Tagged with "sound"
Sound Problem Hunt Step-by-Step Tags: hum noise sound



You may be reading this because your system is definitely having noise / hum / sound / crackle / whatever issues.  As explained in the other articles, if you're using a new FlatCat™ pickup it is very unlikely a problem with the pickup itself.  Potted in solid polyurethane, 5-star ratings by customers, hand-tested before leaving the shop, and In the several years this pickup has been on the market not one has failed.  So it's the least-likely thing to be causing severe noise. If it was the pickup the usual result would be no sound at all. Thus, the need to look elsewhere.

But where do you look?  There are a LOT of variables, some of them fairly complex.  We have the guitar, controls, connecting cord, pedals, amplifier, power source, equipment surrounding all of that, power source... any of which can be problematic.

The logical thing is to check the easy stuff first, then move forward to the more difficult.   Based on my experience and the experience of my customers, here are the things I'd recommend checking, step-by-step, in this order.


GUITAR CABLE.  It is amazing how often problems are caused by a failing guitar cable.  To check this I recommend trying at least three different quality cables, if posible made by three different manufacturers.   If you have another guitar that is working, use it to test your cable as well.  Note that a cable working on one guitar doesn't guarantee it will work on another, but if it turns out to be the cable, that is an easy fix.  Defnitely the first thing to check.

USE QUALITY CABLES.  Considering how much you spent on your guitar, amplifier and other sound devices, paying $20 to $30 for a quality, shielded guitar cable is not a huge expenditure.  Professional musicians know:  never skimp on quality cables. Go for the good ones.  Shielded cables are shielded for a reason.

SHIELD YOUR PICKUP.  This is a "quick and dirty" method of potentially cutting some noise.  Simply cover the surface of your pickup with copper or aluminum tape.  (If you don't have such tape handy, just as a test cover the pickup with aluminum foil.) This should prevent RMI / EFI from reaching your pickup.  You may even want to do this on the back of the pickup.  This isn't something I necessarily recommend, but in a bad RFI/EMI area, this step can significantlly reduce noise.  

You can paint the tape if you like for a more aesthetic appeal. Some people actually like the copper/aluminum finish... which can be "etched" with designs using a simple plastic stylus. Your decision on this one

One BIG advantage on this step:  If you do this and you still have hum & noise, you can be almost certain the problem is an equipment or ground loop problem... because you've pretty much eliminated RFI/EMI as a cause. 

PEDALS.  If you use pedals, a mixer or a soundboard of any kind, unplug the guitar from such devices and go directly to the amplifier.  This will determine whether one of your intermediate devices is going bad or has a low battery or bad power source.  If you go straight to the amp and the sound problem disappears, you're closer to nailing down the source of your problem. Then you can go through your equipment piece by piece until you find the faulty item.


AMPLIFIER.  It is good to test through a second amp if available.  I've found most guitar enthusiasts own more than one amp.  It doesn't have to be a fancy amp either; it can be anything from a pricey alternative to a $25 practice amp.  The idea here is to have a second device confirming the noise.  If there is no noise, most likely the problem is with the first amplifier.  Easy solve, even if you have to get it repaired or buy another amp.  This also is a very common problem.


SOLDERING.  You installed the pickup yourself or had a friend help you.  This involved soldering.   How good is your soldering technique?  (Check our article here on soldering technique.)  If you're a pro at soldering, likely this isn't an issue, but even pros make mistakes sometimes... or the pot burns out because it was too old to handle one more solder.   So if you're new to soldering, read our article on soldering techniques.  Regardless, try soldering the leads again to make sure the solder joints are good.  Then test the instrument.  If it suddenly works, you'll know it was a bad solder joint.

POLARITY.  Although our instructions are very precise as to which wire is which, sometimes users attach the wires backwards.  Alternately, on some guitars for some unknown reason the polarity is wonky to start with.  Backward polarity may bring a pleasing alternate sound, or it may affect both noise and volume negatively.  So you might try reversing the pickup wires to see if the polarity needs changed.  If not, you can always switch them back. 

