Ever since you heard that there exist separate amps for electric basses, you might be wondering if you really need another amplifier.
What if you just want to put off amp shopping for some time later? Maybe you don’t want to annoy everybody around you, or just don’t have enough money at the moment, which is totally fine.
But can you play a bass guitar without an amp?
It turns out there are economical workarounds to practice bass without an amplifier. But at the same time, there’s enough reason why you should consider getting an amp to practice bass.
So let’s jump right into it!
Can You Play Bass Without an Amp?
Well, of course you can play electric bass guitar without an amp, literally. But you won’t be able to hear yourself.
But it’s not as simple. An electric bass guitar without an amp is a strong no-go.
You can’t hear yourself playing, which means slowing down progress because you won’t recognize mistakes. Playing with a pick might make it a little louder, but it still won’t be enough.
You can’t play along with backing tracks or your favorite music, which will again hinder your learning progress and lessen the fun.
Most importantly, you’re likely to develop a sloppy technique, which I talk about in the next section.
Do You NEED an Amp to Play Bass?
No, you don’t really need an amp to play bass. But that comes with a caveat.
As mentioned earlier, electric bass is barely audible without amplification. You need a really quiet environment to be able to hear yourself.
If you use a pick or slap-pop technique, you can be loud enough to be heard in a quiet room. But still not enough to play along with any other instrument or backing tracks.
Playing bass without an amp will probably lead to developing a heavier hand than desired. Simply put, a bad technique including plucking the strings way too hard.
Some people might argue that playing unplugged is good for building calluses. Well, technically they’re not wrong. But not solid advice either.
Electric bass is such a behemoth of an instrument that you’ll be building calluses no matter what.
Besides, if you pluck way too hard, you’re just aggravating the possibility of sore fingers and hand cramps, which is already something beginner bassists have a tough time dealing with.
You don’t need an expensive amp, a small practice one will be enough to get you. You can even consider getting a used one, or maybe trade a friend for it.
Can You Use Software Like Guitar Rig Instead?
Yes, that’s a good workaround. But you need a good headphone amp or an audio interface to get decent results.
You’ll get terrible audio without an audio interface (both in volume and quality), and a lot of latency. This setup is not recommended with the onboard sound card on your PC.
That said, a USB audio interface is a solid long-term investment, especially if you plan to record yourself in the future. A decent one can be bought for around $80 – $200 and will work with other instruments as well – Electric guitars, Acoustic-Electric Guitars, Microphones, etc.
But once you have an interface, you can use various amp simulation apps such as Guitar Rig & AmpliTube, as well as Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) like Ableton and Logic Pro X.
How to Practice Bass Without an Amp: 4 Alternatives
If you don’t want to invest in a regular amp, you can even consider a Headphone amp. They don’t have the best sound quality but it’s good enough for practice.
Besides, it won’t wake your neighbors during your late night practice sessions.
But only get one if you already have decent headphones. Don’t buy a new headphone just for this, you could just get a good practice amp for that price.
Plugging Headphones Directly into the Bass
An even cheaper alternative is a 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapter which will allow you to plug your headphones directly into the bass jack.
But there’s a caveat!
If your bass has passive pickups, you wouldn’t be able to hear basically anything. This option would be better if your bass has active pickups, then it should sound close to a regular amp.
Also, you don’t need to own an expensive pair of headphones to practice bass at home. Just look out for comfort, cord length, and decent bass response. If you’re looking for recommendations, the guys at Sound Manual have curated some excellent resources that you can check out.
A lot of professional bassists prefer to plug their bass into a preamp and maybe some effects pedals, before running it through a mixing board via DI.
A preamp can be great for recording as well as for live performances as they allow you to shape the tone (just like a regular amp) before sending the signal into the board or PA.
Play an Acoustic Bass
Guess what? Similar to acoustic guitars, there are acoustic basses available. Think of them like oversized acoustic guitars with 4 strings.
Note that acoustic basses are completely different instruments both in feel and applications. They are NOT for everyone! Only buy an acoustic bass if you need an instrument only for home practice.
A better question instead of “Can you play a bass guitar without amp?” would be – “SHOULD you?”
Well, unless you only pick up your bass to do some quick warm-up exercises, you should always practice wherever you can hear yourself.
Playing bass without an amp might result in developing incorrect technique, plus you don’t get to enjoy your playing to the fullest.
It also won’t prepare you for any live setting, as you won’t play an electric bass in a performance unplugged.
That said, you can go with one of the alternative routes discussed above, until you save up for a new amp.