Can You Use a Guitar Cabinet Without a Head?

Imagine you are looking to enhance your musical equipment, you search about which gears will help you improve your sound and you feel really eager to give the next step. 

At that moment you discover that you have a cabinet at home but you don’t have an amp head.

After some time thinking, you decide to take your guitar, your cable and plug it in but it doesn’t work

You ask your musician friends if it is possible to use a cab without a head but no one provides a convincing answer.

To use a guitar cabinet you will need to have a power section to put it through, otherwise, you can’t use it because there won’t be enough power to move it. However, there are some other alternatives apart from an amp head that will allow using it almost as a speaker.

This could sound confusing but that’s why we are here, to help you with this tough situation. 

Through this article, I will try to explain to you every aspect of using a cabinet without a head, continue reading to the end and it will be your new area of expertise!

Can guitar cabinets be used as standalone speakers?

To amplify a guitar some things are needed.

Take combo amps, for instance, them being equipment that provides a preamp and a power section, in which the signal is processed, increased in level, and sent into a built-in speaker which is the one in charge of translating the electric current into sound. 

Having mentioned that, we can infer that if you match the impedance that a guitar cabinet input requires, you will be able to use them as speakers.

But that’s not completely true.

Guitar speaker cabinets are designed to take loads of a certain level.

A very high level.

That is why a power section is required to “move” those speakers.

The thing is, power sections are most commonly found as a natural stage of guitar amps, however, you will find them also as standalone professional audio units for more general uses.

To give you a clear example, a signal chain that would work for this experiment would be guitar to multi-effects processor, to a power amplifier through an instrument-level out, to a guitar speaker cabinet through a powered output.

Can you plug in an audio lead into the input of a guitar speaker cabinet?

Before answering this question, is important to clarify what an audio lead exactly is. 

This component is a cable that transfers analog or digital signals from a source, on this occasion a guitar or another instrument, to an amp or a powered speaker.   

In short, the answer wouldn’t be the expected, I’m sorry to disappoint you but if you plug in an audio lead directly into the input of a guitar speaker cabinet, it won’t work at all. 

As described above, you cannot omit the power input section because the speaker cabinets don’t take line-level inputs, so you won’t be able to play just by plugging your guitar in.

Think of it as if you were whispering to the speakers when they expect a shout.

Can you plug your multi-effects out into a guitar speaker cabinet?

Regarding multi-effects out, you may think that would be possible but let me tell you that it won’t. 

As the output would be line level, it won’t work because again, cabinets can’t take these input levels.

Contrarily, you will succeed by connecting it to a mixer, a PA system, or even an audio interface.

If that intermediate step in the chain, as I mentioned earlier has a built-in power amplifier, you could then use an output to go to the speaker cabinet. 

How to use a guitar cabinet without a head?

As a general rule, you will always need to power the signal before transferring to the cab. 

That is the amp head job, in that section, the electric pulses are boosted turning them into a signal strong enough to be translated into sound by the cabinet speakers later.

Furthermore, if you don’t have or you want to avoid using an amp head and as the cab doesn’t take line-level inputs, you will require the signal level to get high enough with the proper impedance. 

What you can do is get a power amp to augment the signal’s level before getting to the cab, although is not the same as a head, is a good solution even more affordable than an amp head in some cases.

You will be lacking the “coloring” that a proper guitar amp creates, however, and you will need some kind of amp modeling unit before hitting the power stage to even sound half decent.

How to know what kind of power amp to use with an amp speaker cabinet

One of the main aspects to consider is the power amount that a power amp can deliver. 

It is recommended to pick an amp that provides twice the speaker’s power rating so if your speaker’s power rating is 100 watts, your power amp should be 200 watts.

Another remarkable feature is the headroom, which is the difference between the normal operating level of an amp and the maximum without getting distorted sounds. 

An amount of extra headroom is always welcome because is good to have clean tones at high levels. 

When choosing a power amp we must know that there are different options, they vary according to their circuit designs and are categorized into several classes. 

Predominantly, Class A and Class AB were the most sold and desired ones.

However, although they provide the best quality, the components involved in their crafting make them large and heavy, and what is even worst, they consume have high amounts of power plus heat the output. 

Currently, Class D have replaced their place in the market because they produce as much power as Class A and AB, they are way more efficient in terms of sound quality and they have a significantly reduced size, making them lighter and easier to carry. 

Reasons to use a guitar speaker cabinet without its head

Up to this point, you may realize the importance of the power stage when playing plugged in. 

You may notice that although it is needed, there are some reasons to use a guitar speaker cabinet without its head.

Perhaps, some guitar players don’t possess an amp or they can’t afford one, so they want to use an old or unused cabinet they have at home to play your electric guitar. 

Some others may like experimenting with sound and as using an amp head plus cabinet is quite usual, they look for uncommon ways to get new sounds.

Can you use any guitar amp cabinet with any guitar amp head?

In short, yes. 

Many players experiment with mixing and matching different amp cabinets and heads, it is a common practice to give a personal touch and get your own style.

Moreover, you won’t struggle with this issue because the inputs and outputs are generally standardized. 

Nevertheless, you will need to be careful with the impedance of both, you should know that impedance has to match not only to have the best possible sound but also to avoid the risk of damaging your valued equipment.

Would a guitar amp speaker cabinet sound good when used as a speaker?

Like with everything in life, this depends on the guitar amp and even on what you are playing through your gear but in general terms, it won’t probably sound good at all. 

That is because guitar speaker cabinets are intended to work with guitar inputs so they are designed to shape the sound of that specific instrument.

On the other hand, hi-fi audio speakers are intended to work differently and are the ones to go if you want to play music. 

Audio speakers provide a wider range of frequencies whereas a guitar amp is just focused on the important frequencies for that instrument.

To sum up, cabinets shape and color the sound while proper speakers tend to be as transparent and flat sounding as possible. 

Furthermore, if you expect to listen to some music, go for hi-fi audio speakers.  

Caution: Don’t use an amp head without an output

On the other side of the coin, we have to say that when using an amp head you do need an output. 

The reasons are simple, without an output you won’t have sound at all but the most important motive is because your gear could be drastically damaged, could even be destroyed.

This depends on the kind of head you are using, tube amp heads always need to be connected to and output, otherwise they will overload and then, blow up. 

Most solid-state won’t get ruined, they will be loaded perfectly but without an output, it won’t be able to produce any sound.

If you want to know more about using an amp head without a speaker cabinet you should give a glance at one of our articles. 

There you have a lot of interesting information related to this topic.