Photo by Charles Kaiser
Q: I regularly gig in a blues-rock power trio, and I have to solo over one or two tunes. Every time, the lead guitarist asks me to crank up the volume because he plays at a really high volume… too loud in my humble opinion. I don’t want to crank up the volume because I think it kills everything from dynamics to articulations and more. I’m not as comfortable with blues-rock, which makes it an even worse combo. But my main concern is my hearing. I’ve found playing with ear buds doesn’t work for me because it kills some of the frequencies and I feel lost sometimes – especially when soloing. What do you recommend?
A: Many readers will likely agree when I say I feel your pain. The blues power trio is a notoriously loud environment. Most blues guitarists I know just “can’t get the tone” unless it’s ear-explodingly loud.
First and foremost, I would suggest hearing protection. Plain and simple, I can attest that tinnitus really stinks, and I haven’t heard true silence in over a decade. Most everyone hates generic ear plugs because they turn the sounds into a thumpy, muffled mess. I strongly urge you to get an impression made by an audiologist and get some moulded ear plugs. You can also get a number of different filters for different scenarios. Personally, I’m a fan of 1964 Ears. They are priced very competitively and I’ve found both their IEMs and moulded plugs to be fantastic and well made.
I find that -15db filters are a good general purpose filter and tend to have a fairly even and flat response. They don’t cut too much of any one frequency. I also like to carry a pair of -25db filters for extra loud environments.
Now, let’s talk about your guitarist.
I think that your argument is hard to dismiss. You’re 100% right in that when you start at 10, there’s no where to go dynamically. It’s nearly impossible to craft a good solo when you start of at top volume. If you guys are truly serving the music, everyone should understand a clear explanation that you want to start by bringing it down and then build something throughout your solo.
There may not be anything you can do about solos by the rest of the band, and I know just how loud a single Fender Twin can get.
The reality is this: ear damage is permanent. You need to either get ear protection, convince your band to turn it down, or at least do a little of both or suffer a lifetime of consequences. If you don’t, you’ll one day experience 24/7 ringing in your ears and will completely lose the ability to hear multiple frequencies in one or both ears.
You can also become hyper-sensitive to some frequencies, which can really hurt and is endlessly frustrating. For example, metal clanging will send me running.
So get ear protection! Talk to your band mates and try and find a compromise of some kind. If they won’t budge, then it is up to you to decide just how badly you want the gig and weigh the risks/rewards.
I know there are may of you with similar experiences. How have you dealt with this? Please share in the comments.