There are a few situations where one might need to play guitar through headphones rather than through a normal tube amplifier. The most common situation is shared living quarters with other people. Sometimes your spouse works an opposite shift than you do and needs to sleep during the times when you have available to practice. Maybe you have children that are napping or doing their homework. Other times, and more commonly, you may live in an apartment building and your neighbors do not want to hear you practice. After all, they have a right to quiet time based on their needs and schedules also. It’s the kind and neighborly thing to do to be considerate of your neighbors. Besides courtesy, you do not particularly need or want to have conversations with management about the noise levels and possibly face eviction for repeated offenses.
So how does one go about getting in some much needed practice time without disrupting others? The short answer is headphones. However, if you’re planning on plugging your regular earbuds or headphones with a 3.5 mm jack into your guitar with the larger headphone adaptor needed, let’s absolve you of that notion because that won’t be quite good enough for the sound feedback you need to be effective at practice.
Buy a Good Set of Headphones
First, you need to get a good set of headphones. It may cost a bit to get the over the ear, studio-style headphones, but they’re the only kind that will deliver the type of sound quality you need to monitor what you’re doing as you practice on your guitar. The best headphones are the ones with the most transparency. Transparency means different things depending on what you’re talking about, but for headphones it means the least amount of distortion possible. This is important as you wouldn’t want to be tweaking your guitar, only to find out distortion was interfering with how you thought you were sounding in the first place.
Guitar Headphone Amplifier
Next, you have to decide what type of amp you’re going to plug your headphones into. One option is the guitar headphone amplifier. These devices aren’t that expensive. You plug the headphone amp into your guitar and then plug your headphones into the amp and that’s it. They’re pretty easy to use and they’re small. If you’re going for a specific type of sound, this may be a good and inexpensive option. The only drawback is, if you want to play around with different types of sounds, you’ll have to get more than one of these headphone amps. They make different ones for different sounds depending on whether you’re going for metal, classic, rock, blues, or something else. So while an inexpensive and pocket sized option, if you’re more of a versatile and experimental guitar player, you either have to build a collection of these or go with a different option.
Audio Interface Device
Some people use an audio interface device to play through their computers through a USB port. You would plug your guitar into the audio interface hardware, and then plug that into the USB. You will likely have to download drivers onto your computer the first time you use this type of device. You’ll be able to plug your headphones into the audio interface too, which makes this a great option as well. Along with the audio interface, you’ll be using amp simulator software. There are literally tons of options for VST plugins (amp simulators) that allow you to literally use your computer as an amp. Some of the VST plugins available are free and others you have to pay for. Like with most apps on the internet, some of the free options are decent, but often you also get what you pay for and it may be worth it to pay a little money to get a better plugin that helps you with your guitar practice.
Connect to a Smart Phone or Tablet
There is an app for everything on your smart phone or tablet and guitar amp simulators are no different! This still means you’d have to purchase a device of a similar size to a guitar headphone amp, but the difference is, this one connects to your smart phone and puts you in touch with an amp simulator. The idea is to give you access to different sounds. You can also record your music to your smart phone or tablet, which is another nice feature if you take this route for playing guitar with your headphones.
Digital Effects Possessor
Do you need one device that does it all and allows you to listen through headphones? The digital effects possessor may be right for you. You can connect one of these hardware devices to your computer, but you don’t have too. You can just plug your headphones right in. They have an auxiliary output, an output for headphones, and for a USB port. Not only can you use one for amp simulation, but a digital effects possessor is good for foot pedal effects as well. You can record what you’re doing on your computer. You can also plug in another audio source so you can play along, all while hearing everything through your headphones.
No matter your circumstances for having to practice your guitar through headphones, there are many more options today than there were several years ago for getting the practice you need and getting high quality amp and pedal sounds without upsetting people who live around you. It may take a bit of trial and error to find the apps or devices you like best for the sound you’re looking to achieve, but it is well worth it. Getting practice in and ideas out is important and it’s good to know that technology and innovation has allowed guitar players to get what they need without disturbing others. You’ll keep your spouse, children, or your neighbors and landlord happy with your quiet practice habits.