To be frank, some people never even look at the instructions. So to re-state what is in the instructions:  On the FlatCat the solid color wire is always ground (--).  The white or white & striped wire is always hot (+).

LOCATION / POWER / RMF / EMF.  As mentioned in the other articles, the location at which you're playing may be a problem.  This could be because of bad power or severe RMF / EMF interference from other equipment.  This happens often.

The first thing to do is take your equipment to another part of your house where there is no heavy electrical equipment to speak of.  Test your outlets with a polarity tester (cheap and available at any hardware store) to make sure your power source is good.  If you  happen to own a metered voltage tester, check your wall current to make sure it's steady and noise-free.  (See our other articles for checking ground loops. Ground loops are very common issues.)

Once you've confirmed the power is okay, plug in and check your equipment.  if the noise vanishes, you'll know there's something wrong with the area where you were testing before.  Whether that problem is the power outlet, other equipment in the room or whatever, you may need to do some reconstructive surgery on your playing room... or play your guitar in an electrically clean area. You may need to purchase a piece of pro equipment such as the HumX hum killer or similar device.

MAJOR LOCATION CHANGE.  Take your equipment somewhere you know for an absolute certainty has clean power. This may be a friend's house, a local civic center, a local park with an electrical outlet (and well away from major power lines and junctions).  There have been instances that people have discovered their entire home is "electrically ill" due to old wiring, a poor power supply (which may involve your electric company), bad grounding, or a severe RMF/EMF source (such as nearby power station or source).  Such cases are rare, but if discovered may require significant electrical analysis and correction.

FARADAY CAGES.  A Faraday cage is basically a "chicken wire" enclosure in which you set your amplifier or other equipment.  Such a cage blocks RMF/EMF interference.  Some people have had to resort to such a device.  This isn't a fault of the pickup, guitar or amplifier, but literally the "electrical air" around you.  There are articles questioning how safe it is to even live in such an electrical environment.   But if using a Faraday cage solves the problem, it solves the problem. 

Faraday cages are usually placed over the amplifier and mixer boards.  A Faraday cage is easy to make, fairly inexpensive and easy to test. (I recommend cheap 1/2" square welded chicken wire, not hexagonal wound wire.) There are also professional solutions to RF interference.  Check with your local music or electronics store.

GUITAR ELECTRONICS.   I've saved this for last because nobody likes doing this.  (Well, most people don't.)  It could be that installing a new pickup pushed your right-on-the-edge guitar controllers (volume / tone / jack / switches) over the edge... and something failed.  So use a multimeter to check all of your pots, all of your wire links, all of your switches, and make sure they're good.   Some people have had to change out their entire control panel... after which they've verified their sound problems vanished.   It's a hassle, but equipment doesn't last forever.  Pots wear out, corrode, get old.  Connections oxidize.  So checking the electronics is a valid step in "hunting down the sound issues".

"But my prior pickup worked fine!"   Yes, I know, and one would think that is a valid reason to think the problem is the pickup.  But the truth is that different pickups work different ways... and some pickups are tolerant to some problems while not tolerant to others.  It is obvious there was a reason you switched from that pickup to a new pickup.  Likely that reason was because you weren't getting the sound or performance you wanted from your prior pickup.  Your prior pickup "playing okay" doesn't mean the problem you're having now is your new pickup.  It just means that your old pickup was built differently and may have been "immune" to whatever problem you're now experiencing.  It's still not a pickup problem; it's that the FlatCat is more sensitive than most "brick" pickups. 

I have sold FlatCats for many years to some very satisfied customers... ranging from beginners to professionals.  In every case  where a customer was having problems with sound, once I worked with them in tracing down the issue they discovered the problem was external to the pickup; it was never the FlatCat.  That kind of consistent performance and trouble shooting has proved that a pickup that is hand-made, potted in solid polyurethane, hand-tested before shipping and shipped in a padded package... is going to work.  So regardless of the situation, I suggest looking somewhere other than the pickup.  To the date of writing this article, noise has never come from the pickup.  You may discover an equipment or environmental issue that it took the sensitivity of the FlatCat to locate... and that results in significantly better sound  and/or allowing you to install a pickup in an otherwise difficult-to-upgrade guitar.


