Can You Play an Electric Guitar without an Amp?

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Last updatedLast updated: January 28, 2021
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Amplifiers were invented in the 30s to help electric guitarist play their instruments loudly, especially if they were in a big band orchestra. Today, amps aren’t limited to just orchestras but are found at jam sessions and gigs. If you own a guitar or are thinking about getting one, one question that might be on your mind is ‘can you play an electric guitar without an amp?’

This question becomes rather important because amps add weight to the guitar and are rather expensive. So more people wonder if there is a way to jettison the amp. Today, there are numerous ways you can play the guitar without having to use an amp. While it might not give you the full range of volume or tonality, these other methods are great alternatives to playing with an amp. In this post, we will consider these different methods and answer the question of whether you can play your guitar without an amp.

Before we delve into the methods and whether you can play without an amp, we will first consider how amps work.

Reasons to Buy an Amp

Can You Play an Electric Guitar without an Amp?There are two main types of guitars – the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar. The acoustic guitar doesn’t require an amp to work or for you to enjoy the full volume. Why? Because their hollow bodies and the large sound cavities already amplify the sound. So when you play this guitar, the vibration moves through the whole guitar and reverberates to give you an excellent sound. With these guitars, everyone around can hear the notes that you are playing.

On the other hand, most electric guitars need an amp so that you can hear all the sounds. Due to their design, these guitars do not have a sound hole that amplifies sound naturally. Instead of a vibration, electric guitars rely on electromagnetic induction.

So, when you play the strings on these guitars, the vibration occurs above the pickups on the guitar and will create an electric charge. This is transferred to the circuit and then to the output jack.

If you are using an amp, the signal that travels from the circuit to the output jack is diverted to the amp. The amp increases the signal power and plays the sound through speakers.
As you can see, amps are pretty important for anyone that plays the electric guitar. In summary, here are the advantages of using an amp:
  • It boosts the volume of your guitar
  • It controls the tone
  • The amp steadies the natural sound or other sounds depending on the settings
  • Amps offer equalizer controls for adjusting parameters like the treble and bass

So, the amp comes in pretty useful. What if you do not want to play with an amp? What reasons might there be not to use an amp?

Well, let’s see.

Disadvantages of Amps

Can You Play an Electric Guitar without an Amp?Although the section above has shown the importance of the amp to your guitar, there are some disadvantages to using an amp. Let’s consider them.

  • Amps are often expensive. In fact, some amps can cost as much as a good quality guitar. Thus, if you are on a budget, you might not fancy buying an amp for playing
  • Amps take up space. If you don’t have plenty of space in your studio, an amp might take up valuable space. Even smaller amps can be stressful to always take along with you.
  • Some of the cheaper amps on the market do not come with headphone jacks. Therefore, your playing might disturb the neighbors or other people around.

If you are put off by any of these reasons, well, the good news is that there are alternatives that come in pretty handy. Some of the alternatives are what is the focus of the next section.

Alternatives to Playing the Guitar with an Amp

Play Unplugged

Can You Play an Electric Guitar without an Amp?You can decide to remove all the extensions and just play the guitar unplugged. If you have a hollow or semi-hollow electric guitar, you can find pleasure in playing them unplugged. Why?

Well, because these are the most similar options to regular acoustic guitars. While they do not come with a large sound hole, which means they are not as loud or rich as regular acoustic guitars, they offer a good sound. Instead of the large sound hole, they are usually designed with a violin-like hole that will let you hear your music clearly.

Can you do the same with a solid electric guitar? Well, you can also play unplugged, but it would be more difficult. Since these do not have any sound holes, they are certainly not as loud as the other options when they are playing unplugged. However, if you are playing in a silent environment, you will still be able to hear the notes as they are played.

Playing unplugged is pretty cool. However, you should note that this doesn’t exactly work well if you are playing in a band. It works best when you are playing alone late at night.

Some disadvantages might arise due to playing unplugged. Some have noted that playing unplugged regularly can mess with your ability to control the sound once you change over to an amp. Nevertheless, the level of control varies from player to player.

Some newbies ignore this method when just starting. However, a larger number of folks prefer playing unplugged. It is so convenient and will help you to play even when others are around without disturbing them.

Headphone Amps

Can You Play an Electric Guitar without an Amp?If you do not have an adapter, you cannot play the electric guitar with only headphones. If you are looking to connect the headphones, you will still need a device that will change the signal into guitar sounds. There are several products on the market that work as headphone amps. With such devices, it is possible to hear the notes as you play.

They come in different forms, with some battery-powered and plugged right into the output jack of your electric guitar.

If you are playing using headphone amps, there are some tradeoffs to be aware of. For one, they lack versatility. With these options, you might enjoy playing, but you will not have the same experience as with a regular-sized amp.

