Wishbringer Music News
Troubleshooting Your Guitar Tags: troubleshooting

 

TROUBLESHOOTING YOUR GUITAR

"The naive person knows everything.  The wise person seeks even more knowledge."  (Or for guitar owners:  there is no dishonor in asking for help.)

This article is for those who have built / modded / upgraded their guitar and it just doesn't sound or perform as they'd hoped or expected.  If you're to the point of scratching your head or even frustration... that's what this article is here for. 

 

NOT THE PICKUPS

To cut to the chase, Wishbring sells guitar pickups, and has for years.  Low or "noisy" sound is generally not a  problem with a brand new, hand-tested pickup.  Malfunctioning pickups tend to not work at all (no sound).  Low volume or noise indicates something else is most likely the problem.  Recognizing this fact allows us to focus on... everything else.  Thus, this article on troubleshooting guitars.

 

THE FIRST STEP:  READ, THOROUGHLY

The following information offers straight-forward, common sense solutions to normal guitar installation problems.  To gain full benefit it's good to read the entire article. 

I've been in this business several years.  The most common issue in failed installation and maintenance starts with simple failure to read the instructions.  This is fairly common.  Most of us tend to think, "I already know how to install these things.  I don't need to read the instructions".   But every installation is different, every pickup brand is different, and sometimes we just overlook something. The FlatCat™ pickup is unique in design.  They're generally easy to install but require specific knowledge of how to do so.  The installation instructions are detailed and precise-- for a reason.  So first step:  make sure to read all of the instructions.

 

THE MOST COMMON PROBLEM AREAS:  Problem issues most likely lie in the type of strings used, the guitar itself (failure in the instrument), bridge, action, other electric components, wiring, a bad ground,  the guitar cord or even the electrical wiring in your home (many of these things are discussed in detail elsewhere on this website). 

Bottom line:  if you're getting sound out of the pickup but the volume is "low" or "noisy"... the problem isn't likely to be the pickup.  This article is designed to help you locate the trouble area and achieve the full, rich sound your pickup is capable of producing.  There is good reason the FlatCat is a 5-star pickup.  It works very well and when installed correctly, it sounds great.

 

START WITH THE BASICS

Shooting from the hip:  sometimes the first step in troubleshooting a guitar is recognizing there is far more to the guitar field than most people are aware-- and that even experts sometimes make the most common mistakes.  It happens to us all.   So the first question one should always ask is, "Did I miss something, somewhere?"  Sometimes the solution involves the simplest and most basic of things-- such as needing a set of electric strings rather than phosphor-bronze or nylon, or replacing a damaged volume knob. 

"But it worked before" is a major hurdle between a functioning or malfunctioning guitar.  Coincidences happen all the time when upgrading equipment.  A borderline-functional component can easily stop working when a new piece of equipment is installed.  Never discount any possibility.  Examine the simple things first.

Many people have had to pay a technician for a service call because they thought their TV was plugged in.  So we keep that in mind whenever troubleshooting a guitar installation.  There are many variables. Check even the most simple and unlikely.  This is especially true for people who have "been in the business for years".  That's when we most easily overlook the obvious... and kick ourselves later when we finally locate the source of the glitch.  Check even the obvious and least-likely.

It is very true:  Reality and common sense often trump experience and tech manuals.  That recognized... we start with the very basic concepts and work up from there.

 

NOT ENOUGH VOLUME.  As mentioned prior, pickups generally either produce sound or they don't.   If they are producing sound but that sound isn't what's desired, usually we need to look elsewhere for the source of the problem.  The most common causes of low volume are wrong strings, reversed phase, incorrect installation.  Let's discuss these issues.

 

STRINGS.  This is a common issue. Sometimes people installing a new pickup are moving up from a piezo-based or other microphonic pickup to an electric "mag"-based pickup.   The issue here is that piezo pickups most often use bronze or nylon strings, whereas mag pickups require ferrous-metal electric strings. Even techs have difficulty telling bronze strings from steel.  That's the first place I look for "low volume".

Since mag pickups are (as the name infers) based on a magnetic field that senses the vibration of the strings, the strings must be made of a field-sensitive metal-- typically steel, nickel, or combinations of the two.  Phosphor-bronze strings will produce very low volume.  Nylon strings will often produce no sound at all, or very low sound just on the lower 3 strings and no sound on the trebles.  In such case all that's needed to fix the problem is to change the strings.

Yes, I realize this is very basic information.  But it's surprising how often the strings themselves are overlooked as a very likely problem source.  Is the television plugged in?

Please read near the end of this article regarding additional tips on string brand and set-in time.

 

HUM and NOISE.  There are two other articles on this site dealing specifically with hum and noise.  If that is the problem you're experiencing, please check those articles. 

 

PHASE.  Low volume or tone that is weak and less rich than expected is very often caused by a phase issue-- the hot/ground wires needing to be reversed somewhere.   There is an article specifically covering phase elsewhere on this site.

 

INSTALLATION PROCEDURE

"Expertise and experience is irrelevant if our level of knowledge and observation can't fix the current problem."

If you only have one pickup and one volume control, trouble-shooting can be relatively easy.  But if you have three pickups, two volume controls, two tone controls, a 5-way switch and maybe even a digital add-on... checking phase can be a complex rats-nest issue. 

"But I'm an expert / technician / have installed zillions of pickups".   This is a statement heard by guitar repairmen world-wide.  It's also a familiar to auto mechanics, computer repair centers, appliance repair shops, ad infinity.  

So the first thing we need to do is admit it to ourselves when we can't figure out the problem.  Rather than blaming the equipment or someone else who has no  control over the process we used to install a new piece of equipment... it is often wise to seek the advice of another person-- especially someone who works with guitars every day and has seen wierder things happen with musical instruments than the average person can imagine.

Such expertiese seldom comes free... but it gets the job done. 

 

OTHERWISE...

If you're a hard-core do-it-yourselfer and decide to handle the project yourself (and since I myself am such a person), remember the tech addage:  what you don't think is the problem is very possibly the problem.  The best way I can point this out is by giving real-life examples, with the simplest / most frustrating one leading the pack:

 * One guitar tech, after having checked everything on the guitar, double-checked, tested, and replaced until he was pulling his hair out and still getting rotten sound... finally decided to replace the guitar jack.   The jack appeared to be in perfect condition.  He'd even re-soldered the leads.   However, once the jack was completely replaced the guitar sounded just fine.  The actual malfunction was never discovered, but that jack was the problem point.

Guess who "the guy" was. ; )

A time consuming lesson.   Check everything.  Never discount anything off-hand as "It can't possibly be THAT."   Sometimes the issue can be as simple as a guitar jack suddenly gone bad for no discernible reason.  Weirder things happen, every day.

* There is no counting the number of volume or tone pots that have had to be replaced over the decades.   Sometimes, for some reason, they "work" just fine (the volume increases and decreases, the tone changes as expected)... but the sound output is not what is desired.  Or they are working one moment-- then not working the next.  Replacing pots often fixes the problem.

* Bad guitar cord.  Doesn't matter that the cord was working 5 minutes ago.  Borderline function can change to non-functional in an eyeblink.   If all else fails, check the cord or the jack that goes into the amp.  (We check a cord by replacing the cord.  We check the amp by using another instrument.  This may involve borrowing from a friend if we don't have extras.) 

In short, ignore nothing, test everything.

* Incorrect "correct" phase.   There is an article here about phase, but we'll summarize here to highlight the issue.  The instructions said the colored wire goes there and the white wire goes there, and that's how you hooked it up, precisely.  However, for whatever reason, your particular instrument requires reverse phase.   A professional electronics expert might be able to figure out why.  To everyone else it makes no sense at all-- but when the pickup wires are reversed... the sound clears right up.   The "correct" phase was incorrect-- and had to be reversed.  Of course you can pull out the electric test equipment and test every single connection until you track down the specific issue. 

Or alternately, if reversing the phase works, go with what works. 

* Grounding issue.   Everyone hates grounding issues... because they can exist almost anywhere... from the internals of a pickup to the volume knob to the strings themselves.  It can be the guitar cord leading to the amp... and beyond into the amp itself.   Grounding issues can be a bear to locate. 

