Getting Started With REAPER DAW: A Beginner’s Guide…

By Christoper Horton •  Updated: 05/09/22 •  22 min read

REAPER DAW is often recommended as a great beginner Digital Audio Workstation, but it can be a little confusing for any first timer. Today, we take a look at how to get started recording your own riffs!


Getting Started With REAPER DAW: The Basics

I get asked about recording guitar for the first time about 3 times a day. Either from friends or students, they all want to know the easiest way to get their riff ideas recorded. I also encourage guitar students to record themselves when they practice. So what is the easiest way to record your guitar at home?

We have taken a look at how to get started with recording before, in this article. We talked more about the actual gear that you will need to get started, and not much about the process itself. Recording can seem really daunting at first, but it is really one of the best practice tools you can use. Listening back to your practice sessions will let you highlight your weaknesses, and strengths!

Recording with a DAW on your computer can seem really daunting at first, so many guitarists use their phone. But your phone does not offer multi tracking, and results in a pretty subpar recording. What if I told you that using a DAW is just as easy as using your phone? And not only that, but you can have pro-level sound quality?

Choosing the right DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is the first step when starting your journey to recording. Some interfaces come with basic editions of things like Cubase. Lately, Fender has teamed up with Ableton for the Mustang series of products, offering a simplified version of Ableton just to get you started. These basic DAW programs are good for beginners to become familiar with recording. But since they are the bare-bones basic versions, they usually lack a lot of important features.

That’s where REAPER steps in. The REAPER DAW was designed by the guys that invented Win Amp back in the early 2000’s. They made REAPER not only a powerful DAW, but it is completely open source. This means that the public can add designs, skins, and features to the DAW itself. But the best thing about REAPER is the price. It may be the only full-functioning DAW system under $100. Reaper also has some tricks up it’s sleeve that we will talk about later.


So What Is The Reaper DAW?

Reaper DAW is a budget friendly, fully functioning digital audio workstation that is open source, and totally customizable for the user. It uses very little processing power, making it a great choice for beginners, and professional studios alike. It comes with over 100 free plugins that are professional-grade, and it is constantly updated with new features.

REAPER DAW is a complete digital audio production application for computers, offering a full multitrack audio and MIDI recording, editing, processing, mixing and mastering toolset. REAPER supports a vast range of hardware, digital formats and plugins, and can be comprehensively extended, scripted and modified.


As a producer myself, I used Cubase for years before making the switch to the REAPER DAW in 2011. I used the plugins that came free with REAPER to mix and master several albums. I was very surprised that I not only got a 60 day free trial, but I could also use REAPER indefinitely. However, I think it is more ethical to pay the $60 that REAPER asks you to pay for a license. Because compared to other DAWs, that is a STEAL.

ProTools has become an expensive “rented service” where you never actually own the program. While Ableton, Cubase, and Logic are all still great options for a DAW, they can also get pricey for a beginner. After you buy one of these DAWs and get the plugins you need to polish your music…you could have spent well over $1000! There is a humongous galaxy of recording software out there, and it can add up fast.

So today we take a look at the REAPER DAW, and talk about why it is so highly recommended, as well as how to get started using it. To be completely fair, most DAWs are very similar when it comes to basic functions. Where they differ, is workflow. Ease of use is important for people producing music and workflow is paramount for most users. So we will also talk about the advanced features REAPER offers that can make your workflow move at lightning speed.

The REAPER DAW can be used for massive pro quality recordings, video editing, audio editing, and MIDI programming. But it can also be a simple tool to record your guitar! This is why REAPER is so damn unique. It can be as easy, or as complicated as the user wants it to be. Today, we are going to get you set up and ready to use the REAPER DAW, and get started recording your own guitar tracks.

So let’s dive into getting started on your recording journey with Reaper!


Recording With Reaper DAW: What Do I Need To Get Started?

reaper DAW interface
Scarlett Solo Audio Interface

I think it goes without saying that you will need a computer or laptop. The REAPER DAW uses very little CPU resources, and this is very important to understand. Even your most basic laptops will run REAPER. Now if you plan on using the REAPER DAW for massive productions that will use a lot of tracks, you will need a more powerful computer. But for just basic recording of your guitar, and a few more tracks…all you need is a regular laptop. (Specifications are on the site)

We have already talked about what you need to start recording your guitar before, but we will briefly go over this again as a refresher. Recording guitar at home can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. The first thing you need is an audio interface. Our #1 pick has always been the Focusrite Scarlett . This is a simple, affordable audio interface that does everything you need to get started with recording at home.

