I’ve received a flurry of questions from
readers lately, so for this month’s column,
I thought I’d share my responses to a handful
of them in hopes that we can all learn
I’m a Premier Guitar subscriber and enjoy
your columns. In a past column about
problem sources of noise [“Silence is
Golden,” November 2011], you mentioned
the following as a potential culprit:
“You! We’ve all experienced how the
noise a guitar produces drops dramatically
as soon as you firmly make contact
with the strings. This is because
the strings are grounded to the amplifier.
Most players assume that when
you touch the strings, you ground the
guitar. But this is backward—your
body functions as an antenna, picking
up noise. When you touch the strings
(assuming the strings are grounded
internally), the noise from your body
is dumped to ground.”
This issue just recently became more severe
than it had been in only one location in my
house. I usually keep an amp in my bedroom
and various other amps in the rec room,
but only the bedroom has this issue—so
I’m guessing there is more RFI in the area.
To help remedy the situation, I bought an
Electro-Harmonix Hum Debugger, which
works pretty well, but I was wondering if you
had any other tips for one to keep their body
from being such an effective antenna.
There isn’t much you can do about your
biological antenna. The usual solution is the
string ground in the guitar, but the Hum
Debugger and other noise reduction systems
such as the Rocktron Hush will work well in
many situations. The only other solution I can
think of is to build a Faraday cage around
your bedroom—basically a huge, grounded
shield that encompasses the entire room … not
very practical for most studios!
Certain locations may indeed have more
airborne noise than others, as you’ve found
with your bedroom versus your rec room.
Sometimes, simply turning your amp or
guitar—or yourself—in a different direction
can also help reduce noise.
In my modest home studio, I have an
Mbox 2 interface, which is connected via
USB to a Dell laptop running Pro Tools
LE. I have pretty good luck mic’ing guitar
cabinets and acoustic guitars, microphones
on vocals are okay, and my drums are all
plug-ins. The trouble I have is getting a
direct signal from a bass rig even though
the setup is relatively simple: bass guitar to
preamp, and XLR output to the Mbox. I
hear a high-pitched buzzing with irregular
pops and snaps, so my current conclusion is
that I’m getting hard-drive interference.
I purchased a Radial JPC for running a
PC sound-card output into a mixer, hoping
that it would also remove the hard-drive
noise. When engaging the ground lift on
the JPC, there is a noticeable improvement,
but the noise is still there.
I’m going to try moving some of the
equipment around—including getting
the PC farther from the Mbox—with the
thought being it could be a proximity
issue. Another idea (although extreme) is to
replace the current, standard hard drive with
a solid-state drive that has no moving parts.
Based on your email, if I had to guess, I suspect
that your bass is picking up noise from
somewhere. What I would do is work through
the problem using the process of elimination,
by substituting new cables and pieces of gear
to find the source. From your description, the
problem arises when the bass is plugged in—
not when you’re using microphones—so that
should be your starting point.
If you can, try a different bass. Also, try
moving the bass away from the computer since
pickups will sometimes pick up noise from
computer monitors and other gear (such as
hard drives). It may help to move the Mbox
farther from the computer, but I suspect the
real culprit is your bass or the cable you use to
connect it to the system.
It could be that you have a ground loop
with your bass rig, since engaging the ground
lift on the Radial DI reduces the noise. I’d also
try running your laptop on battery power—
rather than plugging it in—to see if that helps.
I’m currently trying to put together a simple
bedroom studio setup, and as a music student,
my main use of this rig will be for
arrangements. What I have in mind so far
is an M-Audio Fast Track C400 (which
comes bundled with Pro Tools SE software)
to record my bass and guitar, and an Avid
KeyStudio for a MIDI controller.
I don’t know what to get for speakers
or headphones. And I haven’t considered
a microphone yet, since my priority is to
record the guitar and bass. I just want to be
able to record whatever idea I have and get
decent sound quality. I was told that Logic
works the best for arrangers, but since I’m a
PC user, I decided that Pro Tools SE would
be good enough. I’ve checked my computer
specs and it meets all the requirements for
Do you have any recommendations, or
am I at least on the right track?
Yes, I think you are on a good track and Pro
Tools SE will be fine to get you started. As
you progress, you might also look at Cakewalk
SONAR or Steinberg Cubase, which have a
lot of nice virtual instruments and MIDI/
scoring features that can help with arranging
I would choose a good all-around microphone.
A Shure SM57 dynamic microphone
works well for guitar and bass. And when
it’s time to record acoustic instruments or
vocals, a condenser microphone would be a
And for speakers, a good set of powered
studio monitors, such as those from M-Audio,
Alesis, Samson, Focal, Mackie, KRK, or the
many other manufacturers, would pair nicely
with the C400.
That’s it for this time, faithful readers. If
you have questions, send them via my website.
Who knows, you may find your question
answered in an upcoming column!
the former editor in chief of
magazine. He’s written
more than 1000 articles
and six books on recording
and music technology, and
has released an instructional
DVD on mastering. His upcoming book is
entitled Guitar Tone: Pursuing the Ultimate
Electric Guitar Sound
. To learn more, visit