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June 30, 2021
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Apartment Rock: Guitar and Bass Gear for Low-Volume Practice

Most guitarists and bassists agree: to get the best tone from your gear, you have to turn your amp up, at least a little bit. But when playing at home, that's not always an option. Sometimes, it can seem like you have to choose between quiet, weak tone or nasty looks from neighbors or roommates.

Well, it turns out you can have it all. With the right gear and a few techniques, you can get great tone at home at a volume that won't wake up the baby sleeping upstairs, or disturb your roommate's final exam cram. Check out our bedroom gear picks below, and get some advice on how to play at home on the zZounds Blog!
Solid-State Amps
Compared to tube amps, solid-state amps tend to be quieter and have more consistent tone across all volumes. This is good news for guitarists who like to play heavier styles, because you can turn up the gain, leave the volume low, and still get a raunchy tone. Many solid-state amps also feature output jacks for headphones for silent practice, and auxiliary inputs to plug in a phone or mp3 player and jam to your favorite songs.

Have downstairs neighbors? Help prevent your amp from ruining their dinner by isolating it on an amp stand or pad! Placing your amp on a stand helps reduce the vibrations it sends through the floor.
Modeling Amps
Need more variety? Modeling amps bring a suite of tones -- from beloved classics to modern fire-breathers -- to your disposal. Many modeling amps are solid-state, giving you consistent tone at any volume, but you can also find tube and hybrid modeling amps. Hybrid modeling amps are like the best of both worlds -- you get digital modeling power, plus one or more tubes in the preamp section for the unmistakeable real tube response and warmth.

Modern modeling amps even pair with your smartphone for easy patch creation and editing!
Low-Wattage Tube Amps
If you absolutely cannot live without tube tone, a low-wattage (ideally less than 5-watt) combo amp may be a good fit for your pad. While you don't want to dime these amps (five tube watts can get rather loud), their preamp and power tubes and pure analog signal path will give you the warm goodness you seek. These low-wattage tube amps are also great for pedal users, because with their often-limited EQ controls, you'll be able to really sculpt your tone through pedals.

And if you're planning on recording, a low-wattage tube amp is a great choice. With a well-placed mic, a small combo amp can sound huge. Just try to pick a time when you know your closest neighbor isn't home if you're going to turn it up!
Bass Combo Amps
Low frequencies transfer through walls more easily than highs -- you know this if you've ever tried to catch sleep through booming bass from a party next door. For the domestic bassist, a low-wattage combo amp is the way to go. Thankfully, there is no shortage of options available that offer plenty of bang for the buck. When shopping, look for comprehensive EQ controls, a headphone jack, auxiliary input, and an overdrive channel or gain control, depending on your needs.
Multi-Effects Units
If you already have an amp or prefer to play through headphones, a good multi-effects unit may be all you need! With a wide swath of effects and amp models, you'll have no shortage of tones to work with. Most multi-effects units have headphone jacks, so you'll be able to practice late into the night. Plus, at the higher end of the multi-effects spectrum, you can find a unit with enough preset options and customization to take to gigs!
Headphones
At the end of the day, a good pair of headphones may just be the most important part of your apartment or dorm rig. With headphones, you can play any time, at any volume, and they're practically a necessity if you have roommates.

When shopping for headphones, choose studio monitor or audiophile headphones over casual listening headphones for a flatter EQ profile that won't color your amp's sound. Closed-back headphones provide better sonic isolation, so you won't be heard. Open-back headphones give you a wider stereo image and more spacious sound, but will bleed noise that can wake up your dorm roommate sleeping three feet away. Unless you're looking into professional in-ear monitors, avoid earbuds, as they will produce a noticeably thinner sound that won't handle gain very well.
Recording Gear
Add a few pieces of key recording gear to your setup and you'll have a modest home studio to lay down tracks. Try a dynamic mic on your amp -- you can experiment with mic placement to get the tone you want. Plug into an audio interface -- choose a USB, FireWire, or Thunderbolt interface to capture tracks into your computer. Finally, you'll need digital audio workstation or DAW software to record mix. If you don't want to rely on your computer as the heart of your recording rig, a portable multitrack recorder may be the way to go!