IS THIS THE  LIST OF STEPS TO TAKE?  Well... these are my solutions, in the order I would take them.  You may wish to switch up the order a bit or you may wish to try other solutions, depending on your situation.  But this should give you a logical head-start on chasing down noise or low volume problems. As I've stated in other articles:

If your problem is noise or low volume, it is very unlikely to be your pickup.  If the problem is with the pickup, the most likely result would be no sound at all.  So look elsewhere for the source of the problem... step by step.

And as always, feel free to call on me for assistance.  Post-sale support is 100%, and free.





Improving Your Volume, Tone and Sound Tags: sound tone volume improving improve


One of the issues faced by musicians-- especially those just starting out in assembling or building their own equipment-- is achieving the sound they're looking for. 


Sound is made up of many components, ranging from a pure musical note-- to the environment it's played in.   You can play the same instrument configuration in a small bedroom and the resulting sound will be totally different than playing it in a garage... or ultimately a performance hall.  It's not just about the equipment.

In addition, sound is subjective.   What sounds good to one person might not sound as good to another.  Some people like heavy metal... while others prefer smooth jazz.  Some like deep and mellow while others prefer "jangly and twangy".  The goal of the musician is to find your niche, discover your audience, and provide what the listeners wish to hear.  Or alternately, produce what you like, and let the resulting sound collect those that it attracts.



One issue instrument builders / modders sometimes deal with is achieving the proper volume.   Interestingly, volume is probably the easiest part of sound.  It's either loud enough or not loud enough... and there's always a reason for volume issues. 

Oddly enough, volume is not always achieved in the manner one thinks to be obvious.   Consider as an example Heavy Metal.  Off the cuff, we must use hot humbuckers, a heavy-wattage amp, and overdrive pedals... right?  

Well... maybe not.  Because while a heavy humbucker provides a lot of signal up front, such a pickup often loses diversity of sound and nuance that might be found in a lower-power pickup.   Overdrive pedals differ greatly in quality and output.   And amplifiers may be big and large and produce a lot of volume-- at the sacrifice of sound quality.   Sometimes a lower-power pickup that's properly boosted into a medium-wattage amp will produce much more satisfying results overall.  In short, metal isn't all about volume.  It's about the final output quality.



A very common misconception with new musicians is "This pickup doesn't produce enough volume".    Fact:  It's not the job of the pickup to produce volume.  It's the job of the pickup to pick up vibrations from the instrument and strings and transfer that signal to whatever awaits it.   Volume is controlled by other equpment:  pre-amps, mixers, guitar pedals, and ultimately the amplifier.  Volume is even determined by the strings you use. 

If your volume is too low, don't pick on the pickup.  Volume is produced at the amplifier. 

Blaming a pickup for low volume is like blaming your car tires because you can't get the car engine past 30 mph.  Yes, different pickups will produce different levels of volume, but that isn't their job.  Their job is to produce quality tone.

FACT:  You can produce significant volume from even low-power pickups... if you're using the correct post-instrument equipment and amplifier. 

Professional musicians know from experience that a low-power pickup along with a quality amplifier can rattle the windows.  Keeping this in mind, let's examine what volume is, and how to achieve it.

Reality:  rather than using super-hot humbuckers, some metal players will instead use lower-power pickups... because those pickups produce a wider, more satisfying range of tone and overall sound.  Those players know that if the signal is pleasing, it can be boosted to whatever levels they desire by external equipment.   It's not the job of the guitar and pickup to produce volume.  It's the amplifier that amplifies.

If you're building a guitar and you just can't get enough volume, the problem can be due to several issues.  These are:

1. Improper phase.   It could be that the wires from the pickups are in the wrong locations, causing the phase of the pickups to fight one another.  This will result not only in considerably lower volume, but lower-quality tone.  (Note: some musicians use alternate phases purposely, to achieve unusual tone.  That's totally fine... so long as it's intended.)