But you will also need something to mimic a guitar amp, and these days guitar plugins like STL Tones is all the rage. You also have stuff like Neural DSP, and Positive Grid that are very popular among guitarists of all kinds of genres. These will be an easy way to get started recording your guitar, and the technology today is miles ahead of amp sims from just five years ago. They all sound great, even free ones!

You can also use your multi-effects unit straight into the interface. This is popular also because if you own a Line 6 Helix, you probably already have patches made for your guitar style. The Line 6 POD GO is another popular choice. But any processor with a “recording out” feature will work just fine. You can plug your processor directly into the recording interface.

Note: Some multi-effects units work as an interface by themselves. We have talked about this before with the Line 6 Helix recording tutorial. If your processor unit can work as an interface, then you can skip buying an audio interface. Personally, I like to use my Helix Stomp plugged into an interface, instead of a USB, but the choice is yours!

The only other thing you need is headphones for the interface audio output. You will need either headphones or studio monitors to get sound to playback from REAPER. Most DAWs use your sound card, and the interface to record with. So to hear the playback, you need to monitor the interface itself somehow. Headphones are the easiest option, and monitor speakers are more used for mixing full songs. But either will work just fine.

That’s it! Just to recap, all you need to get started recording guitar is:


Recording With REAPER DAW: Setup And Getting Started

reaper logo

Setup Instructions For REAPER DAW:

The first thing you need to do is download REAPER! You can do this by going to the Official Site and downloading the correct version for your computer. Reaper works with Mac, and PC in both 32 bit and 64 bit versions. Choose the one that is appropriate for your computer, and download it.

The next thing you want to do is download the newest drivers for your audio interface. You can do this by going to the product’s official website. Having the latest drivers installed is essential for making sure your audio interface works without any latency issues. This is usually under the “Downloads” page of the website, and make sure you get the most recent driver available. Not having the proper drivers can result in malfunctions with your interface.

If you use PC: You will want to download ASIO4ALL. You can get this audio driver program right HERE. This will be important when you are setting up your audio. You can get away with using your computer’s sound card in most cases, but ASIO is a powerful tool that will ensure you have the best recording experience available for PC.

If you use MAC: Apple has its own settings for audio drivers, so you will not need any other programs. You still need to update your drivers for your interface. But Mac products have their own sound output, and it is very powerful, so there is no need for something like ASIO if you use a Mac.

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REAPER DAW: Audio Path Setup

This is where things can get tricky, but don’t freak out on me yet! I am going to walk you through this completely! The first time you boot up REAPER, it may take a few minutes since it is loading all of the data it needs to work, and it is configuring itself to your computer. This initial boot time may take a while, but it will boot up much faster after setup.

This tutorial is done using REAPER 5. But no matter what version of the REAPER DAW you have, the setup should be basically the same, future or past versions.

Step 1: You want to have your audio interface USB plugged up when you boot up REAPER DAW for the first time. REAPER will then recognize the device automatically. Again, make sure that you have updated all of the drivers for your interface! The drivers are critical to your REAPER setup working properly. Old drivers can cause all kinds of issues!

Step 2: You will be greeted by the Audio Preferences page, and this will be the screen that you see:

REAPER audio

If for some reason this does not pop up immediately, then all you need to do is go to the top of the page and select “Options>Preferences>Device”. This will pull up the window that you see above in the picture. If you ever change your interface, you will need to pull up the Device menu. Once you have this window up, it is time to setup your device:

This is your audio setup, and this is by far the most confusing thing for most guitar players trying to record for the first time. The first option is the Audio System. This will be a drop down menu, and you just need to choose the correct audio device.

This is your output, where the sound will go. Below that will be the input, where the sound will be coming from. As you can see, mine says “Focusrite USB ASIO”. This is because my audio input at my home studio is a Focusrite Scarlett. Yours may be different, so use the drop down menu to pick out your audio input device/interface. The input and output should match up.

If you are using your Line 6 Helix or other guitar processor to record without an interface, then you will choose the processor for the input AND output. The Line 6 Helix will be automatically recognized by the REAPER DAW via USB, and all you have to do is select it for both options. Your Helix headphone jack will be your monitor.

Step 3: Below the input and output devices, we have more input and output options. Mine only has two for each option in the picture since my interface has two inputs, and dual output. Make sure “Enable Inputs” is clicked with a checkmark beside it. The default outputs will be as in the picture, and you can leave that setting alone.

Step 4: Finally, we have the Sample Rate. By default, it should be 44100Hrz with a request block size of “128”. This is what you see in the screenshot of my picture, and it does not need to be changed for basic recordings/editing. Higher sample rates will be for professional producers, and it really doesn’t matter for simple guitar recordings.

