To practice guitar quietly you need a “headphone guitar amp”.  In the privacy of your own bedroom or basement you can have an entire Marshall stack between your ears!  There are bunches of headphone guitar amps on the market right now, and many are just, well….very cheap!  That’s why we recommend a couple different units for you to check out, and now that we are in the ‘digital’ age – there are also some new additions.

Back in the day (as us old schoolers say) we didn’t have a decent way to play electric guitar in the bedroom at low volumes. Most musician bios I read from guys that came up in the 60’s or early 70’s tended to just plugin into a 1/4″ jack in the back of their home stereo (or wire one in themselves). This way the guitar played through the same speakers as the music (and they could play along). Also, many of the early home stereo systems were actually tube amps. Now that everything has gone digital you can get a full blown modeling amp in a small 4″ package that plugins right into your guitar jack. We’ll review quite a few guitar headphone practice amp options today.

The Rockman Headphone Amp

As time went on things improved, from the groundbreaking “Rockman” headphone amp created and released by Boston founder Tom Scholz in 1982. When it first came out, that thing was unbelievable because it was roughly the same size as the Sony Walkman (tape cassette player), and it had built in echo, chorus, a clean mode, and two distortion modes. The technology was the basis for a series of Rockman rack mounted stage amps, as well as the entire Boston sound.

The Rockman is probably the most classic guitar headphone amp you can buy not only because it was one of the first, but also because it actually IS the Boston sound found on all their records. You would be surprised how many pros used The Rockman to not only play with, but to record with. Obviously the Boston albums were recorded with Rockman technology (probably the rackmount version). But a little known fact is that the Def Leppard Hysteria album was recorded using the Rockman as well. I also believe it was this handheld version direct into the board. So if you want the Def Leppard Hysteria guitar sound – this is it! If you’re wondering where I got this little tidbit of information it was Phil Collen himself during his interview with the No Guitar is Safe podcast.

Here’s a video review of the latest version called the Rockman Guitar Ace (by Dunlop):

Rockman was sold to Dunlop in 1995, and you can still buy it today (new or used):

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The Vox Amplug

The first one is the Vox Amplug“. The first time I saw this a friend brought it band practice. He actually had purchased a Vox amp, and got this headphone amp for free with it. He lived about an hour away from our practice space, and he came right from work to practice. His work was 30 minutes from his house, so he didn’t want to go home and load up all his gear (traveling one way in the car) and then double back to practice (traveling another way in the car). And he didn’t want to leave his amp his car all day. So he used to leave one guitar in the practice space, and then bring this headphone amp in his pocket.

I thought it was pretty funny, actually, at first. He would plug his guitar into the Vox Amplug, and then we’d use a 1/4″ to 1/8″ converter and plug it directly into the PA. Guess what – it worked just fine! I was always amazed with the preset channels how easy it was for him to just plugin and go. He could sound like Red Hot Chili Peppers one minute, and Metallica the next. This unit I personally recommend for bedroom practice or situations like the one we had at practice. It’s nice because it plugs directly into your guitar, and you plugin the headphones into that. As an added bonus, it has a mp3 or 1/8″ aux input – so you can plug your mp3 or CD player and practice alone with the music!

The newer versions have modes for vintage AC30 sound, classic rock, metal, and even bass. You can even buy different models that simulate different amps, and there are also version for bass guitar as well.

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Joyo Tube Drive

While the Vox Amplug has been around awhile, there are some alternatives. The Amplug is $39.95, but you can get the Joyo Tube Drive for just $20 on Amazon. It has MP3 input and headphone out same as the Amplug. The quality may not be as good, but it’s less than half the price. It does have quite a few decent reviews.

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Electro Harmonix Headphone Amp

Electro-Harmonix makes a quality headphone amp too, it’s just a bit more money than the the Amplug. The difference between this and the Vox is the vox has amp models and effects built in. The EH headphone amp is about as basic as it gets – power and a single volume know. However, this means you can easily connect your pedal board or any effect you want (or just go dry). It only runs on batteries (no adapter), but it does have a cool little belt clip.

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Nady Axehead

The Nady Axehead clocks in at about $35 and has an aux input jack (which is great for playing along to music). It even comes with the cable to do that, and has built in tone, volume and drive controls. It has a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 15 hours, works well with bass guitar, and comes with 5 foot USB charging cable. Nady is a name that’s been around since the 80’s, when it first came on to the scene with it’s line of affordable wireless microphones and wireless instrument adapters.

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iRig Nano Amp

In the digital age, everybody is familiar with the iRig as the adapter device that allows you to connect your guitar to your phone or tablet. It started with the iPhone and iPad, but now it works with nearly anything mobile. With the advent of digital amp modeling and simulation, through an app you can plugin and play through nearly and simulated amp or cab combo quietly through your headphones.

The thing that makes the iRig Nanon amp unique is that it isn’t just for headphones, it’s a 3W amp with built in distortion. It’s easy to plugin your guitar (or bass) and mobile device at the same time to play along, and it works on just 3 AAA batteries. In regards to what devices it works with, you might consider that some people say on Android it only works with Samsung Professional Audio supported devices (which seem to be all Galaxy products). If you a non-Samsung Android phone your mileage may vary. While the cost of this device used to $50, it seems like you can get them now on Amazon for around only $20.

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Line 6 Pocket Pod

The last headphone amp I’m going to review is the most expensive, but it’s also the most versatile. It might not have even crossed your mind, but when Line 6 successfully created amp modeling technology (not the first, but the ones to popularize it), they also created the perfect headphone amp. Mainly because modeling can give you the same type tone a 100 watt amp would at bedroom or headphone volume.

The main reason that the Line 6 Pocket Pod is so much money (as of this writing $129), is because there are more than 300 presets, which include 32 amp models, 16 cabinet models, 16 effects, and a tuner. This is basically a digital take anywhere rig. It’s kidney bean shape is a bit bigger than the ones above that plug directly into your guitar jack, but not too much (it’s definitely hand held).

Here’s a video review:

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I hope you liked my review of headphone amps, it’s good to have an alternative handy when you can’t turn your amp up to full volume. Maybe you need one for vacation or travel, because you live in an apartment or condo, or because the kids are starting music and you just need some peace to be able to hear the television. In all cases you should be able to find an option that works for you.