plugging pedals into PC via audio interface
Playing your pedals through your audio interface is worth considering, but weigh it all up

The Hard Baroquer is a home musician that has pursued music as a hobby for nearly 20 years. An intermediate guitarist, beginner bassist and even sometimes dabbling on the harmonica, he is always learning something. In his free time, he runs The Hard Baroquer blog.

By The Hard Baroquer

When you jam at home, over time you’ll perfect the just-right tone that gets your instrument speaking just how you like it. You know what gear to dial in and how much and it comes out perfect on your amplifier system. And it’s only natural that hen it comes to recording yourself, you’ll want to have that perfect tone recording straight into your PC. And while this will apply to electric guitars and bass guitars mostly, it’s true for any instrument, from keyboards and pianos to violins and flutes and harmonicas.

So, can we plug our signal chain straight into our PC? Should we? Is there another way? Let’s delve in!

Can a signal chain be connected to a computer?

Sure. Lots of people do it. But you need an audio interface of some sort. This will convert the analogue signal from your instrument and signal chain into a digital signal your computer, laptop or even mobile device can process. Simply ensure your pedals are powered and connect your signal chain into the instrument-level input (sometimes called hi-Z) and you should be ready to go.

You’ll also need a programme to feed your audio into, such as a digital audio workstation (DAW). There are plenty of examples, with the most common being: Apple’s Garageband or Logic Pro; Cockos’ Reaper; Image-Line FL Studio; and Ableton Live is another example. You’ll need to understand each one’s selling points and, crucially, price (DAWS range from free but feeble, to seriously powerful but expensive).

Once you’ve set that up here’s a few reasons why you’d want to plug your signal chain straight into your audio interface and record the result in your DAW.

Pros of plugging a signal chain into an audio interface

  • There’s less hassle compared to finding (and paying for) VSTs and plugins that emulate your signal chain and zero learning curve.
  • Hear the final sound immediately, just like playing through your amplifier and cabinet. This can even replace your amp/cab hardware set up.
  • Your recording will have the exact effect and tone that you’re used to having, not an emulation

Cons of plugging a signal chain into an audio interface

  • Requires a lot of fiddling with levels everywhere (including on the AI) as one level will affect the final result
  • Resulting tone is only as good as your gear. A pedal that deliviers a compromised effect will show up as such in the recording
  • Signal chain may create noise issues
  • For recording, it likely requires a new track and separate calibration with each pedal that’s engaged as some pedals will be louder than others
  • For playing live, your device (desktop, laptop) will need to have sufficient processing power to handle low latency audio, otherwise it will result in crackling and skipping that render result useless

Alternatives to pedal chain connected to your DAW

If you find that in your situation the cons equal or outweigh the pros of connecting to your DAW with your pedal chain plugged into the audio interface you can still install plug-ins that replicate your tone sufficiently and simply have a dry signal going into your DAW.

If it’s a hardware issue, you can also mic up your cabinet and record your whole signal chain into our computer the traditional way.

If it’s a processing power issue and you can’t upgrade, then playing live will need to be via your existing hardware. You’ll be able to record your music by turning off live audio of your track, monitoring via direct monitor and compensating for any lag after the fact.

Connecting your signal chain into your audio interface is a very workable option that doesn’t require much of a learning curve, however, whether this becomes your preferable route is up to each person.