Maybe you took your guitar to your buddy’s house and saw he has an acoustic amp, or you splurged on the guitar and can’t afford an electric amp. Either way, you might be looking at that amp and wondering whether you can use your electric guitar with an acoustic amp, or if you’ll blow up the amp, your guitar, or both.
An acoustic amp will work with an electric guitar, but you can’t get an electric guitar sound from the acoustic amp. Electric amps are designed to convert and boost an electric signal, while acoustic amps work more like PA loudspeakers.
Amplifiers can be expensive, but they aren’t interchangeable. Read on to learn why you probably won’t like the sound you get from an acoustic amp and some options you have.
Will an Acoustic Amp Affect an Electric Guitar’s Sound?
An acoustic amp will affect how your electric guitar sounds, but they’re designed to be mini-PA systems that provide a clean sound from an acoustic guitar with as little distortion as possible. Meanwhile, electric amps must handle overdrive and distortion while still sounding good.
If you want a jazzy, Wes Montgomery-type sound, then the acoustic amp will give you a pleasant tone. Still, acoustic amps aren’t voiced for distortion, and if you add a distortion pedal, it’s not likely that you’ll enjoy the outcome.
The poor sound quality with acoustic amps happens when you try to add overdrive, distortion, or other pedal effects to an acoustic amp, the frequencies, especially the top end, lose definition and begin to sound harsh and unpleasant.
Think of an electric amp as a separate instrument; the electric guitar and electric amp work together to create the unique and signature sounds of guitarists. And if you change to an acoustic amp, you’re essentially removing an instrument.
How Acoustic and Electric Amps Differ
Electric guitar amplifiers are designed to boost an electric guitar signal, adding gain (for distortion), loudness, and effects for various sounds. Acoustic amplifiers, on the other hand, are designed to produce a clean and transparent signal, which is ideal for the sound of acoustic instruments.
Electric Guitars and Amps
An electric charge is created when your strings vibrate over the magnetic pickups on your guitar. This charge is transported to the output jack via your guitar’s internal circuit. However, this signal is weak and needs to be made louder, or amplified.
When you connect your guitar to the amp, the signal from the pickups passes through the cord to the amp. The amplifier then boosts that signal and then sends it through the amp’s speakers. And the amp can manipulate the sound before it sends it to the speakers specifically designed for electric amps.
Acoustic Guitars and Amps
Since an acoustic guitar can be heard without an amp, there doesn’t seem to be a need for an amp. And for playing at home or in a small group setting, you don’t need an amp to be heard. But in a larger setting, the amp carries the sound.
An acoustic guitarist playing on the street, in a small club, or at celebrations like birthday parties or weddings won’t be heard over the sound of traffic or people talking. The amp makes the guitar loud enough to be heard.
The purpose of an acoustic amp is to increase the volume of the acoustic guitar. Therefore, acoustic amps use different types of speakers and have fewer options for adjusting the sound.
Although this may sound obvious, it’s also one reason that acoustic and electric amps are like night and day. The purpose of the acoustic amp is to make the guitar louder. So although you can get some reverb and adjust the ranges, your goal is to be heard.
Think of it as the difference between seeing a live performance and listening to a recording of the singer on a stereo. When you see the live performance, you can make minimal adjustments to what you hear—how loud or quiet and a different mix if you move.
On your stereo, you put in your cd, record, smartphone, or other sources of music. Now you can adjust treble, bass, volume, and more. If your system has an equalizer, you can modify the sound even more. That’s how an electric amp interfaces with the guitar.
But just as crucial to the difference in sound is the speakers inside the amp. Speakers can be manipulated according to their purpose. For example, the tiny loudspeakers in your headphones are designed to account for the proximity effect, while high-end speaker systems will distribute sound between woofers, midrange, and subwoofers.
Alternative Ways To Amplify an Electric Guitar
You have several other ways to amplify your electric guitar besides an acoustic amp, and some of them you might already have or aren’t as expensive as buying a new amp. These include headphones, a stereo, your laptop, and your phone.
Use Your Home Stereo
You can get avoid using an acoustic amp by plugging your electric guitar into the auxiliary input of your home stereo. All you need is an affordable adaptor. This is one of the least expensive alternatives—as long as you have a decent stereo system.
Most stereos now have a smaller, 1/8 inch (0.32 cm) input, and for that, you should buy something like the highly-rated JSAUX audio cable (available on Amazon.com). The JSAUX will also work with smartphones, tablets, and headphones, thus giving you a lot of flexibility.
However, if your hi-fi system has an ¼ inch (0.64 cm) input, then a 1/8 inch to ¼ (0.32 cm to 0.64 cm) adapter will serve your needs.
Start by putting the volume control on your stereo down. After you’ve connected your guitar, turn its volume up. Then gradually increase the volume on the receiver until you hear the sound level you want. You may also use the tone settings on the receiver to shape your sound.
A way to avoid the latency issue is to use headphones. One method for this is to use a headphone amp, input the guitar, and use the output for the headphones. Models like Korg, Ibanez, and Scholz Rockman make excellent although pricey headphone amps.
Less expensive models, like the Marshall MS-2 and the Fender Mini Tonemaster, are less expensive. But, regardless of the price, corded headphone amps are—well corded.
But Bluetooth headphones solve that problem. In addition, Bluetooth headphones take care of latency since the guitar syncs directly to the headphones. I suggest something like the Boss Waza-Air Wireless Headphones (available on Amazon). While a bit expensive, you get a play time of 5 hours with just the headphones, 12 hours using the included transmitter. Plus, you get many amp features available once you download the phone app.
Sync Your Phone to the Speakers
Believe it or not, your smartphone can serve as an amplifier of sorts. So, you can use a Bluetooth speaker as a guitar amp, but to make it work, you’ll need a quarter-inch (1.91 cm) adapter. Since Bluetooth speakers can amplify sound from a phone, they can do the same with a guitar.
All you need is a set of connection cables and an app on your phone. The app is like a small amp that modifies the signal to the Bluetooth speaker synced to your phone.
Two of the best apps, Bias FX and AmpliTube, have enough settings that’ll let you generate many tones and effects. The Bias Fx has a basic app for your phone that you can usually find for free. Positive Grid also sells a software version for your laptop.
An annoying bug with the smartphone to Bluetooth speaker set up is latency. It can be irritating to hear the chord several beats after you have strummed it. However, guitarists generally use this set-up to connect with a computer to record their music.
However, it’s easy to blow your speakers if you set your guitar’s volume high. More importantly, you’ll degrade the speakers over time. Mixed music speakers are designed for dynamics between 50 to 90 dBs. A guitar’s dynamics will go higher, and so even though you might not blow the speaker right away, the speakers won’t sound as good.
Will an Electric Amp Work With an Acoustic Guitar?
An electric amp will work with an acoustic guitar, but they won’t truly replicate the unplugged sound of your acoustic guitar. Electric guitar amps are typically built to generate rock-approved distortion and set to highlight middle and treble frequencies created from electric guitars.
The speakers inside electric guitar amps are for electric guitars. Speakers in acoustic guitar amplifiers have a full frequency range, which is not true for electric amp speakers.
In other words, you can plug your acoustic guitar into an electric guitar amp, but you’ll have difficulty getting the “unplugged” sound of your acoustic guitar from the amp.
There’s just no getting around it—an electric guitar will sound different through an acoustic amp. The amp will make it loud enough that you can hear the guitar, but you might not like the sound. If you don’t have an electric amp, you can use another method to listen to your guitar, or best yet, trade-in your acoustic amp for one made for an electric guitar amp.