Practicing Without An Amp
First things first, it’s easier to play without an amp. You’re not going to be restricted in any way, you can practice anywhere and at anytime without upsetting the neighbours! There’s no hassle with moving amps around, sourcing power and cables. Another sort-of pro, which I discovered many years later, was how it affected the development of my playing.
When you play unplugged, you tend to play harder than you would if you were plugged in. This can be both a pro and a con, the pro is that you tend to build up your hands a little more and my stamina and overall finger dexterity built up over time. My legato, hammer on and pull off playing developed in such a way, that I could easily maintain the note volume throughout. I also noticed, that I developed every finger equally by practicing away from the amp.
The first and most important con is as a consequence of the last pro; playing harder. You’re always going to have to play a little harder in order to hear yourself when unplugged, but when you do this you could cause injury. I had this issue myself a number of years ago when playing a prelude unplugged during a very cold winter. I was overplaying in the picking hand with old hands and this caused tendonitis to kick in. I actually had to stop playing for a few weeks!
You have to make a conscious effort to play lighter, don’t damage your hands by overcompensating to hear yourself! This is hard to gauge when you are just starting out, so my advice is to be careful. If you’re going to play without an amp, play easier stuff. Another con is that you’re going to be totally unprepared for playing live. You won’t have any experience when it comes to EQ gating and adjusting your tone.
Playing without an amp can also adversely affect your technique, especially when it comes to muting. Everything sounds messy and out of control after playing without an amp for so long, it can be quite a shock to the system when you are bombarded with residual noise and the sheer volume!
So overall, practicing without an amp is fine, but you do need to be aware of the cons. It’s no substitute to playing through an amp and understanding the sounds that you are creating. Playing this way is ok in moderation and for convenience sake, but plug in if you really want to hear what you’re about!