What's especially frustrating with grounding issues is that they may be totally grounding out (causing complete loss of sound)... or they may be leeching, meaning it's not totally cancelling the signal but just causing enough of a problem to be very noticable.  The capacitor on a tone knob is burned out or malfunctioning.   The pots are corroded internally.  The strings aren't grounded  (a problem that exists more often than one would believe, especially on home-made guitars)

Whatever the grounding problem, this quite often requires one of two steps:

1. Taking it to a qualified guitar electronics tech and having him locate the issue

2. Replacing parts until you find out which one was bad / grounding out. 

 

SEEKING ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

When troubleshooting a guitar, no matter how much we believe we know, it is good to leave room for doubt and question whether we are aware of everything that is going on with that instrument.  Whether it's an over-weight treble B string (a common issue that a lot of players don't know exists or how to fix), to a rumbling low E, from disappearing trebles to basic string grounding... we have to realize there are even more obscure issues about which we may have no knowledge-- nor even be aware we're lacking that knowledge.

The point is this:  we should not be quick to blame the equipment.  It could be something is simply not adjusted correctly, needs fine-tuned, or (as mentioned)... one needs to read all of the instructions all the way through.   "I know what I'm doing.  I don't need to read the instructions" is one of the best ways to find oneself having to troubleshoot an instrument.  Happens regularly.

 

HOPEFULLY IT ALL GOES WELL

Once you've checked everything, odds are you will discover and fix the cause of the problem.   If you are getting sound, likely the problem isn't the pickup.   If your volume is low or sound is weak, one of the most common problems is incorrect phase or the wrong strings.   Sometimes controls need replaced.  Sometimes it's a bad solder joint and the solder connections need to be re-done.

Whatever the problem, remember a rule of thumb of all repairmen: 

It's the poor craftsman who blames the equipment.  The wise person searches for and finds the solution. 

 

Wishbringer after-sale service and advice is 110%.  Honest, I want you to be up and running and very happy with your installation.  That's why this article is here.  So if there's a problem with the resulting sound after installation, please don't hesitate to ask for help.  I don't just sell pickups:  I sell awesome sound.

 

ADDITIONAL TIPS...

STRING BRAND. The brand of strings is often important.  Some strings are simply better quality than others, and some brands work better on a specific guitar than do others.  Unfortunately there is no shortcut to finding the proper string type for your guitar and playing style, but you can search the Net for suggestions from other players as to what type of string produces your desired sound.  Are you looking for crisp, clear lead-guitar or deep, mellow blues?   Country twang or heavy metal?  The style of music you play will largely determine the brand and model of strings you choose... and the sound that comes from your guitar.

Brand websites will tell you in detail the primary purpose of each model of string they make.  Reading their listings can provide you abundant useful information.  In my own research and for my style of playing,  I have found D'Addario EXP110s to be a good "all-around" string.  Basic Fender electric strings are meant for Stratocaster-type sound, but for blues or jazz type playing you'll want a richer string.  GHS is a good string in a wide variety of sizes, Ernie Ball has its followers, Martin, you name it... each string brand and each string model produces significantly different results. 

Remember: the majority of sound from a mag pickup comes from vibration of the strings.  It follows that the right string can improve the sound of your guitar dramatically.

 

SET-IN TIME.   Guitar strings need to stretch and "mature".  In every case strings will sound considerably better after setting on the guitar for a few days.  Usually a new set of guitar strings will sound terrible to the trained ear-- and improve greatly as time passes and the guitar is played.

Professionals handle this by having roadies play the guitar for an hour or two whenever a new set is installed.   Some people over-wind the strings (tightening them an extra half note) when first installing them, then doing that 2 or 3 times throughout the day, finally bringing them down to standard tuning.   If done properly this can stretch and set new strings relatively quickly. 

A new set of strings will rarely sound good.   They need time to stretch and reach their full potential.   There are several ways to do this; check Internet suggestions and pick the way that works best for you.

My method (since I build guitars more than I play them) is to over-tune a whole note and re-tune several times during the day.  For my playing style and habits I find on the 3rd day the strings sound great.   Of course, I only change strings about once or twice a year, so that's my method.  If you play often, you may need a totally different system to break in your strings.

Of course, breaking in strings isn't going to make the difference between lousy sound and good sound.  But it can very well be the difference between "okay" sound and wonderful sound.  It's that significant. 

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I hope this brief plunge into the depths of instrument maintenance and troubleshooting has sparked the light needed to get your instrument to peak performance. 

--o--

 

 

BUILDING A BOX GUITAR Tags: box guitar cbg cigar box guitar how to build building

BUILDING A BOX GUITAR

     I build and sell "cigar box guitars"-- or as I prefer to call them: "box guitars"... because they can be made out of just about anything.   I've built guitars out of cigar boxes, cardboard boxes, license plates and even Altoids Mint tins.  I've seen them built from silverware boxes, wine boxes and more.  They have all sounded great.  The trick is:  it's not so much what they're made from, as how they're made

    I enjoy helping people learn how to build their own instruments.  If you're going to build it yourself it's good to know the pitfalls ahead of time.  If someone can't build one (for whatever reason) or doesn't have the time or tools, that's where my store comes in.  Either way, the idea is to get music in the hands of the people.  

    In addition to instruments I also offer the popular FlatCat guitar pickup as well as other accessories.   People buy these to put on guitars they have built themselves.  Some are experienced builders, some are just getting started.  For those getting started, here are some basics of building a box guitar-- a list of suggestions and things to watch out for so that your build is successful.  I hope this helps in your guitar turning out just the way you want it to.  If you decide to employ a FlatCat pickup in your design it will enhance the natural tone of your instrument, producing rich, vibrant results.

 

AVOID SETTING THE NECK TOO LOW

    One of the most often-made mistakes is setting the neck too low to the surface of the guitar.   Here is an illustration of what many have in their mind when they start:

 

NECK-THROUGH DESIGN

    In this concept a 1 x 2" piece of wood is run through the box, attached to the lid.  A 1/4 x 2" fret board is placed on top of that.  This makes for a nice, solid neck with all of the string tension on the stick, not on the body.

    THE PROBLEM:  Since the main stick sits just beneath the lid, the clearance beneath the strings is extremely shallow.  Most lids are at least 1/8" thick, which means by the time you get that 1/4" fret board on there you have less than 1/4" clearance between the bottom of the strings and the lid.  This barely leaves room to strum without hitting the box top, and no room for a pickup (not even a flat pickup).

    To compensate some raise the bridge, but that brings the strings too high and makes fingering painful.   There has to be a better way... and there is!

 

STICK-THROUGH METHOD

    In this design a 1 x 2" board is run through the box and about 3" beyond on the neck side.   The neck is glued and screwed to the top of that stick.  This method allows you to measure the position of the stick-through exactly and raises both the neck and fret board much higher above the surface of the box. This leaves plenty of room both for strumming and installing a pickup.

    An added advantage is that the bridge is higher, causing greater tension on the strings, which improves their sound quality.  It doesn't really matter whether you run the stick out the end of the box and anchor your strings there, or use metal eyelets to run your strings through the box and anchor them within; both methods work equally well. 

    A wood platform directly underneath the bridge (inside the box) transfers the vibration directly to the stick, which keeps almost all of the stress on the stick-through and not on the box.  It allows more open space on the surface-- which means better vibration from the box itself.

    Using this method it's very easy to get an ideal clearance of 1/2" between the strings and your box surface.  If you're using the Wishbringer FlatCat™ pickup all you need do is drill a small hole through the box and stick and run the pickup wire down into the box and over to your controls (shown in the diagram as the black rectangle with blue wire).  The FlatCat itself is only 1/4" thick and adheres right to the surface of the box, providing wonderful sound. 

    If you wish to use a standard pickup you'll need to cut an opening in the top of the box for the pickup to fit through and make sure you leave enough clearance above the stick-through for the pickup to drop down into the box.  Whichever method you choose, the stick-through method is a great way to insure you have enough room between the strings and your box surface.

 

A SURPRISING REALITY

The above method provides some space between the stick-through and the box surface.  Some feel this allows more of the box surface to vibrate and creates a "better" sound.

The reality is that sound is subjective, and "better" is actually simply different.  If you want to avoid using the 1/4" braces inside the lid, you can glue the stick-through directly to the box.  On the downside this raises the fingerboard about 1/4" higher... and you may not want that for your design (depending on your design concepts).   On the upside though-- that stick glued directly to the box transfers a lot of vibration to the box surface on both sides of the neck.

