If you’re a guitarist choosing the best IEMs for electric or acoustic guitar playing, I’ve got you covered.
I’ve been a guitarist for a long time. I started playing Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix for hours on end sitting on the curb outside the local youth hangout. That progressed to playing in front of small venues right up to thousands of people in large halls and stadiums.
Why should you care? Well, you don’t have to but I can tell it does make me qualified to recommend in-ear monitors that will be great match for your guitar playing, that and the fact that I owned a headphone retailer selling IEMs. Trust me, I’ve tried more IEM’s than most guitarists have had string changes (slight exaggeration but really trying to emphasis my point here).
While the Shure SE215 (comes in black and clear and blue) is a great choice for iems for guitarists, the Westone provide a great sound profile also, especially for acoustic and vocal work.
If you want to get straight to the list click here. Otherwise, let me help outline the kind of things you’re going to want to tick off your list and some important considerations when your choosing IEM for guitar work.
- If you’re a guitarist choosing the best IEMs for electric or acoustic guitar playing, I’ve got you covered.
- Things to consider when choosing IEMs for Guitarists
- I understand the need for guitarists to use IEMs but I don’t always love it
- So, why use in-ears for guitar?
- The range of IEM options available (including Personal Monitoring Systems)
- Basic considerations when choosing in-ears for guitar players
- Best in-ear monitors for guitarists compared
- 1: BASN Professional in-Ear Monitor earphones
- 2: Sennheiser IE 40 PRO in-ear monitor for guitarists
- 3: Shure SE215 in-ear monitors for guitar
- 4: CCA C16 in-Ear Monitors
- 5: Westone UM Pro 30 in-ear monitors – great for acoustic playing
Things to consider when choosing IEMs for Guitarists
When I was about 19 years old Shure came out with an instrument microphone, very similar to the BETA 98H/C which is sold by Shure today. If I google for long enough I’m sure I could find the exact model number.
The sales pitch from my friend at the local music store (which I eventually worked at) was that the frequency response on this microphone, aimed at brass and stringed instruments, was almost exactly the same as a guitar amp frequency response. I bought it and used it for many years and it was a perfect travelling companion.
Why tell that story? Well, I also believe from experience that IEMs for singers and guitarists sit pretty close in the frequency scheme of things. You want strong bottom end that doesn’t overpower, clear crisp mid frequencies which is where most of your work is happening and some nice treble, but not so much high end that you get listening fatigue playing on stage, or where ever you are.
Also read: Best in-ear monitors for Singers
I should also add at this juncture that if you’re new to in-ear monitors then read our beginners guide to in-ear monitors post.
I understand the need for guitarists to use IEMs but I don’t always love it
If you are an acoustic guitarist playing solo then the need for in-ear monitors is not as important as being an acoustic guitarist playing in a bigger band. Solo you can have a foldback speaker which carries a nice soundstage to your ears and that is enough.
If you’re playing in a band then one of the hardest instruments to clearly hear in a foldback or monitor on stage is the acoustic guitar. In this situation, it’s a truly wonderful thing to have in-ear monitors to hear yourself over the drums, bass, keys and electric guitarist that might be in the band with you.
It’s also common for vocalists to play guitar so having in-ear means you can hear your acoustic guitar and vocals clearly, and hopefully you are able to adjust your own personal mix for best effect.
When it comes to an electric guitar however, I start to groan at missing out having a 1:1 relationship with your amp on stage. You’ve paid a lot of money for a beautiful valve amp (or solid-state) and to then put in-ear in makes it feel like I’m slightly disconnected from my amp. I can’t feel the valves crunching in the same way, if you know what I mean. It’s just not the same.
So, why use in-ears for guitar?
There are a few typical reasons you should, or might be forced to use in-ear monitors as a guitarist.
The first is hearing protection. Don’t be a hero, protect your hearing. Standing in front of a wall of Vox AC30’s might be magical, but if you lose your hearing it kind of ruins the whole thing.
The second reason might be a lack of foldback speakers to use. This might be due to a lack of stage space or they don’t fit in the band van for gigs and so you all have personal IEMs and a small portable, or not so portable, mixing desk for onstage foldback mixes using IEMs. This is also supported by the first point above – too much volume and noise on stage.
A third reason why guitarists are forced to use in-ear monitors is stage noise. Sadly, we are often the loudest folks on stage. The bass stack is also loud but that will often be DI’d or mixed through the front-of-house mix.
