Pedals Pt. 6: What’s All That Noise? Our Trouble Shooting Guide
This Summer She Shreds has hosted monthly workshops at our HQ in Portland, OR, based on the subjects of guitar, management, and recording. In May we focused on restringing your guitar, and June was all about pedals.
So your rig is making a weird noise? What do you do? There are so many components in a guitar or bass rig: the amp, the speakers, the guitar, and alllll those pedals and cables and power supplies. So many opportunities for weird buzzes and disconnections to happen! Even weird things, like your cellphone or the room or environment you’re in, can cause weird noises.
- 60-cycle hum, sometimes called a ground loop: This is a normal hum that occurs often when using single coil pickups! This hum can change depending on the electrical grounding of a building or venue, the size of a room, where you are in said room, etc., but in most causes it shouldn’t be that annoying of a sound. If this hum is too annoying for you, you should consider switching to a guitar that has double coil, or humbucker pickups. These types of pickups got their names because they “buck” that annoying 60-cycle hum!
- Tube amp noise: tube amps, like most analog electronics, have something called a “noise floor.” This is a hum or hissing sound when you turn a tube amp on. This hum should never drown out or interfere with your playing, so if the hissing is distracting to you after you start playing, chances are it isn’t just the analog noise floor of your tube amp. Tube amps can cause a lot of problems in your guitar/bass rig, even though they sound so good normally. Loose tubes can cause some noise, but BAD tubes can really ruin your sound. Bad tubes can make all kinds of weird sounds, from just making you sound quiet to making weird rattling or harsh echoing sounds. When your tube amp starts making these types of sounds and you’ve decided it isn’t any other factor in your rig that could be causing them, it’s time to take your amp in to get checked up. Servicing your tube amp regularly, much like you service a car, may make it so you aren’t surprised by major repairs or problems like this! Find a good amp tech in your town and get your amps looked at if you want to avoid these problems!
- Cables: Like I said before, cables are important and good working cables are very important. If your cables aren’t working well, you might encounter some noisy signals.
- Speakers and cabs: There are a lot of components to a guitar/bass rig and speakers and speaker cabinets are important ones. Sometimes speakers come loose from the cabinet shell and the screws need to be tightened! These loose screws and rattling speakers can cause a lot of noise. Speakers that are the wrong wattage – like using a 60-watt speaker for a 100-watt amp – can also cause weird problems and noise. Lastly, broken or ripped speakers can sound horrible! When a speaker is broken, there is most likely a rip or tear in the cone that makes a weird buzzing sound when played too loud. Ripped speakers can sometimes be repaired, but sometimes have to be fully replaced.
- Vintage or Germanium pedals: Most of the pedals made in present times are very good at staying noise-free, but if you have an affinity for vintage pedals, this may end up causing a lot of weird noise and interference in your signal path. As well as old pedals, pedals make with Germanium diodes – popular in fuzz pedals – may cause a lot of noise! If these pedals are giving you trouble, it might be time to take them out of your live rig and save them for recording projects and other fun stuff where hiss and noise isn’t as stressful.
- Other pedals and power supplies: Lastly, having a big pedalboard adds a lot of factors to your signal chain. Make sure all your pedals are in working order and your power supply is quality and that will help you to have a clearer signal!
When you’re having noise problems and you don’t know what part of your rig is causing it, the best way to narrow it down is to check all the components. I like to do it in this order:
- Plug your guitar directly into your amp. If you’re still getting noise, it’s most likely from the guitar, amp, or the single cable you’re using to connect the two and not your pedalboard.
- Check your cables. Use a cable tester or just keep plugging cables into a working amp and running signal through them. Also, move the cables around— especially the ends near the jacks—to see if there’s any loose connections.
- Check your power supply. Make sure you’re using the correct power supply for everything and that the mAs match. Sometimes, daisy chains cause more noise and using a power brick would fix the noise problem.
- Use a power conditioner. Sometimes these look like normal power strips. Power conditioners improve the quality of power that is delivered to each unit that takes electricity. Improving and cleaning up the power source can reduce noise greatly.
- Use a ground lift adaptor. These adaptors take away the ground pin from an electrical plug, making it just two-pronged. Taking away a ground can sometimes also cause problems, too, so this should just be a temporary solution.
- Plug in all pedals separately. Just what it sounds like, run every pedal in your chain individually to figure out where the problem is. Just as time consuming as it is effective.
- Try using batteries. If your pedals take batteries, try using those instead of a power supply. If this eliminates noise, then maybe it’s your power supply that’s the noise problem.