There are a few different reasons you might be wondering whether you can use a guitar amp in your car.
Each of these different use cases is explored below, as well as recommendations being given as to how you could approach a solution to that use case.
Reasons You Might Want Use a Guitar Amp In Your Car
The two main reasons people think about using their guitar amps in their car is when they want to either play their car stereo through their amp (usually for increased volume) or to see if there is a way to power their amp from the car.
Can I Play My Car Stereo Through My Guitar Amp?
If your car stereo is very simple and you dream of hooking it up to your guitar amp to really boost the sound, then I recommend you think again.
Though it is technically possible it is beyond, the performance you get is just not worth it.
The type of sound signal that comes out of your car stereo is not a good fit for the design of a guitar amplifier, they are a mismatch in terms of wattage and OHMs.
You are much better off looking at how you might be able to improve your car stereo with better speakers, a dedicated in-car stereo amplifier, and/or even a car stereo head unit for your car.
If you want to use your guitar amp then you will need a way to power your amp in the car, which creates an additional problem to solve that will require an investment in an inverter and wiring making it better to just improve your car stereo.
This is discussed further in the below section.
Not only is this a huge hassle but the quality of sound that comes through a car stereo is way better than the quality of sound that comes through a guitar amplifier, so you will probably be dissatisfied with the quality of sound, even if you do get it working.
How Can I Power My Guitar Amplifier From My Car?
There is good news and bad news when it comes to powering your guitar amplifier with your car.
Firstly it is possible to power your electric guitar amplifier with your car, but it takes a fair bit of equipment to be bought and fitted, and even then, the quality of sound can be disrupted the way the electricity is being fed to your amp.
The electricity that comes out of a car cigarette lighter, and flows through a cars circuitry is 12v Direct Current (DC). But the electricity that your guitar amp requires is 120/240v Alternating Current (AC). To convert 12v DC current to 120/240v AC current you need what is called an inverter.
There are small inverters you can get that plug directly into your cigarette socket. These can be used for very low voltage devices like battery chargers for laptops and power tools etc.
But to service, the current required by an amp would require more voltage than is able to be drawn through cigarette sockets, you would need an inverter, and need it wired into your car’s electric circuitry by an auto electrician.
Even once this is bought and installed and set up, while you now have power, many have experienced a really bad quality of sound from this method.
The nature of the electricity generated through the inverter is a lot ‘messier’ and can create all sorts of hissing and static that comes through your amp speakers, whether you are playing or not.
How Can I Play My Electric Guitar Through My Car Stereo?
The recommended approach to being able to play your electric guitar, inside of your guitar, is to play your guitar through your car stereo.
Though this won’t give you enough sounds to play a mobile outdoors gig (you need a truck and generator and way more gear to pull that off), it will give you the ability to play and practice your electric guitar in your car, and get the effects and sounds you are used to, at an acceptable volume.
The simplest and probably cheapest way to still play your electric guitar with the sounds you want, away from your amplifier is to use some kind of pre-amp or audio interface and input this into your car stereo auxiliary (AUX) port.
Many car stereos have an AUX-IN port to allow you to hook up any other audio you may have (mp3 player, friends phone, and many more). If it is not visible on the front of the stereo it is sometimes located inside the glove compartment.
This port is the same size plug as you find on the end of most headphones (3.5mm) so if you have a male-to-male audio lead with 3.5mm ends you can plug in the AUX IN port from phones, and many other devices.
One of such other devices are the many audio interfaces you can get to help connect your guitar to a computer, or just to help you get good electric guitar sounds, while away from your amplifier.
Many guitar effects units also have an auxiliary out port, so you could potentially have your exact rig with you, plugged into your car’s stereo, wherever you go.
Using your male-to-male audio lead you pug one end into your car stereo and the other end into your audio interface, or guitar pre-amp and you should start hearing your guitar through the guitar stereo (be careful of feedback!).
Be aware that car stereos have their own equalizer settings, some of which can be turned off and some which are baked into the circuitry. So regardless of what sound you put into them, there may be some interference by the IQ settings of the unit itself.
Some products you could consider which would allow you to connect your electric guitar into a car stereo AUX port are:
- Vox Amplitube
- iRig 2
- Boss Pocket GT
How To Power Your Electric Guitar Amplifier Without Your Car
If it is not possible for you to connect directly to your car stereo, then another option is battery powered amplifiers.
There is a range of small and medium-sized battery-powered electric guitar amplifiers that you could carry with you where ever you went (in your car and other places) to be able to play your electric guitar anywhere.
A few examples of this concept include:
- Roland MicroCube GX
- Orange Crush Acoustic 30
- Vox Mini5 Rythm Amplifier
Can a Car Power a Guitar Amp?
No, cars typically cannot power a guitar amp. Cars by default circulate 12v DC power, whereas a guitar amplifier requires 120/240vv AC power to run.
Though this difference can be resolved with the installation of a power inverter, however, these do have an impact on sound purity from the amplifier and can create a lot of background noise and disruption.
There are also potentially expensive and require installation by a qualified professional.
Can I Plug an Amp Into My Car?
Generally, amps cannot be plugged into a car. The car’s electrical systems circulate a 12V DC current, whereas guitar amps require 120/240v AC current. This can be fixed with the addition of a power inverter to your car.
However, many who have done this claim the guitar amplifier sounds nowhere near as good when powered by an inverter and there is lots of background hiss and static.
Can You Hook Up a Guitar Amp to a Stereo?
Yes, it is possible to hook up a guitar amp to a stereo, if each unit has certain features.
For this to be done easily the guitar amplifier would need to have an ‘Auxillary Out’ sound port, and the car stereo would need to have an ‘Auxillary In’ port.
The next challenge would then be to find the appropriate audio cord, and adapters to connect the two different ports.
If these units do not have the required auxiliary in and out ports, then it will become much more difficult and maybe not possible with those specific units.
How Do I Power My Amp With a Car Battery?
To power your amp with a car battery you would need to fit a power inverter into your car. The car battery is only used to start the vehicle, and would not be a good source of power for your amp.
But with your car running the alternator would generate power in 12v DC power, which can then be converted to 120/240v AC power, and used to power your amplifier.
But please be aware of frequent complaints made from players about sound quality from an amplifier when being powered by an inverter. It can create lots of hiss and fuzz and static.