Can You Play Electric Guitar Without an Amp?

Most people think that to play an electric guitar, you need to have an amp. This is not always the case. Can you play electric guitar without an amp? Yes, and there are a few different ways that you can use your instrument and get great sound.

Perhaps you are about to buy one, but can’t afford the amplifier right now. That’s okay, you can make use of the instrument until you can get that amp!

This Killer Rig article aims to provide a comprehensive guide on these alternative methods, evaluating their advantages and disadvantages. The focus will be on practical considerations such as cost, space, and volume, as well as the quality of sound produced.

Key Takeaways

Here are a few ways that you can play the electric guitar without an amplifier:

  • Playing Acoustically: No additional equipment required; however, the sound may not be as rich as when amplified.
  • Amp Simulation Software on a Computer: Offers a wide range of sound options and effects; requires a computer and audio interface.
  • Amp Simulation Software on a Smartphone: Convenient and portable; may require a special interface and could have latency issues.
  • Dedicated Headphone Amps: Small, portable devices that plug directly into the guitar; limited sound options compared to amp simulators.
  • Multi-effects Unit with Headphone Socket: Utilizes existing gear to output sound through headphones; may be complex to operate.
  • Electric Guitars with Built-in Amps: Offers the convenience of an all-in-one solution; sound quality may be compromised.
  • Bluetooth Speakers: Possible but not commonly recommended due to sound quality and latency issues.

Best Ways To Play Electric Guitar Without an Amp

There are many ways to play your electric guitar without an amp. Some are more expensive than others, but all of them make it possible. Below you will find the best ways to set yourself up for success and good tone.

Play Acoustically (Unplugged)

The first thing to consider is playing the guitar without any other device at all. While the volume is lower in this case, as it does not have a resonating chamber like an acoustic, it can still be heard. Without any other devices, you can practice your strumming and string fretting techniques.

This is not a long-term solution, as the electric guitar is meant to be amplified in some way. But the feel of the instrument is still part of the experience. It can make practicing worthwhile, even unplugged.

Most importantly for beginners, it allows them to hear and feel each string. This helps improve accuracy with playing chords and scales.

Playing the electric guitar by itself is good, even without an amplifier. It may also help you develop your skills and can be used as a practice tool for playing with an amplifier. And so if you are simply waiting until you can afford a guitar amp, you may just go the dry route.

  • Advantages: No additional equipment is required, making it the most cost-effective method.
  • Disadvantages: The sound produced is not as full or rich as when using an amplifier.
guitar and headphones

Guitar Headphone Amplifier

You cannot simply plug headphones into a guitar and expect it to work. But, you can get a device to make this possible, a headphone amplifier! These units plug into the output of your electric guitar and amplify a signal that can be used with headphones.

Most headphone amplifiers have volume level and tone control, so you can tweak the signal coming out. This is a great way to play in your apartment or add some flavor to your practice. There are a few different types available that can provide vintage, rock, or metal sounds with decent distortion.

Some of these little devices also include effects and guitar amp models. They make it sound like you already have that great rig!

One such device is the Boss Waza Air headphone amp. This unit is quite handy as it provides a wireless interface. It uses spatial technology that tracks the movement of the headphones.

Whenever you turn your head, the sound changes to make it seem like you are playing in a room with a tube amp stack! And while it’s a more expensive option for a headphone amplifier, it’s also one of, if not the best.

There are cheaper models available that are very simple. They don’t do much more than amplify the clean sound of your guitar. But this is a much better alternative to playing without anything at all. Especially if money is tight.

  • Advantages: Small and portable, these devices plug directly into the guitar. No extra equipment is needed.
  • Disadvantages: Limited in terms of sound options and quality compared to amp simulators.

Want to learn about going wireless with your electric guitar?

Stereo Systems

If you keep your budget as low as possible, then a stereo system can be used. Most people have a great system for audio and so if it has an auxiliary input, all you need is an adapter.

Your guitar patch cable is a 1/4 inch male connector and the input will be 1/8″ female. Once you find an adapter to bridge the gap, you can play your guitar through this device.

A boom box or any other device that plays music with an auxiliary input can also be used. And so once you locate an adapter, you can play your electric guitars. Pair this up with some headphones, and you have the best possible practice setup that won’t break the bank.

Just be careful not to use them with the volume too high, or you might damage your stereo system speakers. It’s best to start with the volume at zero, then slowly turn it up until you hear your guitar and like the level.

If you go all out on your setup, then there are devices made for amplifying through a sound system.

The AMPLIFi TT is one such unit that has outputs just for playing through your speakers. This is a great way to amplify without spending too much money on extra devices. It can also be used with a surround sound system.

And the best part is this unit is designed with many amp and effect models to shape your sound however you like. Otherwise, it’s a simple, clean tone when directly plugged into your system.

  • Advantages: Utilizes existing home audio equipment. Convenient for home use.
  • Disadvantages: Sound quality and options may be limited compared to specialized guitar equipment.

PA System

If you are part of a band or just want to play with others, then consider getting a PA system. There are ways to use them without having an amplifier that is made for the electric guitar.

All you need is a regular instrument cable that is meant for guitars. You can then plug your electric guitar into one of these systems and be heard, and very clearly.

One such example is the Fender Audio Passport S2. This system has many inputs and ways to shape your sound, including reverb, for just over $800 new. You can also connect effects to it and use it like you would a tube amp!

The downside is that these devices are expensive. But, with a little luck, you may find something that works with your budget.

Even if you have a guitar amplifier already. It might be worth checking out these PA systems to see if they are compatible.

  • Advantages: Suitable for larger venues and offers more control over sound.
  • Disadvantages: Not practical for small spaces or casual practice. Requires additional equipment.

