You could say that asking, ‘How loud is a guitar’ is a little like asking, ‘how long is a piece of string’. It depends.
There are so many factors to consider: the type of guitar, how aggressively you play guitar, picks vs fingers, the type of pick you use, the guitar style you play, the amplifier, and how much rock is in your soul. (Sorry, we made that last one up.)
I’ve played guitar for over 25 years, and have annoyed my fair share of parents, housemates, neighbors, partners, and pets. I’ve also flirted with hearing loss, and come out relatively unscathed. So heed my advice:
Regular practice is the key to progress with guitar, but don’t let the volume of your practice damage the relationships in your life or your ears. You need to keep both healthy if you’re going to be a great guitarist.
So let’s delve deeper into the world of guitar sounds, their decibel levels, to answer, ‘how loud is a guitar?’
- How loud is a guitar: The Loudness Table
- How loud is a guitar: Infographic
- Understanding Decibels (dB) in the Context of Guitars
- How Loud is an Acoustic Guitar
- How Loud is a Classical Guitar
- How Loud is an Electric Guitar: Unplugged to Amplified
- How Loud is a Bass Guitar
- Potential Risks: Can Guitars Damage Your Hearing?
- Protecting Your Ears: The Risks of Loud Guitar Sounds
- How Guitar Sounds Travel: The Role of Frequency
- FAQs – how loud is a guitar
- Can I play a guitar in an apartment?
- Can I play a guitar in a house with a sleeping baby?
- How can I reduce the sound of my guitar in shared spaces?
- Are there specific guitars better suited for quiet environments?
- Can playing the guitar too loudly damage my hearing?
- Is there a way to measure how loud my guitar is?
- What are the general acceptable hours to play a guitar in shared living spaces?
How loud is a guitar: The Loudness Table
|Amplified Electric (Stage Setup)
|100 – 135 dB
|Amplified Electric (Home Setup)
|80 – 100 dB
|70 – 90 dB
|65 – 85 dB
|50 – 70 dB
How loud is a guitar: Infographic
To understand ‘how loud is a guitar’ we’ve created this infographic which charts the volume of various guitars and compares them to the volume of other sound sources.
Understanding Decibels (dB) in the Context of Guitars
Decibels (dB) are units used to measure the intensity of sound and can be measured with a dB meter. The human ear perceives changes in volume in a logarithmic manner, which means that an increase of 10 decibels sounds approximately twice as loud. To put things in perspective, everyday conversations usually measure around 60 decibels, while sounds above 120 decibels can be painful and harmful to the human ear.
So how many decibels are the various types of guitar?
How Loud is an Acoustic Guitar
Acoustic guitars are known for their natural resonance and ability to project sound without amplification. Their volume is influenced by:
- Playing Technique: The force with which you strum or pick the strings plays a significant role. A gentle strum might produce sound levels closer to 70 decibels, while aggressive playing can push the sound to 90 decibels or more.
- Guitar Size and Build: Larger guitar bodies, especially jumbo-sized ones, tend to produce louder sounds. The material of the guitar, the thickness of its top, and the type of bracing can also influence volume.
- String Type: Steel strings are generally louder than nylon strings. The gauge or thickness of the strings also plays a role; thicker strings often produce a louder and fuller sound.
Is Acoustic Guitar Too Loud For An Apartment?
With around 410 million guitarists in the world, that’s a lot of potential for annoyance.
An acoustic guitar (also called a steel string guitar) when played at moderate volumes, is typically suitable for apartment living. However, its loudness can range between 70 to 90 decibels, depending on the size of the guitar body and how you play it. When played aggressively, it can reach higher volumes.
While this might not be as disruptive as amplified instruments, it’s essential to be mindful of neighbors, especially during quiet hours as it can still travel through thin apartment walls.
Using techniques for acoustic guitar playing like palm muting or playing with a softer pick can help reduce the volume. If noise complaints are a concern, consider soundproofing measures or using a practice mute to dampen the sound.
A practice mute like this one is a great way to reduce the volume of your acoustic guitar when added to the sound hole:
How Loud is a Classical Guitar
Classical guitars are slightly quieter than steel-stringed acoustic guitars. Strung with nylon, they produce a softer, mellower sound compared to their steel-stringed counterparts. On the decibel scale, classical guitars typically register between 65 to 85 dB, placing them in the mid-range of our guitar loudness table. This volume is influenced by the player’s technique, the environment, and the specific construction of the guitar.
The design of classical guitars, with their wider neck and larger spacing between strings, is tailored for intricate fingerpicking styles. While they might not have the same projection as an amplified electric or even some acoustic guitars, their volume is perfectly suited for intimate settings.
How Loud is an Electric Guitar: Unplugged to Amplified
An unplugged electric guitar is relatively quiet, producing sound levels similar to a conversation, around 50 to 60 decibels.
However, when plugged into an amplifier, the volume of an electric guitar can soar – and guitar amps matter.
An electric guitar through a typical home setup with a combo amp, when measured a meter away from the speaker, can generate up to 115 decibels.
An electric guitar through a fully distorted 700W head and a 4×12 cabinet, the sound can even reach a whopping 135 decibels, over the threshold of pain for many people. Prolonged exposure to this volume will damage your ears, and it’s why so many guitarists develop hearing loss and/or tinnitus. So always wear earplugs when playing at this volume.
How Loud is a Bass Guitar
While bass guitars are known for their low-frequency range, they can also pack a punch in terms of volume. At very low frequencies, around 30Hz, bass guitars can produce sound levels of approximately 110 decibels.