2. The guitar cord.  Believe it:  guitar chords go bad, often at the worst time.  Have plenty of extra cords on hand.   The first thing to check if sound goes bad... is the guitar cord.  Switch it out and test with another cord.

3. In-between equipment.  Guitar Pedals. Power supplies.  Bad mixer board.  Anything that is between your guitar and amp.

4. The amplifier itself.   The primary device that produces volume is the amplifier.   A properly-functional, quality amplifier can produce tremendous volume even when a low-yield pickup is sending the signal.  At the same time, the amplifier is the one piece of equipment (beyond a broken guitar) that is most likely to malfunction-- resulting in a variety of poor output.

5. Strings.  One customer reported getting no sound from his system, and we worked together scratching our heads trying to figure out why.   Finally as last resort he replaced his strings.  He had purchased "nickel" strings, which should have worked fine.  But when he replaced his strings he stated, "Wow!  I had to crank the volume way down.  What a difference!"   Simply put: the strings he had first purchased were likely counterfeit (made of stainless steel or some other inferior metal)... or maybe something happened on the factory line and strings got put in the wrong package.  Bottom line, electric guitar pickups require electric strings.  Some customers have tried to use Phosphor-Bronze strings, unaware they are not intended for use with mag-based electric guitars.  So if you're getting low or no volume, it's always worth checking your strings.

ONE WAY TO TEST your strings and the pickup itself is to tap the pickup (lightly) with a known-ferrous-metal item... such as a steel nail, fingernail clippers (which are almost always made of ferrous metal), or a screwdriver. Be careful not to scratch the surface during such test.   When you tap the pickup you should get a very audible tapping sound through your amp.  That will tell you whether or not your strings are the problem.  In addition, if you hear an audibe tapping sound you know the pickup is working. 

A lot of beginning guitar players (or experienced players who are not equipment techs) tend to blame pickups for low-volume sound, but this is the reality:

A failing pickup will usually produce inconsistent sound, noisy sound (static), or NO sound.  A failing pickup is highly unlikely to result in low volume.  That's just not part of the equation:  the signal either gets through (at full power) or it doesn't.   That's how pickups work.  Low volume typically is not a symptom of a "bad pickup".   If your volume is low... the problem lies elsewhere.

People are often loathe to consider the amp as the problem, because that means it's either a poor amp choice (mis-matched to their needs and equipment), that their beloved amp needs repaired, or their beloved amp is dying.   In all instances, usually money is involved.   No one enjoys having to repair or replace an amplifier.

Yet... if you're experiencing low volume, your amplifier is one of the primary places to look.   Bottom line:  equipment goes bad over time.  Sometimes it comes off the factory line defective.   So if your volume is too low, check the amp. It is the amplifier that amplifies.  Even a low, low-output pickup (2 ohms or less) can produce very satisfactory volume if you're using a good amplifier.

PRE-AMPS EXIST FOR A REASON.   It's surprising, but people tend to ignore pre-amps.   But preamps exist because they're often needed to boost a signal before it reaches the amplifier.  A pre-amp may not improve the overall quality of sound (especially if being used with a dodgy amplifier), but a decent pre-amp will cleanly increase a low signal coming from a guitar.  So if your amp is working and your guitar is working but you're just not getting enough volume, consider a pre-amp.  These are available in the form of pedals, pre-amp boxes, or powered mixer boards. You can also purchase "active booster" circuits for the guitar itself, which turns a passive pickup to active signal at the push of a button or turn of a dial.

Summary:   Low volume?  Don't blame the pickup.  If you're getting satisfactory sound that's not loud enough, the pickup is working fine.  Look at the parts of your equipment that have the job of amplifying... such as your amplifier.



This is the tricky part of your performance... because every single bit of your equipment affects tone.   Tone is basically the elements of sound quality that result when you play.  It involves bass, mid-range, treble at the simplest levels.  But far much more is involved.

