ProGuitarShop

Shield Your Guitar to Eliminate Noise

November 30, 2013

Disclaimer: as always, if you have any doubts about your abilities to work with the guts of your guitar, up to and including soldering, desoldering, rewiring, etc—it’s best to just take your guitar to a professional for shielding (or any other work). There’s no shame in taking the guitar to someone who you KNOW is going to do it right—especially if it’s a valuable instrument. Of course, maybe you have a little beater guitar available that you can work on so that if you mess something up, it’s not the end of the world. You gotta start somewhere!

On the whole, not many guitars are shielded coming out of the factory. Single coil pickups are extremely susceptible to 60-cycle hum; applying shielding is a fairly simple solution to reducing the noise out of your guitar.

In order to shield your guitar’s cavities, you’ll need to completely dismantle and de-solder most of your guitar’s components. Everyone in the world recommends that you take DETAILED notes on every component and where it was originally wired to. Use your smartphone or digital camera to take detailed pictures. Label specific wires with tape to help you remember which wires go where. You want to make every effort to leave yourself a map to get home with! Pull all the components off the guitar so that you’re just working with the wood body and have complete access to all pickup cavities and electrical cavities.

 

photo via thefenderforum

There are two quick, easy methods of shielding: conductive copper tape or conductive shielding paint. I think the paint is a little easier to work with and is easier to use in the nooks and crannies of your guitar’s body cavities, but you’ll want tape for the backside of plastic pickguards. All shielding must be in contact with ground. If you are using copper shielding tape, you can solder the ground wire directly to it. You can also use a solder lug attached to the control cavity’s sidewall- a brass screw works well—and then solder a wire from the volume pot casing to this lug for good ground. Alternately, if your volume pot housing is in contact with the conductive foil, you won’t need a ground jumper wire. Both the paint and the foil should come with detailed instructions on how to best apply them for ideal shielding. Once you have completely covered the cavities with your preferred material (allowing time for the paint coats to dry, if you’ve chosen paint), you can put your components back together and get your guitar back into playing shape—but with way less noise—aside from the beautiful noise that YOU make of course.

See you next time in the Corner!

Comments

  1. Raven says:

    Just for clarification; single coils pick up magnetic field nose, that low picked hum. Shielding helps with electrical field noise, that high pitched buzz, but not magnetic field noise. You need hum canceling pickups for that.

    So shielding will make the guitar a bit quieter, but to electrical field noise, not 60 Hz hum.

    posted on November 30, 2013 at 1:49 pm
  2. Jack says:

    This is good advice.  However, do yourself a favor before you take everything apart and make sure that your guitar is truly the source of the noise.  Buzzing and other unintended nastiness can be caused by a broken shield on your cable, a broken connector on any effects, or even in the amp itself.  Change things around and make sure that the guitar is the problem before starting.

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 12:59 am
  3. jp says:

    Shielding is hardly ever needed as long as you have a ground wire screwed inside the guitar. transmitting frequencies that array from Radio Frequencies and other noises other than the common-pickups can from come from pedals that aren’t shielded, an unbiased amp, or poor cables. These factors can play a big part in the overall noise acquired from such a set-up ranging from guitar to pedal to amp vice versa.

    posted on December 1, 2013 at 9:10 am
  4. mark says:

    if you google “star grounding for guitar” its a really simple diyers upgrade but the hum cancellation is a bit subtle

    posted on December 2, 2013 at 5:08 pm
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    posted on December 2, 2013 at 7:10 pm
  6. Raven says:

    Mark, star grounding does nothing to stop noise in a guitar. The websites (**cough**guitarnutz**cough) that propose such things also propose that having multiple ground paths produce ground loops in guitars. Those sites are full of misinformation. It is impossible to have aground loop in a guitar, because you only have one connection to ground; at your amp. Everything else, the backs of the pots and shielding, should be connected together because they form a large grounded enclosure, like you have around an effects pedal or your amp.

    Ground loops are produced when equipment has multi ground connections. You can hear this when you DI an amp into the PA and they are on two different ground circuits.

    Star grounding is used in tube amps because they have very high impedances and very high voltages inside. This causes noise to be induced in the ground paths and into the signal. This is of no concern in a guitar.

    The bottom line is; single coils hum. Period. And you can get additional noise from electric fields. So all pickups and your wiring should be shielded. But that’s rarely the case. And shielding won’t get rid of single coil hum. If it did, then there would be no hum canceling Stat pickups on he market.

    posted on December 3, 2013 at 2:23 am
  7. STeve says:

    In the FWIT (for what it’s worth) section…  I have an old Washburn tele, upgraded with a Fishman piezo bridge and a hot rails pup in the bridge position. My house wiring sux here in Mississippi, and my recording set-up was in front of an old school Tube type computer monitor…  Then I started playing gigs at this place that had florescent lights.  ALL of these things conspired against me and made my rig buzz like crazy.  Knowing enough avionics info from my military career to be dangerous, I decided to RMI shield my guitar.  I did exactly the same thing discussed here with the copper tape EVERYWHERE!!  Suddenly, even with a slightly modded TS9 cranked, my rig was virtually silent (yes, single coils may have some little noise, but it’s part of the single coil magic!) except where I wanted it to make noise….  Just follow the directions above and quit arguing…  It’s a wonderful thing!

    posted on December 3, 2013 at 7:28 am
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  9. stevieod says:

    The information presented here, while a bit on the sparse and vague side, is still good.  However, the reason there are humbucking pickups is because of 60 cycle hum.  But even still, my ‘72 Gibson SG has copper shielding in the cavities to kill any chance of the guitar being the source of EMI/RFI noise. 

    That is only one of the many differences between Kalamazoo and Nashville Gibson guitars.

    posted on December 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm
  10. kj says:

    I would think that you’d have to completely encase the control cavity with a continuous layer of metal. Any holes such as where the pickups pop through or even the hole that houses the 1/4” connector might still allow external electromagnetic interference with the wires and pickups. There are laser pickups that sense vibrations with light, not sure how those work out but I would think that the influence of external electromagnetic fields would be minimized by a laser pickup system.

    posted on December 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm
  11. kj says:

    I also think the weakest link in all this is how good is the grounding of your entire ‘system’ from guitar through amp. If your amp is plugged into a two prong electrical outlet and/or the wiring of the building is old or below electrical code, that would seem to be as much a problem as bleed through into the cavity of spurious radio or electromagnetic energy. Makes sense know why many bands use power conditioners.

    posted on December 6, 2013 at 1:08 am
  12. Toonzz says:

    shifan1 should be blocked for posting spam advertising. By the way, good article, but didn’t mention ground hum from other sources, such as poor earth ground in house powerlines.

    shifan1

    posted on December 7, 2013 at 2:45 am
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    posted on December 7, 2013 at 11:20 am
  14. Keith says:

    If the hum coming from your guitars poor shielding is a distraction then you simply zfdon’t have your amp up loud enough.  Dime the amp and your poor shielding woes will all go away (along with your hearing… what?... what?).  ;-) 

    Oh, did I mention I have Louis Spittoon hand bags on sale?  Haha!!

    posted on December 11, 2013 at 4:55 am
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