Digital Audio Interface

Those who want to record or mix their music will need a digital audio interface. This is used to send the music from your recording devices, such as a laptop or PC, to speakers and headphones.

This requires routing software so that you can direct the guitar signal where it needs to go. A great example is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.

It comes with two pre-amps for input, so you can record vocals or electric guitars at the same time. You can also use it to mix music if required with the right DAW software or app.

Once you have this device, all you need is a set of monitors and studio headphones to start recording or playing! This ends up being the cheap and easiest way to amplify the electric guitar.

These digital interfaces do come at a small cost and need a few components to work properly. Even if you have an amplifier, you might still want to consider getting a digital interface. It can save space and give many more options for recording.

They are perfect for any musician who wants to start recording their playing. Regardless of skill level, and another great way to play guitar without an amp.

  • Advantages: Offers extensive control over sound and effects. Can be used for recording as well.
  • Disadvantages: Requires a computer, audio interface, and potentially expensive software. Learning curve for using the DAW effectively.
digital audio interface

Multi-Effects Units

Floor units or multi-effects are another great way of playing electric guitar without an amplifier. Several units today come equipped with jacks that can power headphones and speakers.

A multi-effects pedal like the Line 6 HX Stomp XL will not only provide a headphone jack, but a range of amp models too.

This type of guitar interface is one of the best ways to sculpt your tone while doing it without an amplifier. The DSP amp simulator software built into these units is usually very good and will meet most players’ needs.

Keep in mind that these units are not always made for every music style. It’s important to make sure to get the right one for your style.

If you do plan to get a guitar amp at some point, then you can use the multi-effects unit with it. The 4 cable method is a powerful connection scheme. It will provide you with all the resources you could need.

  • Advantages: Utilizes existing gear to produce sound through headphones. Offers a range of effects.
  • Disadvantages: Can be complex to operate. The cost of the unit itself can be a drawback if you don’t already own one.

Smartphones or Tablets

The last option for playing electric guitar without an amp is probably the most common. If you have a smartphone or tablet, then many apps can be used as amps and effects pedals. The great thing about this is that it requires little to no power and thus is completely portable.

These devices plug into the headphone jack, then turn it into an amplifier for electric guitars. You can adjust their output and volume to get the right sounds when playing.

The iRig 2 HD is one such digital audio workstation. It has a quarter-inch jack that can be plugged in with a standard guitar cable.

It’s also compatible with both iOS and Android devices. So you do not need to worry about compatibility issues.

Is mobile music production your thing? Then this is one of the best ways to play the electric guitar without an amplifier.

  • Advantages: Provides a wide range of sound options and effects. Ideal for those who already own a computer and audio interface.
  • Disadvantages: Requires additional hardware like an audio interface. Potential for latency issues and software crashes.

Reasons to Stick with Traditional Amps

While there are various methods for playing an electric guitar without an amplifier, traditional amps still offer certain advantages that alternative methods may not fully replicate. Here are some reasons to consider sticking with a traditional amplifier:

Reasons to Stick with Traditional AmpsAdvantagesDisadvantages
Sound QualityAmplifiers are specifically designed to enhance the sound of electric guitars, offering a richness and depth that alternative methods may lack.None, as this is the standard for optimal sound quality.
Control Over SoundTraditional amps offer a range of controls for tone, volume, and effects, allowing for greater customization of your sound.None, as this is the benchmark for sound control.
ReliabilityAmplifiers are generally more reliable and less prone to issues like latency or software crashes that can occur with digital methods.None, as this is the standard for reliable performance.
VersatilityMany amplifiers come with built-in effects and features, offering a versatile setup without the need for additional equipment.None, as this is the standard for an all-in-one solution.
Feedback ControlTraditional amps offer better control over feedback, which is essential for certain styles of play.None, as this is the standard for feedback control.
Audience EngagementAmplifiers are better suited for live performances, offering a more engaging experience for the audience.None, as this is the standard for live performances.
Professional UseTraditional amps are often preferred in professional settings for their reliability and superior sound quality.None, as this is the standard for professional use.

While alternative methods offer various advantages, such as cost savings or space efficiency, traditional amplifiers remain the go-to choice for many guitarists for the reasons listed above.

The choice between traditional amps and alternative methods will depend on your specific needs and what you are willing to compromise on.

can you play electric guitar without an amp


There are a few ways to use your electric guitar without an amp. Each of these devices is very different.

But they all accomplish the same goal of giving you more options for playing. It’s important that you buy one that fulfills your requirements. That it will suit any music style you want to play!

Whether it’s an audio interface, headphone amp, or home stereo system. You can get some great guitar tones. Of course, if you do get an amplifier at some point, then you can use these devices with it.

If you are just starting out playing guitar, then amplifying it might not be necessary. The sounds that electric guitars make are pleasing on their own.

So you can get started without needing an amplifier. If you do want to amplify your instrument at some point, then these ideas here will help you find the solution.


What equipment do I need to use amp simulation software on a computer?

To use amp simulation software on a computer, you’ll generally need an audio interface to connect your guitar to the computer, along with the software itself.

Are there any portable alternatives to traditional amplifiers?

Yes, dedicated headphone amps and multi-effects units with headphone sockets are portable alternatives that allow you to play your electric guitar without a traditional amplifier.

Is it more cost-effective to play without an amplifier?

Playing without an amplifier can be more cost-effective, especially if you already own some of the required equipment like a computer or smartphone. However, the sound quality may be compromised.

Are there any latency issues when using digital methods?

Latency can be an issue when using digital methods like amp simulation software, especially on smartphones. It’s important to check the specifications and reviews of the software or hardware you plan to use.

Can I use Bluetooth speakers as an alternative to an amplifier?

While it’s possible to use Bluetooth speakers, they are generally not recommended due to sound quality and latency issues.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!