If you play guitar, you may wonder whether you can play music through your guitar amp to jam along with or simply to listen to. In this guide, I will explain everything you need to know about playing music through a guitar amp and important details to do it properly.
Yes, you can use a guitar amp as a speaker to play music or to possibly plug in a microphone. While a guitar amp won’t sound as good as a proper sound system designed to play music, you can achieve decent results when done properly.
While it is possible to play music through any guitar amp, some amps will be easier than others. Let’s look at what you need to know to use your guitar amp as a speaker.
Quality of music through a guitar amp
Before we look at how to use your guitar amp as a speaker, it’s important to understand the limitations of guitar amps.
A guitar amp has a very limited frequency range. The frequency range of a speaker system tells you what it can handle.
For example, a bass guitar amp can produce very low frequencies, while they do a poor job at higher frequencies. A guitar amp can play some low frequencies and some high frequencies, but they mainly focus on mid-range frequencies that make sense for guitars.
What this means is that if you try to play music through a guitar amp, it will likely sound muddy and low-quality when compared to a speaker system (or headphones) with a wide frequency range.
While you might be able to use the guitar amp’s EQ to try and compensate, don’t expect amazing results.
Some guitar amps offer a full frequency range designed to playback music. I’ll explain these guitar amps later in this guide.
If you want to play music along with your guitar, you may also want to read this Guide to Playing Guitar with Headphones as it gives you some handy ways to play music with guitar at the same time.
How to Play Music Through Your Guitar Amp
The most common way you can use your guitar amp as a speaker is to play music through it.
You can use any guitar amp to play music through although some amps will be easier than others. The music won’t sound very good through an electric guitar amp, but it is possible to use your guitar amp to play music.
Some guitarists like to jam along with backing tracks and being able to play those backing tracks through your amp can be handy if you don’t have any other speaker systems nearby.
To play music through your guitar amp, look for an Aux Input jack as shown below:
Many modern amps will have a 3.5mm (1/8″) aux input to allow you to play music or anything else you want through your guitar amp. Some amps have a 6.3mm Aux input jack. To play music through these inputs, use the adapter explained later.
With an Aux input, you can connect your smartphone, PC, tablet, or any other audio source that has a 3.5mm output.
Here are the recommended steps to safely play music through your guitar amp:
- Connect your audio player to the Aux Input using a 3.5mm cable
- Turn the master volume on your guitar amp down to a fairly low level
- Turn the volume on your audio player down
- Hit play on your audio player and gradually raise the volume of the audio player
- Raise the guitar amp’s master volume to reach the volume level you want
Following these steps will prevent blowing your guitar amp by feeding it a high volume source while it is cranked too high.
Remember that most guitar amps aren’t designed to deal with extremely high or low frequencies, so it is important to be careful every time you connect something into your amp’s Aux input.
Now you are able to listen to use your guitar amp as a speaker to listen to music or connect your guitar and jam along with the music.
What if your guitar amp doesn’t have an Aux input
While many modern guitar amps have Aux input jacks, most don’t. This can make it a bit trickier to use your guitar amp as a speaker, but not impossible.
Here are a couple of options you can try:
Use the Guitar In jack: with this approach, you unplug your guitar and use the guitar input jack to plug in your music source.
To do this, you will need to get a 3.5mm to 6.3mm (1/8″ to 1/4″) adapter like this one (link to Amazon) to connect a standard 3.5mm cable to the guitar input jack.
This type of adapter is also handy if you want to play electric guitar with headphones (more information in the linked guide).
It is important you be very careful with this method as guitar input jacks weren’t designed to take anything other than a guitar. It is very easy to blow a guitar amp by abusing this method, so I take no responsibility for it.
If you try this approach, make sure your amp is set to a clean channel and you start with the volume turned way down.
Gradually raise the volume and don’t push it – guitar amps weren’t designed to handle high volume inputs from the guitar jack.
The downside of this approach is that you cannot play music and play guitar at the same time. If you really want to jam along with music and play that music through your guitar amp, I recommend one of the other options covered in this guide.
Use a multi-effects pedal: many multi-effects pedals have an Aux input jack that allows you to connect any music source you want.
The benefit of this approach is that your multi-effects unit can process your guitar signal and the music signal at the same time and produce good sounding results.
Some multi-effects pedals will label this input as CD/MP3 input with a 3.5mm jack, while others will have an AUX Input with a 6.3mm jack. Both will work fine and all you need is the right adapter to connect your audio source.
The above photo of a Line 6 HD500X has a 3.5mm CD/MP3 input and a 6.3mm AUX Input.