This third reason has two parts:
- not only does this protect the hearing of the other people on stage with you e.g. vocalists and keyboard players who need to hear themselves without their own foldback being incredibly loud to get over your amp volume and…
- it also stops the front-of-house mix being ruined by the ambient stage volume i.e if the guitar amp is too loud on stage it makes it really hard to do a good front-of-house mix, even if you face your guitar amp sideways or backwards.
The range of IEM options available (including Personal Monitoring Systems)
Like all things in life there are many degrees of in-ear monitors available. A lot of professional events companies, churches and community groups share their in-ear monitoring kits at events, gigs and on weekends.
If you don’t own your own in-ear monitor sets you might get given a basic pair of IEMs with cheap foam tips that are changed for every service or event for hygiene reasons.
This is really cost-effective and an easy way to manage a shared and every changing band line up (I’m assuming the transmitter and receiver packs are also included for this). The problem is they don’t sound very good, especially for acoustic guitar. It’s hard to enjoy what your playing when it sounds like you’re playing through a Sony walkman headset from 1982.
I’m not going to go into detail the best in-ear monitoring systems, which would include a transmitter and receiver pack as that is a different conversation which deserves more attention. Of course, you can’t have in-ear monitors without a transmitter/receiver monitoring system but my goal here is to focus on what you put in your ears for the best sound, not how the sound gets there.
But while we’re here, something like the Shure PSM 200 (sadly now discontinued) or the Shure PSM 300 system are a great choice. These will allow you use the included in-ears but if you want to really level up you’re going to change those out for your own gear.
Once you step up from the basic ‘shared’ in-ears you can go to more affordable iems, which are at least personal to you, and then to more expensive universal in-ear monitors right up to custom iem options.
I’ve tried to include options in this list that cater for all the later mentioned personal options.
Basic considerations when choosing in-ears for guitar players
Some core considerations when choosing in-ears for your guitar work include:
- Frequency response – you want to have enough of a frequency spread you still feel as well as hear what you’re doing. If you can’t feel it, then it’s hard to play with passion. I’ll be focusing on strong mid frequencies and enough bass response that you get some punch (especially if you are mixing in kick drum and snare for timing).
- Price – yeah, might seem obvious but if you’re only an infrequent player then maybe spending a fortune isn’t worth it. On the other hand if you choose a nice set of IEMs then they also make for excellent listening for your personal music when you’re not playing e.g commuting, chilling at home, running and fitness etc.
- Noise-isolation – if you have chosen universal in-ears then you want to choose the right tips. Personally speaking, you want to go with foam tips, not silicon tips, as these give you the best isolation and bottom-end (bass) response. If you are going with custom iems then you won’t need tips and will have great noise isolation by default.
Best in-ear monitors for guitarists compared
|in-ear Monitor Name||Cable type||(C)ustom|
|1: BASN Professional in-Ear Monitor Headphones||MMCX||U||$|
|2: Sennheiser IE 40 PRO in-ear monitor||Proprietary||U||$|
|3: Shure SE215 IEM||MMCX||U||$|
|4: CCA C16 in-Ear Monitors||MMCX||U||$|
|5: Westone UM Pro 30 in-ear monitors||MMCX||U||$$|
1: BASN Professional in-Ear Monitor earphones
Cable/Drivers : MMCX/Twin micro-drivers
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz
I can’t lie. There are quite a few IEMs around this price point which are also standouts for guitar work but the first reason these made the list is…the look nice in the brown/clear finish. And if you want something that looks good but also comes in different colors then it’s a good choice.
There are two wired versions in brown and red/blue. These use a standard MMCX cable connection. The benefit of this is you can always replace the mmcx cable if it is damaged, you want to level up on quality or you need a 2.5mm or 3.5mm cable change because your wireless transmitter has that jack plug input.
These BASN does also come in two Bluetooth cable options which is an around-the-neck Bluetooth type cable. Personally, this is a great choice if you were just looking for a commuter IEM but if you’re planning on using these live while playing guitar, or in the studio then I wouldn’t choose this.
You’re much better off going with a wired cable for better reliability and use a proper wireless monitoring system. You could purchase the Bluetooth option and then buy another affordable wired MMCX cable, like something from Linsoul for around $20 which will give you the best of both worlds.
Why we chose the BASN Professional In-Ear Monitors?
A great sound stage that is well balanced from top to bottom make these a very affordable and easy choice. BASN have a good reputation for making good gear and you need something reliable for ongoing live use.
