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Veteran Guitarist on Dangers of Loud Listening Environments

Guitar master Paul Gilbert’s personal experience with hearing loss serves as a reminder that installers need to protect their hearing in high-volume listening environments.


Paul Gilbert is one of the world’s best guitar players. But after years of exposing his hearing to dangerously high volume levels, he suffers from hearing loss. Gilbert’s message, which can be applied to installers, is to protect your hearing when exposed to high volume levels.

I recently wondered what happened to the loud home theaters that once seemed like the face of the custom installation market.

Reading a recent column in Premier Guitar written by well-respected guitar player Paul Gilbert, I realized there’s another side to the massive amount of volume these mega home theaters produce, and it isn’t good.

Gilbert openly discusses the hearing loss he now suffers from after years of listening to his walls of Marshall Amplifiers cranked to 11.

Half jokingly, he recommends a few things:
  • Don’t put your ears up against some 4x12 guitar cabinets over long periods of time
  • Don’t listen to Rush with your headphones cranked up every night
  • Don’t listen to your car stereo full blast every time you take a drive
  • Don’t record and mix in a home studio if the room has not been designed for audio playback
  • Musicians shouldn’t try to be Mr. Cool by not protecting their ears in situations such as live shows or anywhere else music is loud
I understand that most custom installers will never encounter a Marshall 4x12 cabinet driven by a 100-watt Marshall amp running wide open in a client’s home, but there are similarities between Gilbert’s experiences and CE pros installing powerful audio systems.

A good audio system can achieve a high level of volume and those volumes can be sneaky loud with content like movies or a favorite music playlist. With headphones and an iPhone, iPod or iPad, it’s also easy to play music at extremely loud levels and damage your hearing.

Gilbert’s point on quality room environments focuses on the fact that musicians - or electronics professionals - can condition their ears for good sound. “Trying to mix in an untreated room will confuse your ears and the tendency to solve this problem is by turning up the volume doesn’t help.”

A person’s hearing will degrade gradually over time, and it’s not something you notice until it’s too late. Gilbert says he suffers from Tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Gilbert says he’s learned to deal with his hearing loss, but the biggest challenges he runs into are when he’s trying to listen to speech.

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Article Topics

Blogs · Audio · Home Theater · All topics

About the Author

Robert Archer, Senior Editor, CE Pro
Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass.

2 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Robert de Bellefeuille  on  03/21  at  12:12 PM

As installers, the most danger of noise exposure does not come from the home theaters we install as we seldom to get to hear them for more time than it takes to calibrate them and demo to the end user. However working on the construction site with air compressors, power saws, hammer drills, power nailers, and such devices can have its toll. I now use an active noise cancelling headset when using power tools but have not always done so. I regret it as my hearing has been affected by neglecting to do so earlier.

Posted by scolburn  on  03/22  at  01:27 PM

Manufacturers and dealers who demo almost continuously at trade shows, open houses, Parade of Homes, etc will benefit from ear protection. Make it a point to bring earplugs at least.

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