Hearing Yourself in a Jam


#1

I have trouble hearing myself when playing in a jam. I’m just learning to play some solos, and not being able to clearly hear myself can be disorienting. When the jams get bigger than eight to ten people, it gets pretty noisy.

Do any of you have this problem; and what do you recommend I do about it?

Just for the sake of context: I’m a beginning guitar player. I started out with an inexpensive Greg Bennett acoustic, and after a year of serious lessons bought a used year-2000 Martin DH-28. I started playing at some local bluegrass jams last summer, and that has helped my playing immensely. Playing in the jams was intimidating at first, but the folks I’ve been playing with have been very helpful and friendly. Most of them have been playing for 30 to 40 years, so there are lots of opportunity to learn from some seriously talented and generous players.

And let me confess that I’ve only searched the Guitar section for this topic. I assumed that since the guitar is the softest playing instrument in a bluegrass jam that I’d have a better chance of finding other players who’ve experienced a similar situation here.

If this topic has been covered elsewhere on the forum, please point me to that location.

Thanks for any thoughts or advice on this topic!

Chris


#2

Hey Chris!
It is difficult to hear yourself on guitar when playing with a large group. If I am playing rhythm and I can hear myself, I know I am generally playing too loud. If playing a solo, wail away. In a way, the best thing to do is trust what you think you are playing. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing but I can usually hear it fine when I play something wrong. I guess one thing you could do to prepare is play with a CD or video and turn it up so loud you can’t hear yourself well.
Best of luck and if you find something that works let us know.


#3

There is a way to send more volume/sound your way without losing the volume of sound you are sending to others in the jam, cut a soundport.

This is a modification that cannot be undone, so you should probably not do this to your Martin unless you intend on NEVER selling it as it will lose resale value. In fact, if you decide to try this, you should probably try it on your Bennett acoustic first to see if it does as much as you would like.

Sound ports are quite common these days in the realm of high end boutique acoustic guitars. Even Martin is beginning to add soundports to their high end instruments.

The Martin CS-GP-14:

This idea behind the soundport is to throw more sound in the direction of the player (the tone is fuller and louder for the player) allowing the player to nuance the production of dynamics in a more knowing way. And it really works! When a soundport is properly cut, the player gets quite a bit more volume and the tone is richer/fuller than it would normally be from the players perspective. It sounds more like you are out in front of the instrument.

I have had the same problem as yourself. When playing with loud bluegrass instruments in a jam or performance setting, it tough to hear myself; a little like flying blind. So I decided to try and cut a soundport in my dreadnought. Cutting the hole is not that tough, a dremel works quite nicely. But I wanted to make sure that the guitar would not immediately crack where the hole was cut. So I took a very thin patch of mahogany laminate and glued it to the inside of the guitar where I was going to cut the hole. This would give support to the side and as the patch was a laminate, it would not contract and expand with changes in humidity.

I first needed to draw on the side approximately where I wanted the hole. It should point directly toward me so that I can hear as good as possible. I suggest that you do this with a light colored magic marker (silver will work) and play for a few days so that you are sure you have positioned the hole properly. After you have found the proper position, position the patch in the inside of the guitar centered where the hole will be.

This was glued with basic carpenters glue and I used neodymium magnets as clamps until the patch dried. *The discoloration near the soundhole is from stain used (after the hole was cut) to match the edge of the veneer to the edge of the wood on the guitar. *

Then I got out my dremel and went to town… :laughing: Actually, I called my wife in just as I was driving the dremel into the side of the guitar (I wanted to see her shocked look). I carefully stayed inside the line I had drawn on the outside of the guitar. I then changed the dremel cutter to the sanding tube and slowly cut the hole to a smooth oval.

The result was wonderful. I can hear myself much better than before when playing with other loud instruments. Also, the guitar is just as loud as before out in front of me while it seems louder as you approach the instrument. Also, the tone from the players position is much fuller and nicer.

