At this point, there’s no doubt that the electric guitar is one of the most versatile instruments. However, the instrument itself makes no sense without an amplifier and even some additional effects units. But with that said, have you ever wondered how loud is an electric guitar unplugged?
Well, many beginners and even intermediate players have asked this question. After all, it gets tiresome to bother with overly complicated and fragile amps, right?
We all know that things can get pretty loud with amps and PA systems. But what about an unplugged electric guitar?
If you want the simplest answer – it’s not loud at all. In most cases, it gets nowhere near the loudness of an acoustic guitar. Although, there are some models that can get louder. Also, even if they won’t make much of a difference when your guitar’s plugged in, thicker strings can help you get a louder acoustic output.
But just like with everything else here, I’m always looking for in-depth analysis and explanations. In this particular topic, we’ll be looking into the practical use of an unplugged electric guitar and what might make it work without an actual amplifier. So let’s dig in!
Table of Contents
- 1 Can You Play an Electric Guitar Unplugged?
- 2 How Loud Is an Unplugged Electric Guitar?
- 3 Things That Affect Unplugged Electric Guitar’s Loudness
- 4 How to Play an Electric Guitar Without an Amp
Can You Play an Electric Guitar Unplugged?
Technically, yes, you can play an electric guitar unplugged. In fact, that’s what a lot of guitar players are doing in their spare time when they’re practicing and noodling and just don’t feel like plugging into an amp.
But on the other hand, the practice of playing an electric guitar unplugged doesn’t have much practical value. Aside from some practicing and noodling, it doesn’t really make sense. In fact, you often can’t have a very productive practice session if you’re playing unplugged. After all, you need to make out the notes properly and how the signal is processed through the pickups and your guitar’s electronics.
The whole thing is a bit more complex than it seems at first. While you can get some sound out of an unplugged electric guitar, it’s questionable whether it’s beneficial to your playing technique quality. This, of course, also depends on how loud your electric guitar is when it’s unplugged.
How Loud Is an Unplugged Electric Guitar?
So we get to the main question here. How loud is an unplugged electric guitar? Well, it depends. Different electric guitar models give different results. What’s more, sometimes two different pieces of the same model give completely different results.
You need to bear in mind that electric guitar manufacturers don’t really pay attention to how loud an instrument gets when it’s unplugged. One of their main concerns is what it sounds like when plugged into an amp or any other processing unit.
On average, unplugged electric guitars aren’t loud. They’re nowhere near your average acoustic guitar. On the other hand, there are some models that can get louder. However, this depends on multiple different factors. I’ll get to them a bit later down this article.
Does It Have Practical Value?
The next question that we have in front of us is whether an unplugged electric guitar has any practical value. Will it ever actually make sense for you to play this instrument unplugged? And I’m not talking about using alternatives to amplifiers but going fully unplugged.
Well, there’s hardly any practical value from playing your electric guitar unplugged. Of course, there are no rules here since an unplugged electric guitar is not a standard thing. It’s not something that guitar manufacturers and players care for. However, I could point out three potential uses here:
- Practicing (some practicing, that is)
- Random noodling
- Experimental stuff
As I said, I’m not very keen on practicing with an unplugged electric guitar. While it can find some use if you can’t get ahold of an amp or anything else at the moment, I feel as if it could actually be counterproductive. When playing your electric guitar unplugged, you don’t know how your guitar will sound through an amp.
Yes, you might think that I’m being picky. But it’s just not the same thing when you’re playing it unplugged and actually using the potential of its pickups. It’s okay if you do it on occasion, but don’t let it become a part of your routine.
As for “experimental stuff,” I’m mostly referring to playing an unplugged electric guitar and recording it with a microphone. Maybe you really like how it sounds and you feel like adding it to your song. Well, there are no limits to creativity in music. If you think that it sounds good and you want to add it to a song – go for it!
Things That Affect Unplugged Electric Guitar’s Loudness
As mentioned earlier, every electric guitar model will sound different when played unplugged. But there are definitely certain factors that affect its output.
