Backing tracks are excellent tools for musicians practicing various skills. They can help improve timing and ear training, replicate a real band, help you learn a song, or even just let you improvise and explore new ideas.
However, sometimes circumstances make it difficult to use them. You may live in an apartment where you can’t play loudly, or you’re limited by the gear you have.
Thankfully, your guitar amp itself can function as a speaker for your backing tracks. It may not have the best sound quality, but for practicing purposes it works great!
I find jamming through an amp very convenient. I can hear both my guitar and backing tracks through my headphones without a complex setup. However, while there are plenty of options, you will need dedicated gear to make it work.
Thankfully, whatever method you end up choosing, it’s very easy. Let’s jump right in!
Table of Contents
Method 1: Use the Aux Input Jack for Modern Amps
We’ll start with the simplest solution: buy or use an amp with built-in aux input. Many manufacturers already anticipate using amps for backing tracks. As a result, they include extra inputs to accommodate modern technology.
For example, the Boss Katana Mini includes a 1/8-inch input for plugging in your smartphone. While I ended up buying a used Orange Crush myself, I seriously considered a Katana Mini for this reason. Another example is the Blackstar FLY3 Blue, which includes both a 1/8-inch input and Bluetooth.
It is worth noting that guitar amps are not optimized for the full range of audio frequencies. This means they don’t play bass, mid, and high tones with the same quality.
As a result, you might want to consider adjusting the EQ of your backing tracks as they play into the amp. Additionally, you will want to make sure the volume is low enough that it won’t overpower your guitar.
Method 2: Use a Second Input Jack
This option is similar to Method 1, but there is one difference: the aux input is specifically for a device using 1/8-inch plugs, while an input jack is just another 1/4-inch guitar jack. This means you could technically plug two guitars into a single amp.
What does this mean for backing tracks? It’s actually pretty simple. You just plug your phone or computer into the second input jack. However, chances are you will need an 1/8 to 1/4-inch cable adapter. While you’re at it, check that EQ just like Method 1.
I have found that amps with two input jacks are often expensive, so you might only do this if you already have one.
Method 3: Use a Dedicated Effects Pedal
What if you already have an amp, but it only has one input jack and no aux input? In this case, you can buy an effects pedal to route both signals to your amp. Think of it as a mixer: you plug a guitar and backing track in, then it sends the signal out to amp “speakers”.
Consider the Boss ME-80 as an example, a favorite of modern musicians like Steve Lacy. The ME-80 includes a complex array of built-in effects, but it also has an aux-input jack. A simple feature that’s probably often overlooked, but perfect for backing tracks!
A humbler pedal you could use is the Fender ABY. It has two input jacks and one output jack – that’s all. Its entire job is literally to combine signals – exactly what we need! If you want simplicity and lower prices, this could be your preferred choice.
As with Method 2, you might need an adapter for 1/4-inch to 1/8-inch plugs. Just do your research and you’ll be fine 🙂
Method 4: Extra Amp or Specialized Amp
The “extra amp” method is obvious if you have one sitting around, but still worth writing to be thorough. Specialized amps, on the other hand, you probably won’t have sitting around because they’re . . . well, specialized!
Like the amps from Method 1, specialized amps take advantage of modern technology. They are used specifically with phones or tablets for a certain job, and are often paired with apps.
The Positive Grid Spark is a powerful example. It uses an app that can play tracks, adjust your guitar tone, look up chord shapes, and use as a metronome – and that’s just a few of its features!
Also worth considering is the fact that the Spark’s speakers are optimized for all frequencies, meaning an unmixed track will still sound the same.
As you can see from the methods above, playing backing tracks through your amp is quite easy. I even used Method 3 a year ago without even realizing it.
I am a music teacher, and my school has a gigantic closet filled with unused equipment. I found a clunky old PA mixer with built-in reverb. I used an adapter for my computer and my normal guitar cable, and it worked like a charm!
As stated earlier, it’s worth emphasizing that tracks won’t sound super great in most amps. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try though, as it’s simpler than setting up an entire PA system. Playing backing tracks through amps certainly has benefits if you’re just practicing.
At the end of the day, it’s about what works for you. There’s no catch-all method for playing tracks through amps, as each person’s situation is different. Assess what you want, research based on what you have, and go from there. Happy shopping, good luck researching, and as always, have fun jamming!