How To Connect Laptop to Guitar Amplifier: The Ultimate Guide
Music and technology play a big role in shaping the world that we live in.
Yet, in the old days, these were two distinct entities that rarely mixed—computers existed in one world and musical instruments in another.
The boundary between the two has been blurred over the years.
Case in point, you can now connect your laptop to your guitar amplifier.
There was a time when playing the guitar through a computer was unthinkable.
Today, not only is it possible, but doing so makes for a more rewarding experience.
Have you tried it yet? Here’s a guide on how to connect laptop to guitar amplifier.
Can I Connect My Laptop to an Amplifier?
If you are a budding musician or avid hobbyist, you will find yourself asking this question, and the short answer is yes.
You can now connect your laptop to your amplifier. However, before the emergence of computers, recording studios were more traditional.
They used to fit an amp with a dynamic microphone, like the Shure SM58 or the Sennheiser MD419, plugged directly into the mixing desk.
Analog systems like this created a unique sound that is both warm and soothing.
To this day, some studios still use it, especially when recording the guitar.
However, a large majority of the music industry prefers the more powerful sound created with the help of digital technology.
Computers, along with a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW software, have taken center stage.
And this is true for both home and professional studios.
If you are wondering how to connect guitar amp to computer, there is more than one answer.
Your choice will depend on why you want to link the two devices.
If you just want to record yourself playing your guitar, you can take the direct output from the amp and connect it to a laptop using an audio interface.
If you plan on downloading presets or software, you would need to connect using a USB.
How To Connect Guitar Amp to Computer Using an Audio Interface
The easiest way to connect your laptop to your amp is with an audio interface.
An audio interface is a device that can convert sounds from a microphone or an instrument into digital signals.
The conversion process allows computer software to recognize and edit the signals.
Audio interfaces are readily available and affordable, allowing virtually anyone to record and produce music.
It is also a must-have in every recording studio.
How To Connect Amp to Computer Using the Auxiliary Output
While audio interfaces are very effective, there is one small catch.
For this method to work right away, your amp should have an auxiliary output.
If it does, things would be much simpler.
All you have to do is plug one end of a jack cable into the amp output and the other end to the preamp input on the audio interface.
Once linked, the interface will be able to receive the audio signal generated from the amp.
The audio interface, in turn, typically uses USB technology to connect with a laptop.
However, some brands use Thunderbolt, Firewire, and even ethernet.
How To Connect Amp to Computer Using the Headphone Output
If your amp does not have an auxiliary output, there is an alternative way to hook it up to the audio interface.
Most amps have a line-level output for headphones, and you can use this instead to transmit the signal to the audio interface.
The method is basically the same as the one described earlier.
However, most amp headphone outputs use a 3.5mm jack cable and not the conventional 6.35mm guitar jack.
Hence, you need to look for an adaptor that will allow the smaller cable to fit in the bigger port.
Once you have connected your amp to your audio interface, you can start recording.
Word of Advice on the Headphone Output
The problem with using the headphone output is that there is a chance that it might produce some buzzing.
This port is not specifically designed to record the sound of an amplifier, unlike a dedicated auxiliary output.
What’s more, there are more parts involved that contribute to the overall quality of the recording.
Using a low-quality cable or adapter will compromise the integrity of the signal transmitted.
If you have no choice other than this setup, you can use a noise gate pedal with the amp to reduce the buzzing sound.
You can also adjust the EQ during post-production to eliminate the noise.
Using Digital Amplifiers and Software
If you want to link your amp to software or edit its digital aspects, you are likely using a digital amplifier.
The digital amplifier is one of the more recent innovations in the audio industry.
This device allows the audio signal to keep its true digital form throughout the process.
It starts from the time the signal is generated to the time it is reproduced.
Using this method, the audio quality is improved significantly.
Connect Computer to Amp Using the USB Connection
Most solid-state amplifiers come with USB connectivity. This feature makes it very easy to connect the amp to a laptop.
However, for this to work, you might need to download specific software from the amp manufacturer.
This software will allow you to download a wide range of presets, settings, sounds, and effects. You can add these features to the memory bank of your amplifier.
In most digital amps, the USB port is at the back panel.
However, this is not the case for some brands, so it is best to check all the connections to see which is suitable for USB.
The USB cable carries the information from one device to another, which means that you do not need an audio interface.
You can then use the manufacturer’s software to customize the characteristics of the amp.
In many cases, it is possible to record the amplifier even if it is connected via USB.
However, if the software does not allow this, you can select the amp in your DAW preferences as an input device.
