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It’s a known fact that musicians tend to keep some unusual hours in their schedule compared to non-musicians. Working professionals have gotten used to playing gigs and getting home in the early hours of the morning.
This presents its own challenges, though, as inspiration often comes at a time when it isn’t respectful to play guitar. If you’ve been in this situation, you’ve likely wondered whether you could play silently, using headphones rather than an amp.
Can You Play Electric Guitar With Headphones?
Believe it or not, playing with headphones is something every guitarist has pondered about. It’s one of the most commonly asked questions, and for good reason.
Everybody’s life is different in regard to their environment. Some may have young children around, while others might be living in a condensed apartment complex.
In such situations, it’s not always feasible to be playing the electric guitar. That is unless you want to make life more difficult for yourself.
Fortunately, guitarists are never quite satisfied without satisfying a solution to a common issue. It is, indeed, possible to play guitar with headphones, but it does come with a caveat.
Plugging headphones directly into your guitar isn’t really going to do much for you. Despite being a sonic signal, it still needs to be amplified for you to be able to hear it properly.
What Methods Are Available For Playing Electric Guitar With Headphones?
Today’s guitarists are quite fortunate, as there are multiple methods that can be used to play electric guitar with headphones. These methods do require a separate purchase, and the price range varies widely depending on the method chosen.
Read on and learn about the different methods in greater detail. Some products have been given as examples of noteworthy tools for each specific method.
Perhaps the most economical and practical option would be to find a metronome with a headphone jack. Many digital metronomes have this feature, allowing you to plug directly into the metronome.
Metronomes are pretty much a required accessory for any guitarist who takes their studies seriously. Going this route can definitely save you some money, as you’re fulfilling 2 needs at once.
The only issue here is that the tone can be a little underwhelming at times. Another problem is that you can’t use pedals as it’s meant to be only used in conjunction with the metronome.
Other than that, this is a great way to practice guitar exercises endlessly without driving those around you insane.
There are many metronomes on today’s market, some of which are simple, and others, a bit more complex. The Boss DB-90 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) could be complex for some, but don’t let its looks fool you.
Sure, this might be one of the most comprehensive metronomes on the market. However, you can use it in a simple way without having to really bother with something that may seem confusing.
That alone, might deter you from this metronome, and rightfully so. However, it does offer pretty decent headphone sound through its headphone amp.
On top of that, you’ll have access to innumerable styles of different drum beats. You can even customize the beats by individual drums by adjusting the faders.
There’s also a handy Coach feature, which gradually increases tempo after a duration of time. Furthermore, you could even use the DB-90 to act as the master clock in a multi-unit MIDI setup.
This metronome might be overkill for some, but it can be quite the inspirational tool, as well. It’s a decent option for playing guitar with headphones, particularly because of its utility during practice.
Another route that many guitarists use to play with headphones is by using a solid-state amplifier. Quite often, these types of amps will have a headphone jack on the face of the amp console.
Simply plug the headphones in, and you’re ready to go. Does it get any simpler than that?
It should be stated that this is a feature that is most commonly found on amps designed for practice. Many pawn shops and music stores tend to have an abundance of practice amplifiers for cheap.
Unfortunately, this isn’t really a thing to be found with tube amplifiers, which generally require more power. However, some attenuators can be found to modify the power intake.
You can find attenuators with headphone capabilities, but it can be a bit of a rarity. These options tend to be priced beyond the budget ranges of most for the sole sake of playing with headphones.
Boss Katana Mini
Let’s face it, many cheap solid-state practice amps leave a bit to be desired in terms of headphone tone. The Boss Katana Mini (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is the perfect practice amp that’s chock full of tonal options.
In a sense, this is a 7W solid-state combo amp with digital modeler features. It’s quite small in both size and sound, utilizing a 4” speaker.
The amp itself offers 3 different channels, all ranging in terms of the amount of gain and distortion. You can utilize a 3-band EQ to really dial in your most ideal tone.
One of the best features (aside from the headphone capability) is that it can be powered by batteries. Keeping this on-hand means you can silently practice anywhere.
An AUX/In allows you to funnel in music from an external device. If you wanted to, you could use the Katana Mini as an interface to connect to a computer for recording.