As with any other method, make sure you start with your audio player set to a low volume and gradually bring it up to level rather than accidentally plug it in at full volume and risk damaging your gear.
Use a guitar amp with a full range speaker: some guitar amps come with full-range speakers built into the cabinet which are designed to playback music along with your guitar.
The Line 6 AMPLIFi (link to my review) contains a normal guitar speaker, along with four full-range speakers for music playback and some guitar effects.
You can see in the above photo that there is the large guitar speaker in the center and full-range speakers in the corners.
This guitar amp acts as a normal guitar amp as well as a Bluetooth speaker. So to play music through it, you simply use your smartphone or any other Bluetooth capable device and connect to it. Then you can play music through the speaker while you play the guitar.
Plugging a Microphone in a Guitar Amp for Vocals
If you play guitar and sing, you may wonder whether you can plug a microphone in to use your guitar amp as a speaker for your vocals at the same time.
You can directly plug a microphone into an acoustic guitar amp, but not electric guitar amps. To plug a microphone into an electric guitar amp, it first needs to go through a multi-effects pedal or suitable preamp.
If you play acoustic guitar, you will easily be able to buy an acoustic guitar amp with both guitar and microphone inputs as shown below:
You can see there are dedicated channels for microphone and guitar inputs, which is why acoustic guitar amps are fantastic for guitarists who also sing.
If you play electric guitar, trying to play vocals through your guitar amp is generally not a good idea. While acoustic guitar amps are designed to be able to process vocals through a microphone at the same time as your guitar signal, electric guitar amps aren’t.
Vocals sound muddy and lifeless when played through a guitar amp. The guitar amp’s limited frequency range does a poor job at playing vocals properly.
But if you don’t have money to buy a proper PA System, it is possible to play vocals through your guitar amp.
The best method is to use a multi-effects pedal that offers a mic input. Many multi-effects pedals have a microphone input with inbuilt mic preamps that can process your microphone’s input and send it safely to your guitar amp.
If you do not have a multi-effects pedal with a microphone input, I do not recommend plugging a microphone directly into the guitar amp. Even if you use an adapter to fit the guitar input jack, it is a bad idea and can easily damage your amp.
If you really want to be able to play electric guitar and sing all through the same system, read the advice below on using a PA System or an FRFR guitar amp.
Using a Guitar Amp to Play Bass Guitar
It is possible to play bass guitar through a guitar amp. It will sound lousy and if you push the volume too high it may damage your amp, but it is possible to play a bass through one.
Have a read of this guide on Playing Bass With a Guitar Amp for everything you need to know before you plug a bass into your guitar amp.
The short answer is that a bass guitar amp is designed to handle very low frequencies. A normal guitar amp isn’t designed to deal with low frequencies, so if you plug a bass guitar into your amp, expect to hear a muddy and uninspiring tone.
While you might be able to try and compensate by turning the amp’s bass EQ knob up, be careful not to overdo it. Pushing your guitar amp too hard in the lower frequencies could lead to blowing the speaker.
If you play guitar and bass guitar, consider buying a dedicated bass amp, or an FRFR amp or PA system with appropriate pedals to deal with both types of guitars.
Read through this guide for more bass amp options.
Playing Music Through an FRFR Guitar Amp
While it is possible to play music or other instruments through a guitar amp, it doesn’t produce good results. Music will sound muddy and distorted, bass guitars will sound weak, and vocals will sound muffled.
If you play a range of different instruments or want to hear high-quality music coming out of your guitar amp, there is a better alternative.
An FRFR Guitar Amp is designed to play music or other sources properly without a muddy sound. FRFR stands for Full-Range, Flat-Response. It’s a fancy way of saying ‘a normal speaker’.
FRFR amps are similar to PA Systems and play music or other instruments such as vocals very well. Many guitarists who use modeling effects pedals use FRFR amps because it gives them a lot of flexibility.
For example, a guitarist who uses a Line 6 Helix pedalboard with an FRFR amp is able to effortlessly switch between a distorted electric guitar, clean electric guitar, acoustic guitar, or vocals with each instrument sounding exactly how they should sound.
If you use a multi-effects pedalboard that offers amp and cabinet simulation, you can plug into any full-range speaker system and achieve great guitar tones while still being able to play crystal clear music or vocals. I expect FRFR guitar amps to gradually become more popular thanks to how flexible they can be.
The key point to take away from this guide is that while it is possible to play music through a normal guitar amp, you shouldn’t expect great results. Guitar amp speakers weren’t designed to handle the frequency range of normal music or other instruments, so if you want the best results, get a speaker system designed to handle everything you want to throw at it.
If you want a different option, read this guide to find out how to connect your guitar to a computer and use it as a guitar amp.