The technique I am going to discuss here is more of an engineering concept than a musical one. The process is called fault isolation and it involves step by step action to figure out which element in your signal chain is causing problematic behavior. You’ll need:
- Any other guitar,
- Some cables you haven’t tried before,
- Another amp,
- Another guitar processor/ Pedal set.
At least half the time, it’s likely you’ve got crappy cables. Try someone else’s cables with your setup and is possible that your noise problem gets healed. Be sure to replace all the cables while checking for the flawed ones. If you don’t get noise anymore, Be sure to discard the faulty cable, set it aside and don’t let it get mixed up with the rest of your cables.
Next, Go for the guitar. Try someone else’s guitar, with the cables and setup you originally had. Some guitar manufacturers don’t pay particular attention to the quality of cabling/Soldering that is used for the pickups and volume controls or their electronics aren’t grounded properly. If at this point, you are able to isolate the noise, that means that most likely it’s one of these cases. Take your guitar to your luthier and get the electronics and cabling checked out thoroughly for any faults. You might want to consider shifting to different pickups, if your budget and tone requirements permit. If your noise creeps in only when you increase the volume and tone full swing, it is likely that they are at fault and need to be replaced. If at this point, you’ve still got noise(on your friends noise-free guitar), Seems like your guitar’s safe 😉
Now it’s time to check your effect setup for any source of noise. Simply connect your guitar directly to your amp and observe for noise.Try the clean channels, and then try adding gain. Although some noise is bound to creep in at high gain values, if you’re getting more noise than sound (Low S/N ratio) then you’re in trouble.
If the guitar now sounds absolutely clean and noise free, then noise may be creeping in through one of your pedals or processor. Try to use batteries instead of power supplies, because a fair amount of noise might also be caused due to interference from the AC Mains. If this solves your problem, then you should consider shifting to professional level power supplies and daisy chain setups so that noise is curbed at the power level, from seeping into your sound system. If you use an effects setup utilizing just a single multi-effects processor, it might do you good to always have a set of batteries in the system weather or not you have noise, especially during live shows, all the more if you’re hyperactive on stage as I am.
Back to the subject, if you’re still experiencing noise in the clean channel or at low values of gain, your amplifier could be the culprit. Cheap solid state marshall amplifiers such as the Marshall CD15, CD10 etc tend to become noisy the moment you roll up the gain. Try shifting the amp to a socket in your house which you know is grounded properly. Another symptom for a grounding related noise problem is a constant hiss that may reduce when you touch the metal parts of your guitar such as your bridge, your strings your tremolo arm, etc.
DOES YOUR GUITAR ELECTROCUTE YOU?
This is more common that it sounds. Many times due to bad earthing/grounding in your overall electrical connections, it may be possible that your guitar acts as a conductor of current and causes anything from mild shocks to serious electrocution, aside from being a source of noise.
Talk to your household electrician and make sure that the power outlets in your house, or atleast the ones you plug your guitar into, are grounded safely. If the problem still persists, it’s possible that the line between your amplifier and the ground port in your outlet is broken, something that is relatively easy to fix, get it checked by a professional.
If none of this helps you, it may be time to invest in a noise canceller/noise gate/noise supressor
All good multi Effects processors have one. At high gain values, noise suppressors can be helpful in giving a controlled output.
Bear in mind though, that you sacrifice tone as you up the threshold knob, even though it sounds a whole lot cleaner. You get less “oomph factor” with your guitar, and you should only use it when you absolutely need it.
Note of caution: Make sure that your amp and Effects processor are DISCONNECTED from the power supply anytime you want to dabble with the circuits yourself. Even when switched off from the wall, the Amps may contain leftover charge which can be diminshed by turning the amp on and off (from the switch on the amp) a couple of times after the power chord has been physically removed from the power socket on your wall.