Should You Practice Guitar With An Amp?
This is a really good question and there are a number of different schools of thought on the subject. I suppose the short answer to this question is, yes you should. Having said that, if the question was 'should you practice without an amp' the answer would also be, yes you should!
Letís delve into this a bit deeper and try to clarify things a little bit. First, weíll look at some of the arguments for practicing with an amplifier.
Why You Should Practice Guitar With An Amp
If youíre learning to play an electric guitar, the amplifier you use will basically be an extension of your guitar. An electric guitar sounds very different through an amplifier and your playing will need to be adjusted to allow for this. The last thing you want to be doing is getting up on stage with your band and plugging into your amp if youíve spent most of your time practicing unplugged. The way the instrument responds at high volume is completely different and you'll have to introduce various muting techniques (both left hand and right hand) to allow for this.
... itís important that you spend time focusing on playing with an amplifier ...
Your amplifier is like an instrument in itself and getting the right sound dialled in is no easy feat. It really is a good idea to spend plenty of time getting familiar with how your amp performs and sounds under different conditions. Remember, the job of the amp is to amplify your instrument. This means that sounds that arenít noticeable when you arenít plugged in are very noticeable when you are. An amp can cover a multitude of sins but it can also expose them too!
Why You Should Practice Guitar Without An Amp
As we mentioned above, as well as exposing mistakes, an amp can also compensate for poor playing technique. This is why you should also practice your guitar without any amplification at all. Even if you have the best practice amp going, unplug it for a while!
Most guitarists would probably agree that, initially, itís better to practice unplugged, as it helps prevent bad habits creeping into your playing style. If you can play your guitar well without an amp, youíll probably sound even better once you amplify the sound.
Realistically, itís also easier to find the time to practice unplugged. You donít have to worry about annoying the neighbours or waking the kids up etc. Also, do you really need to be hooked up to a 30 watt Marshall in order to practice scales?
Should My Guitar Gently Weep?
Or Should It Scream Out Loud?
So which is it then? Do I practice with or without an amplifier?
Practice Both Plugged And Unplugged
The long answer to the question of whether or not you should practice your guitar with an amplifier is this; you should be practicing both with and without an amplifier.
If youíre a beginner, you should almost certainly spend most of your time unplugged. This helps you to build up a solid foundation and really nail your tone and technique. That isnít to say that you shouldnít Ďamp upí now and again and really blast some sounds out, after all, playing the electric guitar is supposed to be fun isnít it?
Once youíre at an intermediate level and thinking about performing live, itís important that you spend time focusing on playing with an amplifier, as well as continuing to practice without any amplification.
Ultimately, you need to incorporate practicing with an amplifier into your practice schedule, just as you would anything else. Maybe spend some time working on scales unplugged for example, before moving on to some amp work. Practice experimenting with overdrive and effects etc.
Letís not forget to mention that most electric guitar players also play an acoustic guitar too and this can certainly help with your technique. In fact, starting out on an acoustic is a great way to get into playing the guitar.
Just like everything in life, it's important to have a balance (Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid certainly thought so and who are we to argue?). Most importantly though, enjoy playing your guitar!