In this article, we’ll discuss the possibility of using a PA speaker as a guitar cabinet and the steps involved in making this work.
A PA system, or public address system, is a set of speakers and other audio equipment used to broadcast over a specific geographical area. The PA is a common feature in educational and commercial facilities, and you can utilize it for routine announcements and urgent messages in times of crisis. You can have personal models for less money, but they have a much smaller range.
The PA consists of loudspeakers, an amplifier to boost the sound, and a mixer to regulate the volume levels. The user uses wired or wireless technology to speak into a microphone, and their voice is played back through the system’s speakers.
Depending on the setup, there may also be microphones or intercoms placed in the vicinity of the various delivery points, allowing for two-way communication between the listener and the hub. However, these replies are not shared with the rest of the system but are displayed in the primary user interface.
There may not be a guitar amp in the location you’re playing at, but you can use an extra PA speaker instead. You may beg guitar and not want to spend money on an amp, but you already have a PA speaker.
We’ll see how a PA speaker can be used as a guitar cabinet and if the two are compatible below.
Can You Use A PA Speaker As A Guitar Cab?
You can’t pair PA speakers with guitar amplifiers because an amplifier head can’t transmit its power and the instrument’s tone through a PA system directly, but there are some ways to get around this problem, like using a preamp and cabinet simulator pedal.
Cabinets made specifically for amplifying electric guitars are called “guitar cabinets” and are built with that goal in mind. It is expected that they will be more resilient than a standard PA speaker at dealing with volume and square-shaped waveforms, such as those produced by a distorted electric guitar, and that you will limit their frequency response to the range where this instrument excels.
Guitar cabinets, like guitar amplifiers, can affect the overall tone by enhancing or dampening specific frequencies. However, due to their tendency to color the sound too much, they are less ideal for basic amplification tasks. Using a regular PA speaker as part of an electric guitar amplification system has the disadvantage of faithfully reproducing whatever is fed into it.
This means that the speaker coloration that is a part of many guitar tones is lost, and the result is a sound similar to a DI-ed guitar, which many guitarists find unappealing. Instead of picking between two bad choices, you should evaluate and see which works best.
To play an electric guitar, you only need a PA and an appropriate guitar amp cable to connect your instrument to the speaker. If your acoustic guitar doesn’t have an electronic pickup, you’ll need to mic it, feed the signal into a mixer, and then send it to a PA.
Also, guitarists who play acoustic instruments prefer the sound of PA speakers over that of specialized acoustic guitar amplifiers. This is mainly because PA speakers are designed to play a wide range of frequencies. And the sound it projects is meant to be authentically close to the original. So you can faithfully reproduce the sound of an acoustic guitar over PA speakers.
Why isn’t the PA system compatible with an electric guitar?
Directly connecting guitars to PA speakers would be ineffective due to the guitar’s inability to handle the feeble sound source. Amplifiers with speakers are commonly used to power electric guitars. When electrical signals are applied, a speaker is only a device for emitting audible tones.
But you can use a pair of PA speakers as a solid guitar combo amp if you play an acoustic guitar. This is because the signals of an acoustic guitar do not require any further processing to sound correct. For this reason, acoustic guitars can produce pleasing tones even when not plugged into an amplification system.
However, electronic guitars are not subject to this limitation. So let’s investigate why PA might not make good electric guitar combo amps.
The primary function of guitar combo amplifiers is to boost the volume of electric guitar signals. Because the electric guitar is a musical instrument, its sound signals are considered instrument-level signals and are, therefore, relatively weak. Inadequate volume prevents regular speakers from reproducing these sounds. This is why guitar amplifiers typically include a preamp.
These preamplifiers strengthen the weak instrument-level audio signal so you may play it through active speakers. Unfortunately, these PA speakers do not have preamps built in. Therefore, there is no way to improve the weak signal produced by an electric guitar. That’s the main problem with using megaphones for acoustic instruments.
But there’s a method to get around that if you’re dead set on using a PA speaker as your guitar amp. You’ll need to add more gear to the signal chain to get the sound from an electric guitar to the audience over the PA system.
The primary purpose of a guitar amplifier is to increase the volume of a guitar’s sound. Despite this, guitar amps do more than amplify the guitar’s signal. To rephrase, an amplification system modifies the tone of a guitar. Guitar amplifiers enhance the instrument’s sound with harmonics, compression, and sometimes even distortion.