Once you have completed these steps, your REAPER DAW should be ready to go! You can see on the left side of the window, there are many different options. But for just recording guitar tracks, the default settings should be fine. As you get better at using the REAPER DAW, you may eventually change some of these settings. But to just get setup to record your guitar, we are finished!


REAPER DAW: Layout Features

Reaper Open page

When you first open Reaper after the initial setup, the image above is what you will see. By default, the top half is your track list, and this is where the visual representations of your audio tracks will be stored. This is also called a “timeline”. The timeline will be where all of your audio WAV recording files will be shown.

In the middle, you have your basic controls like record, play, pause, and stop. The circle with arrows is a loop function. You also see the BPM and time signature settings. These boxes are all clickable, and you can change the BPM to match whatever you are playing. Otherwise, these will default to 120 BPM and 4/4 Time.

At the bottom you have the mixer, and the first mixer slot is always the master control for the whole project. As you add tracks, new mixer slots will appear. This is because each track will have an individual volume, panning, and FX control. This is just a virtual example of a real-life mixing board with sliders.

You also have at the top of the REAPER DAW program:

These are going to be you main controls for all of your projects in Reaper. The File function will let you choose a blank template, or let you pull up any previous recording session. You can create a new session, or pull up any of your saved sessions using the File function.

The Edit tab will let you control your editing history. This is where you can find the “undo” button, as well as pull up all of your editing history. Did you accidently erase a track? Just go to edit and find that action, and you can undo it. You can also copy and paste items with the edit function.

Insert, Item, and Track will all be important once you have a track recorded. There are shortcuts for all of the actions that these tabs provide, and we will go over the basic ones. But this controls your track editing, layout, and bouncing down/freezing tracks.

There are shortcuts already built into the REAPER DAW that can be really helpful and save you a few clicks. If you look at the top left of the screen, you will see a few buttons. These may be different depending on the version of REAPER you have, but they all provide the same operations.

reaper
Shortcut Buttons

These are pretty self explanatory just from the figures themselves, and each one tells you exactly what it is when you hover the mouse over it. The ones highlighted in green are set to “on” and these are done this way by default. If you want a deep dive into what they do, the “REAPER In Depth Tutorial Video” at the bottom of this page will go over that. We are keeping it simple today.

From left to right, the important ones not selected are:

As you can see, these are all just shortcuts to functions found in the beginning menus we just discussed. These are used frequently, so I keep them there ( You can remove them). The Metronome is vital for us guitarists, and it is a great practice tool! So let’s go over it real quick!

If you right click on the Metronome, you will pull up the parameters. Here, you can set the meter, and the BPM. I like to keep mine at a simple ” 1-2-3-4″ count for practicing guitar. There are a lot of features in the Metronome, and I suggest keeping it ON when you are recording or practicing. Once you have the parameters set, click the item and make sure it is highlighted green. Which brings us to…


REAPER DAW: Recording A Track

reaper record

This is the fun part, right? If you double click on the left side of the timeline, you will get a little recording track box. This can also be done by right clicking and selecting “add new track”. Either way, my crudely drawn arrow is pointing at what you get; The Track Controller. You will notice at the bottom, there is a new track slider added to the mixer as well.

You can also add tracks by dragging and dropping them into the REAPER DAW. Just drag the file over to the track area, and it will automatically create a new track. This is handy if you have an MP3 file that you want to record with. A good example is a backing track that you want to jam along with.

All of the basic functions are on the track controller. The knob on the right is the volume, and you also have your FX box. To the left, you see a red circle that stands for “armed”. If you click on it, the track is “armed” and that means it is ready to record or monitor. You can also do this from the mixer track controller on the bottom. They are identical, the bottom slider is just vertical.

If you are using an amp sim, you will need to click the green FX button on the track controller. This will bring up a HUGE list of effects that are built into the REAPER DAW. But what you are looking for is your amp sim name. The list is alphabetical, and there is also a search function. This will bring up your amp sim in another popup window. Any time you need to access your amp sim, just click the FX box, or you can leave the amp sim window open while recording.

If you are using a processor like the Helix, either as a stand-alone interface or just plugged into the interface…you can skip the FX button.

Once you arm the track, you should be able to hear your processor’s signal in REAPER DAW. This means the track is being sent to REAPER, and hitting the main record button will start the recording process. When recording a second track, make sure to “unarm” the first track, or it will be recorded over.

The “M” and “S” buttons on the track controller are for muting, and singling out the track. This is for when you have more than one track going at a time. You can always mute the track or single it out in a mix.

