There will be times when you will want to play your electric guitar without an amplifier. Being able to practice in silence in the middle of the night or travel without having to bring an amp with you can be handy.
There are four ways you can play an electric guitar without an amp. You can play your guitar with any headphones or speakers using a PC or Mac, using an iPhone or iPad, using a micro-amp, or with a multi-effects pedal.
It’s possible to play guitar at home, at band practice, or in gigs without an amp and still have a great guitar tone.
In fact, some guitarists use the methods covered in this guide as their main performance rig without needing to buy an amp at all.
In this guide, I’ll explain all the ways you can play your electric guitar without an amp so you can find the best option for you.
Playing Electric Guitar With Headphones or Speakers
With any of the methods covered in this guide, you can choose to play your electric guitar with headphones or any speakers.
Before we go through the different ways you can play your electric guitar without an amp, let’s look at the different options you have for using headphones or speakers.
Playing Guitar with Headphones
The benefit of playing electric guitar with headphones is that you can practice in silence anywhere and at any time.
Unfortunately, you can’t simply plug your headphones into your guitar’s jack.
Even if you buy an adapter to fit your headphones to your guitar, it won’t work.
To find out how to use headphones with your electric guitar and recommendations on headphones, check out my Guide to Playing Electric Guitar With Headphones.
The guide covers everything you need to know about headphones and electric guitars.
Playing Guitar With Speakers
One of the reasons you may want to play guitar with speakers instead of a guitar amp is if you already have a great speaker system.
Maybe you have a set of great studio monitors for home recording (learn about recording guitar at home here) and want to use them.
Or maybe you have a great stereo or surround sound system and want to make use of those speakers instead of buying a guitar amp.
The good news is that you can use any speaker system you want to play electric guitar.
All you need to do is plug your speakers into one of the devices covered below and you can use your speakers to play guitar.
One alternative worth considering if you want to use a set of speakers to play electric guitar is the Line 6 AMPLIFi TT (link to Amazon).
The AMPLIFi TT was designed to give you an easy way to play an electric guitar through any speaker system.
You simply plug your guitar into this device, then plug the AMPLIFi TT into your speaker system.
The AMPLIFi TT will handle your guitar tone and allow you to craft tones using a wide range of amp and effects models using your smartphone.
Find out more about the AMPLIFi TT in this guide.
Play Electric Guitar With a PC or Mac
An easy way to play electric guitar without an amp is to use a PC or Mac.
With a simple audio interface, you can play your electric guitar with headphones or speakers through any PC or a Mac.
The above photo shows a very popular audio interface that allows you to plug your electric guitar into a PC or Mac. You could also use it to play acoustic guitar or vocals by plugging a microphone into it.
The big benefit of playing your guitar through a PC or Mac is that it allows you to record your playing.
An audio interface is all you need to get started with your own home recording studio.
Find out about recording guitar at home in this ultimate guide.
If you’re not interested in recording guitar, you can still use an audio interface to access a wide range of guitar tones and effects using software such as AmpliTube, BIAS FX, or Line 6 Helix Native.
Simply plug your guitar in and open a guitar modeling program like BIAS FX 2 and you’ll be able to access amps and effects as shown below:
This means you can get access to all the amp and effects tones you want without having to buy any amps or pedals.
It’s hard to emphasize how useful it can be to be able to plug your guitar into a PC or Mac and use software like BIAS FX.
Find out how to connect your guitar to a PC in this guide.
The above guide will explain everything you need to know to get started playing your guitar through a PC.
Play Electric Guitar With an iOS Device
While a PC or Mac gives you the best flexibility in accessing different guitar amp and effects software, you can use an iPhone or iPad to play your electric guitar.
There are a lot of great guitar apps you can use on an iOS device.
AmpliTube and BIAS FX are two fantastic amp and effects modeling apps that give you access to a wide range of guitar tones.
You can also use an iOS device to record your guitar, which can be handy if you’re a songwriter.
To play electric guitar using an iOS device, you need a way to plug your guitar in.
