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Previously, when recording a basic guitar song, I would plug my guitar directly into my computer using a basic line-in adapter.

This still works if I add my amp into the mix. Specifically, when the headphones output of my amp is plugged into the line-in of my computer. However, when I add my RAT distortion pedal into the input of the amp, the sound becomes terrible with only the fuzzy highs being captured/recorded.

Do I need an Audio Interface to record my distorted guitar using a computer?

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The first thing you want to check is to listen with a pair of headphones directly from the amp when the Rat pedal is hooked between your guitar and the amp. If the sound in the headphones is the way it’s supposed to be then the problem is probably the level reaching the computer is too high. An audio interface will allow you to set the gain (recording level) for recording but a computer sound card doesn’t have that feature so you have to use your external equipment (amp and pedal) to set a good level. Check the input meters on your DAW and make sure they are not spiking too high. Use your volume controls on the pedal and on the amp to set the volume and make sure you’re getting signal but the VU meter in the DAW isn’t hitting the top. When recording digitally it is better to record too soft than too loud because digital distortion is awful!

Computer sound cards are capable of being used with a DAW for recording but they do not have great sound quality and almost no features so eventually you may want to invest in an inexpensive 2 input sound card. They start at around $100 and you can probably even find one cheaper if you shop used.

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  • Just to add on this good answer: computer sound cards are also not very good in terms of latency, which can be a problem for monitoring or overdubbing over an existing track. – Tom Aug 6 at 9:48
  • @Tom_C Thanks and good point! – John Belzaguy Aug 6 at 14:43
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What is the output of the amp? Is it line out? In such case you're omitting a very important component which is the speaker or cabinet.

Guitar speakers typically don't reproduce high frequencies (above several kHz) well. This plays crucial role in shaping distorted sound, which has very rich high frequency spectrum, which in most cases is not what we want to hear. This might be what you call "fuzzy highs".

An obvious solution is to record the speaker sound via a microphone. Alternatively, there are many ways to emulate guitar speaker in the digital domain. The simplest solution is to apply a low pas equalizer, but presently the most common method is to convolve the signal with an impulse response (IR) of the guitar cabinet.

There are many free and non-free programs and plugins to do this. Search the internet for phrases like "cab simulation", "guitar IR", "cab impulse response", "impulse response loader" etc...

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