier versions of Garageband. For the latest versions, such as Garageband ’11, see our post here.

If you’re a guitarist of a certain age like me you probably find computer sequencers and audio recording software pretty difficult to use. Maybe it’s just me, but I struggle with the user interface in Cubase, Logic etc. I just find them too complicated! In the past I’ve spent a small fortune on digital multitrack recorders, FX units and audio software and I never use them! Just give me a Strat and an old Marshall and I know what I’m doing – I mean there are knobs to turn and everything!

Having said all that, there is actually one piece of music software that even I can use – Garageband. The fact that you can drop samples onto tracks and build up songs in a modular fashion makes it pretty much idiot proof. And lets face it, with me it needs to be! However, even though the built in samples in Garageband are fun to play around with, isn’t it much more fun to play a real instrument like a guitar?

So when I learned from one of our Product Managers at LINDY that we were introducing a USB Guitar cable I thought here’s my chance and I grabbed one from the first delivery to give it a try.

usb-guitar-cable

Anyway, what follows is a quick guide to setting up and using the LINDY USB Guitar cable to record in Garageband…

Here we go!

First of all, what do you need? Well, a Mac with Garageband is essential, a guitar (or bass – we’ll let you bassists play too), knowledge of at least 3 chords is mandatory :-), some speakers (or headphones if the kids are asleep) and the aforementioned LINDY USB Guitar cable, priced at a very reasonable £19.99 ;-).

For this test I used my 1.33GHz G4 Mac Mini which only has a measly 512MB RAM, but thanks to the Core audio drivers built-in to OS X I didn’t have any major latency issues. If you’re interested, for the guitar I used a Fender Classic Player 50s Stratocaster– my favourite at the moment. If you’re looking for a nice, affordable Strat I suggest you check one of these out.

The Technical Stuff

First things first, power up your Mac and plug the cable into a spare USB port. There’s no need for any special drivers – it’s a Mac not a PC, it just works! You can check the USB guitar cable is installed correctly by taking a look at the Sound settings in System Preference:

sound-input-good1

Under the Input tab, make sure C-Media USB Audio Device is highlighted. By the way, you can plug the cable into your guitar now if you like, but you won’t hear anything just yet. There is one important setting to take note of here  – Input Volume. You’ll need to set this quite low to avoid distortion (and not the good kind either). After you’re up and running in Garageband you might need to tweak this setting to get the best sound. I found setting it to about a quarter gave the best results.

Next, take a look at the Output tab. Make sure built-in audio is highlighted, although this can also be selected within Garageband later on:

sound-output

OK, you can close the Sound window now. Next, take a look at Audio MIDI Setup. This can be found in the Applications>Utilities folder:

audio-midi-setup

Select the Audio Devices tab. Make sure the default input is set to C-Media USB Audio Device and both Default Output and System Output are set to Built-in Audio. Close the Audio MIDI Setup window.

Let us ROCK!

Right, now it’s the fun part! Launch Garageband and select the Preferences option under the Garageband menu. (Note: I’m running Garageband version 2.02, your menus may look slightly different). Select Audio/MIDI and make sure the settings are set the same as the example below:

garageband-audio-setup

Close the Preferences window and create a new track: Track>New Track. Make sure Real Instrument is selected and Guitars. You can select one of the example sounds, for example Classic Rock. Now, THIS IS THE IMPORTANT BIT! You must select On next to the Monitor option otherwise you won’t hear anything while you play! So, now you should be hearing something, even if it’s noise (if you don’t hear anything you’ve either got very quiet pickups or you’ve forgot to turn your guitar volume up!):

real-instrument

Now, you can play around with the different amp simulation types, effects settings etc. (you’ll almost definitely want to tinker with the noise gate settings – you’ll probably find your pick ups pretty noisy, especially using distortion sounds), but remember for best results, keep an eye on your input levels!

