Guitar to Mac to Amp (2016 Edition)
October 5, 2016 6:00 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to plug my electric guitar into my Mac to record (I'm using GarageBand) and what's the best way to output from my Mac to an amp/PA (say if I'm using GarageBand's virtual effects to play live)?

It's been 8 years since the question "Best way to hook up 1/4 jack to computer" has been asked and most of the links in the answers are dead. Looking for 2016 best practices. Hoping to spend less than $200.
posted by coffee and minarets to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
what's the best way to output from my Mac to an amp/PA

The best way to output to an amp is, don't do that.
posted by thelonius at 6:05 AM on October 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Really? What about all those DJs and other performers who primarily use their computer as a live instrument?
posted by coffee and minarets at 6:09 AM on October 5, 2016

they are sending their output to the PA

I'm sorry, I was not very clear. "amp/PA" is two different things, not one. They need signals with different characteristics: guitar amps take low impedance signals, while mics and audio interface outputs will be high impedance signals.

If you really want to use modelling effects in a computer and send the result to a guitar amp, someone has probably figured out how to. But really your life is going to be much much easier sending your post-Garage Band signal to a PA.
posted by thelonius at 6:15 AM on October 5, 2016

Best answer: Pretty much any USB audio interface (link to Guitar Center list just from laziness) will do what you want, you just need the right cables.

Potential issues with using your Mac and/or GB as your effects live are 1) latency, where the processing speed of your Mac/your USB interface/garageband is not quite fast enough, so what you hear is always just a little behind what you're actually playing, 2) if you want to change effects or turn them on/off while playing that might be impractical, and 3) things that sound good coming out of whatever speakers you're using to listen to the Mac are quite likely to not sound good out of a PA or especially a guitar amp. Not saying any of these are guaranteed to happen, but you'll want to do some experimentation before you start gigging with this rig.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:25 AM on October 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

While thelonius is technically correct about possible impedance issues, in practice a fair number of modern guitar amps, especially solid-state ones, can handle the output from an audio interface without distorting. If you already own an amp it's worth trying (start with all volume controls DOWN).

Or you could use an impedance matching transformer (although depending on the output connections of the interface or your Mac this could require a bunch of cable adapters, which is never a good idea in a live situation), or look into buying a keyboard amp or acoustic amp or a small "powered PA" speaker, as these are built to accept line level input signal.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:53 AM on October 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Things like impedance, loss of quality, etc, are why you don't see people doing this live (guitar -> laptop -> live performance). What you want to do is exactly why modelers were invented. And you don't have to spend $600-$4000; there may be some that do what you want that are within your $200 budget, though they may be limited.

You already have the guitar. You already have an amp. You are willing to spend $200. Look at modelers.

That being said, a $600 modeler will let you line-in your laptop, too, so that could expand your universe if, say, your laptop contains backing tracks you want to play along with.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:38 AM on October 5, 2016

Yeah, you don't want to use garageband's virtual effects to play live. With appropriate hardware, you can handle the impedance issues, but latency is still a thing.
posted by destructive cactus at 10:45 AM on October 5, 2016

You can get modelers for under $200 that include USB audio I/O. I happen to like DigiTech, but there's plenty of other options out there.
posted by doctord at 12:02 PM on October 5, 2016

Nthing that you want a usb audio interface to record (focusrite's scarlet series are quite cheap now) or a modeler for playing live.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:25 PM on October 5, 2016

Best answer: MainStage is Apple's Mac software for live rigs. GarageBand is for recording. (Scroll down to the guitar section.)

My current setup (well, the MIDI keys part of it) is:

Keyboard > MacBook Pro running MainStage > Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 > DI box > PA.

I'm not an accomplished guitar player, but have played around with the modeled amps in MainStage.
Go with an amp modeler like a Sansamp instead. It's what the guitarists I perform with with prefer.
posted by emelenjr at 5:49 PM on October 5, 2016

I've experimented with using iRig to run between an electric ukulele, an ipad/iphone, and an amp. It seems to work great.
posted by leahwrenn at 6:27 PM on October 5, 2016

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