The cramped confines of his dorm room may stifle many things for George Carpenter, but artistic expression is not one of them.
With his amplifier turned to a moderate volume, Carpenter sits on top of his two-speaker combo strumming his Fender Mustang. The clank of his guitar pick and the buzzing strings over the fretboard can be heard through the electric signal distorted by the magnified sound.
While the SF State campus housing agreement states that no amplifiers are allowed inside the dorms, many guitar enthusiasts, including Carpenter, still use them.
“I can turn the volume down, but I can’t stop playing,” the undeclared freshman said.
The SF State Community Living Guide states, “The buildings operate under 24-Hour ‘Courtesy Hours,’ meaning … the right to quiet supersedes the right to make noise.”
Alex Petralia, a business marketing major, recalled his freshman year living on campus and his different experiences playing music in the dorms.
“I had a practice with a side project in the Towers once, took about 20 minutes until the (resident assistant) came,” Petralia, 22, said. “I ended up having a practice for another band on a different floor and the RA came again, but this time to watch and hang out. It really depends who you’re around.”
According to Carpenter, his roommate has no problem with the noise because he plays guitar as well — and much more skillfully, he added.
Music, particularly guitars, are a part of the culture of University dorm rooms. Many students come to the dorms with a guitar already, whether acoustic or electric. The instrument is extremely popular among college students, according to Petralia.
“You didn’t even have to be a musician,” Petralia said. “I knew of guys that had guitars in their room, couldn’t tell you what string was which, but insisted that it helped their chances of getting laid.”
Nick Stevenson, 21, a philosophy junior, also used to play his guitar while living in the dorms. But even more than that, he used a room on campus to practice with his full band.
“My band, Happy, used to practice in the piano room in Mary Park Hall during the weeknights and weekends,” Stevenson said.
The opportunity allowed the band to polish its talents for free instead of being forced to rent out a practice space like other local bands in the city.
Matthew Hansen, 21, a junior who lived in the dorms his freshman year, used his acoustic guitar to practice for his band. He recalled the only time he bothered anyone with his music was actually not from the volume of his guitar.
“It was only when I started tapping my foot along to the music while practicing that the students living directly down a floor came up to knock on my door,” Hansen said.
“They were perplexed as to where the sound came from; they joked that they thought a ghost was haunting their room, making a loud tapping noise overhead. I apologized for making the noise and promised to control my foot-tapping while playing guitar,” he said.
It’s not just guitars that people are playing in the dorms. Kylie Martinez, a senior living in The Village at Centennial Square practices her trombone in her dorm. She has never had anyone complain, mostly plays when her roommate is out and about, and wants to apologize to those who live underneath her.
“My roommate is actually a RA and she told me it’s not a good idea, but no one has ever complained about it, ” the 22-year-old liberal studies major said.
Housing administration and RAs were unwilling to provide statistics on how many disciplinary actions are music-related noise complaints.
University musicians who don’t want to skirt the rules do, however, have other options — especially those who wish to have real band practices with a full drum kit. Students enrolled in a music class can use one of the free practice spaces available in the Creative Arts Building. If faced with write-ups, Martinez said that’s the way she would go.
Bands can rent out units throughout the city, oftentimes sharing a single room with several other bands to cut down on the price of monthly rent. Price ranges depend on how many bands share the space, so it’s unpredictable.
For those on a budget there are establishments like Plug N Play Club in the Tenderloin. Complete with amps, drum kits, PAs and multiple microphones, a band can walk in with guitars in hand and play for almost three hours for $25.
Carpenter’s band is currently back in Orange County, his hometown, so he doesn’t have full band practices in his dorm, but is actively looking to find people to jam with on campus.
Even in the face of disciplinary action, it’s unlikely musicians will ever stop playing their instruments. Carpenter just received a warning from the RA on his floor to stop using his amplifier last week, but for him playing guitar isn’t an option — it’s a part of who he is.
“Nothing is really going to stop me from playing. I’m just going to have be a little more cautious,” Carpenter said.