It’s not unusual for someone interested in taking up the electric guitar to ask if you can use them without an amplifier.
That question could mean two things. Firstly, can it be played without plugging into anything. i.e. can you hear it? Or secondly, if I don’t have an amp or the funds to buy one or yours breaks is there something else I can plug it into?
So, What’s Playing an Electric Guitar Like Without an Amplifier? How Loud Are They?
While you can’t beat the experience of hearing a guitar coming through a decent purpose-built guitar amp there is nothing stopping you playing / practicing without being plugged into anything. They are certainly not silent and produce enough sound to be able to practice.
Personally, I often have a guitar in my lap playing unplugged if I am watching something on TV. Loud enough I can hear it but not so loud I can’t hear the TV. OK, this isn’t what I would call proper practice where you give it your undivided attention, but it is great for playing scales and memorising parts.
While a solid body electric is just a plank of wood with strings stretched over it, you’ll be surprised how much you can hear. A semi-acoustic (semi-solid) like a Gibson 335 style guitar will give even more volume than a solid body and a hollow-body electric like a Gretsch will be even louder but not quite as loud as most acoustic guitars.
Alternatives to a Guitar Amplifier
So, what if your problem is you don’t have an amplifier
Let’s take a look at some of the alternatives if you haven’t got an amp to plug your guitar into.
Home Stereo System
The first solution for practice at home in the early days of learning is to plug into your existing stereo system.
I addition to the regular quarter inch jack to jack that’s your normal guitar cable, you might well need an adapter plug /cable to be able to plug it in.
Just select the auxiliary channel and make sure you start with the volume turned right down, then plug in and put the volume up gradually to your preference.
Some systems will have an input that will mix with the music being played. If you have this feature then it’s great for playing along with some songs.
It’s a cheap and easy solution but don’t expect the best of guitar sounds. It will however get you going.
It might be disappointing to know that you can’t just plug headphones straight into your guitar. You need a headphone amp.
There are purpose-built ones for guitar which are cheaper than buying a decent amplifier but can simulate a bunch of top guitar amps and sound pretty good. These are great to have anyway for practice sessions especially if you are a night owl like me and you don’t want to disturb others.
A couple of great choices include:
Fender Mustang Micro Headphone Amplifier
Plugging direct into the guitar this is a very compact solution that just needs you to plug in a set of headphones. It uses sounds and effects from Fender’s Mustang series of combo amps so sounds pretty good.
Boss Waza Air
Waza Air are unique because they are headphones and amplifier combined. They are even more special because they use Katana amp technology and connects to our guitar wirelessly so are far more than just amplified headphones.
They aren’t a cheaper solution though and you could easily find a combo amp (with headphone socket) and a reasonable set of headphones for less money.
Via PC or Mac
This is a great alternative because you can run through amp simulators for some great sounds.
You’ll need an audio interface to connect to a USB port and some software. Aside from the amp simulation software you need to run Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) which is software designed for recording, editing, and producing audio. Fortunately, you can get free DAW such as Waveform Free and Cakewalk (Windows only). For amp simulation there is a free version of AmpliTube.
You can then connect a pair of headphones or some speakers. Don’t expect it to sound good going through computer speakers though!
Many multi-effect pedals have a headphone socket. So this is an easy solution. Note however that if it doesn’t have amp simulation it can sound a bit sterile.
Direct into a PA System
Guitar players often find themselves in a tight spot when their amplifier suddenly breaks down, especially during a live performance. While a direct injection (DI) box is commonly used to connect bass guitars directly to a PA system, the same approach might not yield the desired sound for a six-string guitar. In this situation, the sound engineer may be able to adjust the equalization (EQ) to balance the sound, but it is unlikely to match the quality produced by a good guitar amplifier.
But, what if there was a solution that could save the day and help you deliver a stunning performance, even with a broken amplifier? Enter the amp simulator, the ultimate tool for guitar players who want to ensure they always have a backup plan.
An amp simulator is essentially a pedal that emulates the sound of various guitar amplifiers, giving you the ability to choose the right tone for your performance. By plugging your guitar into the simulator and then into the PA system, you can get a great sound that will satisfy both you and the sound engineer.
In addition to its versatility and sound quality, an amp simulator is also compact and easy to carry, making it an essential item for guitar players who want to be ready for any eventuality. Whether you’re performing on stage or practicing at home, having an amp simulator on your pedalboard can give you peace of mind and help you deliver your best performance, no matter what.
In conclusion, plugging your guitar directly into a PA system can be a challenge without the right tools. However, by using an amp simulator, you can get a great sound and overcome the limitations of a broken amplifier. So, make sure you have one on your pedalboard and be prepared for anything that comes your way!
We have found that you can indeed play electric guitar without an amp. We have also looked at alternatives to a dedicated guitar amplifier.
So, don’t be put off buying an electric guitar if you can’t afford an amp yet. You can certainly practice without one and there are plenty of alternatives. If you are just starting and budget is limited then yes, you can buy the electric guitar first and still use it and buy an amplifier later.
Let’s face it though, you do need to buy an amp at some point because electric guitar just sounds so good when it is cranked up and coming out of an amp speaker. You can certainly practice without one and a headphone amp is a pretty good practice tool that won’t upset family anyone in the vicinity for that matter.