From there, you can just set the track to record and play your guitar through it.
In general, the USB offers a more reliable method of connecting audio devices.
For instance, USB condenser microphones can also be hooked up directly to laptops without any user interface or any other peripheral device.
A Word of Advice on USB Connectivity
For all the good qualities of USB connectivity, it does have one weakness.
There is a chance that the connection would lag once you link your guitar amp to your laptop.
Fortunately, it is something that a high-speed cable can quickly fix.
You could also try adjusting the sample rate and buffer settings using the software.
How To Connect Amplifier to PC for Recording Using Bluetooth
If you are wondering how to connect amplifier to PC for recording, you might be surprised by how simple it is.
Although, not many guitar amplifiers are capable of Bluetooth connectivity.
Tube amps do not have any digital component, so they definitely do not have this feature., neither can they be connected to any software on a PC.
For some solid-state guitar amps with Bluetooth, connecting them is very easy.
You just have to pair them with the computer, and you are good to go.
Using a VST Plug-In
If you do not like any of the options so far, you can skip the physical amplifier altogether and go with a VST plug-in.
Plug-ins have gone through significant improvements over the years.
For this reason, it is getting harder to tell them apart from actual guitar amp tones.
One good thing about using this guitar amp software is that it is very convenient to use.
You can access the amp sounds anytime and anywhere as long as you have your laptop at hand.
Another advantage of using plug-ins is that you can pair different types of amp heads and cabinets.
Experimenting with various combinations could help you create a unique blend, which is impractical to do physically.
The number of presets that this software can offer is virtually unlimited, whereas guitar amplifiers only have a few.
Which option is better ultimately depends on your preference.
Connect Computer to Amp Using a Microphone
If all else fails, you can always do it the way they used to and mic up your guitar amp.
It can be an additional expense if you do not own one yet, though. At the end of the day, only you can tell if it is worth investing in.
A dynamic microphone like the ones professional studios use would be great for this application. However, any mic with decent quality will do.
Using this method, you can still use the DAW to set the input and output levels.
You can also use the effects built into your amp or an effect plug-in.
How Do I Get Sound from My Guitar Amp to My Computer?
How the sound from your guitar amp gets to your computer follows a general principle, regardless of what device you use.
For audio interfaces, the device acts as the front end of the laptop’s recording system.
When you play your guitar, it makes the air around it vibrate, creating analog signals in the process.
These signals are transmitted to the audio interface’s input and sent to the device’s built-in pre-amplifier.
The preamp boosts the low-level signal from the guitar and takes it to the line level, which is needed for recording.
From there, the analog signal is sent to an A/D converter, where it is transformed into equivalent digital audio data.
This consists of a stream of ones and zeros that travel through the medium (USB, Thunderbolt, etc.).
The resulting digital information then goes to the DAW or whatever software you are using, where it is recorded and the effects are processed.
The computer then sends the converted signal over the cable and back to the audio interface, where it quickly undergoes the reverse process.
The A/D converter changes it back into an analog electrical signal and sends it to the line output.
The output feeds the speaker, headphone, or any other line-level device you are using and comes out in the form of a guitar sound.
What makes the whole process more interesting is that it takes only a few milliseconds from start to finish. This slight delay is known as latency.
Audio interfaces are highly effective in reducing this compared to the laptop’s built-in audio driver.
Most brands use direct monitoring, where the interface sends a copy of the audio signal directly to the output device. This allows you to hear the sound in real-time.
Alternatively, you can adjust the audio buffer in the DAW to the lowest value. This will minimize the amount of time the laptop allows for processing.
If you use a microphone, it converts the physical sound from the guitar into an analog electronic signal.
It is similar to what the audio interface does, except that it uses a small, sensitive diaphragm.
This diaphragm vibrates when sound waves hit it, generating a small and unique electronic signal.
From there, it goes through the same general process of analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion.
How To Connect Laptop to Guitar Amplifier: Final Thoughts
Creativity is a trait that is inherent to an artist or musician. However, there are ways to enhance it significantly.
One is by taking advantage of technological advancements in the industry.
A simple but excellent example is using computers to your advantage.
There are many ways to answer the question of how to connect laptop to guitar amplifier. Your choice will depend on what you want to get out of the experience.
Whether you use an audio interface, software, or microphone, the result is more or less the same.
It will allow you to explore a virtually unlimited number of presets, settings, effects, and sounds.
You can also use the same technology to reproduce the classic sounds of old devices.
In short, you will be limited only by your imagination.