Start Your Musical Journey with One of These Four Methods
Garage Band is by far one of the best free DAWs available, offering a comparatively rich feature set for budding musicians and beat-makers to familiarize themselves with the recording and producing process.
The only issue is that, as beginners, there are a few other rudiments that we need to understand before we can sink our teeth into the GarageBand ecosystem and truly start our musical careers.
One such essential, yet mystifying, process is how to connect an instrument – in our case, a guitar – to GarageBand in order for us to capture the audio of our live performance.
Believe it or not, there are actually a number of ways you can get your Mac and guitar communicating. Some are more straightforward, while others are more complicated and expensive, but produce higher quality results.
Today, I’ll be guiding you through each method, so you can decide which is right for your musical goals, and of course, your budget.
Method 1: Recording Using Your Mac’s Microphone
I’m kicking things off with the easiest and cheapest method of all, which is to use your MacBook’s Integrated microphone to capture your guitar performance. Here’s how it’s done.
- Plug your guitar into your amp, fire it up, and dial in your tone.
- Open GarageBand on your computer and open a fresh audio track.
- Place your computer in front of your amplifier.
- Hit record.
- Belt out your tune!
What You Should Know About Method 1
Sounds pretty easy, right? Well, yes, it definitely is easy, but unfortunately, in terms of quality, it’s also objectively the worst way to record your playing.
As such, I’d only really use this method of recording as a musical equivalent of the “Notebook” app on your phone. You can get your thoughts down in a quick and effortless manner, but you’ll want to take them down in a more official way later.
Method 2: Using a ¼ Inch Jack to USB Cable
You’ll have to pump a very small amount of money into this method, but it’s super easy, and it will improve the quality of your recordings.
This time around, all you’ll need is something like this 1/4 Inch TS Mono Jack to USB Cable.
- Open GarageBand on your Mac
- Plug the ¼ inch jack into your guitar input.
- Insert the USB cable into your Mac’s USB port.
- Wait for GarageBand to automatically register your guitar.
- Sculpt your sound with some of GarageBand’s plugins.
- Hit record.
- Jam out!
What You Should Know About Method 2
Granted, the audio quality improves with this method, but it’s by no means good. You’ll still be dealing with some strange sonic artifacts (especially if you cheap out on the cable), and you’ll face pretty significant latency issues.
Method 3: Pocket Recording Interfaces
Okay, so this method is more or less a hybrid approach that combines aspects of method 2 and method 4, which I’ll run through after this.
Instead of a ¼ inch to USB jack, you’re going to connect your guitar to your laptop via a miniature audio interface, such as this IK Multimedia iRig HD 2 digital guitar interface.
It’s quite a jump in price from method 2, but the difference in audio quality is like night and day. Plus, these units are so small, you can easily travel with them, and make your music on the go. Here’s how you use them…
- Open GarageBand on your laptop.
- Connect your guitar to the mini interface using a standard ¼ inch jack.
- Hook the mini interface up to your laptop with a USB cable.
- GarageBand will automatically register the interface as it did with the ¼ inch to USB cable.
- Sculpt your tone with the GarageBand plugins.
- Hit record, and voilà; you’re off!
What You Should Know About Method 3
A mini recording interface may be pretty limited in terms of pure functionality when compared to a “full-sized” interface, so you may not be able to achieve professional-grade audio.
However, they do sound great, and they all but solve the latency issue of method 2.
Method 4: Full-Sized Recording Interface
If you’re serious about your music-making, there’s really no substitute for a standard audio interface.
I’ve been using the Universal Audio Apollo Twin X Duo for around three years now, and it’s never steered me wrong.
Pricing does get kind of ridiculous for these units, but there are a number of budget options that still produce great results, such as the Focusrite Scarlett Solo.
Let’s take a look at how you’d use an audio interface with GarageBand…
- Plug your Interface into a mains outlet (unless it draws power through your computer).
- Plug your guitar into your interface’s ¼ inch input.
- Connect your interface to your laptop using the necessary cable. It will be a USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire cable.
- Turn on your interface.
- Open GarageBand.
- Select “Open Project”.
- Head to the “Preferences” menu and select “Audio/Midi”.
- Choose “Built-in Output” from the “Output Device” dropdown menu.
- GarageBand should have automatically set your interface as the audio input, but if yours hasn’t, head back to the Audio/Midi menu, and select your audio interface from the “Input Device” dropdown menu.
- Select the “+” icon on the instrument list, then select the picture of the guitar under the “Audio” section of the “Choose a Track Type” menu.
- Before you click “Create”, click the “Input” dropdown menu and select the correct input. This will usually be input 1.
- Click “Create”.
- If you want to hear your playing through your playback device in real-time, click the “Monitoring” button on the track controls — it’s the button that looks like a little Wi-Fi connection symbol.
What You Should Know About Method 4
A recording interface is hands down the best way to connect your guitar to GarageBand if you want to capture quality recordings, but here’s the thing…a good audio interface is a little wasted on such basic software.
If you really want to make the most of your pricey new investment, you’re best off upgrading to a paid-for DAW such as Logic Pro or (my favorite) Ableton Live.
How To Connect Guitar To GarageBand — Final Thoughts
There you have it, folks; now you can record all your musical creations and prepare them for release. If you can afford it, I’d recommend going straight in with method 4 and investing in a full-sized interface; however, I think a mini interface is absolutely the best value for money option.
Which method sounds right for you?