Can I Play Guitar Through A PA System? (Electric & acoustic)

As a gigging guitarist, I want to get the most from my gear. I want things to be as cheap and light as possible while producing the best sound. This is no small task!

In the past, to save money and to stop dragging heavy guitar amplifiers around with me, I experimented with using a PA system instead of my guitar amplifier for my electric guitar. 

This seemed like a good solution; however, when I heard how harsh my electric guitar sounded through my PA system, I quickly dropped this idea and plugged my guitar amplifier back in. 

Generally, you can play electric guitar through a PA system (without a guitar amplifier); however, it can sound harsh and lacks tone. The sound lacks all the tonal quality added by a guitar amplifier. 

In contrast, it sounds good to plug an acoustic guitar directly into a PA system, as the pickups in an acoustic guitar produce a different tone to an electric guitar. 

As the acoustic guitar pickups also include the pleasant tone of the acoustic guitar, the sound is good and natural.

Here is the recommended audio signal chain for connecting electric and acoustic guitars to PA systems.

Electric Guitar ➡️Electric Guitar Amp ➡️Microphone ➡️PA System
Acoustic Guitar➡️Acoustic Guitar Amp➡️Microphone ➡️PA System
Acoustic Guitar ➡️PA System

Can A PA Speaker Be Used For Electric Guitar?

The short answer is that you can use a PA speaker for an electric guitar with a few caveats. 

Plugging an electric guitar directly into a PA system is a bad idea. 

An electric guitar on its own typically doesn’t produce a desirable sound. It needs an amplifier for tone shaping and to add overdrive or effects. Suppose you plug your electric guitar directly into a PA speaker without an amplifier or preamp in the middle. In that case, the resulting sound will be thin and lack the warmth, depth, or character that a proper guitar amplifier imparts. I learned this the hard way.

Therefore, while a PA speaker can technically amplify an electric guitar, for the best results, you’ll want to run it through a guitar amp first and then connect it to the PA system. This setup ensures your sound retains the richness and tonal quality that makes an electric guitar truly sing.

Does An Electric Guitar Connected To A PA System Sound Good?

The sound quality when connecting an electric guitar to a PA system can be highly effective and pleasing, provided it’s done correctly. 

Utilising an amplifier or preamp, and potentially a DI box, allows the guitar’s tone to be shaped optimally before amplification. 

It’s crucial to remember that the output from a PA system is primarily influenced by the sound source. Therefore, a high-quality electric guitar, amplifier, and well-adjusted effects can result in a fantastic, concert-level sound. 

However, simply plugging an electric guitar directly into a PA system without these intermediary steps will result in a lacklustre or thin sound. 

To add an extra layer to the mix, the effectiveness of this setup can also be influenced by the PA system’s quality and the acoustic properties of the venue.

Can A PA Speaker Be Used For Acoustic Guitar?

Having experimented with my acoustic guitar and PA system, I discovered that a PA speaker can be used for an acoustic guitar. 

You can plug an acoustic guitar directly into a PA system with good results. 

This setup works well because acoustic guitars often have built-in preamps that shape the tone before sending them to the PA. If your acoustic guitar doesn’t have a built-in preamp, you can still use a PA speaker by running the guitar through an external preamp or a DI box first. This ensures the signal is strong and balanced before reaching the PA system. 

Using a PA speaker with your acoustic guitar can produce a clean and true-to-life sound, making it an excellent option for acoustic sets, especially in larger venues. 

It’s important to remember that the sound quality largely depends on the individual components of your setup, including the quality of your guitar and PA system, as well as the venue’s acoustics.

Can You Run A Guitar Amplifier Through A PA System?

You can run a guitar amp through a PA system. It’s a common practice, especially in larger venues or open-air concerts where the amplifier alone may need to be more powerful to project the sound to the entire audience. 

Connecting your guitar amp to a PA system can help amplify and spread your guitar’s sound more evenly throughout the venue. You must connect your amp’s line out or external speaker to the PA system using the appropriate cable and DI box to do this.  

Please note that it’s essential to check your amp’s specifications and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid any damage to your gear. 

Remember, not all guitar amps have line out or external speaker outs, so ensuring your amp can handle this setup is crucial.

What Components Do I Need To Connect An Electric Guitar To A PA System?

To play the guitar through a PA system, connect your guitar to an amplifier or a direct input box (DI box), and then connect the amplifier or DI box to the PA system using an instrument cable or an XLR cable.

Adjust the levels and settings on the PA system to get the desired sound.

Here is what you need to connect an electric guitar to a PA system. 

  1. Electric Guitar: The first component is your electric guitar, equipped with your favourite strings and tuned to your preference. My personal preference is a Gibson, Les Paul. 
  2.  Amplifier or Preamp: An amplifier or preamp is crucial to shaping your electric guitar’s tone and adding any desired effects.
  3.  Direct Input Box (DI Box): Although not always necessary, a DI box can help transform the high-impedance output from your guitar into a balanced, noise-resistant signal suitable for long cable runs to a PA system.
  4.  Cables: You’ll need the appropriate cables to connect your guitar to the amp or preamp (usually a 1/4 inch instrument cable), the amp or DI box to the PA system (typically an XLR cable), and, of course, the power cables for your gear.
  5.  PA System: This includes the mixer, PA speakers, and possibly monitors, depending on your setup. The mixer is the hub where you’ll control the sound levels and add additional effects.

Remember that each of these components contributes to the overall sound. So, it’s essential to understand how each piece works and how they interact to get the best sound from your electric guitar through the PA system.

Final Thoughts

The versatility of both electric and acoustic guitars allows them to be effectively connected to a PA system, ensuring that your performance is audible and impactful, whether you’re playing in small venues or large open-air concerts. 

Additional components such as a DI box, preamp, or amplifier can enhance the sound quality, providing a well-rounded, rich tone. However, it is crucial to understand the functionality of these components and use them correctly. 

The quality of your gear and the acoustics of your venue also play significant roles. By understanding these factors and how they interact, you can ensure an optimal sound output for your guitar through the PA system. Experimenting with different setups and configurations can help you find the sound that best suits your style and performance needs.

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