Can You Play Electric Guitar Without an Amp? | 6 Methods

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!

Some creative ways to use an electric guitar without an amplifier:

  • Headphones
  • Stereo System
  • PA System
  • Digital Audio Interface
  • Floor Effects Units
  • Smartphone or tablets
guitar and headphones

These are only just a few, there are plenty of ways a person can get creative when passionate enough. Some may require a cable or connection method, but they are all very easy to obtain and affordable.

So whatever your reason, we’ll show you how to play your electric guitar without plugging it into an amplifier and give you some ideas for new ways to experiment with different sounds.

Play Unplugged

The first thing to consider is playing the guitar without any other device. While the volume is substantially 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 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 and can make practicing worthwhile unplugged.

Most importantly for beginners, it allows them to hear and feel each string, which 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.

Use Another Device

If you simply cannot play the electric guitar without some sort of amplification, then you are in luck. As we have mentioned above, there are great ways to connect to a device and get some good sounds without an amplifier. Let’s look at 6 ways that a player can connect with something, most likely already on hand.

Guitar Headphone Amplifier

While you cannot simply plug headphones into a guitar and expect it to work, some devices can create an interface. The first device that can help, is a headphone amplifier. These units plug into the output of your electric guitar and amplify a signal that can be used with headphones.

Most units 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 depending on your style.

Some of these little devices also include effects and guitar amp models that 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 and uses spatial technology that tracks the movement of the phones.

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 and 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.

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 additional devices, and 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.

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 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 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 there are much cheaper models available as well. You just have to look around to find something that works within 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.

Of course, with the price comes high-quality equipment that offers many ways to shape your sound. These units can be used without an amplifier for electric guitars, but it’s also possible to plug one into them if needed. There are several models available that have different features from the Fender Audio Passport mentioned above.

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 require 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.

And if you record and mix at the same time, then you will need such a device. With one such as the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, it’s easy to plug in your electric guitars and start recording without an amplifier.

It has two inputs, so you can connect two electric guitars and record both simultaneously. There are also jacks for headphones and monitors so that you can hear yourself play!

These digital interfaces do come at a small cost, though, as they require a few components to work properly. Even if you have an amplifier, you might still want to consider getting a digital interface because 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.

digital audio interface

Floor 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 sometimes 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 satisfy most players’ needs.

Keep in mind however 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 that will provide you with all the resources you could need.

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 and 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. If mobile music production is your thing, then this is one of the best ways to play the electric guitar without an amplifier.

Why Use an Amp At All?

With so many great ways to play guitar without an amplifier, why buy one at all? Well, this depends on your playing style and what you intend to do.

It’s important to first understand that amps are designed for different purposes. Knowing these purposes helps you decide if you should buy one at all. If you play live, then it might be a good idea to get an amp because they will provide more power output than interfaces or smartphones can deliver on their own.

It’s also critical to remember that not every venue’s PA system will be available to plug in a guitar, as other instruments may take priority. And so having a powerful amp will be very beneficial for playing guitar.

If you play at home, and you want to record, then using a digital interface might be best because it will save space and provide extra features that some amps do not have such as effects options, headphone jacks, or recording capabilities.

No matter how much or little experience you have playing electric guitar without an amp, the information in this article can help you make a better decision on gear.

can you play electric guitar without an amp

Conclusion

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 and 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 tone. Of course, if you do get an amplifier at some point, then you can use these devices with it.

One final thing to mention is that 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 perfect solution.

FAQs

There are concerns that players have when going without an amp. Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions to help you.

What can I use instead of a guitar amp?

If you have looked through our list and can’t find anything to play guitar, then there is one more suggestion we have for you. That is the use of micro-amps! Even though they are still amplifiers, they are tiny, cheap, and produce fun guitar tones. An example of one of these is the Marshall MS-2.

This is a tiny 1-watt amplifier that offers e controls, a 1×2″ speaker and can be clipped to your belt. It provides a way to have your guitar connected to something and is much better than having to play unplugged. A bonus is that they sound good!

Can you play the electric guitar unplugged?

Yes, you can play the electric guitar unplugged. The truth is that some people prefer it this way. Perhaps because they find it calming to just hear their fingers move over the strings. Electric guitars are like acoustics when playing unplugged, they just don’t project volume quite the same. But you can hear the guitar’s signal and even write your own music this way.

But if you use an electric guitar without an amp, then this is not the best way. Modern technology allows us to do better with our sound as an audio interface, for example!

Can you plug headphones into an electric guitar?

Not directly no. You need a special device that is called a headphone amp, so you can play electric guitar. This way, you can plug your headphones into the interface and jam away, getting a good guitar tone.

And so if you have an electric guitar, then this is why it’s ideal to have a headphone amp! This way, playing guitar by yourself will be very easy. And using your headphones is another bonus in doing this, allowing you to play at any time of the day.

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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!