Practicing Unplugged


Rock Star
At the risk of starting another thread that won't generate much interest, partly because I seem to post them in the middle of the night, and partly because it seems I'm in the minority of really preferring to improve as a player instead of geeking out on gear and buying/selling the same modeler 6 times (I kid, I kid..., sorta :sofa), I'd like to share something I've been doing lately that I'm pretty sure has helped with my playing, maybe even a lot.

Simply practicing unplugged is forcing me to focus on any weak notes in legato stuff, and missed or partially missed notes in picking riffs. Of course this is kinda obvious, and not nearly as much fun as hearing myself in stereo, awash with ping-ponging delays and all sorts of other cool effects. But that distortion and compression I love so much is also masking my mistakes.

There's just no safety net, playing acoustically. But it's definitely helping. I honestly didn't realize how much I was relying on my plugged-in tones, and worse than that, how much practicing like that was preventing me from zeroing in on the trouble spots, since I just didn't really hear them.

Sure, I can play those riffs "good enough", but those trouble areas are problems, such that because they're weak, I will miss notes a good percentage of the time. But being able to focus on them means I have a better chance of playing those riffs correctly. Cuz my GAS has to do with accuracy in my playing. It's an obsession of sorts, I suppose.

And even as I write this, I feel like, "Well duh!" But it still makes me feel like I've found another way to help me continue progressing. Should've taken lessons long ago though! :rawk

Ok, back to talking about those Mesa's!! And modelers. And new Keeley pedals. And that $1500 that needs to be spent. :crazy

I love you guys, and enjoy reading all the threads! ;)

James Freeman

Rock Star
Some compression or distortion helps to clearly hear the mistakes and other unwanted noises, it forces you to concentrate and control everything you don't want to hear.

Smooth legato is very hard to master, definitely harder than pentatonic noodling.
So I don't even try. :p


Rock Star
You really need both.

Distortion is forgiving, in certain types of riffs. It can make a fast 3 nps triplet riff sound ok, but when you play it clean, or unplugged, you can then really hear which notes don't have the same dynamics, and where they vary. I'm finding that if I want that run to sound truly accurate, if I only practice with the distortion, I know the riff isn't sounding as articulate as it should, or could, but I'm not really clear on which notes are the weaker ones. Turning off the distortion makes it obvious. That's kind of my point in this 'exercise.'

Otoh (and I mentioned this in another thread), a clean tone will never show you where your notes are overlapping, e.g., when changing strings. If the transition isn't accurate, you'll hear that millisecond of dissonance, that distortion will make glaringly obvious.

And distortion & compression won't show you nearly as well as unplugged will, which of your notes are weak when playing legato, and again, those riffs may sound ok, but if your goal is to build equal strength in all fingers, playing clean or unplugged can really focus your ear to which notes/fingers need the work.

the swede

Rock Star
I sit with my guitar in the sofa very often, usually wife has the remote and it’s late so I don’t have the energy to fire up the Stomp and cables and headphones and stuff. Just relax playing in the sofa is nice… not that I’m doing it to improve, but it does make me focus on details and try to be more accurate, and the acoustic sound of the electric guitar reveals other things.


I do most of my practicing unplugged out of convenience and/or laziness. For me it has helped with some consistency/control in picking volume. Way back when I first started I was pretty timid in my picking because of always having a lot of overdrive. But I also make sure I practice plugged in frequently because it's easy to get a little lazy with muting and wind up with a swirl of noise. Optimal for me seems to be cleanish edge-of-breakup because it puts a lot of demand on controlling picking force, having less compression when picking softer or rolling guitar volume back, while needing to be in control of string noise/muting when digging in more. But similar to the swede sometimes the small effort of turning everything on and, at certain hours wearing headphones, is more than I want to fool with. The convenience of just picking up the guitar and playing it as-is means I squeeze in more time each week.


Rock Star
I do both (y)
But I have to say great gear is a great motivator for me the better my tone sounds the more i practice, the more my axes are setup for my liking makes me play them more
so for me its both
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Ed DeGenaro

I used to back in the day. And an insanely mouth agape moment happened after I moved to LA in the 80s and lived with a bunch of Swedish girls that were friends with Yngwie, after a night out we came back and he grabbed my guitar and the level of projection he had on an unplugged electric was something.

Fast forward these days when my hands or time actually get wonky I practice on acoustic or jazz box with all hammer ons. No pull offs.

I also went back working on that weird Gypsy picking consecutive downstrokes when descending strings…like a bounce type thing.
Keep that in time and getting it up to tempo is nuts.


I don’t think distortion is forgiving, it’s the accompanying reverb and delay that lets you hide. Good technique is pretty much the same plugged in with distortion or clean. Sit next to Guthrie for a minute and see what he does. Supreme clarity and articulate voice on everything clean or otherwise.