• Billy Jones

To Plug In or Not to Plug In

Hey electric guitar players, should you be practicing plugged into an amp?


You know our favorite answer is it depends!


There is value in practicing both plugged and unplugged.

The Case for Practicing with Your Amp



Amplifying the guitar and adding effects will change the way you attack the strings.

Overdrive and distortion pedals add increased compression which will allow notes to sustain longer and feel different than if you played them unplugged. If you have a certain sound in mind which involves using effect pedals such as: overdrive, distortion, delay, etc. you should practice with those effects so that you know exactly how the strings react when you attack them in different ways and what sounds are produced.

You can hear unwanted string noise.


When you are plugged in, you will hear nuances in your playing more clearly and more loudly. You will become aware of additional techniques to improve such as: note intonation, unwanted string noise, and fret buzzing.

Electric guitars are designed to be plugged in.


This one is sort of a no-brainer but worth mentioning. If you wanted to play without an amp, you should probably play an acoustic guitar, right? I recently read someone on a forum say this: “playing an electric guitar without an amp is like buying a chain-saw, then cutting wood by sawing manually without starting the chain-saw.” Good point.



Why Practicing Without the Amp Helps You to Improve



You develop your finger strength.

Playing unplugged can help you develop the right amount of strength your fingers needed to play certain techniques such as hammer-ons and pull-offs. You should be able to hear these clearly while playing them unplugged.



You can perfect your picking hand articulation.


Without the amp, you can focus on the articulation and precision of your picking. Picking the strings harder or softer, and faster or slower can easily be heard when you are playing unplugged.

Your phrasing and dynamics will improve.


When you practice without the amp, you may press differently on the strings to get a dynamic and emotive sound. The volume of the amp isn’t doing the work for you. If you practice your phrasing and dynamics unplugged, it will make your plugged in playing sound even better.

Bottom line: mix it up.


Practice both ways - plugged and unplugged - and keep track of how your playing improves. Need some ways to recognize your progress? Check out this post.



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