Various builders will build various types of soundports.

http://www.mcknightguitars.com/images/Img20.gif
http://www.andrewwhiteguitars.com/images/models/fine_details/content/bin/images/large/AWG_Flourette_33.jpg
https://www.stevehowell.ws/images/gallery/grandcabret/Grand_Cabaret_soundport.jpg
http://dreamguitars.com/products/applegate/applegate_sj_90/images/soundport.jpg

My suggestion is to make sure you mark the side of your guitar with a drawing of the soundport and live with it for at least a few days and make sure it is pointing directly at you. If the soundport is pointing more toward your right shoulder or left shoulder, move the mark to point directly at your face! I have since put three soundports in three of my acoustics with the first one I placed pointing too much toward my right shoulder. On that guitar, the soundport is by far the least effective.

Good Luck!


#4

Nice job on the sound port. I would opt for the designer port they look real nice . Eastman I think is the name but they have the sound port higher up away from the middle I think they have hit on something. I even have thought of making a head set with tubing and placing it in my ear as when I do play at church I am right next to the piano and it is mic’ed so it over rides anything I play and I need to hear what I am doing as everyone needs to hear what they are doing . I have the Takemine 1989 and I may try it out on that one but not the Martin . I am pretty handy with a saw and a knife and sledge hammer LOL This would not be a job for a jig saw I could weld up an aluminum guitar if I was allowed to weld .

Another thing I might do is I have this cube amp that has an acoustic amp in it also, I might adjust it and turn it to my ear more than the audience sort of like a monitor speaker and as I am right next to the piano I could at least hear what it is I am doing . You would not have to turn it up much just enough to hear what you were doing. you could ask the song leader between songs if what you did hurt the music by being to loud.


#5

— Begin quote from “welder4”

I would opt for the designer port they look real nice … This would not be a job for a jig saw I could weld up an aluminum guitar if I was allowed to weld .

— End quote

Yep. Many of the soundports above are cut into guitars well north of $5000 each (certainly above my pay grade). :open_mouth: Eastman did make a fan fretted acoustic guitar with a soundport that listed for just about $3000 (almost affordable but not quite).

An aluminum guitar sounds like a good idea; Travis Bean built such an animal back in the late 70s. They used aircraft aluminum for the neck billet with the neck extending all the way to the bridge so that both ends of the string were connected to a solid piece of aluminum. The sustain on that thing was amazing. A friend in college owned one and I remember the action being amazing, while the guitar played like a precision machine.


#6

A common problem with instruments that project forward well (banjo,guitar, Bass)

the problem usually lies not with your hearing but with the other instruments pointing at you and the players not understanding dynamics and sound projection…or they are just plain impolite and would rather hear their own instrument than your lead.

I think you’ll find that the better the crowd of musicians you get into the easier it will be to hear yourself.

Unfortunately, in many jams you will have 3-5 guitars all playing different but similar rhythm in the same register as much of your lead thus drowning you out in an ocean of the same notes you are trying to make stand out and burying you in the mix. Same when the Bass plays in higher registers and interferes with the guitar.

It’s hard to hold it against most of the rhythm players as they are in the same boat as you and trying to hear themselves also above the din…Some will never get to the point where they can back off or find a different place to play that doesn’t add to the “wall of rhythm” you are probably fighting to come out on top of. It takes everyone listening, and being polite and inclusive, to gain balance in any group.


#7

— Begin quote from “fiddlewood”

the problem usually lies not with your hearing but with the other instruments pointing at you and the players not understanding dynamics and sound projection…or they are just plain impolite and would rather hear their own instrument than your lead.

— End quote

I agree. When playing with other folks, I truly want to hear their leads (I learn from every note they choose to play) so I have a tendency to play more of a short articulated chop with very quiet chording rather than lay heavy on the ringing chords. That way I am not stepping on top of their lead and it allows them (and everyone else) to hear the lead.

