Perhaps you are playing at a venue, and there’s no guitar amp available, but there’s a spare PA speaker available. Or maybe you own a PA speaker, and you don’t want to buy a new guitar amp as you learn to play the guitar.
Whatever the reason, is it possible to use a PA speaker as a guitar amp?
PA speakers can be used for an acoustic guitar, and they will sound great, but they are not ideal for electric guitars. But you can still use PA speakers for guitars, provided you use a preamp and cab simulator pedal for your guitar.
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Why PA Speakers Can Be Used as an Acoustic Guitar Combo Amp
PA speakers are great for acoustic guitars, and you can use them for acoustic guitars. In fact, most acoustic guitar players rely on PA speakers instead of a dedicated acoustic guitar amp, and they love what they hear.
That’s mainly because PA speakers have a wide frequency response to accommodate all types of sounds. And it is designed to output a sound that is close to the source.
PA speakers are excellent for reproducing the natural sound of an acoustic guitar sound.
So if you own an electric acoustic guitar, you can directly plug it into an active PA speaker and use it as your guitar amp. If your acoustic guitar isn’t electric, you’ll need to use a microphone to capture your guitar’s sound and route the captured signal into a PA speaker with a mixer. That works too.
Why PA Speakers May Not Serve as Great Electric Guitar Combo Amp
As I mentioned earlier, PA speakers can serve as great guitar combo amps when you are playing the acoustic guitar. This can be attributed to the fact that acoustic guitar signals do not need to undergo any further transformation before they sound right.
That is the main reason why acoustic guitars sound good even when they are not connected to any external speaker or amp.
On the other hand, that is not the case with electric guitars. So let’s delve deeper into why PA speakers may not serve as great electric guitar combo amps.
PA Speakers Have No Built-in Preamp
The main purpose of guitar combo amps is to amplify electric guitar signals that are passed through them. This is because the electric guitar is a musical instrument that produces weak audio signals known as instrument-level signals.
These audio signals are not strong enough to be played by normal speakers. And for this reason, guitar amps have a preamp built into them. These preamps boost the weak instrument-level audio signal into a line-level signal that is strong enough to be played through active speakers.
Unfortunately, PA speakers do not have preamps built into them. So, in essence, they can’t boost the low audio signal from an electric guitar. And that is the primary reason why you can’t use PA speakers for guitars.
However, if you still want to use a PA speaker as your guitar amp, there is a way to work around it. With electric guitars, you will have to incorporate some additional technology into your signal chain before the signal finally gets to your PA speaker. I will talk more about this later on in this article, so read on.
As I already mentioned, guitar amps are primarily designed to amplify a guitar’s sound and make it louder.
However, guitar amps also shape a guitar sound besides its basic function. In other words, guitar amps make a guitar sound different from how it originally sounded.
Guitar amps add harmonics and compression and even distort the guitar’s sound in a unique and pleasing way.
Some frequencies are boosted while others are cut off by the amp after processing a guitar’s signal. In the guitar and audio space, this is known as “coloration.”
The guitar amp’s preamp slightly alters (or colors) the tone of a guitar sound after processing. And the guitar amp speaker (or cabinet) also colors the guitar sound. The drivers inside guitar amps are uniquely optimized to do this.
And the reason why there are so many guitar amp brands available today is that every amp manufacturer designs their amps to sound different or have their own color.
PA speakers, on the other hand, are designed to reproduce sound that is close to the original input as possible. This means PA speakers don’t color the sound. Once again, there is a workaround to this. And we’ll get into it later.
How to Use a PA Speaker as a Guitar Amp
It’s close to impossible to use a PA speaker as a guitar amp without some extra gear. PA speakers can’t boost your guitar’s audio signal, and they don’t sound like guitar amps.
However, if you invest in additional, you can get your PA speaker sounding as good as a guitar amp. Let me walk you through some things you need if you want to use a PA speaker as a guitar amp.
Use a Guitar Preamp Pedal
As I mentioned earlier in this article, one thing that separates PA speakers from guitar amps is that guitar amps have a built-in preamp, but PA speakers don’t.
So one thing you need to consider purchasing is a preamp pedal if you want to use PA speakers for your guitar. A preamp pedal is used to boost your guitar’s weak signal into a loud signal that can be played through a speaker.
These pedals usually have the knobs such as gain and tone control that you’ll typically find on a guitar amp, with even more features. And preamp pedals will also color your sound and make it sound like an actual guitar amp.
A preamp pedal I’d personally recommend is the Flamma F606 Digital Preamp Pedal (on Amazon). This preamp pedal gives you emulation of preamps in seven different classic guitar amps, and it sounds incredible.
This pedal will not only boost your guitar’s signal, but it’ll also give you the drive and distortion you need in seven different preamp emulations. And because this pedal is digital, you can save presets on it. I don’t want to talk much. Just hear how it sounds for yourself.
Use a Cab Simulator Pedal
As I mentioned earlier, guitar amp speakers or cabinet contribute immensely to how a guitar sound. Guitar cabs have a frequency that is well suited for guitars, while PA speakers have a much wider frequency response to accommodate different kinds of songs.
Fortunately, there are many pedals that simulate the sound of an actual guitar cab. These are known as cab simulator (or cab sim) pedals. These pedals will make your guitar sound like you’re playing them through a guitar amp.
Ideally, you’ll want to run your guitar through a preamp pedal to boost your guitar’s signal and for your overdrive and distortion. And then plug your preamp pedal into a cab sim pedal to simulate a cabinet tone. Then you can plug your cab simulator pedal into your PA speaker.
The final sound output from your PA speaker will sound like your guitar is plugged into an actual guitar amp.
An excellent cab simulator pedal I’ll highly recommend is the Strymon Iridium Amp and IR Cab Simulator Pedal (on Amazon) if it fits your budget.
This device has been designed to completely replace a guitar amplifier in an electric guitar setup, and it’s packed with a ton of features.
The first thing I need to mention is that the Strymon Iridium has a preamplifier section that is made up of three different types of preamps to boost your guitar’s signal and for drive and distortion. This means you wouldn’t need a preamp pedal if you go for this pedal.
It also has power amp emulations and nine different impulse response (or IR) based cab emulations. Another great thing about the Strymon Iridium is you can load your own IR onto this unit and customize it however you want.
This device is built to be compact and has controls on the front panel that can be used to select the desired tube response. However, it comes with tons of useful features. Some of these features include effects, Onboard Presets, complete MIDI controls, expression pedal control, and more.
You can get many features and sounds out of this pedal, but I can’t talk about them in this article. So instead, check out the video below to have a feel of the possibilities of the Strymon Iridium pedal.
When playing the acoustic guitar, you can use your PA speaker as a guitar amp without facing any problems at all. On the other hand, when you use your PA speaker as a guitar amp for an electric guitar, you may encounter a few problems.
This is because when you connect your electric guitar to a PA speaker without any additional component to the setup, the sound that will be produced will not be entirely pleasing. The horn of the PA speaker may produce a sound with characteristically horrible and high-pitched feedback. However, incorporating devices such as guitar effects pedals, amp heads, and cab emulators into your setup when you use your PA speaker as a guitar amp will eliminate these problems.