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We’ve all been there. We’re setting up for a session, and the guitar amp is buzzing like crazy, or we’re opening up a mix to get started, and there’s all this noise on the guitar tracks. In this article, we’ll look at some solutions for humming amps and guitar tracks, and how to deal with them in the recording and mixing processes.
In the recording phase, there are a couple of common offenders, and sometimes it’s more than one thing at the same time!
Single-coil pickups in guitars are essentially receptors for electrical interference of all kinds. When working with single-coil pickups, like on a Fender Telecaster, the first test is to unplug the guitar. Does the hum go away? If so, move on to Offender #2. Otherwise, read on.▼ Article continues below ▼
Plug the guitar back in and turn up the volume knob on the instrument. Does the hum come back? If so, the hum could be caused by electromagnetic interference from fluorescent lights, dimmers, computer monitors, or other unshielded sources.
There are a few simple ways to combat this:
What if your amp is buzzing regardless of whether your guitar is plugged in or not? Chances are this finicky problem is a grounding issue or a ground loop.
Without going into a bunch of incomprehensible electrical babble, here’s the skinny. An electrical amplifier chain should be grounded. The AC lead from the amp, the extension cable, the power strip, and the outlet should all be three-pronged. Your guitar cables will also have shielding to carry interference to the ground.
Lastly, the ground loop. Let’s say that an amp and an audio interface in a studio are plugged into different electrical outlets on different walls. Even though they’re wired to a single breaker box, sharing a common ground, the voltages at those two outlets will be slightly different from one another (say, 115V vs. 122V). This voltage difference is small but important.
If someone wants to record the line output of the guitar amp, that will mean directly connecting the amp and the interface, and thereby creating a new connection between those two wall outlets, with their slightly different voltages. This will likely result in a noticeable, lovely, 60Hz hum.
There are a couple of common solutions to this issue:
NOTE: DO NOT break the ground going from your amp to the wall outlet of from your pedalboard to its outlet by using a three prong to two prong ground lift adapter. Ground is there to protect you from POTENTIALLY FATAL SHOCKS. It’s just not worth the risk.
Sometimes, mix sessions come with hum that wasn’t handled in the recording phase for one reason or another (probably because they didn’t know all the cool stuff we now know!). Here are a couple approaches to solving this problem:
As always, clean tracks start with clean recordings. Still, noise is part of the world of guitar music — there will always be some. It’s up to us and our tastes to determine how appropriate it is for the music we’re making.
John Hull is an engineer, composer, and mixer, and the lead producer for most Soundfly courses. One-half audio nerd, one-half guitarist, and one-half fisherman… John Hull sometimes talks about synthesizers in his sleep. He enjoys long walks on the beach (as long as fishing is involved) and creating videos and songs. Special thanks to Marty Fowler and Austin Stillwell for fact-checking and suggestions.
Soundfly offers personalized learning experiences, mentorship services to help you crack your musical problems, and creative courses to get you to the next level. Learn more at soundfly.com.