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I've been playing the guitar for almost five years now, but I'm having a problem that makes it very hard for me to improve my playing and to enjoy it.

I'm playing an Epiphone Dot and a Yamaha Pacifica 112 through a Marshall MG30 (and before on a now broken MG15 where I had the same problem).

Whenever I play an electric guitar at home through an amplifier, playing notes on the high B and E strings is very uncomfortable for my ears. It's hard to explain exactly but it feels like pressure and as if my eardrums are going to explode the louder I play the note. This happens even at low volumes (master volume set at around 1/10), and on both clean and distorted channels.

I'm sitting up to about 5 meters away from the amp.

I have this problem on all pickup positions and the only ways to make it go away are to either reduce the tone with the guitar knob by a lot or by almost completely decreasing highs and mids on the amplifier, or I can reduce volume even more, but then the sound is obviously a problem.

Because of this I've more or less abandoned playing electric guitars and only played an acoustic guitar for a long time. For the past year, I've been playing a lot of Rocksmith and it reminded me of how much I actually love to play the electric guitar, and it would sound so much better through a real amplifier.

I've had a guitar tutor a few years ago and when I had lessons with a similar Marshall amplifier in an school class room, I didn't have this problem even though I was sitting right next to it. When I told the tutor, he didn't know either what I could do.

So then I thought it might have to do with the room, but I have tried playing in three different rooms in my flat and the problem remains the same. They are all filled with furniture.

I've been searching for a solution to this problem for a long time, but I find almost nothing about it. I'd love to learn some solos, but can't really progress my playing without getting a decent sound, so I'd appreciate any ideas and suggestions what I could try.

  • Just checked the amp, and noticed it has built in effects. Make sure none of those are kicked in, and also that there aren't any extreme settings on treble or midrange. – Meaningful Username Oct 28 '14 at 17:27
  • @MeaningfulUsername Yes, with the default settings on the clean channel with effects and high tone settings I can't even play for five seconds. It gets better when I reduce the settings but I have to reduce them by so much that it loses too much of the sound. I always wonder when I see demos of amps and guitars on youtube how their ears are not falling off when they showcase the settings :D – Kodama Oct 28 '14 at 17:36
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    Then it seems like a combination of sensitive ears and that amplifier. I have some sensitivity to sound myself due to exposure of high sound levels in my teens, so I can sympathize. Since you can listen to the sound of Rocksmith, there should be a solution that lets you play electric guitar. You just have to shop around for the right equipment, I think. – Meaningful Username Oct 28 '14 at 18:37
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    it does sound like it could be related to your tinnitus – blueskiwi Oct 28 '14 at 18:54
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    I was also going to say tinnitus. A basic ear exam can determine whether or not this is the case. You can also have "attenuated" ear plugs created that can be adapted to the specific ranges that bother you. – Dave Kanter Oct 28 '14 at 19:45
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You should find out if it's your ears or your equipment. This could be done by taking your guitar to a music store and try it with some device that supports headphones, like the one below (there are other brands). That will bring the room out of the picture. If you don't feel pain, then one solution is to get one of those devices and practice with it instead of your amp. If there is pain, try with one of the guitars in the store. If there's still pain, the issue might be with your hearing.

If the issue is with your hearing, all hope is not lost. There is a lot that can be done by EQ, effects, and different brands of amplifiers. E.g. jazz players use very little treble in their sound.

The fact that you could play with an Marshall in a different setting than your home, and that the problem is there with two different guitars would suggest that the problem is with your amp.

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  • Thanks for your answer. Can you tell me what the devices in the picture are called? I've never seen that before. – Kodama Oct 28 '14 at 17:23
  • @Kodama: Not sure what the generic name is, Vox calls them amPlug. Ask for a plug in amp or headphone guitar amp maybe. – Meaningful Username Oct 28 '14 at 17:25
  • @MeaningfulUsername, Guitar Center calls them "Headphone Guitar Amplifiers" – valverij Oct 28 '14 at 18:33
  • I've finally got one of these amplugs (the AC30 one) some time ago and I'd like to thank you very much for the suggestion. I have to keep it below 4 volume or turn down the guitar, because I seem to have unusually sensitive ears, but I finally have something to get a good sound out of without it hurting my ears. The sound is of course not as good as a real amplifier but it's better than I expected. This made practicing much more fun. It didn't solve the underlying problem so I'll keep the question open, but I just wanted to thank you. – Kodama Jul 21 '15 at 20:27
  • They are pretty much a mini preamp with a headphone connection. I think the are also a type of practice amp. – Unknown Oct 31 '17 at 21:03
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Well it sounds like the amp is the problem. If you've tried sitting in different positions and distances from the amp, in different rooms, different pickups, different channels, and you haven't had the problem sitting right next to a different amp or with an acoustic, I can't see what the problem could be. Ask other people what they think, it might not be just you. Try some other amps out at your local music store and see if you have the same problems. Have you recorded sound from your rig before? Do you have the same problems from recordings of your amp? Have you played in a band? How does it sound in a mix? There's a lot of things that could contribute to the problem your having.

  • Thanks for the answer. I'm only playing at home without a band and I've not recorded before. I've had this problem from the start and it always hindered me to seriously pursue playing and progressing. – Kodama Oct 28 '14 at 17:28
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    I would definitely look into playing through some different amps and comparing the experience. Good luck. – MJRasicci Oct 28 '14 at 17:42
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I think it's because you don't have a tube amp and/or enough volume set on the amp for the tone to get overdriven and break up. The Dot is ideally paired with a tube amp and the idea is that you set your amp volume high enough so that when you have max volume on guitar you get overdrive but if you roll down volume on guitar a little you get clean tone. Then you won't get tones that hurt your head. But if you run your guitar volume at max and don't have enough amp volume and attack in your technique for the tone to break up what you will get is head hurting frequencies. Try lowering your volume on your guitar until it sounds good for your ears. But lowering amp volume is a bad idea it makes the problem worse because it gets impossible for the amp to break up. So just lower your guitar volume not amp volume, and if you want overdrive but can't handle the volume needed from amp, use overdrive pedal or amp effect instead for overdrive tones or get a more suitable amp. Tube amps are meant to be played loud for best tone, for home usage get lowest watt possible for sweetest tone without getting evicted. And maximum volume on guitar is for overdriving amp.

  • The questioner is using a solid state amp. With this reasoning, all solid state amps produce ear piercing sounds. This is not true. A solid state driven to hard will not sound nice. It's not lack of volume that is the problem... – Meaningful Username Jan 7 '15 at 17:42
  • Rolling down guitar volume a little is still preferred over rolling down amp volume. I'm didn't mean he should be driving his solid state too hard but just focus more on rolling down guitar volume before rolling down amp volume. However it could also be the pickups that are a little too high up. Lowering them a little could help as well. – bluesballs Jan 7 '15 at 18:51

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