The result is a pleasantly rich sound that is surprisingly robust.   Having used both methods I can say you will get "just as much sound" from an attached stick-through as a separated stick-through.   For a prime example, look at the photo at the very top of this page.  That is a "neck over" CBG... which means the neck itself is extended and runs clear to the bottom of the instrument.  That is an old CBG design that predates the SlickStick itself.  It's time-tested and proved to work just fine; the SlickStick produces terrific sound.  

So imagine that stick running inside the box instead of on the outside, and attaching the neck to the top of the stick through as shown in the above design.  It works just fine. 

Either method you choose, you'll wind up with a totally-functional, awesome-sounding CBG that provides plenty of space between the surface of the box and the strings.

 

CHOOSING YOUR NECK MATERIAL WISELY

    Poplar is often spoken of as a "good" neck wood for box guitars.  It is readily available, inexpensive and easy to work with.  It both cuts and sands more easily than harder woods.

    I encourage re-thinking that choice.  In my experience a good piece of poplar is okay if you have a 3-string guitar and 2 of the strings are trebles (un-wound plain metal wire).  But if you're using heavier strings or are making a 4-string guitar, you may wish to opt for stronger wood.  Although hardwoods are a bit more expensive and more difficult to cut and sand than poplar, the durability will be well worth it in the long run.  Just ask yourself the question:  Do I want this guitar to last for one year or 100 years?   All Wishbringer guitar necks are made from hard wood-- oak, hickory, ash, mahogany, walnut. 

    If you're building a 6-string guitar you'll want to add a truss system to your neck. Quite a bit more work, but absolutely essential.  Many builders who tackle a 6-string guitar will buy a pre-built neck and add it to the box.  In my opinion there's nothing wrong with doing so; it's no different in concept than buying store-bought tuners, strings and electronics.   You're still building your own guitar, with your own hands, from a box.  The results can be very rewarding

 

STRINGS MAKE A DIFFERENCE

    The quality and type of strings you choose will make a difference.  You can choose electric strings or standard guitar strings, both will work.   The resulting sound and playability will be different depending on string brand and size.  I can't say which string is best for you because sound is a very subjective thing... as well as playing style.  Some folks prefer one kind of string, others prefer another.   (Note:  for a mag pickup and amplifier, electric strings are required, not phosphor-bronze.)

    The one thing I can state is this:  it takes a little time for strings to set in... usually two or three days at least.  I have consistently found that a guitar sounds far better a week after I've built it than the day I finish it.  So once you've built your git, give it some time.  Tune it daily, 2 or 3 times a day, play it a bit, give your strings time to set in.   Once they've "set", you'll likely notice a greatly improved quality of sound.   Of course, the better the strings to begin with, the better the potential sound.  I often suggest trying different brands over a period of time to see if you prefer one brand over another.  Once you find your favorite... that brand and type of string will likely continue to work well for you.

 

RUSHING SPOILS ALL THE FUN

    The main thing to remember when building your guitar is this:  there is no need to rush.   Enjoy the building as much as you can, because once it's built, it's built.  What's left after that is the playing.  Poor quality from a rush job will be heard in every strum.  Taking your time and using quality materials will produce much better tone and provide far greater satisfaction in a creation of your own hands.

 

 --o--

 

 

 

 

Customer Photos Tags: customer photos

"Battle Axe" 4-string FlatCat-based guitar by Lucas Melton

CBG-model pickup. Customer appraisal:  "Excellent pickup. Sounds awesome!!!"   I take it he plays this guitar very carefully.  : )

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FlatCat on a "Gretch 1883" guitanjo by Lee M.

Notice the common-sense installation methods in the photo below.  The FlatCat wires were run through the guitanjo head and over to the control pots, which are installed in the upper top side of the instrument.  The outer drum tuners are grounded (good choice) as are the strings.  The wires running to the extended, through-body jack are wrapped around the central metal support to reduce RF/EM interference, significantly cutting potential hum and noise. 

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FlatCat on a Traveler Bass-- a guitar that has hardly any room to add a pickup.  Customer reports: "This pickup worked very nicely for me on my traveler bass. Solved the problem where the old piezo pickup was too quiet and wouldn't work with my Rocksmith guitar game. Looks nice as well!" - Greg

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FlatCat Bass Assist on a Gibson by Phillip Krzankowski

Phillip used a CBG FlatCat to emphasize the lower three strings on his Gibson guitar by offsetting the smaller-than-normal pickup to one side.  He reports being very pleased with the results.

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FlatCat-based Shovel Git by Rockets Instruments

This dandy guitar uses a Molten Iron FlatCat and cranks out some amazing sound. 

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FlatCat on Jim Hillis CBG

The Molten Silver color goes well with the palm rest.  Beautiful job.  Cigar boxes can be difficult to come by in some areas; Jim uses a cake pan for the back of his guitars.

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Brook Williams with his FlatCat-based resonator.

Here is a video from this fine performer, using a FlatCat-based CBG:

https://youtu.be/iSoIOyOOJBw   

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Shovel-based guitar by Ken C.

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John Sime's FlatCat-based Michale Messer Blues Resonator

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FlatCat Altoid Pickups on shovel guitars by Jeffrey

These antique collectors-item tins were supplied by the customer and turned into guitar pickups.  Customer review:  "This pickup is perfect for my slide shovel guitar, fit like a glove n extremely clear n loud, lowest setting on my Peavey Amp will wake the dead."

Shown:  Standard 3-string and bass 3-string

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I'd like to thank these customers for taking the time to photograph their finished instruments so we could all see the results.  Fine looking work.  There's just nothing like personal creativity to enhance an instrument... or create something totally new!

--o--

 

 

Tracking Down Hum pt 1 Tags: hum noise

Click here to read part 2 of this series

 

Hum and buzz when plugging in an amp.   Annoying and frustrating.  Where is it coming from?  Is it the git, the amp or something else?

Many articles have been written on this.   Doesn't hurt to re-hash once in a while.  This is a step-by-step process for locating and eliminating hum, starting with easiest-to-check.

 

TEST FOR GROUNDING ISSUES

Touch the metal jacket on your guitar cord when it's plugged into the amp.  If the hum vanishes you likely have a grounding problem somewhere.  

 

TEST THE CORD

Poor guitar cords are notorious for creating hum.  Try a different cord.  If hum still persists, you may want to invest in a  quality, shielded cord.  They cost a bit but there's a reason for that: they help eliminate external sources of hum.  If the hum disappears it's money well-spent.  If not, it's still money well-spent.

 

TEST THE AMP

Try a different amp if you have one and see if the hum disappears.  If hum vanishes, you just located the source without much trouble.  In one instance I thought the hum was my guitar; it turned out instead to be the wall wart (AC Converter) that fed my Roland MicroCube.  How did I find out?  I unplugged it and ran the cube on batteries and the hum vanished.  Another way would be to try other wall warts and see if they do better (once I went through six wall warts until I found one that worked properly.   They are notoriously poor in manufacture).  If your amp doesn't use a wall wart it may be something in the internal wiring.  That's a bit trickier and out of my ability to trace (without risk of painful or fatal electrical incident).  Usually in such case I just buy a new amp.  Unless it's an expensive amp it'll cost as much to have the amp repaired.

 

TEST THE INSTRUMENT

Test two or three gits if you have them and see if the hum remains, vanishes, or changes.  If the hum remains across all gits, then that almost insures the problem is either with the amp or the environment (unless of course, you have 2 or 3 problem gits-- not likely).  If it's the instrument, see below on how to correct that problem.

 

TEST LOCATION / ENVIRONMENT

If hum persists, eliminate the environment as a possibility.  Hum could be caused by something in your home or workshop.  I've heard of entire houses that had hum in the wiring itself... unstable electric flow.  

First use an outlet ground tester to make sure the outlet is grounded.  If all shows green you're good to go.  If it shows ungrounded, you'll need to ground your outlet-- or switch to another outlet that is grounded.

