For all the players out there attempting to log some hours on your acoustic to jam, practice or improve
With that said, acoustics, late evenings and small living spaces (apartments and box rooms) do not usually mix.
In this post, I will offer you tips and hacks for muting and quietening your acoustic, giving you the freedom to play your acoustic at any place at any time.
Later in the post as a bonus! I will also explain why some unplugged acoustics are louder and quieter than others. So let’s dive right in…
The Main Question
What is the best way to quieten a noisy acoustic guitar?
Reducing the volume from an unplugged acoustic entails lessening the vibrations of the strings or alternatively, placing an object inside the body to absorb the sound to reduce it from circulating and resonating inside the body cutting down on the volume projection.
Now you have the short answer, here are the bulletproof and practical tips for lowering the volume of an acoustic guitar for quiet practicing. Tip number one goes like this….
1. Place a Soft Object Under the Strings
As mentioned above, the cheapest, easiest and most convenient way for lowering the pesky volume on your acoustic. Is placing a soft object under the strings close to the bridge of the acoustic.
This reduces the vibrations and thus removing volume from your acoustic! Best of all, these are household products lying around your home.
- Dish Cloth
- Paper Towel
This video explains perfectly how to lower the vibrations and frequencies from an acoustic using household items (watch below.)
I have witnessed a number of players adopt this method for blunting the tone and sustain for mixing things up tonally for recording purposes.
More interestingly, the objects material and ability to absorb sound and muffle the strings can also produce different tones.
How to Position
For example, a big fluffy sock will absorb more vibrations and sustain thus giving you a ‘warmer’ and ‘blunter’ tone.
Whereas, using an item that is paper-based will resonate more and produce a ‘snappier’ and ‘crisper’ tone than an item that is fluffy and absorbent.
The closer you place the object to the bridge will also affect tone and sustain, similar to where you position your hand for palm muting the same way it will affect the sound.
For example, place the object closer to the bridge the sound will become duller.
This is proven and by far the best method for quietening an acoustic to avoid being the annoying person in the household. Give it a try!
2. Fill the Body with a Small Cushion
The bigger and more cushiony the object whether a cushion or not, the more it will lessen the vibrations swirling inside the body of the acoustic killing the sound from resonating.
This essentially mimics the same way how a drummer uses a cushion to deaden the sound of a bass drum.
As we all know, the main aspect that divides a pickup-less acoustic form a regular electric is the obvious soundhole.
The soundhole acts as the doorway for vibrations from the string to swirl around inside the body of the guitar which resonates inside to create the projection of sound.
This allows an unamplified acoustic guitar to be loud enough without requiring any external amplification source such as a preamp or pickup.
Soften the Projection
For a late night guitarist wanting to practice in peace without disturbing anyone, adding a bulky but soft item within the body of the acoustic will essentially function as a dampener.
There are a number of products to use but personally, I would go with a small and flexible cushion. A flexible cushion will be required to get past the strings if it already strung.
Alternatively, you could use a ton of paper towels or some form of cloth that you can easily fish out when you have finished playing.
There is no specific product to use here, I would just go with what works and what you have lying around your home. As long as it is cushiony, soft and absorbent then whatever works for you.
Combine this with tip number 1 and now have yourself a very quiet acoustic perfect for late night playing and practicing.
3. Use a Feedback Buster
A feedback buster is primarily used for reducing the feedback from an electro-acoustic plugged into a loud acoustic amp or PA system. A feedback buster is a circular rubbery material that covers the soundhole for removing feedback in a live setting.
Although we are discussing unplugged here, however, it is known to add a muffling effect to your acoustic for removing some volume when unplugged. This video explains all…
Granted, a feedback buster may not be as effective as dampening the strings with a soft object mentioned above. However, it can contribute to removing the vibrations and air away from the soundhole.
Some players have also argued the case that a feedback buster can also change the dynamics and tone of your acoustic when unplugged.