The sound signature doesn’t put pressure on a specific sound frequency and the overall presentation is crisp and clear. This is really important as for live music IEMs you don’t want in-ear monitors that are sculpted with more bass or highs etc.
The MMCX cable allows you to change the cables as you like and for the price they punch above their weight.
Finally, the sound isolation is very good making them tick the box of hearing protection and good bass response.
- Great sound for price
- MMCX connectors
- Balanced sound signature
- Good sound isolation
- none at this price
Summary: Good support and positive feedback from other guitarists and musicians, a quality build and great balanced sound stage with strong mids makes these BASN in-ear monitors a good choice for guitarists.
Read the latest reviews for the
BASN Professional in-Ear Monitor Headphones for guitarists on Amazon
2: Sennheiser IE 40 PRO in-ear monitor for guitarists
Cable/Drivers: Internal Duct/10mm dynamic driver
Frequency Response: 20 – 18,000 Hz
The name Sennheiser is more often associated with audiophile headphones and real expensive earphones. My suspicion is that companies like Shure has long dominated the live music in-ear earphone scene and Sennheiser knew there were opportunities in that space.
So, the launched the IE range (not to be confused with the audio-technica ath-xxx range in looks) and they did a good job of it.
The IE-40 is a 10 mm dynamic driver earphone with a great sound stage for guitar work. They look good and the price is very affordable to own a piece of Sennheiser.
My only concern with the IE-40 is the proprietary internal duct cable attachment. You can get replacement cables for it but you don’t really have third party cable options.
Why we chose the Sennheiser IE 40 PRO in-ear monitor?
Reliability is a big part of choosing these. You get Sennheiser quality and a good looking unit. A warm sound signature that isn’t too warm makes them comfortable listening while your playing, especially nice for acoustic guitar playing.
The ear cable is a good fit and the cable has great shielding to reduce any sound loss or signal interference.
Available in clear or black, makes them the perfect natural look if you don’t want bright colours and flashy bling.
A decent range of ear tips tops included in the retail box and a cleaning tool completes the package.
- Sennheiser build quality
- Nice frequency range
- Included ear tips
- Affordable price
- Proprietary cable connectors
Summary: There is always a feeling of confidence when you’re choosing something at this price with a brand name like Sennheiser. Nice warm but clear sound signature and quality cable and build quality. A real competitor to the Shure SE215 for sure and perfect for guitar work. If you want to step up in quality then you can also get the Sennheiser IE 400 PRO which is also perfect for guitarists and adds a lot of bass and bottom end to the sound.
Read the latest reviews for the
Sennheiser IE 40 PRO in-ear monitor on Amazon
Read also: Best guitar accessories
3: Shure SE215 in-ear monitors for guitar
Cable/Drivers: MMCX/Dynamic Driver
Frequency Response: 22 – 17,500 Hz
If you’ve ever read any post I’ve ever done on IEMs you’ll know that at some point the Shure SE215 is going to come up in it. They are one of the older units on the market these days but they are also one of the most road-tested and all-round great sounding affordable in-ear monitors on the market.
I’ve owned 2 pairs and the current pair I own have lasted me years. A single dynamic driver produces a really strong, crisp sound with quite a strong bottom end. I think what drew me to these originally was even the guitar sounds (and vocals) they products from recorded music sounded great to me.
The retail kit is generous with multiple tips and a cleaning tool. There is a nice semi-hard case included for the price with adds real value for money.
Why we chose the Shure SE215 in-ear monitors?
Shure quality that I can vouch for. Nice bottom end and crisp mids and highs. A sound signature that makes guitar sound really nice, especially for the price.
- Strong pedigree
- Guitar rich frequency range
- Accessories included
- Price is good
- Multiple colour options
- None of note. They are an older model but that has no impact on their efficacy and performance compared to competitors.
Summary: For the price, the Shure SE215 is a solid choice with a great sound for guitar and vocals. The included accessories add a cherry on the top. As a repeat purchaser, I endorse these as a good option.
Read the latest reviews for the
Shure SE215 IEM on Amazon
4: CCA C16 in-Ear Monitors
Cable/Drivers: MMCX/8 BA drivers
Frequency Response: 7 – 40,000 Hz
The CCA C12 in-ear monitors made it in to our budget IEMs list for this year but the C16 are a great step up in drivers with a small increase in price. The multiple driver configuration and sound profile are really surprising value for money.