If your outlet is grounded, take the git and amp to another location and see if you still have the hum.   First move to other rooms and test the system.  If the hum persists move to another place entirely... a local park with electric outlet or someplace totally away from your home area where you can test your guitar and amp.  If the problem is in your home-- your entire block or area of the city up to the central transformer could potentially be affected.   Eliminate the environment as a cause.  If you go elsewhere and the hum disappears, you'll either need to just get used to the hum or invest in a hum eliminator device (plugs between your amp and wall socket to stabilize voltage and eliminate hum).

Do you have fluorescent lights?  Those little twisty bulbs?  Computer equipment nearby?  Heavy electronics nearby (microwave, television, etc).  Those are known sources of RFI (radio frequency interference).  You can try isolating your music setup from proximity to those,

 

HOW TO FIX A WONKY GIT

If the hum problem turns out to be your guitar... something isn't connected properly somewhere.  You'll want to make sure items that need to be grounded are connected to the negative (center) pole of your guitar jack-- either directly or through a central grounding wire.

* Pickups. "Humbuckers" are so named because the double-coils naturally inhibit hum.  If you're using a single-coil pickup (common with CBGs) the pickup itself could be the source of hum.   Google "shield coil pickup" for lots of information on eliminating pickup hum.

* Pickup cover.  Some pickup covers are metal and have to be grounded.  If they're not they can cause significant hum.  Solution:  ground to the pickup ground wire.

* Sound wiring.  Sometimes the instrument wiring is simply hooked up wrong.  Double and triple-check the wiring layout and see if all the wires are where they're supposed to be.

* Strings.  If you have a metal bridge or the strings run across metal somewhere (such as the tailpiece), that's easy to fix.  Just run a ground wire straight from the jack to the metal.  If the strings don't touch metal you may need to add a metal strip to the tail or bridge and ground to the jack in order to ground the strings.  They're steel / nickel and are basically horizontal antennas... very sensitive to interference.  The tuners are also metal.  Make sure everything is grounded.

* Fancy do-dad.   If you have a license plate or other metal decoration on your git that's any larger than a bottle cap, it could be picking up interference.  If there are metal decorations (especially license plat gits), ground them. 

* Faulty pot grounding.   Sometimes a ground solder on a pot may look good but actually not be grounding correctly.   In other cases the pot itself is burned out and not grounding correctly.  In some cases the pot was faulty right from the factory (I've had that happen twice).  If you've tried everything else and it still hums, I recommend:

     a) Unsolder and re-solder all ground connections on the pot (being careful to not get the pot too hot). 

     b) If it still hums after that, replace the pots one by one and see if one of them was faulty.

 

THE FINAL, LAST-DITCH OPTION

If you've done all of the above and hum still persists, yet it goes away when you touch the guitar cord jacket... procure for yourself a "grounding wrist band".  You can buy these online or at computer stores in the form of "anti-static wrist bands" or make one yourself out of a loop of flexible wire or mesh and a gator clip.  When playing, wrap it around your wrist or run under your shirt, then clip it to grounds somewhere on the guitar.  That should solve the hum problem no matter where it's coming from. 

 

That's pretty much the extent of my knowledge in this area at this time.  In my experience if you do all the above, chances are the hum is going to vanish at one point or another and your problem will be solved.

 

Click here to read part 2 of this series

 

--o--

 

 

Fixing Hum and Noise Problems Tags: hum noise

Note:  This article applies to 110 / 120v electrical sources common to the United States.  Higher voltage sources in other countries would need to refer to electronics specialists in their area.

 

There it is again... that annoying hum from your guitar amplifier.  What is causing that?  It seems to come and go.  Sometimes it's louder, sometimes softer.  Is it the guitar, the amp or something difficult to identify?

 

CAUSES OF HUM

There can be many reasons for hum or noise in a piece of equipment (listed here in order of "easiest to identify and correct"):

* Jack-related ground loop issues
* Electric line ground loop issues
* RFI / EMI (radio frequency or electromagnetic interference)
* Bad line power ("noisy" electricity)
* Bad instrument or amplifier
... and stuff that really is difficult to identify.  Fortunately the most common causes of amplifier noise are easy to identify and correct-- although it may cost you a bit to fix it.

 

JACK-RELATED GROUND LOOP ISSUE

    This is very easy to test.  Plug a regular guitar cord into your amp (but not into your instrument).   If you hear hum / noise, unplug the cord.  If the noise vanishes, you have a jack-related ground loop issue.

    Fixing this problem is reasonably low-cost (about $20 or so).  You will need to purchase an instrument/microphone ground loop eliminator.  Models are made by Pyle, Behringer and other music companies.  You plug your instrument cord into this device and then run another cord to your amplifier.  If the hum is instrument or cord related, this will very likely correct the majority of the problem.

   Note that this may not fix issues in which there is something wrong with the instrument (an internal short or grounding issue).  For that you'll need to have the instrument inspected and repaired.  But if you tested with a raw guitar cord and the problem disappears when the cord is unplugged from the amp, a jack ground loop eliminator will very likely be the solution.

ELECTRIC LINE GROUND LOOP ISSUES

   Testing for this issue is easy if your amplifier has a 3-prong electric cord.  (If your guitar has a 2-prong cord, you can skip this section.)   Sometimes interference from "ground loop" (other items on the line) causes noise problems. 

    IMPORTANT!  FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS FULLY!  To test for this use a common 3-prong to 2-prong adapter (a little plug you can find in almost any store).  If you plug the amp in using this adapter and the noise vanishes, you have an electric line ground loop issue.  Whether the hum vanishes or remains, once the test is performed (2 seconds or so), immediately turn off the amp and remove the test plug.  A 3-prong amp should never be operated with a 2-prong adapter for any length of time.  This is for testing purposes only.

    Resist the urge to keep using this easy and inexpensive device to fix the issue.  There is a reason your amp has 3 prongs; using a 2 prong adapter for a length of time can cause grounding issues and result in blowing out your amp or (worst scenario, however rare) starting a fire or severely shock the player.  Just don't do it.

    What you will need in this case is a power ground loop filter, which can take care of such problems.  It's not an inexpensive fix ($60 and up depending on your source) but it will most likely fix this electrical problem.  

 

RFI/EMI ISSUES

    Anyone who has ever lived near a radio or TV station or near a power generator will likely have experienced this kind of problem.  This can also happen in areas with florescent lights, heavy machinery, microwave ovens, computer equipment, large video monitors, or other sundry electrical equipment that can produce radio frequency or electro-magnetic interference.

    There are many solutions for such, depending on the source, direction and seriousness of the interference.  Shielded cables in your instrument, all cords and electric cord may be required.  Many guitars are already shielded from RFI/EMI, but many aren't.  You can shield them by opening the electronics area and lining it with aluminum or copper tape (available in electronics stores or online). 

    In the case of an amplifier an inelegant solution is to cover it with aluminum foil.  A slightly more elegant solution is to build a "Faraday Cage"-- which is basically a mesh-wire box to surround most of your amplifier.  Either method may block interference and allow your amp to work noise-free.  You will still need a good-quality shielded guitar cable.

    Note that these are measures for "extreme" situations of electrical interference.  Less-extreme is to try to locate the source of interference and increase the distance between that source and your music equipment.

 

NOISY ELECTRICITY

    Sometimes noise is caused by a bad electric line.  Basically the quality of electricity coming from your socket is unstable, causing erratic behavior.  In such instance the best option is to have an electrician come out and check your house, because such problem can shorten the life of all of your electric appliances.

    But for your instruments and amps there are several solutions.  The least expensive are voltage regulators or a standard UPS (uninterruptable power supply)-- basically a computer battery backup.  A voltage regulator tries to clean up your energy line and can smooth out your current.  A UPS puts a battery between your electricity and amplifier, which also acts as a voltage regulator.  A UPS is also the very best way to prevent electrical surges and even direct lightning strikes.  (There are recorded cases where the UPS was disabled or even melted down, preventing damage to other equipment.)  I personally have UPS devices on all of my sensitive electronic equipment.

    However, either of these devices may be insufficient for really bad line noise.  For such noise you may need a professional musician's line noise filter, which can run a hefty $200 or more.  There are many options in this area, so shop around and see what works in your case.  Starting with the inexpensive and work up if necessary.  Purchasing from a retailer that allows returns in case of failure might be a wise and low-cost solution.  If you can get by with a voltage regulator or UPS, that will be your least-expensive answer to this problem.

