Practicing guitar with headphones is a great way to hone your skills into playing cleanly and correctly.
While playing with headphones, you can hear all the small mistakes and string noises – forcing you to play clean.
I used to question whether or not practicing guitar with headphones is a good thing or bad thing. Every little noise from the string is amplified and the sound produced is not even great (when compared to amp).
But I realized, after practicing with headphones on for some time – playing on the amp speaker becomes much easier.
In this article, I want to share with you the pros and cons of playing guitar with headphones (rather than amp) – as well as discuss the bad sounds produced from headphones and how to fix it.
I will also talk about my personal experiences because I have done this for some time now. To be honest, playing with headphones has its pros and cons – but I still prefer to practice with it.
Reasons Why Practising Guitar With Headphones Is Good (Pros)
1. Forces you to play clean with correct timing
When playing guitar with headphones you are forced to play cleanly and be a better player because every imperfections in your technique are amplified and played to you.
This means every accidental string noises and incorrect slides, pull-offs or hammer-ons are noticeable with the headphones.
Having noticed these imperfections, you will be forced to play cleanly and as time passes on – you get used to it and inevitably improve yourself.
The improvement will be more noticeable when you switch back to amps when performing – whether it be performing in a band or to friends and families.
Also, when practicing with headphones on, I notice I can listen more closely to the timing and adjust myself to play the song with that correct timing.
2. More focus when playing with headphones
When playing guitar with headphones on, you are more focused simply because the sound is played right in your ears and you can’t hear much noise from the outside (especially if the headphone has AC).
The fact that you are more concentrated means you will practice harder and even make the process enjoyable.
Personally, I enjoy the sounds more when I am practicing with headphones on. Nobody else can hear my plan – so I don’t worry about any disturbance or any judgement from people around me.
This is especially helpful when playing new songs techniques – you know you are going to sound terrible, but nobody else can hear it but you!
3. You are not disturbing the surrounding
When playing guitar with headphones, you are not going to disturb your roommates, neighbors, families or even pets. This offers you flexibility to play at any time.
This point is especially useful if you have young children around. If you are a parent with full time jobs, I imagine you can only practice during late nights when the kids are asleep.
Playing with headphones on allows you to practice in these odd hours.
4. You can be mobile (practice anywhere)
You can use a portable headphone amplifier like Vox AmPlug to practice your electric guitar anywhere. This is useful if you need to be mobile and practice anywhere (even within the house).
A headphone amplifier replaces a bulky amp and allows you to connect your headphone ‘directly’ into your guitar.
Though, a headphone amplifier does not have that much adjustability like a traditional amp does (Eg. No adjustment for distortion). This means you need to choose the right amplifier for your playing style from the get go.
The sound quality is not bad – especially for the price. It’s only about $50 from Amazon. I personally use the Vox Amplug (AC30 or clean) version for my practice.
Cons Of Practicing Guitar With Headphones
1. Can cause ear damage if done excessively
Practicing electric guitar using headphones over long hours can cause long term ear damage. You need to make sure the volume is not too loud and you don’t do this for long hours everyday.
Ear damage by practicing with an electric guitar is of course rare. However, it can still happen if you do it excessively.
Just make sure the volume is in check. Keep the volume low enough – where you can hear the notes and strings correctly but don’t hear any static.
2. Sounds worse than amp speaker
The notes and sounds coming from a headphone are usually worse than the traditional amp speaker. This is because an amp speaker plays at a lower frequency than headphones.
The sound from headphones is only noticeably worse when playing guitar effects like distortion. When playing with regular notes, sounds coming from the headphones are fine.
This actually depends on the player. Many players I know have no problem with playing through headphones. Although the more experienced ones tend to notice it.
If you do mind, I will talk about how to improve this sound later.
3. Can get frustrating because of the sensitivity
Because you can hear imperfections when practicing guitar with headphones – this can be highly frustrating and even demotivating at times.
I know this because it has happened to me a lot. At times, I even stopped playing because of the frustration.
The key is to treat this sensitivity as a blessing – now you have the opportunity to play even better. Personally, when I am frustrated, I just replay a song that I am quite good at. Get into the mood and start practicing again.
Or just take a break. Sometimes, when you practice too long, you become worse because you are tired and lose focus. Just play again tomorrow!
4. Lots of wires
Playing guitar with headphones means you need to mess around with wires around your body.
The amount of wires depends on your setup – using a headphone amplifier like VoxAmp requires just the headphone wire but playing with audio interfaces or any other tools will require you more.
Personally, you will get used to this after some time. You will only find it annoying the first time around – so just try to ignore it.
Playing with wireless headphones is also possible – but there could be latency issues. Even the smallest delay can be noticeable when playing any instrument.
For a wireless guitar setup, just make sure you buy the right equipment and you should be ok. They are quite expensive though.
Why Does Guitar Sound Bad On Headphones (Compared to Amp)
A guitar sounds bad on headphones because headphones can play higher frequencies than the traditional amp speakers.
Traditional amp speakers are capped at 10kH whereas a typical headphone can play sound higher than that. This is why you can hear all the “imperfect” noises when playing guitar with headphones but not on the amp speakers.
Also, the sound coming from the amp speaker is better because amp speakers are usually placed away from you and not directly on to your ears like headphones do!
The only way for your guitar to sound “good” when using headphones is to use a speaker emulator or an amp modeler – where it tries to emulate a regular amp speaker and play the lower frequency sound through your headphones.
Let’s talk about this next.
How To Use Audio Interface & Amp modeler
Using an amp modeler is the only way to make your guitar sound good through headphones.
Amp modeler emulates the frequency ranges of an amp and makes your guitar sound like it’s coming from an amp rather than headphones.
There are many expensive amp modelers hardware out there – they start from $150 and go up to a thousand. If you are not a professional and just want to practice, I recommend you get something cheaper.
Personally, I use an inexpensive audio interface to connect my guitar to my phone, where I then use amp modelers from mobile apps like Deplike or Amplitube.
The setup goes like this
- Connect guitar to Guitar Link (Audio Interface)
- Connect headphones to Guitar Link
- Setup amp modeler using apps like Deplike
- Play guitar with better sound
In total, this setup costs about $50. And because it’s a software, you can always get different amp models for different effects from the app. (You don’t have to buy any more new hardware).
Note: You may need to also get a 3.5mm to ¼ inch adapter and USB to USB-C converter if you are using the amp modeler app from a mobile phone.
It’s a pretty cheap and great setup for playing with headphones.