Can Acoustic Guitar Damage Hearing? Protecting Your Hearing

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Are you worried that your deep passion for guitar – specifically acoustic guitar – is damaging your hearing? Can acoustic guitar damage hearing? Is there anything you can do to prevent it?

Well, let’s find out shall we, as we explore the ins and outs of how to avoid damaging your hearing, whether you are going to concerts or playing a whole lot of loud music.

The Short Answer

Yes, indeed it can. In fact, studies show that the threshold for loud noise is actually a lot lower than we previously thought – especially if we consider noise that we are repeatedly subjected to or otherwise deal with for extended periods of time – and that it is widespread among all walks of music.

Thankfully, there are a number of solutions, such as ear protection and the like, which we can use to combat this very serious ill. It is a severe ailment, for other studies have shown that it can lead to a greater risk of dementia.

Thankfully, though, the volume levels of an acoustic are much safer than an amplified electric.

Which Decibels Can Damage Hearing?

Research by the CDC has shown that the danger zone for the damaging of hearing is anywhere from 80 dB and up. It is said that experiencing or playing music at this volume for two or more hours usually has a detrimental effect on one’s hearing.

This noise can be consistent or in stages, though the detrimental effect tends to be stronger when experiencing the sound for longer stretches of time without breaks. Studies have shown that, if the noise is constant, it can not only be bad for your health but it can also affect your mental health.

If a sound is so loud that you have to raise your voice to communicate with someone who is only arm’s length away, then perhaps the noise is too loud. Of course, this wouldn’t fly at a rock concert where this kind of volume is encouraged. Don’t be alarmed, then, when you see a band like Gnod and can’t hear someone right next to you.

How Loud is an Acoustic Guitar?

Thinking about loud instruments, one isn’t often drawn to thinking about acoustic guitar. Known generally as one of the more relaxing instruments to listen to, it seems a bit ridiculous to think that playing guitar and listening to acoustic guitars could cause noise-induced hearing loss.

Acoustic guitar can, however, reach the kinds of volumes necessary to do damage to hearing, though you do have to be playing quite intensely for a good while to do any long-term damage.

An acoustic guitar played at its absolute maximum intensity is going to reach a volume level of around 82 dB and 86 dB. Since damage can be caused by sounds above 80 dB if heard for a prolonged amount of time, it is indeed possible to damage your ears with an unamplified acoustic guitar.

Thankfully, the sound is projecting outward when you are playing guitar so, unless you are playing in an enclosed space, you are not going to receive the full brunt of the sound. This is because the soundhole is projecting away from the player – the sound from the strings, once swilled around in the mouth and belly of the beast, is spat forth into the face of whoever’s watching.

How Loud is an Acoustic Guitar through an Amp?

Whether you choose to use an acoustic amp or an electric amp with an acoustic guitar, the central aim here is surely to amplify the acoustic guitar playing and make it louder so that more people can hear it. Thus, the hearing loss induced by an amplified acoustic guitar will depend on the amplifier that you are running it through and the volume that you are running it at, though perhaps not as much as you would think.

The interaction between watts and decibels is strange and seemingly nonsensical. Logic would surely dictate that doubling your watts would double your decibels, though this is actually incorrect, no matter how hard you play guitar. Instead, doubling your wattage will only give you a rise in volume of 3 dB.

If, for example, you took a 50-watt amp and sat it beside a 100-watt amp, the difference in decibels would still only be 3 dB. To achieve double the volume of this 50-watt amp, you would actually need an amp with 10 times the power – 500 watts, which seems extraordinarily extra!

Still, on average a guitar amp has a loudness of 115 dB, a measurement way above the recommended safe limit of 80 dB for volume levels.

How Loud Are Concerts?

Though this will greatly depend on the type of concert you are going to, it is not uncommon for many concerts to regularly and repeatedly exceed the safe limit for volume.

Rock concerts, for example, can regularly exceed 105 dB, exposure to which is only safe for about four minutes, though some shows can be (and often are) even louder. This, alongside the fact that it is not uncommon for such concerts to exceed two or three hours, means that unless you are using hearing protection, you are doing a serious disservice to one of your five senses.

Classical concerts, on the other hand, can be quieter and tend to have more sonic and dynamic range, though it is precisely in these unexpected jumps in volume that the danger lies. Quieter passages of around 70 dB lure your ears into a false sense of security which is then shredded by a sudden burst of noise of around 90 dB which, if constant or repeated, can also cause hearing damage.

