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I live in an apartment and I find my current amp (a 15W solid-state) to be poorly suited to that. I can't turn it up without upsetting the neighbours, but at low volume it sounds horrible with any kind of distortion or other effects.

What should I look for that can help me produce a decent sound at the volume of, say, a slightly loud TV? If it's just a matter of finding a better amp, what characteristics should I pay attention to?

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In another question you were asking about joining a band. Maybe one of the neighbors would like to jam along? :) –  Silver Light Jan 16 '11 at 22:04
    
@Silver Light: That's not a bad idea. :) Alas, either everybody here knows how to play at bedroom volume levels or nobody plays. ;) –  Anna Lear Jan 17 '11 at 4:15
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When I lived in an apartment building, bedroom volume meant you could hear whatever they were doing in the bedroom down the hall. –  horatio Apr 28 '11 at 19:34
    
I'm not into electric guitars, but I've once stumbled upon this vid : youtube.com/watch?v=tBh-IugVG6c Hope it's of any help to you! –  Kos May 29 '11 at 16:08

15 Answers 15

up vote 30 down vote accepted

I think your best bet is to get something with a headphone out. Some amps will have them, although probably only solid state ones. A lot of the digital modeling /fx units will have it too (like Pod). Just don't blow your ears out!

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high-quality headphones are awesome. –  Anonymous Jan 15 '11 at 6:52
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PocketPod + Shure headphones = Practice anywhere. –  Anonymous Jan 15 '11 at 12:39
    
Agreed. This is what I do. It's only useful for playing alone, of course, but you can scramble your brains to your hearts content with some GOOD headphones. Don't be discouraged if you headphones don't match the output of the amp though, for $2 you can get a converter for almost any combination, to make it work. –  Anonymous Jan 18 '11 at 17:46

My answer would be to buy a small multi-effects unit specifically for the purpose of playing at home, with an "amp simulator" and plug it into your home stereo or something. You can get a pretty massive sound without it having to be loud even with a low-end effects box.

I use a cheap zoom effects box (actually because it has a fabulous digital tuner built-in) and if I want to play at home I plug that into the stereo. Don't have it any louder than you would a CD etc .. (ok maybe a bit ;-) ) gives you the flexibility of all the effects sounds plus because it's stereo (assuming you hve the speakers a few feet apart) you get that feeling of it being "large" when really it's not that loud.

If you do this, be sure to buy an effects unit with built in amp simulator, otherwise it'll have the "wasp in a paper bag" sound when you use the crunch/distortion

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Yeah, I use a Zoom multi fx. It works through headphones. It works through a hifi. It works through a PA amp. Very flexible. –  slim Jun 24 at 20:51
    
Ah good, I was a bit embarrassed about saying I use something so cheap (£40 here as opposed to £200-odd for a similar Boss thing) but those things are quite a good little package :-) –  user2808054 Jun 25 at 8:45
    
I can't see any reason to spend more. If that means I have cloth ears, then hooray for cloth ears. I've even been complimented on the tone of mine - playing crunchy chords through the Zoom to a clean amp. –  slim Jun 25 at 12:57

On the other hand, you could load your apartment full of soft things like curtains, blankets, sofas, carpets, etc. Soft stuff will absorb more noise and allow you to turn up your amp just a little bit louder. The more absorbent material you place in that room, the better "soundproofed" it will be.

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If you have an iPhone or iPad, iRig and the Amplitube app are an inexpensive alternative to buying something like a Pocket POD.

If you have an iPad, you've absolutely, positively got to get GarageBand.

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iRig and Amplitube for iPhone/iPad is amazing. Allows me to practice anywhere at anytime. I can even sit under the stars on the deck late at night when the kids are asleep and jam along to backing tracks. Also, the ability to do multi track recording is great for coming up with ideas at anytime. –  Devan Apr 28 '11 at 0:29

To build on the computer angle:

(for windows) two very respectable FREE amp sim downloads are:

VSTHOST (ugly, but is a host application for VST plugins) ( http://www.hermannseib.com/english/vsthost.htm ) and Simuanalog (vst amp simulator and effects freeware) ( http://www.simulanalog.org/guitarsuite.htm )

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I use a Mac and Native Instruments/ Garageband. Plug your guitar straight in and add headphones or just turn it down a bit.

I assume this'll work for PCs too tho of course there's no Garageband for them.

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Having lived in an apartment when learning guitar, it was painful. Using headphones works, but most days you just want to hear it from an amp like it was meant to be. Your only real solution is to try out some of those tiny lunchbox amps and see if they can fill that void. Another option is to start saving for a house, or find a friend who has one to jam out in.

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I was answering this question recently for a friend of mine, only substitute "wife" for "neighbors." He was interested in taking up the electric guitar while at the same time remaining married.

The answer I came up with for him, specifically was a DigiTech RP255.

It is a multi-purpose item with all of this functionality in a single unit:

  • Amp / Cabinet modeler
  • Effects modeler
  • Expression pedal (for wah, volume pedal, other controls, etc.)
  • USB recording interface
  • Drum machine
  • 20-second looper

Before I recommended it to him, I went to my local GC and played one through some headphones. I thought it sounded pretty good - and certainly outgunned my Pocket Pod for pure functionality. Is this (or something like it) the be all and and all of tone? Of course not. But this (or something like it) can provide all sorts of options for practicing while leaving your neighbor (or spouse!) in peace.