Either way, having a feedback buster will be an inexpensive item for taming and removing any feedback if you happen to be a frequent live acoustic guitarist.
This simple addition which is considered by some players as an essential addition for performing live acoustic sets.
4. Practice Palm Muting
Instead of using a soft object to dampen the strings mentioned in the previous points, simply practice your palm muting to improving your rhythm and strumming technique.
Palm muting also doubles up by quietening your acoustic by dampening the strings so you cannot disturb people around you.
Palm muting is simply using the side of your hand, rest your palm on the strings to affect the tone by dampening the sound.
The trick is to not rest the strings too hard but just enough to allow enough sustain when they are strummed or plucked.
Palm Muting Techniques
This can create different tones and effects with your guitar opening up a whole new world of sounds if you are a beginner.
Even better is that you can practice palm muting late at night as it will not be as loud when letting the strings fully vibrate.
When it comes to playing rhythm guitar, a common mistake by beginners is strumming with the elbow instead of the wrist, doing this increases the distance of the strumming arm.
Fear not, I explain this point more in-depth in my post ‘How to increase strumming Speed on Acoustic Guitar’ which you should check out!
5. Use Lighter Strings
A lighter set of strings on your acoustic means having less string to vibrate when strummed or plucked.
Meaning lighter gauged strings have less output thus lowering the volume compared to a heavier gauged set of strings. Keep in mind, the material and thickness of the string will affect playability and tone.
An acoustic with lighter strings will improve playability as they are easier to bend and feel less bulky on the fingertips which are useful for all beginners out there.
Beginners with soft fingertips should avoid heavy gauged strings until they have ‘firmed up’, and used to the fretting pressure required without it hurting. Acoustic string gauges are known as…
- Extra light: .010
- Custom light: .011
- Light: .012
- Medium: .013
- Heavy: .014
Lighter strings are also known for sounding brighter and more ‘piercing’ depending if you want that tone is down to you as the player. The tradeoff, however, is that lighter strings do not sound as ‘fuller’ than a mid to heavy gauged strings.
If you are the usual player that reaches for a heavy gauged set of strings, drop in a light set to feel and hear the difference for yourself. You will have a quieter acoustic for late night playing and improve the playability.
As always, I recommend experimenting with your gear as much as possible so you can stumble on that winning formula that suits your sound and style.
6. Silent Acoustic Guitar
There are a few products floating around such as the Yamaha silent acoustic guitar. Obviously, this guitar is not exactly fully ‘silent’. However, in my eyes, it is more of a versatile electro-acoustic that you can travel with.
This guitar is super portable and the pickups sound very natural and represent the true sound of a rich acoustic. Use it plugged or unplugged, either way, it will sound great whatever you choose.
However, the only downside is the price! Although the silent acoustic guitar is versatile, portable and does sound good for a naked acoustic. I am not going to sit here and recommend a $500+ guitar just for quiet practicing.
You can use your hard earned money on something really important like…a different guitar! Which brings me over to the next tip…
7. Use an Unplugged Electric Guitar
I know the title of this post says ‘acoustic guitar’ which can be a bit of a contradictory point.
However, chances of being a guitar player, the probability of owning other guitars in your possession are high, hopefully, an electric guitar in this case!
If so, using an unplugged electric guitar is far quieter than a gagged and muffled acoustic. So instead of reaching for an acoustic, let it have an early night off and grab the electric instead for the night shift.
An unplugged electric is certainly the quieter and therefore best option to avoid waking up anyone in close proximity.
Best of all, you can play with the shackles off now as you may be conscious without being too eager with your strokes causing an unnecessary spike in volume with the acoustic.
Even better, got an amplifier or a digital FX board with a headphone input?
Now you can plug in and hear yourself more closely without disturbing anyone. Grab a clean tone or amp simulator effect or external acoustic simulator pedal.