As an amplifier processes the signal from a guitar, some frequencies are amplified while others are eliminated. This is called “coloration” in the guitar and audio worlds. After being processed, the guitar sound is slightly altered (or colored) by the guitar amp’s preamp. The amp’s speaker (or cabinet) also alters the guitar’s sound.
Guitar amplifiers’ speaker systems are custom-tuned for this purpose. Moreover, each amp maker creates their products to sound unique or look a certain way, which is why many guitar amp manufacturers are on the market today. On the other hand, PA is built on repeating the source material faithfully. When this is the case, the sound coming from the PA system is unaltered.
How To Properly Pair A PA Speaker To An Amplifier?
There is no way to amplify your guitar using PA speakers directly, and they don’t replicate the sound of a guitar amp. As a result, a PA speaker’s sound quality may initially fall short of that of a guitar amp, but with the right accessories, it is possible to achieve this.
The PA differs from the guitar amplifiers in that the latter has a preamp built in while the former does not. You’ll need a preamp pedal to play your guitar through PA speakers. If the signal from your guitar is too quiet, you can use a preamp pedal to amplify it so you can play it through a speaker.
These pedals resemble guitar amplifiers because they have volume and tone controls but often contain additional effects. Further, preamp pedals will add color to your sound and make your guitar amp simulation sound more realistic.
The speakers or cabinets of a guitar amp have a significant impact on the instrument’s sound. PA speakers offer a considerably more comprehensive frequency response to accommodate many types of music, while guitar cabs have a frequency that is ideally suited for guitars. The good news is that you can get various pedals that mimic the sound of an actual guitar cabinet.
We call these taxi sim pedals or cab simulator pedals. These effects pedals mimic the sound of playing through a guitar amplifier. It would help if you plugged it into a preamp pedal to get the most out of your guitar’s signal and your overdrive and distortion effects. A cab sim pedal can replicate a cabinet’s sound combined with a preamp pedal.
After that, you can connect your cab sim pedal to the PA system’s speaker. When everything is said and done, the PA speaker’s sound will be like a guitar connected to a real amp.
Using a Hybrid Amplifier
Identifying which input is active in a hybrid or multi-input amplifier is essential. Once you’ve mastered the technique, you can use any of the three methods to connect your guitar to an external sound system. You can use a patch cord or get a cable made for this reason. Check that the length of the cable is adequate for your guitar’s mass and that the wire is thick enough to handle the guitar’s output power.
When connecting a guitar to regular speakers, a splitter is never a good idea. A splitter takes an audio signal from a common source like a TV or stereo and splits it in half, one for each speaker. Not only is this plug style not meant for guitars, but it may also damage the instrument quite a bit.
Choose a hybrid amplifier or an amp with several inputs if you want to play guitar without worrying about sound. Ensure you know how to attach the instrument and have all the necessary cables.
What Is the Difference Between an Amplifier and a Preamplifier?
The term “amplifier” describes a device that boosts a signal without adding a speaker. Your friends’ speakers won’t have amp heads, but they’ll have amps on top of the speakers to power the amp heads. Your current guitar amp is a combo unit, with the amplifier and speaker housed in the same enclosure.
Due to their varied purposes, you cannot use preamps in place of amplifiers. However, amplifiers boost the line level so the speaker can pick up the signal, whereas preamplifiers do the opposite for weak sounds. So, although they share some similarities, an amplifier cannot replace a preamp.
We can confidently assert that it is possible and highly probable to complete this task. To be clear, a cabinet is where a true amplifier should invest its energy. Due to the lack of a preamp, digital amplifiers such as the Axe FX3, Helix, and Kemper are ideal candidates for this setup. It’s a good idea to spend more money if it means getting this outcome.
However, there is a narrow window of opportunity between spending little more than $200 on a guitar cabinet equipped with Celestion speakers (the industry standard) and needing to invest in other components like preamps, cabinet simulators, etc. In the end, these gadgets cost more than a real cabinet, but they’re worth having on hand if the venue you’re playing in doesn’t have great sound equipment.
Death metal enthusiast here. I am a Romanian musician and producer with over 13 years of experience in the music industry. I’ve experienced all types of Metal up until now, playing Melodic Death Metal, Brutal Death Metal, and Black Metal with different bands. Learning by doing is my base principle, which is why I’ve been drawn to sound design from an early age. Read more…