Newbie Question

Hardware needed?

Total newb here, just getting started, what do I need to run my elec guitar/bass through to access to pc itself?
And do I need a special soundcard?
Thanks for any help, much appriciated.

Welcome jbphburg,

No, you shouldn’t need any special hardware to record your guitar/bass. Although you may want it after a while. :D

Basically all you need to do is take the signal of your guitar, boost it a tad and stuff it into the line-in of your computers sound card, and n-track will record it for you.

For the boosting section, you’ll need to up the signal strength to line level, this can be done with a mixing board, or an amplifier if it has a line level output (don’t EVER put a speaker level signal to your line-in jack!). Various guitar effect processors will also work (i.e. Line6 Pod/ Behringer Vamp, etc…).

Once you have that connected set you levels in ntrack and go to town (as they say…).



hey jb, and welcome to N.

Since you’re just getting started, you might find AudioMinds helpful. Once you have a basic idea of what’s involved, come on back, and we’ll help you get started.


Chutz nailed it, but didn’t mention that many stomp boxes or FX racks are just the ticket as a preamp for guitar or bass.

Some stomp-boxes are “always on” in that they always amplify the signal. Others, like MXR DynaComp, take themselves totally out of the loop when you turn off the effect. The former will work with the effect off. The latter will work if you don’t mind the effect. If you have a noise gate, use that.

Note that the guitar won’t sound very good unless you have some guitar amp/cabinet modeling software. If you don’t there are a couple free plugins that aren’t great but can get you going the right direction.

Better yet, if you have a Johnson J-Station, Line 6 Pod, or something like that, it works great as a preamp and also gives your guitar that amp and cabinet tone, which is critical for electric guitar. They aren’t good enough to satisfy avery discriminating amp connoiseur, but they’re good enough to make great recordings for most styles of music. Best of all, you can record quietly while the rest of the house sleeps.

Another option is to use your guitar amp and mike it, meaning you’ll need a mike and a mike preamp (or mixer).

So, the line inputs on your computer should be good enough to get you started. (Avoid using the mike input – no harm in trying it, but computer mike inputs usually sound like crap, and I’m no fussy purist by a long shot.) Later on down the road, if you stick to this and start to get demanding of your rig, you can easily upgrade to a recording-quality soundcard. The price range is very wide, from nearly nothing for a SoundBlaster Live (“almost” recording quality, but WAY good enough to make great sounding mixes), to thousands for 24-bit, high sample rate, multichannel cards. Lotsa great “prosumer” gear in the $200 - $500 range as well.

Thanks for the help guys, much appriciated.

teej813, thqanks for the Audio Minds link, essentila for a newb, no doubt, but I can’t seem to open the link for the n-Track manual.

The Manual

thanks, Wihan. I’ll speak with Don about getting that link fixed.


Actually, the link at AudioMinds worked for me. I did a right-click and Save Target As. Also, you have to have Acrobat Reader installed to read it.

Yep, I managed to get it via another link, good reading, I’m looking forward to getting all together and making some sounds. Just for clarity on my part, does my bass guitar need to feed into another piece of hardware which then runs into my computer? Sorry if that’s stupid, I’m quite green :)

Hmmm… I’d guess that most folks here plug their bass into a DI of some sort and then plug the DI into a mixer. I use the SansAmp Bass DI cause i love the flavor it gives. But in a pinch, a bass can be plugged direct into a mixer (or sound card for that matter). I guess it comes down to what your expectations are, jb.

Most of us chose to keep things simple until we’d learned enuf to demand more. Once you learn the basics and train your ear, adding quality equipment will make a bigger difference. So don’t be afraid to just plug your bass into the line in of your sound card (requires a 1/4" to 1/8" stereo adapter). Just don’t expect a great sound.


Couldn’t he run the headphone plug of his amp to the line in of the soundcard, or the mic in?

Preferably the line in, and with the volume set waaaaay low.

I wouldn’t reccomend it tho’.

I had some (very) reasonable results with bass guitar direct in, and then adding a little compression and ‘rubytube’ to it afterwards.

Not great, but it works in a mix.