 

INSTRUMENT / AMPLIFIER ISSUES

    Both instruments and amplifiers degrade with age and need repaired or replaced.  Some items are simply built poorly or have a problem develop during the manufacturing process (a weak solder point, bad part, etc).   If you perform the basic tests listed above and the noise still persists, you may need to have your equipment tested for noise issues.

    This is most easily done through the process of elimination: keep replacing equipment (cords first, instruments, amplifiers) until you find the piece of faulty equipment.  Always test cords first; it's amazing how often a problem is simply a matter of a bad connector cord.

    An electric guitar can be tested by plugging a different electric guitar into the same amplifier, using the same cord, and seeing if the noise vanishes.  If it does, your guitar is the issue.

    An amplifier can be tested in the same manner.  Have a friend bring over his/her amplifier and test it in the same environment, same electric outlet, same guitar cord and instrument.   If the noise persists it's not likely to be the amplifier.  If it vanishes you'll have a good hint your amplifier needs repaired or replaced. 

 

SUMMARY

    Most causes of hum fall into four areas:  jack-related ground loop, electric source ground loop, RFI/EMI problems, equipment issues.   These can be easily tested and fixed at various degrees of expense.  Start by performing the easiest tests to isolate the source of the hum / noise and correct that source once it is found.

 

-- o --

 

 

Pickup Power: The Ohm Misconception Tags: ohm ohms miconception power

 

Whenever we buy guitar pickups, one of the first things we look at is the K-ohm (kilo-ohm) rating.  The general belief is that the higher the K rating, the more "powerful" (louder) the pickup.   And to an extent, that is true. It is at the same time a total misconception of how pickups work.

Measuring pickups strictly by ohms is a "layman's figure" the guitar industry uses to make general power ratings easier to understand.   The reality of it is that ohms have little to do with the actual power (volume) potential of a pickup.  There is a good reason for this:  ohms is not a measure of electric flow; is it a measure of electric impedence-- the resistance of the device to the flow of electricity.

Why then are ohms used as a pickup rating?  Because in general, ohms refer to how much copper is in the pickup coil.  The widespread belief is that the more copper wire, the more volume.  However, this belief is not correct.

Yes, in general, all things equal, given the same coil shape and the same wire thickness and consistency-- the higher the ohm rating the more powerful the pickup.   Mellow guitar pickups often have ohm ratings between 4.5K and 6K.   Humbuckers often run 7K to 9K+.  "Hot" pickups (ie heavy metal) sometimes hit 16K or more.  

But the reality is this:   a lot more is involved in making a guitar pickup than wrapping a wire a certain number of times around a magnet (a typical guitar "coil").  There are many variables involved.  That is why the field of guitar pickups is so complex and competitive, with everyone claiming to have a "special" pickup.   Those variables are why pickups sound different from one another.   If all that was involved was wrapping wire a specific number of times around a magnet... all pickups would sound the same, the only difference being the number of wraps involved.

 

IS THE OHM / POWER RATING ACCURATE?

In a word, no.  This is proved if you wind thousands of hair-thin wire coils around a piece of cardboard-- no other metal or magnet involved-- and then take an ohm reading on those coils.  You will get near or even exactly the same ohm reading as if you wrapped them around a magnet.   

Ohms is a measurement not of electrons or the energy they generate, but the impedance in the wire to the movement of energy.  So how can it possibly rate power (ie, volume)?

In designing pickups we find that the diameter of the wire used, the tension in the wire, the way the coils are wrapped, the type and strength of magnet used, relationship of the wire to that magnet, polarity of the magnet, distance of the magnetic field from the strings and many other things are involved in creating a good guitar pickup.    Yes, if you're sporting a 17K pickup you are going to get some serious power and probably a lot of natural distortion in the process.   If you buy a 4.5K pickup it's almost certainly intended for clean, mellow blues and smooth jazz.   But as you've read here, it's just a generalization.  The best way to judge pickup sound and power is by ear.

It is because of these things that I built almost 200 FlatCats before I settled on the final design that produces its uniquely awesome sound and volume.  The result:  solid 5-star reviews lauding its rich and vibrant output.

 

HOW ARE FLATCATS DIFFERENT?

FlatCats are very thin, which means they logically can't contain as many coil wraps as a standard large humbucker pickup.  It stands to reason the ohm rating is also going to be considerably lower.  How then, does a FlatCat produce its amazing volume and unusually rich and robust sound?

 

With most guitar pickups, the majority of the pickup sits inside the body, about an inch underneath the strings.  This is where the magnets are located and where the coils are located.  The magnetic field is usually carried up through pins to the vacinity of the strings.  That is why the magnets and coils have to be so large-- to carry that far.  

The FlatCat is different.  The entire pickup sits directly under the strings.  Nothing is stuck inside the guitar body or removed from the strings.   This allows the FlatCat to pick up every bit of energy, every nuance of sound from the strings. 

As a result, a FlatCat with a lower "ohm" rating produces as much "power" (volume and tone) as a full-size humbucker.  In fact a FlatCat can pick up some sounds a standard humbucker may miss, simply due to proximity to the strings and the way the FlatCat is designed internally.  The result is so unique, awesome and rich in tone that I use FlatCats on my personal guitars.  My customers are amazed at the sound they get from this thin pickup.   I notice the same effect when people first hear a cigar box guitar played through an amp.  They just can't believe that much sound comes out of such a small instrument.

 

SOUND IS SUBJECTIVE

It's difficult to create a scientific measurement of "wonderful sound", because people's ears and tastes differ.   What sounds good to one person will sound not so good to another. 

Subjective sound is why in guitar, amp and pickup reviews many will rave about a product while others will say they don't like it.     That's why there are so many different kinds of guitars, pickups and amps on the market.   Each offers a specific sound to appeal to different people.

FlatCat™ Pickups are designed to appeal to a wide variety of guitar playing styles and listening preferences.   Glowing customer reviews on Etsy prove its popularity.   Depending on your playing style, volume settings and the amp you use, FlatCat sound can range from smooth and mellow to "rock out".   FlatCat is a very versatile pickup that is enjoyed by musicians world wide. 

True pickup power is measured not by impedance in an electrical line, but by resulting volume and rich sound.  The FlatCat definitely produces the power (volume) and quality sound guitarists look for in a high-level pickup-- and does so at a very reasonable price.

https://Etsy.com/shop/Wishbringer

 

--o--

 

History of FlatCat™ Pickups Tags: flatcat history pickups

THE HISTORY OF FLATCAT™ GUITAR PICKUPS

From the owner of Wishbringer Music

    Around the end of 2014 I became aware of flat pickups when I noticed a brand called Thinkbuckers.   Looking further I found another brand called FlatPup, another by the Lace company, another brand by National.  I was already building guitars by hand and was fascinated by the concept, but could find very little information on how they were built. Even the cigar box guitar communities seemed very secretive (at the time) as to the process.

    Research revealed that flat pickups were nothing new; they'd been around for decades.  Lace and National produce off-the-shelf models, but they are very pricey.  There were no patents; the concept of a flat pickup could be made by anyone... if a person could figure out how it was done.

    Gaining little or no cooperation from the community in understanding flat pickup design, I went to the Net and did some research.  Very little was found there. So I started experimenting by the seat of my pants, beginning with only a slight inkling of how these were made, based on non-specific photos.  Existing pickups were wax potted and wrapped in cellophane packing tape-- a process that didn't appeal to me. I wanted something sturdier and more resistant to environmental changes.

    Factory-made flat pickups were pricey, starting at $145 each.  I wanted to build a pickup that was especially sturdy and had a wide-range of sound ability, but at a price affordable to the everyday guitar player.

   Over a period of several months of extensive research and experimentation building pickups by hand, I started developing an unusual design, significantly different than prior designs I had seen.  Not a quick process.  Hundreds of hours were involved in basic R&D.  Detailed records were kept on all attempts-- gleaning the best features.  Eventually, the FlatCat pickup was born.

 

    By mid-2015 that R&D session had accomplished several things:

    * Considerable improvement over existing design concepts both in construction and resulting sound.  Testers stated it sounded better and was more versatile than other pickups.

    * FlatCats are fully potted and encased in solid PolyResin, which makes them very sturdy and more immune to elements and the environment.

