We’ve all heard it, a guitar player with a notoriously noisy rig. That hum that makes you just want to tell them to stop…please, and the hiss that makes you feel like you’re in a rattlesnake pit. But fear not, it doesn’t have to be this way! Many players buy their amps, guitars and then start finding the pedals they want to create the ‘sound that’s in their head, man’. And oftentimes it stops there, they figure they’re done with the rig, completely overlooking what is in my opinion, one of the most important elements to a solid and reliable live setup…the power supply.
Well a ground loop occurs when you have an unintended connection to ground, when two or more connections are going to ground through a different path. Current flowing through these multiple paths leaves us with the dreaded 50/60Hz hum. As you start to expand on your number of pedals, your problem is multiplying as you are adding all these new connections to ground when ideally you need to have just one.
This is where your power supply comes in. That daisy chain that you bought at your local DIY shop won’t cut it. Also those those brick power supplies that come from China that claim to be “ISOLATING POWER SUPPLIES”, yea, kiss goodbye to those too. In reality these power supplies are merely glorified 9v daisy chains with some fancy blue led’s wired in. We’ll be going in to more detail on which power supplies are best for live or studio playing in next weeks blog so come back to read more on this.
So, saying you have a number of good quality pedals, decent amp, a guitar that isn’t noisy and a quality power supply that eliminates hum but still have unwanted noise in your setup, you should start looking at connections between pedals. Have you purchased a set of 10 patch cables from eBay for £3? If so then stop right there, this could be your problem! Compared with all the other elements to your rig, cabling is a relatively inexpensive component but one which can really make a difference. Cheap patch cables and guitar cords use really thin wire, poor quality solder and jack connections and all of these things combined can result in a cable that is a lot less transparent and a lot more noisy than a cable that uses good quality components.
Yes, there are some companies out there that claim to use “the purest of the pure gold found anywhere on earth” or “copper that was sent straight from the heavens” and use this to justify their sometimes absurd prices. £500 for 20ft of cable? Get real. I’ll be the first to tell you not to buy in to the hype of more expensive=better. But that doesn’t mean that you should go ahead and completely cheap out on your cables either. “Ok, so what cables should I get then” you might be asking yourself.
For me personally I haven’t found anything better than Lava Cables in the price range. They offer a dizzying number of products and use some of the best quality materials I have seen. A top pick of mine would be anything from their ‘Pedal Board Kit’ range. Such an awesome bit of kit it is too, you are supplied jack plugs and a length of instrument cable and basically left to create whatever size of patch cable you want…something which is very useful for players like myself who have their pedals positioned in such a way on their board that not everything in the FX chain is right next to each other. Also with their lifetime guarantee (which they make good on, no questions asked) I can’t see another brand which comes close to what these guys offer.
Take note of what kind of undesirable noise you are experiencing from your rig. Is it a hum when all your pedals are plugged in to your power supply or daisy chain? If you suspect it is then try removing the power source from the mix and run all your pedals on battery power so they are isolated from ground. If this cures your problem then you know that your power supply isn’t truly isolating your pedals from one another and should look at upgrading it. Is it a hissing or shrieking sound? Then go through from start to finish, plug your guitar straight in to the amp and start to add pedals one by one to try to decipher where the noise is coming from. You may just be surprised to figure out it’s coming from a patch cable that has been twisted and turned one too many times.
With not a tremendous amount of money or effort required you can soon take your setup from sounding like something that is crying out for help to one which is so clear you could hear a pin drop in between notes.
Have fun expirimenting, until next time.