Before we get into it, bear in mind that what we’re discussing here is unplugged electric guitar loudness. It’s not about the overall quality of these guitars. In no way do these features make them sound better or worse when played plugged in.
String Type and String Gauge
Generally speaking, thicker strings can help you get a louder acoustic output. Contrary to popular belief, they won’t do much if you’re playing plugged in, although different guitarists report different experiences.
Additionally, different materials affect the tone and loudness. Of course, all come with a hex-shaped steel core and different types of wraparound wire. In my experience, those with stainless steel wires are the brightest and can help you get things louder when unplugged.
Having higher string action usually lets strings ring out more. Therefore, your unplugged electric guitar should sound louder if the string action is higher.
Of course, the type of wood used for the body and neck matters a lot in this case. However, it’s hard for me to say which tonewood will get things louder. From my experience, harder wood is louder. In particular, I feel like mahogany gets pretty loud.
Hollow-Body vs. Solid-Body Construction
Hollow-body and semi-hollow-body guitars are relatively loud when played unplugged. Well, it’s really obvious as they have actual sound boxes. In particular, hollow-body jazz “archtop” guitars are pretty close to acoustic guitars when unplugged.
On the other hand, solid-body guitars are not as loud. This is not much of a surprise as they don’t have a soundbox construction.
Weight Relief and Chambering
On the other hand, solid-body guitars often come with some weight relief and chambering features. This is very popular with Gibson Les Paul models as they became known for their weight.
Traditional weight relief includes some cylinder chunks cut out of the mahogany part of the body. Modern and Ultra-Modern variants have bigger chambers. Finally, the Chambered variant basically keeps most of the mahogany part of the body hollow. It’s as if it’s a semi-hollow-body guitar without any soundholes.
The main rule is simple here. The bigger the volume of these chambers, the louder your guitar gets when it’s unplugged.
Hardware also makes some impact. In particular, I’d like to point out that tremolo bridges tend to “soak up” some of the vibrations, thus making your guitar’s acoustic output quieter. This is one of the reasons why Fenders are quieter than Gibsons when unplugged.
Guitar’s Overall Design
Basically, any of your guitar’s design traits can affect its unplugged volume. From my experience, Gibson guitars tend to be much louder than other solid-body electric guitars. In particular, I like how Les Pauls sound unplugged.
A part of this is due to the headstock angle and the angle at which strings “break” over the nut and towards the fretboard. It also adds to the instrument’s sustain. You can check out how a Gibson Les Paul headstock looks like in the image below. Note the angle that the headstock forms with the neck, as well as the angle at which the third and fourth strings “break” over the nut.
Additionally, guitars with set-in and neck-through construction tend to get louder than those with bolt-on necks. This is because the bolt-on construction tends to “soak up” some of the string vibrations.
How to Play an Electric Guitar Without an Amp
With all this said, you might be wondering whether there are any legitimate ways to play your electric guitar unplugged. Well, there are. Below, you can find the list of ways how you can do it.
Through a Home Entertainment System
Simply get a 1/4-inch to 1/8-inch adapter and plug your guitar into the “aux” input of your home entertainment system. Bear in mind that you won’t get the best tone if you’re not using an amp simulator.
Straight Into Your Computer’s Audio Interface
Use the same aforementioned adapter, plug your guitar into your computer’s audio interface, and turn on the direct monitoring in your operating system. But, again, this isn’t the best method unless you’re using an amp simulator.
Use Specialized Audio Interface With Your Computer
Probably the best way is to go with some of the numerous guitar-oriented audio interfaces. Plug your guitar and use a DAW and any amp simulation software. You can find a more thorough guide on setting up your home studio at this location.
Silent Practice Headphone Amps
They’re technically amplifiers, but they’re headphone amplifiers! Vox is famous for its awesome and compact amPlug devices. They provide you with a very genuine guitar tone, all while practicing “silently” and using your headphones.
Just Go Unplugged!
Although not the best option, you can always jam out unplugged. Yes, I already pointed out that I’m not in favor of this method. However, if it works for you, who am I to judge?
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