Latent tendencies? Does the sound of your guitar appear in your headphones at the instant you play, or is there an audible delay? This unwanted delay is called latency—the time it takes for your computer to process the incoming audio and send it back to your interface and headphones. There’s always some latency, but it should be so brief that you don’t notice it. If you encounter latency on a recent-model computer, you may need to adjust the buffer size in your DAW’s audio preferences. (Image 6 shows the relevant panel in Logic.)

Image 6

The lower the number, the less latency. Most guitarists have no problem playing with a setting of 128, 256, or perhaps even 512, but 1,024 is too slow for most musicians. How low you can go depends on your computer’s speed. Try the lowest possible setting. If you hear clicks and pops as you play, step up to the next lowest option. Repeat as necessary till the noise vanishes.

Quiet, please … recording!

Take a deep breath and press the red record button. The DAW’s cursor scrolls from left to right, and a visual representation of your performance —a “waveform”—appears onscreen as you play [Image 7]. When you’re done, press stop.

Image 7

When you create a guitar-type track in GarageBand, the program automatically adds an amp modeler to mimic the sound of a physical amp, but in other DAWs you may have to add the effect manually. (If your DAW doesn’t come with modelers, see last month’s column for links to free modeling plug-ins.) If you’ve never heard your guitar plugged in without an amp, the bright, dry sound may shock you. Clip 1 is a brief recording through a GarageBand amp model.

Clip 2 is the same performance with no modeling. Some classic recordings were made with dry sounds like these, but usually players prefer something closer to the sound of a real amp.

One cool thing about modelers is the fact that you can change amp tones after you record. Clip 3 features the same short performance, but heard through four different combinations of modeled amps and effects.

We’ll look at working with modelers in more depth in an upcoming column. For now, just try auditioning virtual amps and stompboxes. The amps probably have control panels much like a physical amp’s (Image 8 shows a GarageBand amp interface) and perhaps some sort of virtual pedalboard (Image 9). If you’re on GarageBand band, try creating a session using the aforementioned Amp Collection option.

Image 8 (top) and Image 9 (bottom)

But wait, there’s more. We’ve only scratched the surface, but hopefully it’s a deep and lasting scratch. If you encounter problems (and who doesn’t?) please post them to comments. I can’t troubleshoot every interface and DAW out there, but chances are there’s a reader who can.

Have fun, and maintain a good sense of humor. These procedures can be perplexing at first, but they’ll soon be second nature.