Having lived in apartments most of my guitar playing career, I’ve become fairly adept at getting a good practice session in without disturbing the neighbours (too much).
Let’s face it, nobody wants to hear you practicing guitar. Don’t be that late night musician that everyone in your building wants to murder. It really doesn’t take a lot of effort to make a few simple changes to your environment that will help you become less of a neighbour from hell.
Here are my seven top tips to help you become a more respectable apartment guitarist.
1. Consider Your Practice Space
Your home most likely isn’t laid out like the floorplan above, so…
If your apartment is like mine, there will be certain rooms which are bordered by fewer (or more tolerant!) neighbours than others. Consider moving your gear to one of these locations for practice. If you can’t easily move your practice rig, it’s probably overkill for apartment guitar-ing. Check out the rest of this article for ideas that will help you downsize your setup.
2. Time-Specific Practice Sessions
You don’t have a soundproof room in your apartment? Yeah, neither do I – who does?! Being potentially surrounded by people on all sides, coupled with thin walls and floors means that realistically, anything louder than your usual TV volume is probably a no go.
In my previous apartment there was a conscientious DJ that lived above me. I say ‘conscientious’ because although I could easily hear his music, he only played it at weekends and weekdays when most people would be at work. It could be worth trying to plan your practice sessions around hours agreed with you and your neighbours based on their daily routines.
Be respectful of your neighbors in order to keep the peace. If you’re still practicing through an amp at 11pm on a weekday you can hardly be surprised when complaints start rolling in.
A thicker carpet or rug will help muffle sounds from amps or speakers. Likewise, a draught excluder placed under the door will stop some sounds from leaking out. Raising your amp off of the floor will also help to reduce vibrations.
Although you might have neighbours willing to put up with a little noise during certain sociable hours of the day, why risk their wrath when there are inexpensive solutions?
3. Apartment Friendly Guitar Amplifiers
If you absolutely must use an amplifier, then tube amps are probably a no go – they’re simply too loud for apartment dwellers – even the lowly 1 watt options!
There are products available that may allow you to run your gigging amp at lower volumes without sacrificing tone, such as the JHS Little Black Amp Box. However a better choice might be a low wattage amp that is purposely for use at home.
A great low volume choice for ampaholics would be the THR Series from Yamaha. These compact amps are specifically designed to sound great at apartment friendly volumes. The entry level Yamaha THR5 will tackle most genres, has a few effects built-in, and looks cool as hell with its simulated orange tube glow! For a little extra cash the THR10 has a few extra bells and whistles.
4. Invest in Quality Headphones
Most of you will probably own a good set of headphones for listening to music on your phone, but these aren’t necessarily the best choice for guitar. Invest in a decent set of cans for guitar duties and reap the rewards! Here’s what you’ll preferably need…
Over-the-ear headphones are best. For monitoring your tone this style of headphones will give the best quality of sound and comfort. On-ear models tend to become uncomfortable after a while due to the pressure created on your ears.
You’ll also want to find a product that is as transparent as possible. By this I mean that the headphones shouldn’t colour your tone, thereby giving you an inaccurate representation of what you actually sound like.
Here are a few great examples
If you’ve picked up an amp like the Yamaha THR5 that I’ve suggested above, the headphone jack will work perfectly with a great set of cans.
Alternatively you can pair up your headphones with a computer-based interface such as a Focusrite Scarlett Solo along with software such as Amplitube.
If you don’t want to be chained to your computer, a simple multi-effects unit will also work perfectly. On a budget there is the Zoom G1on, or those with more cash to splash can check more advanced units such as the Zoom G5N.
A third option is to simply use your mobile phone as an interface. Apps such as Amplitube will allow you to connect your guitar via its proprietary interface, and the touch-screen controls make for easy operation.
As you can see, there are plenty of options for quiet headphone practice out there!
5. Electric Over Acoustic?
Acoustic guitars strummed hard are pretty loud – most likely loud enough to reach neighbours’ ears. Although an acoustic is probably much more pleasant to listen to than a cranked 7-string, why risk poking the bear?
For a quick late night practice or writing session, reach for your unplugged electric guitar – at least until you get that tricky passage nailed.
One caveat is that you’ll need to be careful when practicing like this as it could potentially lead to bad habits that you might only notice when you plug in again.
6. Eliminate Unwanted Noise
If opting for an amp, you’re probably going to want to make sure that a noise-gate is in your arsenal. Those thin walls in your apartment will house endless wires, cables, and pipes – all of which can contribute to unwanted noises emanating from your amplifier.
While the Yamaha THR5 that I’ve recommended above doesn’t have a noise-suppressor on the control panel, you can enable one via Yamaha’s THR Editor software which you can download to your computer.
If your amp is making undesirable sound and doesn’t have a nose-gate built-in, a pedal such as Boss’s NS-2 will take care of the problem.
Now that you’ve sorted out the issue of noise, let’s take a look at where is best to keep your equipment when not in use.
Most apartments are fairly small, so make sure your guitars are stored out of harms way. It’s easy to accidentally knock your pride and joy off of its stand after a night out on the sauce.
My preferred option is to get them off of the floor and on to the wall via a sturdy set of hangers. ONLY GO THIS ROUTE IF YOU CAN DO THE JOB PROPERLY. You need to be able to affix the hanger to a stud to ensure that it will stay put! I’m rubbish at stuff like this, but luckily my dad is always on hand to act as my personal handyman.
There’s no need to splash out on expensive hangers either, an option such as this will be more than adequate.
A wall full of guitars just looks a million times better than one with another generic canvas print from Ikea!
Alternative options include a more sturdy and secure multiple guitar rack, or simply storing your instruments in their cases when not in use.
Hopefully at least one of these tips will help you on your way to becoming a conscientious apartment guitarist!
If you have any of your own tips, please leave a comment below.