Depending on your living situation, playing guitar at home can prove quite tricky. This is especially true if you live with roommates or family or in an apartment with cranky neighbors or an uptight landlord. Chances are you don’t have a massive studio in your home, complete with an amp room or ISO booth either.
As a lifelong guitar player who has lived in places large and small around Los Angeles, I’ve learned how to adapt to certain living situations while still making the most out of my playing.
Here’s a short guide to help you do the same, no matter what your situation is.
Taming The Noise
Guitarists can afford to crank the amp up when playing on stage, though it can be scary to dial your amp in past 5 when you’re at home. Unfortunately, getting the sound you want from your amp can be difficult if you can’t crank it. Luckily, there are a few ways to keep your volume levels down while still maintaining tone (and not driving your neighbors crazy).
Use a Small Amp
With amps, size isn’t everything; you could use a small amp. There is no reason to use a 100W amp head with a 4×12” cab in your studio apartment. The beauty of smaller amps is that they don’t have as much volume. You can crank your dials a bit higher without the room shaking. Plus, some small amps come with headphone outs so you can play without emitting sound into the room at all.
Play Through an Audio Interface
Amp sims have come a long way in the past few years. You can get the tone you desire by simply plugging your guitar into your audio interface and using an amp sim with your DAW. One of my absolute favorites is Amplitube. I’ve been using it for years. They work in conjunction with some of the top amp manufacturers, including Fender, Marshall, Orange, Mesa Boogie, and Gallien Krueger, allowing you to utilize tons of familiar tones for one small price. Plus, you can plug your headphones into your interface to reduce the sound even more.
Use a Power Attenuator
Power attenuators reduce the volume of amplifiers without compromising tone or overdrive. If your amp is too powerful for home play, use one of these bad boys to cut back on the rumble.
Maintaining Tone at Home
There are a few ways to maintain tone when playing at home. If you have your mind set on using an amp, you may want to consider the type of amp that you use.
If you’re looking for the most practical choice, I recommend something compact. I love my Vox AC15C1. With a 1×12” setup, it has more than enough volume for the stage, though it can be played quietly at home. How do they do it? The power attenuators in Vox AC15 heads allow you to step down the power to 1.5W or 6/10 of a watt, enabling you to play at low volume while utilizing the entirety of the amp.
If you have a bit more money to spend, I would recommend the Supro 1610RT Comet. Supro makes some of the coolest-looking and best-sounding amps on the market. The 1610RT Comet is ultra-high gain with low wattage, making it the perfect home amp. It utilizes a single 6L6 tube with switchable plate voltage so that you can toggle between a practice-friendly 6W and a stage-friendly 14W.
Of course, you might also want to consider going with a solid-state amp as well. With solid-state amps, there typically isn’t any correlation between tone and volume. You can essentially play at super low volumes without compromising tone, which makes them great for home use.
I’ve never been a massive fan of solid-state amps, though I owned a Fender M-80 Chorus for many years. The amp was LOUD when it needed to be, though it was perfect for practice when I was at home.
Considering Amp Sims
Purists hate the idea of amp simulators or software amps, though most purists have never taken the time to truly explore their capabilities.
I’ll be the first to say that I love the sound of a real tube amp, though when it comes to convenience, cost, and flexibility, amp simulators are a viable option. Ten years ago, amp sims sounded like digital trash. Nowadays, they offer realistic tones and tons of options for guitarists who want to explore the vast world of amps and pedals without breaking the bank.
Will they ever replace real amplifiers?
I highly doubt it. However, amp sims are incredibly versatile, tons of fun to use, and cost next to nothing compared to physical gear. Plus, there’s that little thing about annoying your neighbors and potentially getting evicted like we talked about earlier.
Here are a few of my favorite amp simulators:
- Amplitube – Best overall amp simulator
- Guitar Rig – Great for wild effects and over-the-top processing
- Softube Vintage Amp Room – Best for vintage tones
Of course, to use an amp simulator, you’ll need to plug your guitar into your computer. You can do that using an audio interface. Here are a few of my favorite interfaces that I’ve used over the years:
- Apollo Twin MK II – Best overall for home recording
- Scarlett 2i2 – Best for those on a budget
- Apogee Jam – Best for portability
Soundproofing & Acoustic Treatment
A lot of people confuse these two terms…
Acoustic Treatment comes in the form of acoustic panels, thick blankets, egg crates, foam, etc. It is meant to tame reflections in a room, not reduce volume. If your primary concern is reducing volume so that you can play at home, you need to look into soundproofing.
Soundproofing comes in many forms and can cost a lot of money. To truly soundproof a room, you would need to completely seal off the doors and windows and fill the walls with layers of soundproofing materials. These soundproofing techniques aren’t practical for most people. However, there is one form of “acoustic treatment” that is both practical and affordable…
The ISO Box
I was introduced to ISO boxes a few years ago while recording at a post-production studio in Burbank, CA. We only had one room to work in, for mixing and monitoring, so we had to have the guitar amp set up in the same room as the main monitors. The only way to record the amp without sound leaking in from the monitors or out from the amp speakers was with a custom isolation cabinet that they had made.
I was blown away by how quiet it was. The amp was cranked up and super overdriven, enough to shake any small room, yet it sounded distant and muffled from outside. All we had to do was stick a microphone in there with the amp and use the studio monitors to hear what we were playing.
If you have a studio set up at home and you want to record yourself playing as well, you can’t beat having an ISO box. Don’t pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket to buy one. Instead, you can make your own to custom fit your home studio environment. Here’s a How-To video I recommend:
Don’t Compromise Your Shred!
Playing at home shouldn’t feel like a chore. Many guitarists put off playing at home for all of the neighbor-and-landlord-alienating reasons mentioned above — or simply because they can’t get the tone they want in the space they have available. Don’t let these things limit you!
Problem-solving is part of evolving your individual tone and style. Once you have your gear and your space dialed in, shredding at home is easy.
…Just remember to pay your rent on time.