    * Because of their design I was able to create and offer the first low-cost 6-string flat pickup on the market, intended for use on standard electric guitars.  Where factory-produced pickups started at $145 and up, FlatCats are priced at $50 to $55.   FlatCats had extended beyond the realm of cigar box guitars. 

    *  Despite surprising gain in power, FlatCats remained wonderfully rich in tone.  Now the pickup could range from mellow sound on the low end to a terrific natural-distortion grit on the high-end, making it the most versatile flat pickup ever made.  From mellow blues to jazz to country to rock-- a single FlatCat could cover them all.

    *  FlatCat was released in  Cigar Box Guitar and Humbucker footprints.  Both models are aboout 1/4" thick and designed to be mounted to the surface of a guitar.

    * In the electric guitar field a FlatCat could be used to replace an existing pickup (mounted to cover the existing pickup cavity), or if no pickup was present it could be mounted directly to the surface of the guitar without need for carving or routing.  The only mounting requirement was drilling a relatively small hole for the wire, making installation of FlatCats very simple, even for beginners.  (Full mounting structions are included with each FlatCat pickup.)

    FlatCats were released to the market and over the next several months earned solid 5-star reviews.   They were purchased by professional luthiers, cigar box guitar builders and customers  modding their own off-the-shelf guitars.  Repeat purchases by existing customers proved their effectiveness.  

    FlatCats are often specified as the "pickup of choice" by people who order custom guitars from Wishbringer, with those guitars receiving top reviews as well.  

    Today the FlatCat is available in a variety of colors.   Their sturdy composition assures their continued function over decades-- the wonderfully unique sound available to you for your special guitar projects.

--o--

 

Wishbringer Instrument Archive

Following are photos of Wishbringer instruments-- Cigar Box Guitars, 6-String Electrics, Amplifiers and other things I've built that are now being used by happy customers.  This is to give an idea of what is possible in the custom instrument area.

 

The Rebel custom Tele-style guitar, features FlatCat™ hand-made pickup (center), hand-modified Telecaster-type pickup (more power, greater range than a standard Tele pickup), three on/off pickup switches for instant access to 7 sound combinations, three individual pickup volume controls, master volume and tone (all set in mother of pearl), a Bigsby-style tremolo system, hand-finished pick guard and a fun name tag.

 

KC Royals Commemorative CBG.  Created when the KC Royals won the World Series in 2015.  Aluminum "license plate" resonator face, two internal pickups, volume and tone controls, Royals logo hand-pyrographed onto back.

Customer review:  Great work! My husband loved the guitar! I asked for a special request for the guitar to be KC Royals themed and the design was perfect. I don't know much about guitars but my husband and his musically inclined family were very impressed!

 

Petrovsky Telecaster.  This customer wanted a Telecaster Affinity turned into a his personalized dream instrument.  Individual pickup toggles, pearlized pick guard, modified Telecaster single pickup (twice as powerful) and hand-made FlatCat pickup as parts of a balanced 3-pickup set, mother-of-pearl-tipped knobs, individual and master volume controls, tone control, Bigsby-style vibrato and authentic mother-of-pearl name inlay on the neck make this one of the most beautiful guitars I've ever had the joy of customizing.

 

 

FlatCat™ pickups:  These quality, hand-made pickups sit directy under your guitar strings, pulling every bit of resonant sound from your instrument.   Works on a wide variety of gutiars, including cigar box guitars, solid bodies, hollow-bodies, resonators and more.

Customer 5-star FlatCat review:

I got a set of humbuckers for a hollow body guitar I made, and I absolutely love these pickups! They have a full, rich sound that stays clear. The bridge pickup does twangy and jangly really well, and the neck has a great big warm sound to it. They're great to play clean, and will do fuzz and distortion equally well. These pickups look cool, are easy to install, and they sound GREAT!  I'll be getting more of these in the future. Thank you Wishbringer!

 

Altoids DulciMint.  Three-string dulcimer-fretted one-stick guitar using an Altoids mint tin for a body.  Contains an internal transducer pickup and a hand-made FlatCat™ pickup at the neck as well as volume and tone controls all in that little tin. 

Customer review:  Supercool "Altoids DulciMint" guitar - dulcimer scaled Altoids mint tin guitar, custom designed and created by Wishbringer! Sounds amazing with it's combination of piezo and "Flatcat" pickups - a screaming, stumming machine! First rate build quality. Superior fit and finish. Great communication throughout build process.

 

 

Photo Tele:  This custom-order consists of a semi-hollow Telecaster-style body, individual volume and master volume controls, a Varitone-style tone switch ranging from clean to distortion to heavy-metal overdrive, modified Telecaster pickup (twice as powerful), custom-made FlatCat and Houn'Pup pickups, vintage-style Teisco vibrato bar, and hand-pyrographed wood photo on the upper left.

Customer gave this guitar a 5-star rating.

 

Hazardous Voltage cigar box guitar features a light-up front plate and terrific sound.

Customer review:  I love my Steampunk Cigar Box Guitar. It is as easy to play as the seller says it is. And it is designed so creatively. I have seen other cigar box guitars but this one stood out to me and I had to have it. It arrived already tuned and ready to play. It even included a slide and a pick. I am very happy with my purchase.

 

Mustang fretless.  Two custom-finish FlatCat pickups, phase switching, volume and tone.  Beautiful red metal flake finish, with three hand-pyrographed mustang horses on the neck:

 

Note: I ordinarily don't recommend ordering a fretless 6-string unless you've played one before and like the results.   They're a bit... different.

 

Four Aces was my very first CBG sale, a multi-pickup sound monster with a resultant very-pleased 5-star review from the customer:

Customer review:  AWESOME CBG!!!!!!!! I would would buy another one in a heart beat!!!!!!!Thank you so much🎸👀🎸👀🎼🎼

 

GitRicky Surf-Green Tele.  Gorgeous Telecaster-style with pearlized pick guard, Bigsby-style tremolo and three pickups including a custom-modified Tele pickup, standard Tele bridge pickup and hand-made FlatCat™ center. 

Customer review: "A very fine, and beautiful guitar. The finish is a work of art. The guitar plays like butter, would put this up against any big name instrument. I would look up Wishbringer for any custom work."

 

ElectraGlide.  This beautiful hand-pyrographed (wood-burned) CBG featured my very first hand-made guitar pickup-- the prototype that lead to production of the popular FlatCat™ series.

 

Portable Wedge Steampunk Amplifier.  Packing  a lot of power into a 3.5-inch speaker, the Wedge has volume, tone and overdrive controls, runs on AC or battery and a versatile sound range.

Customer review: A great item. A lot of utility in a nice package. Plenty loud for what it is intended.

 

Les Paul Custom:  This customer wanted a basic FlatCat™ pickup and cosmetic upgrade to this red dye Les Paul guitar.  Sound is fantastic.

 

 

Mild Insanity.  This off-the-wall CBG has an intentionally-angled neck, pyrographic neck and face designs, mag pickup and lap-guitar style.

 

Sea Mist.  This Tele-style guitar is my own personal instrument.  My initial jump into hand-made full-size electric guitars, the paint job alone contains some 20 coats.  With four individually-switchable pickups (FlatCat™, P-90, Lipstick Tube and Humbucker), a pyrographed neck and Bigsby-style tremolo, this is the ultimate "does everything" guitar.

Creator's personal guitar.

 

Classic Cigar Box Guitar Custom creation for a friend, this fretless CBG has beautiful acoustic sound as well as electronics built in, hand-pyrographed front and hand-painted neck.

 

Custom Jaguar.  Customer wanted a simplified Jaguar-style guitar with custom P-90 and Humbucker pickups.  Customization included hand-cut pearloid plate and true mother-of-pearl control knobs.

 

Customer review:  I seriously cannot put into words how much I love this guitar. Wishbringer built me exactly what I was looking for, a sturdy, beautiful, and fantastic sounding instrument that I would be happy to use for any function, whether it's in the studio, on stage, or just playing around in my bedroom. This guitar is beautiful, the picture hardly does it justice, it almost shimmers in person. The tone is phenomenal, perfect, warm where I want it to be warm and bright where I want it to be bright. The actual feel of this guitar is... well stunning. I was shocked at how natural it felt in my hands, it felt like it might as well have been an extra extension to my body. String action makes the instrument extremely easy to play, as advertised, while still maintaining beautiful resonance. 

