Can You Play Electric Guitar Without An Amp?

There are five common ways to play electric guitar without an amp. You can play your guitar unplugged, use a headphone amp, use a computer or laptop, use a smartphone or tablet, or use a multi-effects pedal. 

While amps are the go-to solution for electric guitars, there are ways to play your electric guitar without an amp. For example, when traveling or when you want to have a late-night practice session without disturbing your neighbors, you will need to find a way to play without an amp.

Let’s take a look at the most common ways you can do that.

1. Unplugged

The most straightforward way to play electric guitar without an amp is simply playing your guitar unplugged. Although the unplugged sound of electric guitars is far from ideal, it is a great and easy way to practice late at night without disturbing anyone.

If you want to jam, perform, or hear the real sound of your electric guitar, playing unplugged is not a great idea. Solid Body electric guitars do not feature a large cavity part inside, which makes their unplugged sound much weaker compared to acoustic guitars. Hollow and semi-hollow body electric guitars do have a small cavity inside, making them more suitable for unplugged playing.

So, solid-body electric guitars, the most common type of electric guitars, are pretty quiet when played unplugged. You can still hear them when practicing if the room is also quiet, without any background noise. Thus, unplugged playing is a quick and easy way to practice at home.

Also, there is a difference in dynamic control and playing techniques when you play unplugged and with an amp. So, you should not play unplugged too often and use an amp to have better control over your sound.

2. Headphone Amp

To play electric guitar with headphones, you need a headphone amp, which converts the electric signals to the acoustic sound. Headphones typically don’t feature a preamp, so you can’t use them just by plugging them into the output jack. You need small headphone amps in between the connection.

Headphone amps are small devices that you plug into the output jack of your guitar. They feature an input port for your headphones. Most of the headphone amps feature EQ and-or tone controls on them for you to shape your sound.

Although headphone amps do not offer as much versatility as traditional guitar amps, they allow you to play your instrument easily and silently without disturbing anyone. They are highly portable and are a great solution to playing electric guitar on the go.

3. Computer or Laptop (Using an Audio Interface)

Using a computer or laptop is the most popular way to play without an amp. You will need an audio interface and a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to play your guitar through your laptop. You can then use speakers or headphones to hear your instrument’s sound.

Playing through a computer or laptop is highly popular as it allows you to shape your sound as you like with different effects and adjustments, record your playing, edit your recordings, and use VSTs (Virtual Studio Technology) plug-ins to replicate the sounds of mics, amps, effect pedals, cabinets, and other audio gear.

If you are not familiar with playing guitar through a computer or laptop, you might have to go through a steep learning curve as there are many things to explore in the DAW world. But it will widen your perspective significantly and take your skills to the next level. Learning about editing, mixing, and recording will also grow you a lot as a musician.

There is much low-cost or free DAWs that you can download and play your instrument through your laptop. So using a laptop or computer is one of the easiest, most popular, and most affordable ways to replace an amp.

4. Smartphone Or Tablet

Just like using a laptop as an amp alternative, you can use a smartphone or tablet instead. The versatility and sound quality are not as high as using a computer, but the process is easier, more affordable, and more portable. With an adapter, you can directly connect your guitar to a smart device and play.

After purchasing an adapter to connect your guitar to the smart device or tablet, you will have to install a mobile-friendly DAW or a VST app like AmpliTube or BIAS FX, which will help you shape your sound as you like and record, mix, edit if you desire to. 

Most of these apps are available on iOS devices but there are some options for Android devices, too, and the number is growing every day.

After the app and the adapter are ready, you can use a pair of headphones or speakers to hear your instrument. You can also use the speakers of your smart device, but the sound quality is far from ideal.

5. Multi-Effects Pedal

Using a multi-effects pedal combined with external speakers or headphones is another great way to play electric guitar without an amp. Most multi-fx pedals feature headphones or line-out ports to play your guitar without the need for an amp.

Most multi-fx pedals have ¼ inch output jack to connect your stereo RCA adapter as well as a ⅛-inch jack for headphones or speakers. 

Using a multi-effects pedal is one of the easiest ways to replace an amp, as you only need to plug your instrument and your headphones or speakers into the multi-effects pedal. Later on, you can shape your sound from the unit as you like and hear yourself immediately. 

Mant multi-fx pedals feature many effects, including distortion, delay, reverb, and many more, along with cab modeling features that allow the users to replicate the sound of famous amp models. So you can reach those tones without those amps.

You do not need to struggle with apps or different gear in this method. So, if you already have a multi-fx pedal, this might be the best option for you.

Conclusion

While the authentic sound of amps is the best way to play guitar for most guitarists, there are cases when you need to play without one. When traveling or when you need to play your guitar quietly, or when your amp has a problem, a guitarist should have a plan B.

It does not matter if you use headphones or speakers; there are many different ways to replace an amp. None of them can take the place of an amp in the long run, but they offer different advantages, as mentioned in the article.

Berk Öztuna is a handpan player, percussionist, and guitarist. He has been playing multiple instruments over the last 10 years. He started his music career as a guitarist, playing with several bands before putting his main focus into playing the handpan.

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