What’s even better is that the Katana Mini is quite affordable for most budgets. You’ll certainly get your money’s worth here within a few times of using it during a weird hour.
Guitar Pedal Amplifiers
Technology has been progressing at a staggering rate in the guitar world. What used to require a large housing can now be fit into the sizing of a guitar pedal.
Yes, that’s right, there are now amplifiers that you can place directly on your pedalboard. Many of these have cab simulations and allow you to plug directly into a PA.
Do keep an eye out for these, as many of them do feature a headphone accommodation. These allow you to utilize your entire rig and maintain tonal consistency between practice sessions and performances.
DSM Humboldt Electronics Simplifier
If you want to overhaul your rig and ditch your amp, the DSM Humboldt Electronics Simplifier is an invaluable tool. It truly is a product that stands apart from anything else on the market.
Imagine an amplifier that doesn’t require more than a 9V power supply and doesn’t have a speaker. You’d have the ability to plug it into a mixer for both recording and performance situations.
That’s exactly what you’re getting with the all-analog Simplifier, but it does come packed with more features. These include:
- Cab simulation (1 x 12, 2 x 12, 4 x 12)
- 3 different amp types modeled after famous amplifiers (Vox, Fender, Marshall)
- Stereo output
- Effects loop
- Mic positioning
- 3-band EQ
- 3 types of tube types in simulation
- AUX/In for piping in sound from an external device
Considering everything that’s on offer here, the Simplifier is an exceptional value. However, some people just might prefer playing with an actual amplifier if they could.
What if all you wanted was the basic ability to play the guitar through headphones, and not much more? Well, if you wanted to go this route, the dedicated guitar headphone amp is your best bet.
These essentially plug directly into the guitar. From there, you plug your headphones into the amp, and you're good to go.
The market has headphone amps at every price level, with each level usually packing in different features.
Fender Mustang Micro
The Fender Mustang amplifier has been a go-to amp for those wanting digital processing in a guitar amp. Now, this technology has been pared down to the Fender Mustang Micro (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon).
Sure, this might seem like quite a small piece of equipment, but it’s packed with features. One of the most notable is its 12 different amp simulations, which is a staple feature on the standard Mustang amp.
Along with this, you can adjust the EQ, as well as add any effects that you may wish to hear. If you wanted to record your playing, you could easily do so by using the USB-C connection.
The large dial on the face controls the overall volume of the signal going into the headphones.
This little headphone amp also has a rechargeable battery, offering about 4 hours of life.
One of the most popular methods guitarists go with is to use a computer interface. This gives them a wealth of options in terms of using the actual interface itself.
From here, many guitarists will use VSTs to create their tone of choice. With the right software, you can emulate any guitar pedal and amplifier type in the book.
Another major reason why guitarists go this route is because of its use in being necessary to record music. Any DAW will require you to use an interface in order to receive a signal to be recorded.
Most musicians in general have at least a small desire to be able to record ideas. Computer interfaces generally allow you to connect microphone cables, instrument cables, and standard line cables.
If you wanted to, you could simply open a DAW and create a track corresponding to the input. From here, you could enable the track monitor in order to hear yourself playing in real-time with headphones.
In general, a computer interface is a good tool to have, as you’ll find plenty of uses for it. This can help to foster your musical growth in ways you might not have initially thought possible.
Focusrite Scarlett 212 3rd Gen
For years now, the Focusrite Scarlett 212 3rd Gen (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) has been a trusted go-to. This essentially gives you everything you need to send a signal to a computer, all without a high price.
The Scarlett 212 has 2 different input channels, which both accommodate XLR and instrument cables. You really could use this to record an album in any location you may desire.
Each input comes with its own gain adjustment, as well as an optional preamp setting. 48V Phantom Power is also provided on the interface.
Where this interface shines for playing electric guitar with headphones is in its monitor section. This gives you the ability to hear what’s being played on the input channels.
So, even if you didn’t have a DAW, you would be able to hear your signal through this monitor.
The Scarlett 212 connects via USB and does have a stereo line output in the back of the device.