 

Steampunk Amp.  This portable amp runs on AC current or batteries and features twin 4" speakers along with volume, tone and bass overdrive controls. The hand-inlaid speaker cover wires and corner protectors along with antique handle adds charm to this hobby-box amplifier.  Multiple apertures produce excellent acoustic sound.

 

Eastern Song.  This tenor Ukulele features a hand-painted front, oriental metal decorations and a beautiful drawer-handle string anchor.  The customer loves the unique sound and ukulele fingering.

Customer review:  This is by far the most unique ukulele I have ever seen! It has a slightly different sound than a classic tenor, but that's what makes me love it even more. : )

--o--

 

PICKUPS: Matching Your Guitar's Phase and Polarity Tags: pickups phase polarity

Note:  If ordering a FlatCat™ pickup, please see the end of this article for information.  

DEFINITIONS

POLARITY:  The facing of the magnet, either "north up" (toward the strings) or "south up".

PHASE: The direction of the current-- which wire is + or --, "hot" or "ground".

 

INSTALLING A NEW PICKUP

    If you're just using one pickup on an instrument, you usually do not have to worry about polarity or phase.   But if you're using 2 or 3 pickups in close proximity to one another, how those pickups are built can be very important to how they will work together. 

   Some pickups are compatible; some are not.  If you've ever experienced hum you just can't seem to get rid of, or weak, tinny sound... it is possible your pickups are out of polarity/phase with one another.     

 

Out of phase means the pickup wires are hooked up backwards in the guitar.  Intentionally done and balanced, this can provide a pleasantly different tone on your guitar.  Done unintentionally, it can result in severe loss of volume and tone.

    Here is a diagram illustrating how phase works:

WIRE COLORS

    While different guitar companies will have charts regarding pickups, there is no universal color coding for pickup wires; it sometimes is necessary to check it yourself.  The rule of thumb is this:  If you hook a pickup to your volume control and it sounds weak or tinny, reverse the wires.  A functional pickup should sound vibrant and not at all weak.

    If you're using a humbucker (2 coils) you may have either 2 or 4 wires coming from the pickup, depending on the model.  In the case of 4 wires, there will be two pairs.   In such case you will need to check the wires for continuity to see which of the four wires is paired together.   Time saver:  on many 4-wire pickups the ground wires are already soldered together.

 

COMPATIBILITY.  Generally speaking*, if you have two single pickups, you want one to be North, phase positive and the other one to be South, phase negative (ie, wound the opposite direction of the first pickup).  This is what you call a matched pair, which is important for not only hum and noise cancellation but also for volume and tone.  

    If you have a mismatched pair, you can wind up with either hum or a weak, tinny-sounding signal.  This being the case, it is possible for two pickups to be mismatched... incompatible.  This means they are either both north, both south, or are wound the same direction.

 

TESTING POLARITY

   You will need a compass or a bar magnet.  Set the compass sideways on top of the pickup and see whether the north or south pointer of the compass points away from the pickup. 

Opposites attract; a north polarity pickup will attract the south pole of a compass, repelling the north pole and causing it to point away from the pickup.  So if the north points away from the pickup, it's a north polarity pickup.  If the south points away it is a south polarity pickup.

     The polarity of the pickup is indicated by the side of the compass needle pointing away from the pickup.

   You can use a bar magnet as well.  See whether the north end or south end of the bar magnet is repelled by the pickup.  Same concept.  The end which pushes away from the pickup indicates the polarity of the pickup. 

 

TESTING CONTINUITY

   Testing for continuity (unbroken circuit) checks two things:

    1) Continuity indicates the pickup is functional (continuous coil wire without a break)

    2) If there are 4 or more wires it will reveal which wire pairs match one another. 

    Using a multimeter, touch the meter leads to two wires and see if you get current flow.  If you do, those are paired.  

 

TESTING PICKUP PHASE (which wire is + or -- )

   You will need a digital multi-meter that is capable of testing very low DC or AC voltage (either will work).  Most multi-meters can do this, even inexpensive ones.

   To determine the phase, connect your two meter leads to a wire pair.  Now take a screwdriver or large nail and slowly move it toward the surface of the pickup.  You will see a jump in the voltage reading, and that jump will either be positive or negative.  If it is positive, you have the red and black leads on the correct wires.  If it is negative, you have them reversed.  Switch them and try again for verification.

   When you remove the screwdriver from the pickup you will see another voltage spike, just the opposite of the first one.   So if you got a positive reading when laying on, you will get a negative reading when pulling away, and vice versa.

   That is how you test for phase.  When you get a positive-then-negative reaction, whichever wire the red lead is connected to will be the hot / positive wire and the other wire is ground / negative. 

 

INSTALLING COMPATIBLE PICKUPS

    To get ideal sound you want your pickups hooked up backward  to one another.   If both pickups are wound the same direction or the magnets facing the same direction, you can get hum.    For pickups to be matched, you want the magnets to face opposite directions and the coils to be wound opposite (or in short, you want opposite polarity and phase). 

Note:  if the magnets are 2 inches or more away from one another you likely will not need to worry about polarity; they are outside one another's magnetic field.  You will still need to consider phase.

    If you buy a set of pickups and one says "neck" and the other says "bridge"... that has already been taken into consideration.   If you take two neck pickups and put them together or two bridge pickups together, you are likely going to have out-of-phase (incompatible) pickups-- unless of course that's the sound you're going for.

 

   What makes things more confusing is that different brands of pickups and even different years within the same brand can be incompatible.  For example, early Fender neck pickups had north polarity, but then later changed to south polarity.  So to replace pickups on a Strat you need to either test for polarity and phase on the existing pickups-- or switch out all three with an already-matched set.

 

 

HOW CAN I TELL IF MY PHASE IS RIGHT?

   It's easy to check polarity, as shown above.   If you hook up a pickup and it sounds weak or tinny, it may be a phase issue.  Try reversing the wires. 

    Some guitars have phase switches which can automatically change the phase for you.  They are also often used to intentionally change the sound of a guitar.

   For cigar box guitars you will probably usually use only one pickup, next to the neck.  If you use two or three make sure you use a matched set.  (See diagrams below.)
 

INSTALLING A FLATCAT

    FlatCat™ pickups come north-polarity toward the neck, positve phase unless otherwise requested.  If you need south-polarity, as with most humbuckers simply turn the FlatCat 180 degrees (with the numbers on the back away from the neck).  If the FlatCat will be 2 inches or more away from existing pickups they will likely work fine, without further testing.   But if combined with other pickups in close proximity, testing your guitar for polarity and phase compatibility is a good idea. 

To test the FlatCat for phase--  hook the indicated ground wire to the ground of your volume control and the hot wire to the hot pin.  If it doesn't sound right (weak or tinny sound) your instrument may require negtive phase.  Just reverse the FlatCat wire placement on the pot.  If you still experince weak sound, look to other areas of the guitar for problem issues (weak pot, poor grounding, bad solder joint, phase/polarity issues in other pickups, bad jack or guitar cord, etc). 

 

 

--o--

 

REFERENCE PHOTOS

These photos are just for general reference.  As indicated above, your guitar may be different.  It is easy to check polarity with a compass or magnet.

 

 

 

 

 

STANDARD PICKUP WIRE COLORS

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FlatCat™ Surface-Mounted Guitar Pickups Tags: FlatCat pickup

"I finally finished the guitar for which I bought your pickups and have had several players over to try it. Everyone agrees your pickups sound great. They live up to every claim you make and then some :D"
-- R. Duke

FlatCat™ pickups are available from:  https://Etsy.com/shop/Wishbringer

 

"Battle Axe" 4-string guitar by customer Lucas Melton, based on a FlatCat™

Customer appraisal:  "Excellent pickup. Sounds awesome!!!"