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I had a similar problem and went with a similar solution - the Vox Tonelab amp modeler and multi-effects unit. Has a headphone out that works fine for practice. Plus it is working well for gigging as well. I can practice tunes with the exact amp and effects that I'm going to use. When I get in front of the guitar amp, I just need to get a clean sound and give it a little color in the tone. It isn't perfect for gigs, but it is SO easy to practice with and can sound like a Fender, Marshall, Hiwatt, Mesa - whatever. This is starting to sound like an ad, so I'll stop. :-) –  Anonymous Jan 18 '11 at 10:47
    
@Frank Drake - I have your solution in an amp - a Vox Valvetronix! I love it, and when I need silence, I can just use the headphone jack. But my friend was looking for an inexpensive solution and this offered more than the Vox. I prefer the tube-infused tones of the Vox, but I would love the looper, drum machine, expression pedal, and USB interface of the DigiTech! –  gomad Jan 18 '11 at 17:15
    
I want to try the amp some day (still haven't done this). I'd like to see if some of the artifacts that I don't like, go away. I'd have gone straight to the Vox amp, but I've got an old Carvin half stack and a Fender Twin - no more room (or money)! :-) –  Anonymous Jan 19 '11 at 3:30
    
@Frank, the Valvetronix are really pretty spectacular, especially at the price point. It's the only amp I recommend to my students (at least until they're spending over $500 and looking at tubes). It's not as good as the real thing, but it's a ton of options at a great price. –  yossarian Feb 4 '11 at 17:16

If you are looking for a lower volume amp, look for lower wattage. Keep in mind that wattage and volume are logarithmically related; So a 50W amp is twice as loud as a 5W amp, which is twice as loud as a .5W amp.

The route that I went was to get a 5W practice amp (Vox DA5), that has an attenuator in it (which can reduce the power down as far as .5W). On top of that, the amp has a headphone jack in case I need to go completely silent.

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Most of the time I practice my electric guitars with out having them plugged in. I know a lot of guitarists that do this (even famous ones)

You can practice all styles like this - even metal. Distortion and amplification isn't necessary to learn the guitar.

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True, and most times I don't plug in, but it gets pretty boring practicing without actual sounds all the time. :) –  Anna Lear Jan 15 '11 at 23:56
    
It is necessary if you want to work on your tone. –  slim Jun 24 at 20:48

There are a number of small headphone guitar amps available that are fairly inexpensive, although I don't know how they sound. The Vox Amplug comes to mind, although I suspect it isn't as versatile as a regular amp. Another option would be to pick up a cheap multi-effects unit with headphone output.

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Marshall makes something similar as well. This isn't exactly the one I had in mind, but you get the idea. guitarcenter.com/… –  AnonJr Feb 4 '11 at 18:26
    
I have a Vox Amplug and a 1Watt Marshall. For headphone usage the Vox wins, so usually the Marshall only comes out if I want to go sit in a park and decide to take an electric instead of an acoustic. Both good little amps though. –  Dr Mayhem Apr 28 '11 at 13:52
    
I have a Fender-flavored one, and it's quite handy for hotel-room jamming but lacks decent punch for headphone use. I prefer my Pocket Pod for that. –  Anonymous Apr 28 '11 at 15:15

As I commented above, my go to method for quiet practice is a PocketPod with Shure headphones. But, who doesn't like plugging in to an amp every once in a while? I live in a house, but the neighbors are close. The amp I use is a Fender Super Champ XD, which is a 15w tube amp with some digital effects. It seemed quiet enough at low volumes, but your mileage may vary. If I were you, I would at least give one a listen at a music store and see if it can do what you need.

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I know of two amp-and-effects modeling apps for the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, both of which are great and allow you to get realistic amp tones through your headphones. AmpKit and Amplitube both do a great job of simulating all the standard amp models and pedals, and they aren't very expensive. I use and prefer AmpKit myself, and between the app and the guitar-to-iPhone interface, I spent a total of $50.

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Barring use of a headphone jack on yiur amp, there are some solutions available that will allow you to plug straight into your computer so that you can both use it to control volume as well as record the practice so that you can capture those neat little bits as you play around.

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There are a bunch of things you can do; computers are definitely your friend in this scenario; a DAW of some kind, and some VST plugin's may solve your problem.

There are many brilliant free VST Amp simulators out there; Shred by Acmebargig is one of the better ones as is Nick Crow Lab (his Tubedriver can produce authentic sounding valve tones). Of course there are the commercial products Guitar Rig and Amplitube which will get you just about any tone you'd like.

A low latency audio card will allow to run your guitar signal (via an adapter cable or a mixer) into the PC and through the Amp Sims, (the M-Audio 2469 is a good card for this and reasonably priced), this will allow you to drive/crank the simulators as loud as you'd like to get the tone you want; and control the overall volume with your PC, good speakers/monitors are a must for this.

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