There are a few options, but the easiest is using an iRig HD 2 as shown below.
The benefit of using the iRig HD 2 is that it comes with the full version of AmpliTube 4. So you can use it for all of your amp and effects tones.
Once your guitar is plugged in, you can connect speakers or headphones to the iRig as you like.
While it is possible to connect an electric guitar to an Android phone using the iRig UA, Android is behind the curve in terms of latency.
There aren’t many useful guitar apps available on Android, so until this changes (I use Android so I keep a close eye on updates), I don’t recommend Android as an option for playing guitar.
Play Electric Guitar With a Multi-Effects Pedal
Most modern multi-effects pedals have a jack where you can plug in any speakers or headphones.
This means you can play an electric guitar without an amp by using a multi-effects pedal.
Simply plug your guitar into a suitable multi-effects pedal and plug headphones or speakers into the pedal.
Take a look at the back of an effects pedal and you’ll usually see a headphones output as shown below:
Some pedals provide a headphone jack sized output, while others use a standard guitar cable sized jack.
If you want to plug headphones into a pedal but the pedal only provides a 1/4″ output jack, use an adapter like this one.
Whether you use a massive floorboard like the Line 6 Helix or a smaller and simpler pedal like the HX Stomp, you’ll be able to access seriously impressive amp and effects tones.
Check out this guide comparing Line 6’s multi-effects pedals for an example of different pedals you could use.
Play Electric Guitar With a Micro Amp
The last option to consider when you want to play an electric guitar without an amp is to buy an… amp.
Okay, I know you want to play without an amp, but the amps I’m talking about don’t really count.
Mini or micro amps are basically small battery-powered speakers you can use with or without headphones.
You’ve probably seen photos like the below one with tiny amps that plug into your guitar.
While some of these mini amps are garbage in terms of guitar tone, others provide you with an excellent guitar tone you can either play in silence using headphones or at a low volume using the inbuilt speaker.
This may be a suitable option for anybody who travels and doesn’t want to take a large amp with them.
Alternatively, you could have one of these amps on a desk and plug it in at any time for jamming or practicing at home.
Some of these mini amps are decent sized (like the above Yamaha), while others can fit in your pocket.
Find out about mini battery-powered guitar amps in this guide.
Other micro amps such as the Vox amPlug get rid of the speaker and plug directly into your guitar.
You simply plug this into your guitar, then plug in speakers or headphones and it will sound like you’re playing a Vox amp.
Find out about the Vox amPlug in this review.
Playing Electric Guitar Without an Amp FAQs
Any of the above methods will give you a way to play your electric guitar without needing to use an amp.
You might be surprised by how powerful some of these methods can be and the wide range of guitar tones and effects you can access.
Here are some common questions you might have about playing electric guitar without an amp.
Can You Plug Headphones Into an Electric Guitar?
No. You cannot plug headphones directly into an electric guitar. Even if the headphones fit the jack with an adapter, you won’t hear anything.
To play electric guitar with headphones, you need to use something to amplify the signal.
Find out how to play electric guitar with headphones in this guide.
Can You Play Electric Bass Without an Amp?
Yes, you can play an electric bass without an amp by connecting it to a computer, smartphone, or multi-effects pedal. There are many portable devices you can plug your bass into that allows you to play bass with headphones or speakers.
All of the methods covered in this guide also apply to bass guitar.
How Can I Play Guitar Without Disturbing Neighbors?
Playing guitar with headphones is the best way to avoid disturbing neighbors or other people in your home. Plug headphones into your guitar amp or multieffects pedal to practice in silence.
Use any of the methods covered in this guide to play in silence and avoid disturbing others.
Can an Electric Guitar be Played Like an Acoustic?
If you don’t plug an electric guitar in, you will still hear it, but it will be quiet and won’t sound good. An electric guitar cannot be played like an acoustic as it wasn’t designed to be played without being plugged in.
While you can still practice electric guitar without plugging it in, it won’t sound anywhere as good as a plugged-in electric guitar or an acoustic guitar.