CCA is a brand from Linsoul who make a huge range of affordable in-ear monitors including brands like DUNU, KZ and CCA. They also make a great range of MMCX and 2 PIN replacement cables.
The CC16 have 8 Balance Armature drivers (BA) in each iem earbud. This iem for a little over a C-note is crazy value for money. Having multiple BA drivers allows the manufacturer of in-ears to dedicate different drivers to different frequencies, similar to a floor standing speaker on your HiFi where you have a bass speaker and a tweeter for the high end.
The CC16 has 2 drivers tuned for deeper bass, 4 drivers tuned for mid frequencies and 2 for treble/high end. The result is a massive amount of sound and frequency in an affordable unit.
The CCA CC16 does come with two cable options. One has an inline microphone and one doesn’t. There is no reason to get the inline microphone version and create a break in the sound conduction. Just go with the non-microphone version and buy a separate cable if you want to use them for commuting and gereral music listening on your phone, if you want to take phone calls.
Why we chose the CCA C16 in-Ear Monitors?
Value for money gets the CCA C16 on this guitar iem list, as does the quality of its BA drivers and cables.
There are few IEM manufacturers in the world pushing out such affordable units with so many drivers.
Personally, I expect something like the IE 40 or SE215-CL will have a longer life and fit a little nicer in the ear, but you should at least commit to owning a multiple BA drive IEM once in your life. I’m not I’d recommend these for a serious tour. It’s awful having physically sore ears (not sore eardrums) from playing every night with ill fitting IEMs.
My Heir Audio 8.0 custom in-ear monitors (CIEM) have 8 x BA drivers per ear and they cost me $1200. While the tuning is superb, its worth noting the price difference, and yet the same number of drivers.
So, if you want to hear the bottom end, mids and high end in powerful force without spending a fortune then check out the C16.
- 8 BA driver per ear
- Full, rich sound
- Value for money
- Nothing of note at this price.
Summary: I am always amazed at what Linsoul can cram in to their IEMs while still maintaining a ridiculously low price. These definitely deserve serious consideration. While others on this list might survive the rigours of live playing for a longer time and be a bit more comfortable, these will give you a good time and if only for a shorter time.
Read the latest reviews for the
CCA C16 in-Ear Monitors on Amazon
5: Westone UM Pro 30 in-ear monitors – great for acoustic playing
Cable/Drivers: MMCX/3 BA drivers
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 18 kHz
Made in Colorado Springs USA I’ve always felt Westone don’t get the attention they deserve. Having a huge and long running pedigree in making in-ear monitors, and other hearing protection and aid devices they make really great sounding kit. The UM Pro 30 iem is no exception to this.
I own nearly all the Westone UM Pro and W series.
There are 3 x BA drivers. 1 for bass, 1 for mids and 1 for highs (treble). The sound signature is clean and balanced but not boring. It’s almost as close to open ear listening as I can describe.
The come with a great selection of ear foams and silicon ear tips (5 pairs of each) as well as a quality case, cleaning tool and MMCX twisted cable. All Westone units come with a 2 year warranty.
Why we chose the Westone UM Pro 30 in-ear monitors?
The Westone UM Pro 30 have a really nice neutral tuning to them. Almost the same way Beyerdynamic do with the studio monitoring headphones like the DT 1990 Pro and DT 770 Pro. They don’t alter the sound of what you’re playing but they make sure you hear all the rich tone and beauty of your guitar.
I love the way they present the tones of acoustic guitar. It’s one of the nicest tunings for acoustic in my opinion.
- Rich and tonal sound
- Great accessories included
- Triple BA drivers
- MMCX cables
- A little more expensive but quality is worth it.
Summary: I own the UM Pro 30 and really enjoy them for playing and listening to music. I also own the Westone UM Pro 50 which are even nicer but the Pro 30’s are more affordable and really lovely IEMs for guitarists – especially acoustic guitarists.
Read the latest reviews for the
Westone UM Pro 30 in-ear monitors on Amazon
With this list of IEMs for guitarist I’ve tried to include as many in-ear monitors for units I tried or sampled before. As a player with 20+ years experience I appreciate how important it is to have iems that don’t take you away from your playing – rather ones that take you closer to you playing so you can really feel what you’re doing.
Read also: Best budget IEMs
If you have a pair you love that didn’t make the list, let me know in the comments below.
This post was last updated on 2020-07-13 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.