One of the most important pieces of advice I can give to young musicians is simply to take good care of your hearing. I was diagnosed with a hearing loss when I was 16 years old and had only been playing in a band a couple of years. I was still pretty careless with my hearing for much of my early career. Finally the hearing specialists started telling me I needed hearing aids. That got my attention and I’ve been very careful with my hearing the last 15 years or so.
The best thing I’ve done for my hearing is to get a pair of custom molded, sonic filter type earplugs made specially for musicians. I have the Westone ES49 Custom Fit Earplugs. Mine are a light tan color and are barely visible from the audience. They sound fantastic and because they are custom molded to my ear they’re extremely comfortable.
Here’s how Musicians Earplugs are different from everyday earplugs. Regular earplugs block sound by baffling the entire ear canal with whatever material they’re made of. The problem we run into with regular earplugs as musicians are twofold. First, they block frequencies unevenly so you lose all the high frequencies and most of the high-mid frequencies. That leaves you with way too much bass and it sounds completely unnatural, especially to a trained musician. Second, regular earplugs take the sound level down too far and you can’t hear what’s going on around you enough to play or sing. Musicians earplugs on the other hand have a hollow center that is filled with a sonic filter. What the filter does is bring all frequencies down a preset db level and they bring all frequencies down evenly. So the music still sounds natural, it’s just at a lower volume level. The filters I use bring the music down 15db. I could use 9db,or 25db if I wanted to as they are interchangeable with the molds. The 15db reduction is perfect for my hearing.
To get these type of earplugs you have to go to an audiologist and have them make molds of your ear canal. They then send the molds to Westone and they make a pair of custom earplugs that fit your ear canal. They are by far the most comfortable plugs you will ever wear.
I use my earplugs when I’m playing and using live floor monitors. I use them when I’m at concerts or out listening to other bands. I have had regular hearing tests and I haven’t lost any more hearing than an average person of my years since I’ve been using them. It’s nice to come home from a gig and not have my ears ringing at the end of the night. I wish I could give you a happy ending but my ears have developed a new problem with sound pressure levels. Once sound pressure gets to a certain level, my left ear will cut out, crackle and sound like radio static. My ear Dr. says it’s a condition called recruitment where the good nerves try to compensate for the bad ones resulting in my hearing static. It’s not pleasant and I don’t wish it on anyone. That’s why I’m telling you to protect your most important asset, your hearing!
If you would like to try some sonic filters just to see how they work you can try a pair of these:
Hearos High Fidelity Ear Filters. They work on the same principle as the custom fit earplugs I have but they are a generic fit. They aren’t as comfortable though and you will be aware of their presence. But they’re better than nothing! Don’t end up like Pete Townsend and not be able to hear your grandchildren when they speak.