Does an electric guitar need an amp?
In almost every case, yes.
Yes, you can technically play an electric guitar without an amp and it won't hurt anything. But the experience is very different than if you were to have it plugged in and amplified. We'd argue that it's far better to learn the electric guitar with an amplifier, even if it means you have to make an additional purchase.
The simple answer to this question is pretty straightforward.
Yes, electric guitars always need amps.
You might find the odd guitar that has a built-in speaker, but those are few and far between and usually don't sell very well.
A lot of beginners don't get very excited about buying an amp with their first electric guitar, because it's not a very fun purchase (at least not at first). But it's an important part of the process if you want to get into electric guitar specifically.
- Part of learning the electric guitar
- Part of making an electric guitar sound like it's supposed to
- Part of the feel of playing an electric guitar
An amp is even part of learning electric guitar and getting used to the way it's played. All electric guitars need - and should have - an accompanying amplifier.
If you want to take my word for it, great. If not, read on for more detailed info.
Why can't you play an electric guitar without an amp?
You can play an electric guitar without an amp, or what we would call "unplugged."
But the problem is that the guitar is going to be very quiet and hard to hear. Because unlike an acoustic guitar, most electric guitars use a solid body which is a solid piece of wood without a hollowed out interior.
In acoustic guitars, it's this hollow interior that helps them to resonate and project sound loudly in open air.
Electric guitars rely on magnetic pickups that transmit the guitar's string vibrations into a powered amplifier, which then projects the sound through a speaker.
Without the amp, the magnets on a guitar still work, since the guitar itself does not need its own source of electricity (though some do require batteries). However, the signal has nowhere to go.
Does it hurt an electric guitar to play it without an amp?
You can strum and pick an electric guitar just like an acoustic guitar and it won't hurt anything.
It'll just be really quiet and kind of hard to hear unless you're in a really quiet room.
How do you hook an electric guitar up to an amp?
If and when you have a guitar amp, getting everything hooked up is quite simple. You'll need an instrument cable that will go from the output jack on your guitar to the input jack on your amp, which is usually on the left-most or right-most side of the amp's front panel.
From there, you simply turn on the amp, adjust the volume to your liking - also making sure the volume knob on the guitar is turned up - then you should be able to play and hear the instrument.
Read more: How to start an electric guitar rig
Here's a simple diagram of what it looks like:
Everything you need to connect and play an electric guitar
This brings our total gear list to the following three items:
- The electric guitar itself
- One instrument cable
- One guitar amplifier
- A guitar pick (if you prefer to use one)
You can pretty easily find guitar cables on Amazon or any other music gear retailer. They look like this:
You might also see these referred to as cables with a quarter-inch jack. Just go to your preferred retailer and search for "guitar cable" or "instrument cable."
If I have the electric guitar, can I just buy the amp later?
The difficulty when playing the electric guitar without an amp is that it's a very different experience when compared to playing it with an amp, the way it was intended.
Given the fact that you're trying to learn the electric guitar, you're doing yourself a disservice by learning it in a manner that is different than how it'll feel when you have an amp.
It feels different and almost plays different because of what you're hearing.
So sure, you can buy the amp later, but I wouldn't recommend waiting too long because you should be learning the electric guitar in its most honest form.
Conclusion and Questions
You can play an electric guitar without an amp. It won't hurt anything.
But I would argue that you cannot learn the electric guitar without an amp, which is the goal we're trying to achieve.
So if you need help coming up with a good amplifier, checkout the resources we've linked to below. They provide some buying help and some recommendations of what brands to target.
If you have questions, feel free to reach out via the comments section below.