Practicing with headphones bad for playing technique?

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by klapaucjusz1, Jan 9, 2019.

  1. klapaucjusz1

    klapaucjusz1 Member

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    I’ve been using a silent home practice rig for many years – a Line 6 Pocket Pod with over-ear AKG headphones. Clean setting only on the Pod, with my pedalboard in front of it, so that it’s similar to using my clean tube amp with my band. I have to play quietly at home most of the time due to family and neighbors.

    The problem is that I started noticing that my playing technique from the silent rig doesn’t translate well to my tube amp (a Rivera Chubster 40 combo), which I play with my band (non-professional). I started feeling frustrated that I can’t get my tube amp to sound like my silent rig.

    I play the silent rig almost every day, while I play the tube combo only once a week in my band practice space, with the band. So I took the tube amp home to get to the bottom of it.

    It turns out that after some practice sessions with the tube amp I started to play slightly differently and get better results from the tube amp. I found that I need to work harder to get good results from the tube amp – so that the notes sound always full, so that there is no audible string buzz, so that the dynamics are more controlled etc.

    The obvious solution would be to swith to practicing on my loud amp at home, but it's not going to happen.
    I'm thinking about the folliwing options:
    • Getting something better than a Pocket Pod
    • Getting some headphone solution to work with my actual amp
    • Getting a more forgiving clean tube amp, if such a thing exists
    • Going digital (Kemper, Helix etc) so that I can get more or less the same thing on the headphones and through a speaker.
    What are your thoughts/experiences? Did you have a similar problem?
     
  2. ieso

    ieso Member

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    I had kinda the reverse situation: practiced all the time on an unforgiving clean amp such that everything else felt like a dream come true.

    You might get an attenuator for your amp that has headphone outs giving you two ways to play it: really quite through the speaker and then, if that's not quiet enough, headphones again.
     
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  3. Ejay

    Ejay Supporting Member

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    Practice unplugged...anything gets better after that ;)
     
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  4. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    Hmm, Pocket Pod or Kemper? Tough choice.
    BTW I practice with a nice acoustic (partly so I don't waste precious time d#cking around with electonics).
     
  5. dewey decibel

    dewey decibel Supporting Member

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    This is tricky. You maybe able to find a more forgiving speaker for your amp, but consider volume is always going to be a factor, and your guitar isn't going to act the same way when playing through cans vs playing through a cranked up amp. That said, playing louder usually gets easier not, harder. But if you mean things like string noise and having less control I can see that. Maybe something like Powerstation, Unleash or UA OX might help to get closer to your full volume sound. My experience with that sort of thing is it helps to get the sounds closer, but not necessarily the feel.

    I will say practicing unplugged is not a good solution, at least for me. I practice electric guitar unplugged 95% of the time, and it's definitely been detrimental to my technique. You have to consider, as an electric guitarist the amp is like half of your instrument!
     
  6. ivers

    ivers Member

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    I trust better players than myself who say that practicing unplugged can give good results, but I need to work a lot more with an amp to get my touch right.

    This became even more clear when we moved into a house where I can play an amp at high volume. I pick up more nuances and little things with my technique that I can adjust now when practicing regularly with a turned up amp.

    The recent days I've practiced clean'ish jazz stuff by turning up my Fender Champ XD (that I run through a Marshall 2x12 cabinet) to max on the clean channel, then lower the volume on the guitar a bit, and try to tame the rest of the not so nice sounding amp distortion by softening the pick attack. This brings me much closer to the type of feel/sound I want than when I pick to hard – which I've always had a tendency to do.

     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2019
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  7. klapaucjusz1

    klapaucjusz1 Member

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    Thanks for the gear suggestions, I'll look into that.

    I have never practiced electric guitar unplugged, because it was always against my intuition. Like you said, I always felt the amp was half the instrument.

    But given that I am not getting the results I expect from the solutions I use now, maybe it is time to try something different, like maybe practicing unplugged. I understand there are differing views on this.

    Going back to amp vs headphones - like you wrote, there is the string noise and control issue. Also, when playing clean, I often aim for a certain "sweetness", fullness or roundness of sound, which is easy to obtain on the headphones, and harder to obtain on the amp. If I hit the strings too hard while using the amp, the sound gets too shrill. Also, the type of pick I am using matters more. Maybe the amp just lets me hear more detail than the pocket pod.
     
