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So you have a vocal microphone. How do you hear it? Sure, you can record it by plugging it into your audio interface and computer. But suppose you just want to listen to it. You have a guitar amplifier that enables you to listen to your electric guitar amplified. Could you do the same with your mic, and safely run a microphone through your guitar amp?
You can run a vocal microphone through a guitar amp using an XLR to ¼″ jack cable or adapter. Plug the XLR end of the cable into the mic, with the jack end plugged into the amp. Set the guitar amp to sound as clean as possible for best results. To avoid feedback, keep the amp relatively quiet.
Your guitar amp makes a signal louder, why not try and use it for your vocal microphone? Makes sense. This article will show you how to do this safely, talk you through how to get the best possible sound and point out some pitfalls to avoid.
If you are interested in checking out the best recording gear such as audio interfaces, studio monitor speakers, microphones, etc., you can find them at Amazon by clicking here.
Is it safe to run vocals through a guitar amp?
The signal level that a microphone gives out is very low. This means that it won’t damage your guitar amp if you put your microphone through it.
If you turn up the amp very loud and you have the microphone close to the amp and point it at the speaker, you will probably get horrible screechy feedback. There is a small chance that this could cause damage to the speaker, although very unlikely.
For this reason it is best to not have the amp too loud, along with other reasons that we will look at later.
How to run vocals through a guitar amp
We have established that you can run vocals through a guitar amp, and that it is safe to do so. You won’t get the best sound running through a guitar amp – we’ll have a look at how to get the best, amplified microphone sound in a later section. But there are things you can do to a guitar amp to get the mic sounding better.
You will need:
- Guitar amp
- XLR Female + ¼″ jack adapter OR XLR Female to ¼″ jack cable
You need the adapter or XLR-to-jack cable because microphones have XLR connectors, and guitar amps have jack sockets. This cable (affiliate link) from Amazon should be suitable. If you already have an XLR cable, this adapter (affiliate link) will convert the male end into a jack plug. Just make sure you buy a female (socket end) XLR to jack cable or adapter.
If you have an adapter, plug the male end of your XLR cable into the adapter, creating an XLR to jack cable.
Plug the jack socket of the cable into the amp’s guitar input jack socket. Plug the other end of the cable into the microphone. Make sure the volume is turned right down, then turn on your guitar amp. Slowly increase the volume while speaking/singing into the microphone, and you should start to hear the mic through the amp.
Getting the best microphone-through-guitar-amp sound
The key to getting the best sound you can is to set the guitar amp to be as clean as possible. Guitar amps are designed for electric guitars, and the circuitry that works well for guitars does not necessarily work well for microphones. In particular, overdrive, gain and distortion will create a sound you probably don’t want for vocals.
To get your amp sounding as clean as possible with a microphone…
- If your amp has more than one channel, make sure you are using the clean or at least the cleanest channel.
- Turn the gain on your amp right down (may also be called overdrive or distortion).
- Turn the channel volume right down, then turn the master volume up.
- Slowly increase the channel volume until you can hear the microphone at the desired volume.
- You may also have to increase the gain to hear a sound. Try not to do this too much – favour increasing the channel volume over the gain.
This should give you the cleanest sound. There are things often built into guitar amps that can work well on a microphone such as reverb, EQ (treble, middle, bass), etc. Try experimenting with these to get a sound that you like.
Do not turn the amp up too loud for a couple of reasons. The amp is more likely to distort/overdrive at a louder volume. This is great for guitars, but not so great for vocals. The one exception to this is if you are using this setup as a creative tool and you are trying to get an unusual distorted vocal sound, perhaps for a recording. In that case – go for it! There are no limits on creativity.
While we’re talking of recording, if you are interested in taking your first steps into recording your own music, definitely check out my guide on how to record your own music at home. It assumes no previous knowledge, and takes you right from what equipment you will need all the way up to making your first recording.
The other reason to keep the amp relatively quiet is to avoid feedback. Guitar amps are designed to work with electric guitars to produce cool-sounding melodic feedback at loud volumes. For microphones, feedback is almost always screechy and hideous sounding, and to be avoided at all costs. The louder the amp the more likely it is to feedback, so keep that volume down.
Keeping the microphone a good distance away from the amp and will help prevent feedback. Ensuring the mic is pointing away from the amp can also help.
Which microphones can I put through a guitar amp?
Most dynamic microphones should work without any issues, using the method detailed above. Examples of dynamic mics include the widely used industry standard Shure SM58 and Shure SM57.
Condenser microphones will not work as they need phantom power. You would need a mixer or similar device to provide phantom power to the mic to get any sound out of it through your guitar amp.