Still, it amazes me that even when playing/jamming with some longtime players, some folks will still play so loudly as to overwhelm the lead player (usually the guitarist or mandolin as they are at a volume and frequency disadvantage). This is why I chose to put the soundport in my guitar. It allows me to hear myself even when playing with folks who are not particularly sensitive to volume etiquette during jams.


#8

Volume etiquette and control take a long time to both learn and master. People generally don’t naturally use their ears (which is odd seeing as the entire reason we play is to make something for the ears to hear).


#9

Back in college, I played in a jazz quintet with a very good drummer. He could play quiet as a mouse whisper or loud as a jet engine. He had amazing “ears” and taught the rest of us to listen better. I sat in the quintet near his high hat and if I was not listening, he would hit the high hat to get my attention; just a short burst, not enough to mess up a tune, but enough to wake me up. :blush:

I learned a lot in those years about listening, sharing musical ideas and trading solos.


#10

— Begin quote from “drguitar”

Back in college, I played in a jazz quintet with a very good drummer. He could play quiet as a mouse whisper or loud as a jet engine. He had amazing “ears” and taught the rest of us to listen better. I sat in the quintet near his high hat and if I was not listening, he would hit the high hat to get my attention; just a short burst, not enough to mess up a tune, but enough to wake me up. :blush:

I learned a lot in those years about listening, sharing musical ideas and trading solos.

— End quote

That pretty much is the best advice for this thread In my opinion. I have found there are three types of jam musicians in the world … Quiet ones, Loud ones, and ones that Listen to the mix when playing.

The quiet ones are usually the shy people that are afraid to step up and take a chance because they are afraid they will mess up. They are usually the newer players. I have a few friends that I constantly tell them to not be afraid to take a chance, and to play louder.

Then there are the loud players that like to hear their own instrument first, and maybe some small traces of the other players. I have had certain people accidentally solo over my solo multiple times because they are not paying attention. After the solo they look up as to say, “your turn”… all I can think is, “hey did you not just hear us both soloing at the same time?” Some people get so tuned in to their own bit that they can not hear the whole mix. Like tunnel vision for the ears.

Then there are the people that are constantly listening, trying to find an equilibrium to the mix. That is very important if you want to respect everyone’s volume space; and to get a good, full sound. It is crucial in all music genres, not just bluegrass. With amplified instruments, like in rock music, volume control can be very important. It is a little more acceptable to tell people to turn down their volume in this situation because it is tough to tell sometimes, with all the effects and reverbs that come with amplified guitars. But with an acoustic jam, like with bluegrass, I just tend to deal with it. Though I must say it can really get under my skin.


#11

An aluminum guitar sounds like a good idea; Travis Bean built such an animal back in the late 70…

I was talking about the entire instrument , I have seen a Dobro made like that , If I had not have had the pacer put in I would have owned a heliarc and more than likely would have made an all aluminum guitar like a flat top . It would have to be made of top of the line aluminum because you would get every thing blacked up . just touchhing it ,. Those electrics look pretty cool by the way .


#12

I believe Kramer was the first '70’s aluminum neck guitar I ran into…horribly cold and unnatural feeling neck…played a few acoustics in later years (ovation maybe?) and they were the same…yuck! I’ll stick with wood.

played an aluminum Bass a few years back…tolerable sound but couldn’t stand the feel of it.


#13

— Begin quote from “fiddlewood”

I believe Kramer was the first '70’s aluminum neck guitar I ran into…horribly cold and unnatural feeling neck…played a few acoustics in later years (ovation maybe?) and they were the same…yuck! I’ll stick with wood.

played an aluminum Bass a few years back…tolerable sound but couldn’t stand the feel of it.

— End quote

Yep. This was a common perception and why these manufacturers offered these instruments with either wood inlays or some sort of polyurethane coating on the back of the neck. Also, these instruments were very prone to intonation problems because the aluminum was so sensitive to temperature changes. However, once they settled on a temp, they were rock solid.