The main benefit of these options is their portability and the ability to play at the highest volume without anyone else hearing you.

Stereo System

Can You Play an Electric Guitar without an Amp?Another alternative to playing without amps is by using a stereo system. It is a good way to play without headphones or an amp. There are electric guitars that can connect to the stereo system of your home.

When using this method, though, there are certain things to keep in mind. For one, you cannot play an electric guitar with the speakers of your computer. These speakers simply lack the necessary power to amplify the volume of your playing. When playing with the computer speakers, you are likely going to damage them.

Therefore, it is better to use stereo systems. These appliances offer more amplification and power. They can take playing at pretty high volumes, and you don’t have to worry about the effect that it might have on the speakers.

If you are looking to try this method, you will require certain things. First, you will require a ¼ female to RCA male adapter. If you don’t have that, or you are looking to get a complete stereo sound, then a dual RCA adapter is just great.

Out of all the alternatives to using an amp that we will review in this post, this is the least recommended. While it might be loud, it will not give that rich, natural sound that you’ll get from other methods. Stereo systems are simply not wired to work in this way.

However, if you are determined to use this method, there is a hack that can help. You will have to add an effects pedal.

Multi-Effect Pedals

Can You Play an Electric Guitar without an Amp?Using multi-effects pedals is an awesome alternative. It offers you, more than many other methods, the option to tweak the sound from the guitar. Therefore, it allows you to change parameters like the reverb, chorus, and delay. Some other options will allow you to model the sound. With such models, you can imitate the sound that you get from popular amps.

There are several types of these pedals. Some come with unique features like a 1/8″ jack for connecting speakers or headphones.

They are awesome because they are specifically made to handle the power and sound from your guitar.

Unfortunately, as with almost all other methods, there are downsides to it. One of the downsides is that it can be expensive. Some pedals are even more expensive than amps. However, when you consider all the features that you get, it is certainly worth the price.

Computer Software

Can You Play an Electric Guitar without an Amp?There is software for almost everything you can think of. Using the software is the most popular alternative to using an amp. While it can take some time to master, it is a great option when you know how to use it. Once you have mastered it, you will be able to take your playing, editing, and recording skills to the next level.

If this method appeals to you, then you will need to get an audio interface. The audio interface is very important because it is what will transfer the signal from the guitar to the computer. Reviews have revealed that the FocusRite Scarlett 2i2 is one of the best due to the ability to connect speakers and mics right to the device.

You will also need a studio monitor and DAWs. The DAW is essential because it is what will allow you to edit and record whatever you play.

Apps

Can You Play an Electric Guitar without an Amp?Everything is going mobile, and an alternative to playing the guitar with an amp is dedicated smartphone apps.

It should be noted right off that apps do not give you a sound as unique or rich as playing from the computer. However, there are some advantages. For instance, it allows you to connect your guitar to the smartphone. Therefore, it is easier for you to carry it around.

To enjoy this, look for an audio interface that is compatible with your tablet or phone, download a DAW app, and start playing.

FAQs

The methods that we have mentioned above are excellent ways to play the guitar without using an amp. In this section, we will consider some of the questions that you might have about this topic.

Can You Plug Headphones into the Electric Guitar?

It is not possible to plug in your headphones directly into the guitar. The headphone jack might fit into the guitar without an adapter; however, you will not hear anything playing. Headphones, on their own, do not have the power to create sound. Therefore, you need to use an amp to boost the signal from the electric guitar.

Can You Play an Electric Bass without an Amplifier?

Yes, it is possible to play the electric bass without an amp. To do this, you have to connect it to a computer, a sound effects pedal, or use a smartphone app. These will allow you to play it with speakers.

Can I Play the Electric Guitar without disturbing the neighbors?

Yes, you can. The best way to do this is to play the guitar and connect it to headphones. Use the headphones connected to the guitar amp or pedal to play your music without anyone else hearing what you are playing.

Is It Possible to Play the Electric Guitar Like an Acoustic Guitar?

Playing an electric guitar unplugged doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t hear anything. However, it will likely be too quiet for you, and the sound would not come out well. Therefore, you cannot play the electric guitar like the acoustic guitar.

Final Thoughts

There are loads of methods that you can use to play your electric guitar without using an amp. Some of these include playing with headphones, playing unplugged, or playing through software. While none of the methods will perfectly substitute for the real thing, they will give you a similar rich sound and tone. Some even offer more versatility and help you control the sound even better.

Can you play an electric guitar without an amp? Well, yes. Check out any of the alternatives that we have highlighted above and see that which will work best for your needs. You might try it out and decide never to use an amp again.

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