Sound control is a real problem for all musicians.
The Blackstar HT-1 combo amp drives a whopping single watt of power through an 8" speaker for great tone at a reasonable volume level.
Rivera’s Silent Sister features a 12" Celestion Vintage 30 speaker sealed in an enclosure. Your amp’s speaker output drives the Vintage 30 and a microphone mounted on a gooseneck inside the enclosure sends a signal out of the box to studio monitors or a live sound console at whatever volume level you choose.
MOTU’s ZBox provides a proper impedance match between your guitar and audio interface or other piece of gear so that playing feel is maintained.
So you finally have a couple of hours free for a nice evening of woodshedding in your music room/home studio. Your amp is warmed up, pedalboard plugged in, your favorite axe is freshly strung and tuned, and the changes you’re planning to work on soloing over are cued up to play through the monitors. You switch off your amp’s standby and strum a nice, big, open E chord to set the mood and check your tone.
Then you hear those fateful words: “Honey, Breaking Bad is coming on, can you please turn it down?” Your amp is barely on as is, and if you turn it down any more, your tone will really suffer. Then suddenly, the inspiration and motivation are gone.
A similar scenario can occur when recording because you need a certain volume level to achieve the tone you want. And equally important, you don’t want undesired noise from outside the studio to get onto your tracks. Be it traffic noise, flushing toilets, doors slamming, footsteps above or below—there are countless culprits for unwanted noise making its way into your microphones.
Sound control is a real problem for all musicians. Those with, shall we say, a certain attitude—will say, “Screw it, it’s my place, too, and I’ll make all the noise I want.” Certainly an option, it’s not one that will lead to harmonious relationships with family members and neighbors. Because I hate to be bothered by someone else’s noise, I’ve never taken this attitude. Even more than that, it makes me very self-conscious knowing that someone is being forced to hear me play endless scales and arpeggios, or struggling to perfect a solo by playing it over and over.
Sound waves propagate very nicely through air, wood, drywall, windows, and most doors. So in the interest of keeping the peace, the following are good options to explore and discuss.
Low-wattage amps. It’s common sense: A smaller amp produces less volume than a larger amp. The problem was, until recently, there weren’t many truly small amps (1 watt or so) that sounded very good. Things have changed, though, and Vox, Marshall, Blackstar, and a number of other manufacturers are now making great-sounding small amps.
Power attenuators. A power attenuator absorbs some of the power coming from an amp, reducing the power that is available for driving the speaker, and thereby reducing the volume. An attenuator can certainly drop your amp’s volume, but may or may not also change the tone and feel of the amp.
Isolation boxes. You could also place your amp or speaker in a sealed box to contain its volume. A microphone inside the box can then be routed to your studio monitors for listening at any volume. Many big-stage rigs are run this way now, and it’s an alternative for home use as well. That said, it’s not quite as simple as just playing an amp, and you may also run the risk of changing the tone with this method.
Amps with headphone outputs. Many amps now include headphone outs, which disable the speaker when headphones are plugged in. This allows for truly silent practice, but may not provide the tone you want, and not everyone likes playing through headphones.
Amp modelers. Whether it’s a pedal or a software program, modelers that simulate the sound of an amp are a convenient solution for practicing at controlled volume levels. Opinions certainly vary on how well modelers emulate a real amp. In my opinion, the key is getting the impedance to match properly with your guitar, as the AVID Eleven Rack, the MOTU ZBox, and other devices do, which makes playing guitar through a modeler feel right. Modelers typically offer many other benefits, such as built-in rhythm tracks, MP3 playback or MP3 player inputs, built-in tuners, built-in effects, and much more.
Each of these solutions will reduce your guitar’s volume. How well each one maintains your tone and the playing feel you expect is a matter of personal preference. And how well each works with your preferred way of practicing—with backing tracks, a metronome, a drum machine, strictly from sheet music, or whatever it might be—will vary as well.
Hopefully one of the methods will work for you. I’ve used them all with success for practice, recording, and even low-volume band rehearsals. But there is another way to practice and record with complete freedom: Create an environment where sound cannot escape. A soundproof studio or practice room, while ideal, depends on many factors such as where your space is located, how it’s constructed, how much money you can spend, etc.
Next we’ll discuss how to minimize sound leakage into and out of your studio, and how to optimize the acoustics inside your space—no matter how soundproof it is—so that your guitar and your recordings will sound their best. Stay tuned.
Mitch Gallagher's latest book is Guitar Tone: Pursuing the Ultimate Guitar Sound. He is the former Editor in Chief of EQ magazine. In addition to being a writer, he is a freelance recording engineer/producer/ mastering engineer, teaches music business and audio recording at Indiana University/Purdue University, and is Sweetwater’s Editorial Director. www.mitchgallagher.com
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.