Hip-hop concerts, meanwhile, are also pretty loud at around 100 dB, though thanks to the fact they usually forego live instrumentation, they tend to be slightly quieter than rock concerts.

ConcertRockClassicalHip-hop
Average Decibels120 dB70-90 dB100 dB

How to Protect Your Hearing

The best and easiest solution many musicians use to protect their hearing is through the use of ear plugs. There are, however, a few other methods by which to protect your hearing.

1. Turning Down the Volume

An easy thing for you to do that will only cost you your pride is to turn your amp down. Though it might seem pretty self-explanatory, some people struggle to let the volume go, even if they are struggling to hear those around them as they both play their instruments and try to talk to you through the din.

This also goes for those who are not amplifying their instruments. If you are playing an acoustic guitar, you can always just play a little gentler, especially if you are, for whatever reason, drowning out the other acoustic instruments around you.

Indeed, it shouldn’t just fall to amplified electric guitars to turn themselves down – sound waves operate the same whether you are amplified or acoustic.

2. Playing for Shorter Intervals

Though it might not conform to your ideas of rock and/or roll, it will do wonders for your inner ear to play for shorter periods of time, especially if you are generally opposed to wearing ear protection.

This is one of the best things you can do for your ears if you are against hearing protection but still want to play loud guitar. Since hearing damage occurs after a certain volume threshold has been compromised for an extended period of time, you can counter this by playing for shorter periods of time while still playing at the desired volume.

3. Moving Further Away from the Amp

This might also seem a bit obvious to some, but it can also be helpful to protect your hearing by sitting further away from an amp or otherwise out of its line of fire.

At 1 foot away from a speaker or amp, you’re feeling more or less all of the intensity of the sound. Moving a mere 2 foot away from the speaker reduce that intensity to a measly 25%. By the time you are 4 feet away, that intensity is then at 6%.

Best Ear Plugs for Hearing Protection

Of course, you could just go right ahead and buy a pair of earplugs.

1. Alpine MusicSafe Pro

These are my own personal choices – I don’t go to any gigs without them or play any loud music without them.

Alpine MusicSafe Pro High Fidelity Music Earplugs for Noise Reduction - 3 Interchangeable Premium Filter Sets - Professional Musician Hearing Protection - Hypoallergenic Reusable Soft Black Plugs

2. Fender Musician Earplugs

Perhaps the cheapest way to protect your ears as a musician is to use Fender’s budget-friendly option that won’t break the bank. While they don’t sound all that great, they certainly beat losing your entire spectrum of hearing.

Fender Concert Ear Plugs, Daphne Blue, 10-Pair

3. Loop Experience Pro Earplugs for Musicians

The clever thing about these ear plugs is that you can change how much noise reduction you want easily and quickly by just using the silicon plugs alone or coupling them with the included foam buds, all of which come in the same pocket-friendly chassis.

Loop Experience Plus Earplugs - High Fidelity Hearing Protection for Musicians, DJs, Festivals, Concerts and Nightlife – 18dB & NRR 7 Noise Reduction Ear Plugs – Extra Accessories Incl - Silver

What If You Already Have Damaged Hearing?

Though it will be dependent on your individual circumstances – and should thus be treated on a case-by-case basis – you are broadly okay to keep playing guitar.

Just because you already have tinnitus that’s no reason to recklessly abandon yourself to it. It’s never too late to start using ear protection and, who knows, it might even benefit your hearing in time, allowing you to recuperate what hearing you still have left!

Final Tones

So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are now feeling ready and able to start protecting your hearing from those pesky loud sounds that can have such a detrimental effect on your ear drums.

FAQs Can Acoustic Guitar Damage Hearing?

Can playing guitar damage your ears?

Indeed it can. Any sound can cause damage to your hearing if it is louder than 80 dB and you are subjected to it for an extended period of time.

Can guitar cause hearing loss?

Yes, it can, though just about any sound can cause damage to your hearing if it is louder than 80 dB and you are subjected to it for an extended period of time. Electric or otherwise amplified instruments are particularly bad for one’s hearing over longer periods of time.

How can I protect my hearing when playing guitar?

The cheapest things you can do to protect your hearing when playing amplified guitar is to turn the amp down as much as you can bear, sit further away from it, play less hard, and also to play for shorter periods of time overall, thereby reducing your exposure to the sound.

Can guitar cause tinnitus?

Indeed it can, just as repeated and extended exposure to sounds louder than 80 dB can. Any sounds louder than this danger zone should only be experienced for short bursts of time or otherwise curbed entirely through the use of hearing protection.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

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