David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
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location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: health, loudness, performance, @musings info

Tinnitus sucks

Here's a friendly reminder: tinnitus sucks.

We all want our guitar to sound good and to respond like we expect a loud guitar to respond. It really does take a certain amount of volume to get that interaction going between the guitar and the amp. Until you hit that magic threshold, the guitar doesn't feel fully "alive".

However, I really believe that it's worth seeking ways to get that feel at lower volumes. Find a guitar that's more acoustically lively to get the interaction with the amp happening at lower volumes. Or how about a sustainer (Fernandes, Sustainac) set for a moderate amount of sustain? Use EQ to compensate for the Fletcher-Munson effect. Use compression to emulate your ears' natural inclination to clamp down on painfully-loud sounds.

Trust me, this can be done.

Most guitarists seem to feel that their rigs come alive at approximately 100 dB SPL. Do you know what the the "safe" exposure time (the duration past which permanent ear damage begins to accumulate) is at 100 dB? Fifteen minutes. That's all.

Think about that the next time you crank your tube amp to get the ol' pants legs flapping and the chest thumping. Chances are that you won't care if you haven't been playing for long. Those of you into macho posturing will no doubt say, "If it's too loud then you're too old." Just remember this: hearing damage is cumulative, progressive and irreversible. By the time you start to wish you had taken better care of your ears it'll be way too late to do anything.

Be good to your ears. Learn about safe exposure levels. Get yourself an inexpensive SPL meter and monitor your playing volumes; you literally can't tell the difference between a sane and insane SPL by listening because your ears automatically attenuate too-loud sounds, even as they're being damaged by those same sounds.

You're a musician, right? Learn about caring for your ears. You need them.

March 14 2011 05:01:23 GMT