 

 

 

CUSTOMER COMMENTS (from Reviews on Etsy.com):

"I put them in my SG they sound awesome in the highs mids and lows. I'm glad I got them so thanks and hope you keep coming up with great ideas like that.  All the best." - GH

"This is the second one that I have bought. Excellent output & tone for a flat PU. Great installation, easy." - Integrity54321

"Fantastic pickup with impeccable design and craftsmanship. Sounds great and is thin enough to surface mount on all the types of guitars I build." - Bob Marioni

"Excellent product. It was a breeze to install and it sounds great." - Philip Iles

"Looks great, better than photograph. Made to order, I got 4 at one time. You got to have this for a CBG where thin is sometimes an absolute in some cases, but sound quality isn't forfeited." - Tofestus

 

FLATCAT™ PICKUPS--UNIQUE SIZE, UNIQUE SOUND

The FlatCat™ no-hum electric guitar pickup is about 1/4" thick... but provides all the power of a full-size pickup. It is surface-mounted on your guitar. The entire pickup being directly beneath the strings allows the FlatCat to pick up every nuance of sound, transmitting accurate and rich signal to your amplifier. No other type of pickup can achieve that effect.

Each FlatCat is individually hand-made with great care. The unique design eliminates the hum you get from single pickups.  If you're acquainted with pickups, imagine a humbucker and P-90 combined and you'll have some idea of the wonderful tone of a FlatCat pickup.

FlatCat works with standard electric guitars, cigar box guitars (CBGs), folk guitars and other instruments that use steel / nickel strings. It produces especially fine tone on all such instruments.

A professional luthier stated: "This has such a balanced sound. It brings out a full bass end without losing the trebles, and has almost an acoustic sub-tone to it.  It's a great pickup."

The FlatCat is surface-mounted to your instrument. Rather than needing to route or carve a hollow for your pickup, all you need to do is drill a hole for the wire, or mount it directly over the existing pickup hollow.  Easy how-to installation instructions are provided for a variety of mounting methods.

 
TWO SIZES
1. Cigar box guitar (CBG) : about 2" square
2. Humbucker-size: 3 1/4" x 1 3/4" (corner mount humbucker size).

FlatCats have also been made to custom sizes at customer request.  A reasonable molding charge is involved.

 

SOUND AND VOLUME
 

The special design allows for a wide range of sound: blues, classical, smooth jazz, folk, country and rock.  FlatCat™ pickups can be used on any electric guitar that has sufficient clearance between the surface and strings.  Strat-type guitars will likely need a opening cut in the pick guard to seat the Flatcat with sufficient clearance for the strings. 

 

VIDEO DEMOS of the FlatCat™

This is an archival video of a FlatCat prototype-- with a bit of built in growl!
ElectraGlide CBG

Hazardous Voltage CBG

 

Four Aces CBG

 


 

 

How to Tune a Cigar Box Guitar Tags: Tune Tuning

TUNING THE CBG

Most CBGs use "open chord" tuning, which means you are able to play a set of 3 or more notes by placing your finger or slide across all the strings at the same spot on the neck.

Most cigar box guitars are tuned to one of two keys (although there are many other options):

G-D-g (using guitar strings A, D and G)

D-A-d (using guitar strings D, G and e)

The lowest string is the key your guitar is tuned to.  G-D-g is the key of G, D-A-d the key of D.

On four-string CBGs the tuning options are expanded, including not only standard CBG tuning but also any 4-string instrument one prefers: bass guitar, low 6-string guitar (EADG), high 6-string (DGbe), ukulele, mandolin and even violin.  Common 4-string CBG tuning is GDgg or GDgb.

 

STANDARD CBG TUNING without a tuner

Tune the first (heaviest) string to whatever sounds and feels right.  This should usually be a little lower and looser than you think it should be.   The 2nd string (middle) is tuned the same as the 7th fret on the 1st string.  The 3rd string (thinnest) is tuned to the 5th fret of the 2nd string. 

 

NOT JUST 3 STRINGS

CBGs aren't limited to 3 or 4 strings.  Some have 6 strings, like a regular guitar.  Some have only two or even one string (called a "Diddley Bow").  Two Diddley Bows can be tuned to harmonic notes (G,D) and the players can automatically harmonize with each other by playing the same neck positions.

CBGs are extremely versatile instruments and are remarkably easy to get started playing.  Among CBG players and builders there is one common rule:  "There are no rules."  That's part of what makes Cigar Box Guitars so much fun:  their widespread individuality and unique nature.

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Contact Wishbringer Music Tags: contact

You can contact Wishbringer Hand-Crafted Instruments at my online store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Play a Cigar Box Guitar Tags: how to play

Wishbringer music store:  http://Etsy.com/shop/Wishbringer

HOW TO PLAY A CIGAR BOX GUITAR in ten minutes or less!

What first attracted me to cigar box guitars was how easy they are to play.  I have played 6-string classical/folk guitar for years, written dozens of songs, produced and marketed three CDs... yet the simplicity of this instrument fascinates me.  

I was browsing YouTube one day and came across this video:

(Go ahead and watch it.  It's only 4 minutes long.)

So the CBG is an instrument that just about anyone can play regardless of musical background.  This delighted me because we've all heard someone say "I wish I could play an instrument but never learned how."  Maybe you've said that yourself.  The CBG offers an introduction to music without years of practice... and encourages improvement of skills as you learn more songs. 

Cigar box guitars are a foot in the door that can bring years of playing enjoyment without requiring rigorous study.  They are truly the heart of folk music... but versatile enough to play any style from blues to jazz to rock n' roll.

 

 

 

 

VERSATILITY

Most of us have seen a dulcimer, a lap-instrument that is played using a wood peg and a pick.  I've always liked these instruments, but they use a diatonic scale (7 whole notes).  The CBG is chromatic (all musical notes) and can have from 1 to 6 strings (most have 3 or 4).  These are tuned so that a "chord" can be played by placing a finger across all strings at the same place (called "barring" the chord).  The instrument is so versatile that almost any song can be played using this method. 

 

NUMBERED FRETS

This method is so easy that CBG players often "write" their music using numbers rather than notes or chords.   No matter what your git is tuned to, you can play a song literally by the numbers.  On the neck we start with the nut as zero, followed by fret 1, 2, 3 and so on.  

This in mind, see if you can figure out what song this is by playing it on your CBG (answer at the bottom of this post)

** means pause, 0 means open string

9-9-7 ** 9-9-7 ** 9-9-7-5-3-3-3-3-3 * 0  

 

PICKING OUT YOUR SONGS

It is easy to pick out songs by ear.  Just sing the song and bar different frets until it sounds right, changing chords as the song seems to need a change.  It can seem tricky if you're just starting out, but gets easier as time goes along.  For those who suffer from being tone deaf, there's always guitar music---

 

"READING" GUITAR MUSIC

You can tell what chords are on the CBG by the fret number.  In the key of G (where the thickest string is a G note) these are:

O    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    12

G    G# A   A#  B    C   C#   D   D#  E    F     F#    G

Most guitar music has chord signatures above the music.  These signatures will look something like this:

C     D     G7     Am    C    D    F    Em   C

All of these represent full chords that are played on a 6-string guitar.  

On a CBG however, because of the harmonic tuning you can drop the secondary signature (7, m) and just play the main chords:

C   D   G   A   C   D   F   E   C

It usually still sounds right.  So that simplifies things to start with.  

When you know where the chords are on the CBG (it doesn't take long to learn them; there are only 12), you can actually read and play standard guitar music books... without the months or years of practice necessary to learn standard guitar chord fingering.  Just place your finger across all the strings at the positions shown above, and there are your chords.  It's like a dulcimer on steroids!

MOVE IT UP A NOTCH

Now that you have the bascs, you can expand your tuning and playing skills with one little, fantastic trick:

Tune your guitar to D-A-F.  Alternate tunings are C-G-d# or G-D-Bb

Here is a really neat video that shows why this works.  It's well worth watching.  The link below starts playing at 2min 16sec to avoid the unnecessary stuff.  Note this video is in regard to 4-string tuning, but can be just as easily used for 3-string.  It is my personal favorite tuning and playing method.

https://youtu.be/i9_mVi_pS-c?t=136

 

THAT'S THE INTRODUCTION

There is of course a lot more you can learn about playing a CBG.  You can learn fingered chords and rifts and all sorts of things as you gain experience.  But to get started, to my knowledge there is no easier stringed instrument in the world.  Not only that... but cigar box guitars sound wonderful (especially when amplified), they are great conversation pieces, and they're just plain fun.

https://Etsy.com/shop/Wishbringer

--o--

 

* The by-the-numbers song shown above is "Proud Mary" (Rollin' on the River).

 

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