Potential Risks: Can Guitars Damage Your Hearing?
Prolonged exposure to loud sounds can lead to hearing damage or loss. Sounds above 85 decibels can be harmful if one is exposed to them for extended periods. Given that aggressively played guitars acoustic guitars can exceed this level, it’s essential to be aware of the potential risks, especially for musicians who play regularly or for extended sessions. And if you play electric guitar, you need to be even more aware of the risks.
Tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in the ears, can also be a result of exposure to loud music or sounds. Acoustic trauma, which includes hearing loss and tinnitus, can occur even if there’s no physical injury.
Protecting Your Ears: The Risks of Loud Guitar Sounds
Guitar sounds, especially when amplified, can reach decibel levels that pose a risk to our hearing. Prolonged exposure to sounds above 85 dB can cause permanent hearing damage. Amplified electric guitars, especially during stage setups, can easily exceed this threshold, reaching levels comparable to a jet engine. Even acoustic guitars, when played aggressively, can approach these risky levels.
The human ear is a delicate organ, and once damaged, the hearing loss incurred is irreversible. Symptoms of hearing damage include tinnitus (a constant ringing in the ears) and a muffled sensation, making it harder to understand speech, especially in noisy environments.
We recommend using earplugs. We recommend good quality ones like this, which don’t impact the frequencies you hear too dramatically so that you can still appreciate what you’re playing:
To protect your ears:
- Wear Ear Protection: Especially if you’re playing in a band or in the audience of a loud concert. Earplugs (like the ones above) designed for musicians preserve sound quality while reducing volume.
- Take Breaks: If you’re practicing or playing for extended periods, take regular breaks to give your ears a rest.
- Monitor Volume Levels: Be conscious of your amplifier’s volume. It’s easy to keep turning it up, but it’s essential to be aware of the risks.
- Soundproof Your Space: If you’re playing in a home studio or practice room, consider soundproofing. It not only prevents sound from disturbing others but also helps in controlling the volume you’re exposed to.
- Regular Hearing Checks: Regular hearing tests can help monitor your hearing health and catch any potential issues early.
Remember, once your hearing is damaged, there’s no way to restore it fully. It’s crucial to take precautions and be aware of the risks associated with playing loud music.
How Guitar Sounds Travel: The Role of Frequency
Frequency, in the context of sound, refers to the number of vibrations or cycles a sound wave completes in one second, measured in Hertz (Hz). It’s a crucial factor in determining how sound is carried and perceived.
Lower frequencies, like those produced by bass guitars, have longer wavelengths and tend to travel further and penetrate materials more easily than higher frequencies.
This is why, in an apartment setting, you might clearly hear the thump of a neighbor’s bass guitar or stereo but not the higher-pitched notes.
Acoustic and classical guitars, on the other hand, produce a mid-range frequency spectrum, which means their sound might not carry as far as the deep tones of a bass but can still be quite resonant in a confined space.
Electric guitars, especially when amplified, can span a wide frequency range, from deep lows to piercing highs. The way these frequencies propagate can greatly influence how sound is perceived in different environments and through various barriers. Understanding this can be essential for musicians who want to gain control over the spread of their instrument’s sound, whether it’s to fill a concert hall or to keep the peace in a shared living space.
Guitars, in their various forms, offer a wide range of sound levels. While we love playing them, it’s crucial to approach them with an awareness of their potential volume and the risks associated with prolonged exposure to loud sounds. By understanding decibel levels and taking necessary precautions, one can enjoy the beauty of the guitar while ensuring the health and safety of their hearing. So if you’re going to play loud, protect yourself.
FAQs – how loud is a guitar
Can I play a guitar in an apartment?
Yes, you can play a guitar in an apartment. However, it’s essential to be considerate of your neighbors. If you’re playing an acoustic guitar, the sound is generally acceptable during daytime hours. For electric guitars, consider using headphones or playing at a lower volume. Always check your lease agreement or speak with your landlord about any noise restrictions.
Can I play a guitar in a house with a sleeping baby?
It’s possible, but caution is advised. Babies have sensitive hearing, and sudden or loud noises can easily wake them. If you’re playing an acoustic guitar, consider playing softly or in a room far from the baby’s sleeping area. For electric guitars, using headphones is a great option. If the baby’s room is soundproofed or if there’s white noise playing, it might also help mask the sound of the person playing the guitar.
How can I reduce the sound of my guitar in shared spaces?
There are several ways to reduce the sound:
- Use a practice mute or a soundhole cover for acoustic guitars.
- Play electric guitars unplugged or use headphones.
- Add soundproofing materials or rugs to your room to dampen the sound.
- Play during times when noise is generally acceptable, like midday.
Are there specific guitars better suited for quiet environments?
Yes, there are guitars designed for quieter play. Classical guitars with nylon strings tend to be quieter than steel-stringed acoustics. Electric guitars, when unplugged or played with headphones, are also suitable for quiet environments.
Can playing the guitar too loudly damage my hearing?
Prolonged exposure to loud sounds, including a loudly played guitar, can lead to hearing damage. It’s always advisable to play at a comfortable volume and use ear protection if playing at high volumes for extended periods.
Is there a way to measure how loud my guitar is?
Yes, you can use a decibel meter or a smartphone app designed to measure sound levels. This can give you an idea of how loud your guitar is and if it’s within acceptable limits for your environment.
What are the general acceptable hours to play a guitar in shared living spaces?
While it varies depending on local regulations and specific building rules, generally, noise is acceptable between 8 AM and 10 PM. Always check with your local guidelines and be considerate of neighbors or other household members.