How to Use Your Car as a Portable Guitar Amp

Written by jesse sears
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Ever dreamed of being able to plug in your electric guitar and have a portable guitar amp with you everywhere you go? That dream is now a reality, thanks to nearly every new car stereo coming factory-equipped with a 3.5mm audio input jack, for your iPod or other portable mp3 player. Your electric guitar uses the same technology, so plugging it into your car for an on-the-go portable guitar amp is a snap!

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Electric guitar
  • Standard 1/4 in. guitar cable
  • 1/4 in. to 1/8 in. TRS adaptor
  • iPod jack-equipped car stereo
  • Small preamp, if available

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    Rock out anywhere you go!

  1. 1

    Gather your materials you will need to play your guitar on the go. Make sure to have a 1/4 in. instrument cable in good working condition, and a 1/4 in. to 1/8 in. adaptor. For this process, your car stereo needs to be equipped with an auxiliary 1/8 in. TRS input, such as the type to plug an iPod into.

  2. 2

    Make sure your car battery is fully charged, unless you are going to have someone else driving while you are playing guitar on the move! Running your stereo at high output levels can quickly run out your car's battery, so make sure to run your car periodically if you are going to be playing for an extended period of time.

  3. 3

    Plug the 1/4 in. to 1/8 in. adaptor into your instrument cable. These adaptors can be found at RadioShack and other electronics vendors for less than £3. Plug the 1/4 in. end of the cable into your guitar's jack, and the end with the adaptor on it into the auxiliary input source in your car stereo.

  4. 4

    Check to see if your guitar is equipped with active electronics, another way for saying that it has an on-board preamp. If it does, you will need to be careful with the volume coming from your guitar, so as not to damage your car's speakers. An easy way to know if this is the case is if your guitar needs a battery that must be changed periodically. Even if you don't have an on-board preamp or a standalone preamp to be used in-line, this process will still work. You will not be able to attain as high a volume level, though.

  5. 5

    Once you are all hooked up, turn on your stereo and set it to "Auxiliary" or "Aux" mode. Your car stereo will see your guitar as a sound source, just as it would an iPod, mobile phone or other mp3 player. Now, get your rock on!

  6. 6

    Know that if you have an older model of car stereo--one that is equipped with a tape deck--you can also accomplish this process by purchasing one of the special tapes that is designed to use your tape deck as an auxiliary sound input. Hook up the special tape with its equipped audio cable, and then connect a 1/8 in. to 1/4 in. (the opposite form of adaptor used in the previous process. Now, plug the end with the adaptor into your guitar. Bingo! You are ready to rock and roll simultaneously!

Tips and warnings

  • Turn the treble down, and the bass up, on your car stereo equaliser for the best sound when using it as a portable guitar amp.
  • Be very careful with the amount of volume you run coming out of your guitar, especially if it has active electronics, but really in any case. Too much volume can damage your car speakers. Best to start with the volume pots on your guitar turned all the way down.

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