More about Latency

That’s about it, but one more note about latency…If you experience latency issues, i.e. where there is a noticeable delay from the time you hit the strings to the sound coming out of the speakers, try this: hit record, wait a few seconds and then press stop. Try playing and, hey presto, the latency should be gone.I found this neat tip on ehow.com, where there’s a whole bunch of Garageband tutorials.

Anyway, hope you find this useful. Now make a record!

11 Comments: Recording guitar in Garageband

  • Justin says:

    Would you know if the usb guitar lead works with Audacity on Vista?

    Cheers
    Justin

  • Craig says:

    Nuno.

    You can only play one instrument at a time. This is because PCs only allow one sound input at a time. Our technical department have never seen software that can pull sound from mulitple sound cards which is effectively what these cables are.

  • Daniel says:

    Very cool. I’m a mac user, but I’m more a fan of Logic Studio. Is this compatible? What about the XLR mic to USB cable?

    How many of these can I use at once on a mac?

    What’s the audio quality? I’m not expecting 192khz 24bit audio, but i’d want to record my band with these, so they’d have to be decent.

    Thanks!

  • Craig says:

    Daniel,

    The USB Guitar and USB XLR cables should work with any third party applications that support sound input. So you should be fine using them with Logic Studio. Out Tech guys have only tested using one cable at a time using a Mac. The audio quality is good, certainly good enough for home recording etc….not sure what it is exactly though.

    Thanks

    Craig

  • Daniel says:

    Ok thanks for that. Very tempted.

    Can I use it with a USB hub or does it need to be plugged straight into the PC’s M/B USB?

    Don’t suppose there’s any chance someone could test a few at once? If I can record several at once, then I’d by one for my guitar, my bassist would get one, my singer would buy the mic one, and my drummer would by either 1 guitar one, which I presume is ok for an electric drum kit, or 3 mic ones so he can mic his other kit.

    Thanks

  • Daniel says:

    Just found this. Any of your techies big on OSX? I think you can use many devices simultaneously, with the latency of your slowest device.

    http://www.apple.com/pro/techniques/aggregateaudio/

  • Craig says:

    Daniel,

    Although we havent tested using multiple cables at the same time, according to our tech department this should work fine when using a Mac. Let us know how you get on Daniel!

    Craig

  • Daniel says:

    Finally got a macbook. So my next question is will these work fine with a usb hub, considering I’ll have several cables plugged in?

    Thanks

  • Gareth says:

    Received this today and the sound quality is pretty poor. I’m guessing this is down to my laptop’s sound card, which is an onboard Realtek HD through ASIO4ALL. Being aware of the difficulties related to installing hardware on laptops, I’m wondering what my next course of action should be? Is there any hardware you would recommend or methods I could implement to improve things? This is through ASIO4ALL with Guitar Rig (although I get similarly sterile results through Sound Recorder). Thanks in advance.

  • Jonathan says:

    My cable just buzzes like mad even when its not plugged into any device with any effects – I’ve tried it through various USB ports and it still buzzes – I can filter it out using the gate, but should it be that noisy? It reminds me of an old analogue cable with a crack in the lead or something.

  • Gareth says:

    Hi Mike. The sound was indisputably diabolical on my Toshiba, just very temperamental and noisy. Maybe it was latency – I used to think latency was little more than the speed of response between a device and computer, but turns out that a poor degree of it can seriously warp audio output quality. Or maybe I just didn’t tinker sufficiently with the noise gates (took me a while to figure out what they were, even! – fairly new to this sort of thing).

    Another possibility is, as you mentioned, the headphone output, which I did happen to be using – there is a similar dithering of quality with my amp, which sounds good through the cones but woeful with phones of any kind. But then again, I got a MBP today and the cable works much better in Garageband, and with earphones! So it’s a mystery – unless Apple just happen to manufacture really good headphone ports 😉

    Thanks for going to all that trouble, I do appreciate it. Maybe these comments will be helpful to anyone else having difficulties setting this up.

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