Once you arm the track by hitting the red circle, you should be able to hear your guitar! You’ve made it! When you are ready to record, just hit the record button in the middle control section. You should start to see your guitar signal waveform on the timeline. When you are done, hit the space bar or the “stop” button. It should look like this after you have finished recording:

reaper

That’s it! You just made a recording of your guitar! You can add more tracks, by repeating the process above. You can use REAPER as a notepad for riff ideas, and add a solo or melody idea with an additional track. You can also add multiple tracks to other sound files that you drag and drop into a track (like songs or backing tracks). The possibilities are endless! Before we finish up though, here are a few helpful tips:


REAPER DAW: Wrapping Up…

Now, of course this is just the most basic tutorial for REAPER. This is for guitarists that just want to get the DAW up and running so they can record their guitar. The REAPER DAW is a powerful tool, and it has a myriad of features for people who want to customize it and use it for professional projects. But for someone that just wants to record guitar, this is as basic as it gets.

Recording yourself practicing can be a vital tool, and have an immense impact on your playing. If you take your practice seriously, you should always record and play to a metronome. This way, you can pick out tiny mistakes that you may be making.

Because you may not hear these mistakes when you are actually playing guitar! Oftentimes you are so focused on what you’re playing, that it can be easy to let a big mistake slip in. Even something like practicing scales should be recorded. Every little nuance is picked up on the recording, and small things like pick attack might be a problem you have never noticed.

If you are learning to improvise with guitar, then playing to a backing track is some of the best practice you can get. But again, you are just “in the moment” while playing. Going back and listening to your improv work is how you get better at guitar. Listening back to the licks that you nailed, and the ones that you flubbed can be a great teaching tool.

And yes, technically you can use the REAPER DAW forever… for free. They say that there is a 60 day trial, but it really isn’t enforced. If it becomes a valuable product to you, then I suggest paying the meager $60 for REAPER. Like I said in the beginning, this is a steal compared to other DAWs on the market. It is worth every penny, and more!

If you are already familiar with DAWs then REAPER will seem too good to be true. The built in plugins have everything you need to mix and master a full project. Even if you are a total beginner, those tools will be available to you as you grow as a producer. I use a few other programs for mastering these days, but I still use the plugins that the REAPER DAW comes with sometimes. The compressors, for example, are unmatched in my opinion.

So whether you are just jotting down a few riff ideas, or making a gigantic opus…REAPER is a powerful program that can do just about anything you want. The community offers different skins for the program, as well as different layouts, since it is open source. So give REAPER a try if you haven’t already, and check out the official YouTube channel below!

Is The REAPER DAW Free?

You get a 60-day trial to try it out, and after that, it is only $60 for a full license! This is a steal compared to the bigger DAWs

Will My Plugins Work With REAPER DAW?

Yes, most plugins are compatible with REAPER. I have tried a multitude of plugins from various companies and they have all worked flawlessly. From Guitar amp sims to mixing and mastering tools.

Is The REAPER DAW hard to learn?

REAPER can be as simple, or as complicated as you want to make it. The default layout is very simplistic, but since it is an open-source program, the community makes all kinds of layout skins for REAPER. The DAW is completely modular.

Does REAPER DAW Come With Any Plugins?

It is one of the few DAWs I have used that comes with a full suite of plugins. It has everything you need to mix and master full projects. The REAPER DAW comes with compressors, EQ, effects, pitch shift, and user-created plugins that rival paid ones.

Do Professional Studios Use The REAPER DAW?

I have come across quite a few studios making the switch to the REAPER DAW. While ProTools still is considered the “industry standard” REAPER is used in many studios across the world.

Doe The REAPER DAW Run MIDI?

Yes. The Reaper DAW can run all kinds of MIDI projects, and VST/VSTi programs that need MIDI mapping. The piano roll is basic but can be changed and customized by the user.

How Does The REAPER DAW Export Mixdowns?

You can choose what kind of file the REAPER DAW exports. REAPER currently supports most file types, and definitely supports the major ones like FLAC, WAV, MP3, AAC, and many more.

Does REAPER DAW Work On Mac?

It can be used on Mac OS or PC. REAPER DAW is supported by 32-bit and 64-bit systems. It uses very little processing power on either machine,

Christoper Horton

Christopher has been playing guitar and piano for 27 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. He has toured for years with several bands and music projects. He worked in LA as a studio musician and engineer working with bands like IAMSOUND, Baroness, Kylesa, Black Tusk, Reflux, and Tripping Daisy. In between giving private lessons, he is recording a solo album for 2022-2023. Christopher plays Schecter guitars, BOSS amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.

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