Guitar can be both soft or loud sounding, and there are different ways to get the volume and type of sound you want.
If you’re playing your guitar late at night in a quiet house you might wonder if it’s too loud for people trying to sleep? If you record your guitar you want to have it loud enough to cut through the mix.
Playing guitar to get a soft or loud sound can greatly depend on your style, like how hard you pluck or strum the strings, and the type of guitar you play. An acoustic guitar can be very loud if you want it to be, an electric played unplugged can be very quiet.
It’s all up to you how loud you want a guitar to be, and I’ll show you how you can play it at the right volume for your environment, whether it’s a public stage or your bedroom.
What Makes A Guitar Loud?
The loudness of a guitar can sometimes be related to its size, or in other words – the volume of the guitars body (the amount of space inside it).
When the strings vibrate on a guitar, the vibrations are transferred into the body of the guitar which acts as an amplifier by resonating in harmony with the strings.
With acoustic guitars the larger the body of the guitar is, the more wood there is to resonate, and so you can get a louder sound from it.
Electric guitars don’t amplify sound like an acoustic, since they don’t generally have a hollow body with a hole for the sound to come out of.
There are some exceptions to this like hollow bodied electric guitars, which are designed to resonate more than a solid body electric, but unplugged won’t be anywhere near as loud as an acoustic guitar.
Electrics are obviously made to be amplified with electricity and are designed to have the sound come out of an amplifier rather than the instrument itself.
Playing Style Can Make Guitars Sound Loud Or Soft
When you play a guitar the volume that comes out can be controlled to a great degree by how hard you pluck or strum the strings, and there can be a wide range of dynamic change depending on the loudness or softness you desire.
Big acoustic guitars strummed hard with a hard pick can produce very loud sounds that compete well with other band instruments.
If you strum the strings gently with the soft fleshy tip of your thumb or fingers, you can play so quietly someone may be able to sleep within a few yards of you.
Fingerpicking can also be made to sound loud or soft depending on how hard you pluck the strings, whether you use your fingernails, a thumb-pick, or just the fleshy part of your fingers.
The harder the object you strike the guitar strings with, the more the strings will vibrate, and the guitar will sound louder.
Guitarists use the dynamics of volume regularly to make the music sound more interesting, and also to fit in with singers and other instruments when playing together.
What Are The Loudest Acoustic Guitars?
The loudest acoustic (non-amplified) guitars are Jumbo and Dreadnought guitars because they are the largest body shapes.
There is some cross-over in the specific shape and size of Jumbo guitars, but essentially they have a deeper body (the height from the back of the guitar to the front) and a larger round bottom end (lower bout).
Since Jumbo guitars have the largest soundboard the amount of air it can move is greater than other guitars, and can be louder when playing the big-strummed chords that it is so well known for.
Read about the loudest acoustic guitars.
How Loud Are Electric Guitars?
Electric guitars can be played very quietly if unplugged and quietly strummed or picked, or be loud enough to send you deaf when cranked up through a large amplifier!
Solid body and hollow body electrics are designed to pick up the vibration of the strings past the electromagnetic pickups, and that produces an electrical signal that is modified and amplified by using electronic circuits.
So the electric guitar itself won’t affect the sound volume, but rather is controlled by the amplifier it is plugged in to.
Are Hollow Body Electric Guitars Louder Than Solid Body?
Hollow body electric guitars have a body that can resonate like an acoustic guitar, but they have a much smaller volume (space inside), and are not designed to vibrate as much as an acoustic guitar.
The body of these electrics will make them sound louder than a solid body when played unplugged, and can be a good choice for some quiet late-night noodling.
However, the body itself is more about the tone that the guitar produces and won’t actually make the sound any louder through an amp.
Ways To Make An Acoustic Guitar Loud
Apart from the intensity you strum your guitar with, there are some more ways to make that axe louder!
If you have an acoustic guitar and it’s not loud enough to play with a band, then you can add a pickup to your guitar so that it can be plugged into an amp.
You can get a few different styles of pickups :
- Pickups designed to fit in the soundhole.
- Piezoelectric pickups that fit under the saddle (on the bridge).
- Body sensor pickups, that will pick up percussive sounds like tapping.
Most add-on pickups fit the soundhole, are easy to install, and will let you plug into an amp for a big boost in volume while keeping your acoustic guitar sound.
If you don’t want a pickup or don’t have one available, then you can also amplify your acoustic by placing a microphone in front of the soundhole.
There are plenty of semi-acoustic guitars on the market that come with pickups built in, so these guitars are very versatile if you need higher volume playing for a band situation.
Making Your Electric Guitar Louder
Ok, this first method is probably obvious – Turn the volume knob up!
There are a couple of other ways, but sometimes the quest for more volume results in poor tonal quality, so it’s worth plenty of research before deciding what is best for you.
If your electric has single coil pickups, then you could switch out for humbuckers which essentially have 2 coil windings rather than one. This means the pickup will produce more signal to pump into the front-end of your amp.
You can also opt for a hot pickup, which is made with more windings on the coils and will also push more signal to the amplifier.
While this will give more gain in the input of the amp, it will also affect tone, where as turning up a volume control simply makes your sound louder without altering the sound.
In the quest for volume, keep in mind that the signal from your guitar will simply drive the pre-amp circuit harder on your amp, and will result in more distortion, often with a loss of clarity and tone.
Ways To Make A Guitar Sound Soft
Playing softly is partly a matter of using a soft pick or your fingers to pick and strum the strings, and you can employ other techniques such as palm muting as well to control the volume.
You can also buy a foam rubber string damper that sits under the strings near the bridge to stop excessive string vibration.
With acoustic guitars you can get a damper that fits in the soundhole to lower the resonance of the guitar body, and this helps cut the low frequencies that travel easily through walls. It also helps reduce feedback when playing through an amp.
A simple way to dampen the guitar body is by wedging some foam or old shirts inside the body.
If you play electric, then you could play through some headphones plugged into a multi-effects pedal or your amplifier, or just play it unplugged.
With all guitars you can vary the tone of the sound according to where you pick or strum the stings.
You will get a sharper tone near the bridge and a softer mellow tone closer to the fretboard, so playing further from the bridge will help reduce the perceived volume.
How Loud Are Guitar Amplifiers?
If you want to practice at home without annoying the neighbors, then a 10-20 watt amp will do the job since it is not capable of very loud volumes, and you can turn the volume up enough to get the amp in its best working range.
On the other hand, if you want to play a small indoor gig you would be better off using a 60-100 watt amp that is loud enough to fill the room but not deafen listeners.
When you want to play larger venues then you will to go big, as you need a much louder sound volume to fill the space of the venue. In this range you will be looking at 200 watts or more, and these amplifiers are extremely loud.
Loud or Soft Sounding Guitar – It’s Up To You!
Guitars are versatile instruments that can be played as quiet as a whisper or as loud as your TV with the volume turned up.
- If you want to play it softly late at night then grab an electric and some headphones and play away quietly without disturbing others.
- When you want that clear acoustic sound you can dampen the body with some old clothes or use palm muting on the strings.
- If you want loud then grab a hard pick and strum big chords, turn the volume up and blow everyone away!
The choice is ultimately yours, and with some creativity and know-how you can play as loud or soft as you want.