Can You Play Electric Guitar Without An Amp?

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It is no secret that the prices of guitars and amplifiers are becoming far too high for many to afford.

It is too expensive to buy an electric guitar and an amp as a combo for many people, so it’s pretty common for electric guitars to initially be purchased by themselves. This ultimately begs the question, can you play an electric guitar without an amp?

Electric guitars can be played without an amp. However, unlike acoustic guitars, the sound produced will be very faint and won’t represent the true tonality of the guitar. There are benefits to playing with an amp, but alternatives like computer software or multi-effects pedals work great, too.

animated electric guitar beside amp with red x symbol on blue background

If you have just purchased an electric guitar or are looking at buying one without an amplifier, do not worry!

Despite certain limitations, you will still be able to play your guitar and get an audible sound. However, we will show you the benefits of using an amp and cost-effective alternatives to using an amp that will work wonders for your guitar tone.

Playing An Electric Guitar Without An Amp

For the average aspiring musician, budgeting for a guitar and amp combo is seemingly becoming an increasingly impossible task.

Nowadays, good-quality amplifiers are typically more expensive than most guitars, which has left many people wondering if they even need to use an amp in the first place. The short answer is no; however, it is somewhat more complicated than that.

Sure, you can grab an electric guitar off the shelf at your local music store, strum it or play a few notes and undoubtedly get a sound.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the sound is very soft and potentially inaudible if you are in a noisy environment. However, if you play in a quiet room, you will have no trouble hearing the guitar.

The problem, however, is that no matter how clearly you can hear the guitar, you will never be able to hear the true tonality of the guitar without an amp.

Acoustic guitars have hollow bodies and sound holes. Strumming an acoustic guitar causes the bridge to vibrate, allowing the soundboard to resonate into the guitar’s body. 

The air inside of the guitar then reverberates the sound back out of the body, allowing everyone to hear the sound clearly.

Unfortunately, electric guitars are not designed to reverberate the same way. Since they are not traditionally hollow, nor do they have a sound hole, electric guitars rely on electromagnetic induction from their pickups. In simpler terms, they create electric signals out of acoustic sounds. 

Read More: Neck versus Bridge Pickups: What’s the Difference?

These sounds are designed to travel through the guitar’s circuitry into an amp, creating a significantly louder volume.

The Benefits Of Playing Electric Guitar With An Amp

Alright, now that you understand more about how an electric guitar has been designed to function, you might still be wondering, “do I still need to get an amp for my electric guitar?”

Once again, the short answer is no. However, let’s discover how using an amp with your electric guitar could greatly benefit the instrument’s sound quality.

We have already mentioned how an amp will help significantly increase your electric guitar’s volume. However, an amp does so much more than simply providing more volume.

Guitar amps have been specifically designed to exhibit the complete tonality of electric guitars. In other words, you won’t know how your guitar was meant to sound without playing it through an amp.

On top of that, amps give guitarists the means to control the sound of their electric guitars.

Amps allow you to adjust the EQ (bass, mids, and treble) and, in some cases, further alter the guitars’ sound by adding distortion or other effects like delay, reverb, or phasers.

This, of course, helps electric guitarists to find their desired sound based on the songs or styles of music that they play.

Ultimately, an amp enables electric guitars to be what they were designed to be, which is to be versatile.

While acoustic guitars are somewhat of a “one-trick pony” in terms of their sound, electric guitars used with amps are designed to give a guitarist more freedom to control their sound.

Ways You Can Play Electric Guitar Without An Amp

So, you know the benefits of using an amp, but what if it is still way out of your price range?

Thanks to advances in modern technology, there are many alternatives to using a guitar amp, many of which are more affordable than traditional amps. We’ll cover a few here to help get you started.

Headphone Amps

Unfortunately, you cannot just plug a pair of headphones into your guitar, as no sound will come through. This is something we cover in more detail in our post answering “Can You Plug Headphones Into A Guitar?“.

However, great headphone amps like the NUX GP-1 or the Vox AP2AC give you amp-like controls without generating loud volumes, thanks to their headphone functionality. 

As a bonus, these units are significantly cheaper than traditional amps. Although they might not offer as excellent sound quality as traditional amps, they are undoubtedly a fantastic cost-effective alternative.

Computer Software

Computer software for electric guitarists has become increasingly popular thanks to its ease of functionality, versatility, and cost-effectiveness.

Fantastic programs like BIAS FX or Amplitube give you access to a wide range of amps and effects to find your dream guitar tone. 

The only piece of equipment that you would need is an audio interface to connect your guitar to your computer.

Entry-level audio interfaces are relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to traditional guitar amps. This Behringer audio interface is a great option to get you started.

Multi-Effects Pedals

Lastly, you could use a multi-effects pedal. These are essentially the physical equipment versions of computer software that digitally recreates amp sounds.

While these units can get incredibly expensive when exploring the top-of-the-range options, many cost-effective multi-effects pedals do an outstanding job. 

Great options to start out with are this Zoom G1X or, if you have a slightly bigger budget, the Line 6 POD Go.

These units are jam-packed with amp tones and effects to give you hours and hours of fun and inspiration. They both have headphone inputs, so don’t worry about making too much noise!


All in all, while you do not need an amp for your electric guitar, it will undoubtedly go a long way in bringing out the best sound of your guitar while giving you the means to alter your tone to meet your needs.

If a traditional amp is not an option, alternatives like headphone amps, computer software, and multi-effects pedals are fantastic and often even more fun to use.

As always, Happy Playing,


About Damien

Damien is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist from South Africa. He has performed at many events both public and corporate with top musicians in the industry. He has also been teaching guitar professionally for 8 years.