Tone can be mellow, it can be distorted, it can be twangy, it can be surf.  Tone can be blues or jazz or country or metal or acid.  Tone is everything... and achieving the proper tone involves everything from the nut and bridge on your guitar to your pickup to your amplifier to your environment.

Naturally we can't cover everything about tone here.  You can read entire tomes on tone-- but there are some basics.

TYPE OF PICKUP.    This is where the pickup really can make a difference.   It is widely known by guitar players that different  brands of pickups, different types of pickups, and even different styles within the same brand and type will produce different tone.

Most people are aware of the different types of pickups, so I won't re-hash this widely-avaialble information here.  I will mention...

Specialty Pickups.  Pickups such as the FlatCat don't fall into standard pickup categories.   They are designed differently, act differently, and produce a different type of sound.  There are countless specialty pickups, ranging from FlatCats to Inductive pickups to Dual Rails... and far more. 

The FlatCat produces a very accurate, mellow sound often referred to as "Delta Swamp"... sound straight from the gutiar.  The sound can be very satisfying and smooth... or at the opposite end of the spectrum growly and distorted, depending on the equipment it's used with.

Bottom line: the type of pickup used definitely and significantly influences the tone of your performance.  It's my goal in producing the FlatCat to create a tone that fits a wide variety of music needs.  It can play from mellow blues to metal overdrive, depending on accompanying equipment.  The same can be said for many types of pickups... so choose your pickups wisely and with research.

Achieving desired tone is really one of the most difficult tasks of the musican... and even those with decades of experience often try something new to see if they can find a new perspective on the sound they produce.  Tone can be affected by the material your guitar body is made of, the type of neck, the material used in the nut and bridge, the quality of guitar cable you use and yes... the pedals, mixer and amplifier you employ.

There are no "rules" to tone.  Even extensive books can only offer statistics and suggestions... but in the end, to be frank, tone boils down to the skill and experimentation of the musician.



Every musician is looking for "the sound"... the overall results of their hours of experimentation.   Sound is subjective.  Our ears themselves are as individual as our fingerprints.  Sound waves literally sound different to different people, depending on how their ears are shaped, their perception of sound, the formation of their brains as they were growing up, and the sounds/music they've been exposed to in formative years.

There is no "recipe" for sound.   Some achieve it easily... some never do.   I can't define how to achieve quality sound for you except for some simple guidelines:

Use quality equpment: This doesn't necessarily mean expensive equipment.  I own some very inexpensive guitars that produce great sound.   The FlatCat pickup sold by Wishbringer produces terrific sound, and is nowhere near the most expensive pickup on the market.  There are some very nice amplifiers out there that won't break your bank account.

The important thing is that the equipment works and works well.  Don't cut corners on equipment.  Replace bad equipment (you'll be glad you did).  A poorly-produced guitar can be difficult to play and produce unpleasant sound, ruining the music experience.  A few bucks more may get you a lot more guitar or a better-sounding pickup.

Remember this rule-of-thumb:  Low quality is remembered long after low price is forgotten.  Good quality is appreciated long after the price is paid.

Beyond price and quality of equipment, there is the matter of what you're trying to achieve.   If you're wanting to play country music, a super-hot humbucker is probably not the best pickup choice for you.  You don't need a 150 watt amp to play in coffee shops; a good-quality 20 watt amp will likely produce all the sound you'll need.  (At the same time, if you want to dive in for that $1000 pole amplifier system... go for it.)   

A super-expensive guitar is not required to produce good sound.  A high price tag has no more bearing on guaranteed sound than a label of "Vintage".    Common sense and your ear can tell you more about equipment than any elite price tag or hype claims on a label.  Trust your ear... and your instincts.

I hope this brief blog page helps.  It is in part designed to help you locate problem areas in your equipment... and in part intended to discuss equipment concepts overall.  You're the musician.  In the end... what you achieve all comes down to you.  Your volume not loud enough?  Check your amp, intermediate equipment, control pots, jack and guitar cord, and your strings.   Not getting the right tone?  Check everything.   That's all part of the craft... and the art of being a musician.





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