Remember Val, that even a headphone out is amplified. What you want are Line levels. Wihan is saying that when the headphone out is turned down WAY low, the level is close enuf to Line that it’ll work.

Also, most inexpensive sound card mic inputs have horrible mic pre-amps (to bring a mic signal up to Line level). I haven’t heard one yet that sounds decent. Much better to use even a cheap mixer’s mic pres.


Safest way to get the level of the signal correct for the line-in is simply to ensure that it is coming from a piece of equipment that gives a line-level output.

I am fairly lucky that my acoustic guitar pre-amp already outputs at line level, as does my digital piano, but I still run them through my mixer anyway, simply because everything else goes through there and it keeps the connection to the PC nice and simple.

Mixers are getting cheaper and cheaper - until recently I was using a Behringer MX602 which gave me two mono inputs with mic-preamps plus two stereo channels and cost me about £50. I gather the equivalent model now has 4 mono and two stereo channels for about the same price. Line level output on both.


Thanks for the input guys. Is there a not too expensive soundcard i might want to look into? I looked through some of them at the Audiominds site links, but am pretty much groping given my unfamiliarity with them.

Soundcards…Think about it a bit and come up with a ballpark amount you want to spend. Come back and state your budget, you will get a great list of suggestions with your information.

Picking a sound card is a pretty safe process these days. Lots of companies make decent ones.

There are two basic questions you need to ask yourself:
- Do i need to record more than 2 tracks at a time?
- Can i afford to spend more to get 24-bit?

For example, if you only record yourself on guitar (2 mics usually), then add vocals (1 mic), then bass (1 channel), program your drums using a drum machine (2 channels), etc… then you only need a stereo card cause you’re laying tracks one or two at a time.

And if you plan to record a band (a bunch of mics and instrucments plugged into a mixer and mixed down to stereo), then you only need a stereo card. Of course, you’ll end up with a 2-channel recording that’s difficult to edit later.

But if you plan to record live drums, for example, or 2 guitarists at once, you’ll want a multi-input sound card. These are much more expensive, but they allow you to record seperate instruments into seperate tracks on N. This gives you the ability to EQ, compress, and adjust volumes/pans for each individual instrument AFTER they’ve been recorded.

Sorry if i’m boring you with stuff you already know. :)

You can get a decent stereo card for $30. The Creative Live card is a favorite around here. I use one for Windows System playback and for the built-in soundfont capabilities. Much of what i recorded from the time i bought N until a couple years ago was done with the Live card. I moved up to a multi-channel card with 24-bits at that time.

I’m just saying you can get decent results with an inexpensive card.

If you absolutely need multi-channel, there are a number of options. They start about $250 and go WAY up.


Back to plugging in the bass:

These days, headphone outputs -> line inputs seems to work extremely well, especially for gear like computers, portable CD players, IPODs, etc. Yes, the headphone output is amplified and will source enough current to drive little speakers, but the impedance on a line input is high enough to stop the current, and the voltage levels used for headphones is low enough to work very well in most cases. The general rule is to set the input level to a normal range and start with the headphone output way low and slowly ramp it up and see where it’s good. Then you can adjust from there.

Headphone outputs on guitar/bass amps are likely to be a bit hotter than the ones on computers, etc., so you should take more care there.

Plugging a passive electric guitar or bass into a true “line only” input is usually a rather disappointing experience. Passive pickups don’t generate the levels required, especially because the pickups are much higher impedance than the typical line input. However, many mixers have “gain” or “trim” controls on what they call “line” inputs, and these usually have enough gain for passive electric guitar/bass pickups as well as hi-Z dynamic mikes.

Depending on the sound you want and your instrument, going direct like this can sound great. However, many bass players love the sound of the SansAmp’s bass direct box, which are pretty inexpensive too, about the price of a simple stomp box. They’re often available on ebay.

So, lots of options for recording that bass! Have fun trying them all. :)

Thanks again for the help, much appriciated, the Creative Live card sounds perfect for me, and I’m looking at picking up a cheap mixer to run through as well, Musicians Friend seems to have some good deals, maybe other sites would be recommended as well for various gear?