  8. CharAznable

    CharAznable Member

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    Practicing unplugged makes me pick harder than I need to.

    Practicing on a loud hollowbody on the other hand...
     
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  9. klapaucjusz1

    klapaucjusz1 Member

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    Well, if Kemper and Pocked Pod were priced similarly, the choice would not be tough at all ;-)

    I was actually considering a digital solution like a Kemper or a Helix as a substitute for my whole rig, including the tube combo, the pedalboard etc, not as a substitute for the Pocket Pod only. It would be a big change for me, since I've always played tube amps so far, so actually it is a tough choice. But maybe such a rig would sound and behave more or less the same when playing loud and with headphones.

    As for practicing on an acoustic - how well does it translate to playing an electric? What kind of electric guitar do you play?
     
  10. guitarjazz

    guitarjazz Member

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    Strat, PRS, a couple semi-hollowbody's (including a $300 Ibanez Artcore that I've been gigging with a lot). I practiced electric a lot when I was younger. I play electric a lot professionally but in terms of practicing guitar at home, I want my hands on the strings asap and I find all the peripheral stuff about electric guitar distracting and potentially a waste of time.
     
  11. GovernorSilver

    GovernorSilver Member

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    I've practiced on unplugged electric guitar and acoustic guitar.

    I have not noticed additional "shrillness" from plucking louder notes while practicing plugged - except when I turned up the spring reverb too high, or when a tube was going microphonic or something. Then again, I might be misunderstanding what is meant by "shrillness" - perhaps posting an audio clip would help.

    I have also noticed a tendency to pluck the strings a little too hard after an extended amount of time practicing on unplugged solidbody/chambered body electric. However, it's never taken me long to adjust after plugging in and practicing a bit.

    FWIW, i practice clean most of the time and only turn on overdrive/fuzz once in a while to check my muting technique.
     
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  12. Yngtchie Blacksteen

    Yngtchie Blacksteen Member

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    Hm, that's the opposite of my experience. After I bought my Helix, I find that I hear the mistakes better through headphones than when I used an amp. In any case, I do find that it's advisable to use a practice setup that is as unforgiving as possible, not hiding anything. Like practicing legato licks, with an even volume between hammer-ons/pull-offs and picking... on a steel-string acoustic. I reckon that if you can do it on that, you shouldn't have any problems on unfamiliar rigs.
     
  13. klapaucjusz1

    klapaucjusz1 Member

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    Maybe that's the thing - your Helix with headphones is unforgiving, whereas my Pocket Pod with headphones is the opposite.
     
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  14. Afcollett

    Afcollett Member

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    Digital is definitely king when it comes to silent/low volume practice IMO. After years of attenuators and low wattage amps, I went Kemper 7 years ago, it wasn’t an instant love affair but I’m well satisfied these days, took me a while to learn how to dial it in for my ears, translates to gig levels well, again you have to learn how to adjust for your amplification method, it took time but I got there. Then again a lot has changed in the past 7 years, the market has recognised this exact thing, power scaling amps, computer based, the soon to be released Boss WAZA craft tube amp expander looks great on paper.
     
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  15. lowyaw

    lowyaw Member

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    And imho, you were / are correct. Obviously, in certain styles and in certain ways, when you use a tube amp, it does alter dynamics - something you refer to as being "half the instrument". But it's also important, playing amplified keeps you from developing bad habits.
    I practiced unplugged half of my life and I want that time back. I've grown into the habit of over-forcing picking, not paying enough attention to details while executing fast runs, and it was detrimental to the overall musicality of my playing.

    The thing is, I now firmly believe, that your technique - not only as in proficiency, but as in touch - is the most important part of being a musician as well as a guitar player. And you can only control it if you play sufficiently loud and clear (which doesn't mean cranked Plexi, just enough volume so it fully masks the unplugged sound of strings). Too much stuff goes unnoticed if you're not plugged in, and it does not translate to playing through an amp live.

    Two different instruments that require different approach and yield different results.
     
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