If you’ve spent some time playing the electric guitar, then there’s no doubt you’ve done your fair share of battle with buzz. The sound of a humming guitar (known as 60 cycle hum) can be one of the most annoying and challenging things to eliminate when you’re building your guitar rig.
In this lesson, we’ll do some troubleshooting to help you find the unruly culprit and go over some tips for a clean and quiet electric guitar tone.
The first thing you’ll want to check is your amplifier. Turn the amp on and unplug the cable from the front of the amp. If the noise is still there, then the perpetrator is probably your amp. Guitar amplifiers can be dangerous to work with, and if there’s a problem with the circuitry or tubes then your best bet is to take it to a guitar amplifier repair professional.
If the buzzing stops as soon as you unplug from the amp, then it’s not the amp and it’s time to move on to the next suspect.
Also, remember not to put your phone on or near your amp! The cellular signal being passed to and from your phone can cause interference that you’ll hear through the speaker of your amp.
To check your guitar, try rolling back the volume knob. If the sound goes away, the guitar’s circuitry isn’t the problem. If it persists, you might want to check your input jack and make sure it’s been properly tightened. You should also make sure your volume and tone pots aren’t dirty either.
If your rig was quiet and you haven’t changed anything and buzz shows up, it could be your cable. Cables can deteriorate over time as the shielding breaks down. Higher-end cables tend to last longer, but don’t feel like you need to buy the most expensive cables. Just try to avoid overly cheap cables if you can.
If your guitar is equipped with single coils, you’ll experience some noise naturally. A little bit is okay and a small price to pay for the clear and detailed tone single coil pickups provide. If the noise really bothers you, there are single coil pickups labeled as “noiseless”. These “noiseless” pickups eliminate the hum for the price of a little bit of tonal quality.
A humbucker pickup is essentially two oppositely wound coils combined into one pickup. This eliminates the hum through phase cancellation and gives you a (mostly) buzz-free sound. Humbuckers don’t tend to have the same clarity and punchiness as single coil pickups, however.
Sometimes, different areas of the room you are in will be noisier than others. Try moving around the room to see if the buzzing fades. You can also change the direction your guitar is facing and this will often tame some of the buzz as well.
The most likely culprit of the buzz in your guitar rig is your pedalboard. Every time you add a new pedal to your board you add more variables that can cause problems. The more stuff between your guitar and your amp, the higher the chance that something will cause noise.
Essential Info Regarding Pedals
These things all factor into how your pedal should be powered. Since these vary from pedal to pedal, sharing one power supply is bound to cause problems. This is why we recommend using an isolated power supply which is designed to deliver isolated power to each individual pedal on your board.
Daisy chains are an affordable alternative to larger power supplies, but since they don’t supply each pedal with isolated power, they tend to be noisy. To minimize the noise, make sure to use electrical tape to cover any unused ends so they don’t cause any ground loops.
Two More Suggestions
If after all this you’re still hearing unwanted buzz, then you may want to look into purchasing a power conditioner and/or a noise gate. A power conditioner will clean up the power coming from the wall in your room that could share a circuit with other powered items in the room like lights or computers.
A noise gate uses a threshold to only allow volume louder than a set amount to come through. Anything quieter than the threshold you set won’t be allowed through the signal. They can kill some of the dynamics of your playing so be careful when setting the threshold on a noise gate.
We hope these tips have been helpful and that your rig is now buzz-free!