Have you considered dabbling with guitar pedals, but have been unsure about individual guitar pedals? In these cases, multi-effect pedals can come in handy, particularly because many have a headphone jack.
This means you wouldn’t have to rely on an amplifier to be able to hear the electric guitar’s signal. Plus, you wouldn’t have to sacrifice the use of guitar effects either, which is always a bonus.
Many guitarists use effects to some degree in their playing, and not having access to that can be taxing. The right multi-effect pedal would allow you to do everything your heart desired in terms of effects.
Again, this isn’t the most economical option for the sake of being able to play with headphones. However, the right person will know that this is the solution they’ve been seeking.
In the past, multi-effects pedals left quite a bit to be desired with regard to the sounds they produced. That’s no longer the case, especially with units like the Boss ME-80 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon).
Boss is, by far, one of the biggest names in the guitar pedal industry. Many of their effects pedals have become the standard and have played an important role in certain sounds.
This unit offers 59 different effects, with the ability to program 8 on the board at one time. Furthermore, there are 72 different presets, with half of them being completely customizable.
If you’ve ever wanted a multi-effects pedal with looping, the ME-80 has you covered. 38 seconds of looping time is provided.
A standard 9V power supply is required, though you can power the unit with batteries.
As was mentioned the ME-80 offers headphone capabilities and delivers some tasteful tones. There are multiple amp types built into the pedal for complete tonal customization.
If only you could plug a pair of headphones into a guitar without the need for anything else….Wouldn’t that be nice?
This doesn’t have to be such the pipe dream that it used to be. Today’s guitarists can easily track down guitars that are completely silent.
Yes, that’s right. These generally feature everything a guitar does, with the ability to plug headphones directly in.
Of course, these options aren’t always going to be the most economical or practical. But, for the right person, silent guitars could make for an intriguing solution to a longstanding problem.
Yamaha’s line of silent guitars is perhaps the most famous example of these types of guitars. The Yamaha SLG200S (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a prime choice for those who are accustomed to steel strings.
Even if you’ve never played them, you’ve likely seen this line of guitars. It essentially has no body, rather, only has a middle and the outline of a body shape.
This guitar has a built-in pickup and preamp system, featuring:
- Headphone capabilities
- AUX/In capabilities
- 2-Band EQ
- Effects include 2 reverbs and 1 chorus
- Blending for tonal customization
While this guitar might seem unconventional to some, one should view it with an open mind. It does solve quite a few issues, including the fact that it completely eliminates feedback.
This is certainly more than just an artistic conversation piece. The SLG200S is built with the working professional in mind.
It might be a little pricey for some, especially if you’re only seeking to be able to play with headphones.
How To Know Which Method Is The Best For You
As you’ve seen by now, the methods to play electric guitar with headphones are quite vast. You might be wondering what method would make the most sense for your situation.
If you’ll notice, the common denominator between all of the methods is a headphone amp. Finding a dedicated headphone amp can be quite simple, and somewhat cost-effective.
However, something like a metronome can be incredibly invaluable, especially if it has a headphone jack. These are generally pretty inexpensive and can be used just about anywhere.
On the other end, something like a computer interface can provide opportunities beyond the simple playing of the guitar.
Amplifiers in general are quite popular, and some great deals can be found. However, the form they take is dependent on your preferences.
Likewise, your preferences are going to determine whether a silent guitar makes sense for you.
Take a moment to boil down what your rig looks like. Are you wishing to use a pedalboard, or do you not really have much of a rig at all?
Consider the necessities, especially if you don’t already have the essential items every guitarist needs. From there, it’s usually safe to buy specialized gear for specific use cases.
If your rig is more built up, you might consider something more specialized. Again this all depends on your preferences as it’s ideal to use everything you could possibly want or need.
Cost is also going to play an important factor in what method is available to you. As you’ve seen, these methods range in pricing from one extreme to the other.
How To Play Electric Guitar With Headphones, Final Thoughts
With the right tools, guitarists can play the electric guitar with headphones without bothering anyone in the process. Having some of these things ensures you can meet inspiration’s call, no matter what time of day or night.
At the very least, you’ll certainly keep your neighbors a little happier. They would no longer suffer from hearing a musical phrase 200 times a day, every day for a week.