Do guitarists need to wear ear-plugs? If you play in a band, YES you should wear earplugs; plain and simple.
Why do guitarists need to wear ear-plugs?
Because our ears are only built to tolerate a certain amount of noise before they start to become damaged. The damage is usually irreversible.
Many musicians who play in bands become aware that they should wear earplugs quite early on. But many choose to ignore this.
The most common complaint is ‘I can’t hear myself properly when I wear ear plugs’. I once felt this way because I had only ever tried cheap foam earplugs that are designed for everyday use, as oppose to earplugs that are designed specifically for musicians.
Foam earplugs significantly limit upper frequencies, so vocals, guitar and cymbals almost disappear for the foam earplug wearer.
What type of earplug should guitarists buy?
There is only one serious answer to what earplugs musicians should where, and that’s custom-made silicon earplugs.
These type of earplugs are moulded to fit your ears precisely, so there is no leakage (gaps between the plug and your ear canal). They also contain a sophisticated filter that reduces the volume of sound entering your ear evenly across the frequency spectrum.
This means that musicians hear all the sounds they’d hear on a gig or rehearsal without ear plugs, just a more quietly and clearly.
To reiterate: these are the best type of earplugs for guitarists and other musicians, and they should always be worn at gigs and rehearsals.
My not-so-nice experience
When I was 22 years old I realised that I had developed tinnitus. This is the permanent version of the ringing sound we experience temporarily after being in a very noisy place.
It was almost certainly from playing with other musicians without wearing earplugs. It’s not a nice experience to lie in bed listening to a high pitch ringing sound that won’t go away.
If you put your fingers in your ears it just gets louder. The following night it’s still there, even though you haven’t had been anywhere noisy. Then the next night, until you finally realise that it’s not going to go away and it’s with you forever.
Then begins the difficult process of acceptance and learning to ignore it.
Two very different types of ear plug
Following this experience, whenever I played guitar in bands I would wear foam earplugs to prevent any further damage. And so began several years of frustrating gigs and rehearsals.
My guitar was always either too loud for the rest of the band or too quiet for me to hear myself through my foam earplugs.
One day though, I made a decision that changed my life. I decided to have professional musicians earplugs made by an audiologist.
I had known about these type of earplugs for some time, from other guitarists. But it had always seemed such a large expense (about £200) compared to the minimal cost of foam plugs.
I can honestly say however, that they were worth every penny.
I learned quickly that when playing guitar whilst wearing foam earplugs I had been picking harder than necessary to compensate for not being able to hear myself properly.
This meant that my technique was being hampered. With my new earplugs, I played guitar better and more accurately than ever before. I could once again hear every squeak that came from my guitar, every consonant that came out of the singer’s mouth and all the glistening high frequencies of the cymbals.
Since that day I haven’t performed – or attended – a single gig without my silicon earplugs.
If you’re a guitarist, buy some earplugs now
So, if you are a guitarist in a band, my advice is to get professional earplugs made right away. Moulded earplugs are the perfect choice for guitarists but you can’t try them out. This is because they have to be made specifically for your ears.
Opting for professional earplugs is therefore something of a leap of faith, but after my experience, I find it hard to imagine anyone being less than delighted with the results.
What if you can’t afford moulded earplugs?
Let’s be clear, any reasonable pair of ear plugs is better than no ear plugs. So, if money is tight then as a minimum I suggest using Alpine Earplugs for Musicians. These are relatively cheap and a much better option than foam ear plugs or no ear-plugs at all.
The lucky few guitarist who don’t wear ear plugs
There are some guitarists that can go their whole lives without wearing earplugs, and who don’t develop tinnitus or suffer hearing loss. Just like a few lucky people can smoke 40 cigarettes a day and live to a hundred without any major health problems.
But what a gamble to take.
The odds are stacked against you and if you lose, the effect is irreversible.
Do guitarists need to wear ear-plugs? Yes. Take action now. Find a reputable audiologist and make an appointment today if you can.
It’s a significant expense but a great investment in your long-term health.
After all, if you were to damage your ears, wouldn’t you happily hand over £200 to get your hearing back?
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photo credit: hebedesign via photopin cc
About the Author:Stuart Bahn is a professional guitarist and guitar educator in London, England.