To learn more about the differences between the two microphone types, I highly recommend reading my article comparing dynamic and condenser microphones for use in a home studio. You’ll learn the pros and cons of each, and how to decide on the right choice for your musical needs.
If you are looking to buy a vocal microphone, I highly recommend the Shure SM58. I have had one for years, and it is great for live use and for recording, while not breaking the bank. They are also incredibly durable; buy one of these and it should last you for life. You can pick up a Shure SM58 (affiliate link) for a very reasonable price at Amazon.
Uses for a microphone through a guitar amp
You can use a microphone through a guitar amp for live purposes. Years ago, one of my friends borrowed a guitar amp of mine for an event in a village hall where they were speaking to a group of people. For spoken-word situations like this, a mic through a guitar amp should perform fine as long as you can get it to be loud enough without distorting.
I would not recommend using this setup for a singer. There are better alternatives that will get you a much better, cleaner sound a lot easier. See later section for details.
If you are recording vocals and are experimenting with different vocal sounds, a mic through a guitar amp can work well. If you are deliberately trying to get a distorted vocal, making use of the built-in features of a guitar amp can help you achieve a unique, creative vocal sound.
If you are looking to record vocals with the aforementioned SM58 mic, check out my article looking at the SM58 as a recording microphone. It details its benefits and drawbacks for recording, and you’ll learn a few tips for capturing the best sound using one.
Are there guitar amps with microphone inputs?
This article so far has been about plugging a microphone into any guitar amp, using the guitar jack input. But there are some guitar amps that have dedicated XLR microphone inputs.
These tend to be acoustic guitar amps, designed for use by singer/guitar players. They are intended for busking, small acoustic gigs, etc. The user can plug their electric-acoustic guitar into the guitar input and their microphone into the XLR input. Both the guitar and the mic will be heard through the amp.
Many of these amps are available at Amazon, for very competitive prices. If this type of amp interests you, here are a few examples (affiliate links)…
This website has a great page detailing lots of guitar amps that have dedicated microphone inputs.
How to get the best amplified microphone sound
Plugging a microphone into a guitar amp will not give you the best vocal sound.
Using a P.A. system is going to give you much better results. Typically this would involve a mixer and speakers, with amplification built into either the mixer or the speakers. There are other arrangements, but this is probably the most common setup for small gigs. A P.A. system is designed to be clean and not distort, unlike a guitar amp.
Mixers give you the ability to use EQ to tweak the vocal sound to suit. Some mixers also have built-in effects such as reverb, which can greatly enhance vocals.
On a smaller scale, you can often directly plug a microphone into a powered speaker, or portable PA. This setup is cheaper, but unlikely to give you the bells and whistles that the full PA has. It is suitable for busking, small performance and maybe even for karaoke.
This portable speaker/compact PA system (affiliate link) available from Amazon for a great price is ideal for small performances where you don’t have to be too loud.
Vocal microphone into guitar amp summary
It’s entirely possible to use you guitar amp with a vocal microphone. You will not get the best sound possible, but with some care you should be able to get a usable sound.
- Use a dynamic microphone
- Use an XLR to ¼″ jack cable or adapter
- Set your guitar amp to be as clean as possible
- Use the clean channel of your amp
- Keep the volume relatively quiet
- Position the microphone a good distance from the amp and pointing away from it
- Use a condenser microphone
- Use distortion or overdrive (unless you are deliberately going for a distorted vocal sound)
- Turn the amp up very loud
- Expect a sound as good as that you would get from a PA system
Here is some of my favorite home studio gear…
Thanks for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful in your home music-making activities. Here are a few of the tools that I personally use in my home studio. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to use any of them I’ll earn a small commission.
Audio interface: My personal choice for audio interfaces are the Focusrite Scarlett series. I have been using these for years, and they have always given me great-sounding recordings. For a very reasonable price from Amazon you can buy the excellent Focusrite Scarlett 4i4, or if you don’t need MIDI capability the Focusrite Solo is a great choice.
Amp sim: Guitar amplifier simulator software has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, such that I record all my electric guitar parts using amp sims these days. One of the very best is the incredible Amplitube from IK Multimedia, which I have used on many of my songs.
Headphones for recording: My favorite headphones for recording are the Sony MDR-7506s, which I use for monitoring during all my recording sessions. They can also be found in many pro recording studios. Get the Sony MDR-7506 headphones from Amazon here.
General-purpose microphone: You can’t go wrong with a good ol’ Shure SM-57, one of the most versatile and ubiquitous microphones around. I’ve been using one in my home studio for as long as I can remember. Amazon offers the Shure SM-57 for a very competitive price.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you!