I agree, using the electric is somewhat cheating and not the same as using an acoustic.
However, the tradeoff is that now you can simply play till your heart’s content and know for sure you will not be disturbing anyone.
8. Play Somewhere Quiet
“If a tree falls in the woods but none is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Granted, the answer is ‘duh’ yeah!
But obviously, no one is there to hear it. This analogy can in some way be applied to the point I’m making for keeping angry housemates, family, and neighbors at bay.
To ensure your acoustic is as ‘quiet’ as it can be! Using the analogy mentioned, simply provide enough distance between yourself and your house members.
This can be in the form of distance so go and play in a spare room, rehearsal room, outside, in the car (if you must!)
Even schedule a jam night with your guitar buddy at their place for an acoustic jam session (with no volume restrictions allowed) It all
Obviously, if there is nothing you can do to create distance such as living in close proximity with others in an apartment Just simply resort to the tips I have mentioned above.
What Determines the Loudness of an Acoustic Guitar?
So why are some acoustics louder, and some quieter than others based on unplugged pure ‘acoustic’ sound?
The answer is there are many elements when it comes to construction and material contributing to the overall volume of an unplugged acoustic guitar.
The first being the size of the body. Typically, the more air that is moved in and out of the soundhole, the more potential for volume.
Therefore the big bulky dreadnoughts and jumbo acoustics generally have more volume than smaller cambered acoustics.
Keep in mind, this is not always the case, as build quality, resonance and hardness of the wood are other contributing factors to volume potential, bringing me on to the next point…
Wood Material & Construction
There are many types of woods built for the construction of an acoustic. rosewood, mahogany, ebony, maple, spruce, cedar, walnut etc.
Each varies in thickness and density which plays a huge role the resonant tones and frequencies from an acoustic. For example, some woods sound darker, richer, brighter, louder etc.
The top wood of the guitar also plays a big role in transferring the vibrating from the string to the body of the acoustic.
The denser the wood, the better it can pass vibrations through the guitar improving its resonance and ability to sustain.
This post is already long enough so here’s a great read on different acoustic woods and how they affect tone here!
The Height of the Action
The action is known as the height and distance the strings are to the frets which lay across the fingerboard.
Generally, the lower the action, the easier the acoustic is to play as less fretting pressure is required to fret notes. However, the height also has an effect on the acoustics volume.
For example, acoustics with higher actions are known to be louder than acoustics with lower actions. Because there is more space for the strings to move and vibrate along the fretboard.
As previously discussed, heavier gauged strings are thicker and therefore have more mass for a bigger potential for transferring louder vibrations. The amount of tension the string is under will affect the amount of volume that is produced.
Lastly, the material of the string is also a contributing factor. For example, ‘steel’ and ‘silk’ strings are quieter and more mellow than the brighter and the usual metallic sound of bronze, phosphor bronze and brass strings.
Technique and Touch
The amount of force you pluck and strum the strings is also a big factor to how much volume you can essentially bring out from your guitar.
Depending if you have a heavier touch than a lighter and more gentle touch from other players.
The heaviness of the pick and angle you attack the strings affects the amount of volume your acoustic produces. Lighter picks geared towards strumming are known to be brighter.
Whereas heavier picks can squeeze more volume when they are adopting for heavy single-note plucking.
Depending on subtle frequencies and nuances, these differences give each guitar player their own unique sound and playing style.
Can you install locking tuners on acoustic guitars?
Locking tuners can be installed on acoustic guitars for improving tuning stability. As they function to prevent strings from slipping at the tuning peg. However, locking tuners can add additional weight to the headstock than traditional tuners.
Can you use an electric guitar amp for acoustic?
If the guitar is an ‘electric acoustic’ including a built-in preamp and pickup. However, for a natural and transparent sound. Acoustic guitars are not designed for regular electric guitar amps as they ‘ color’ the tone which will not represent the acoustic guitars natural clean sound.