april 2009

Peter Stroud answers reader questions on cutting down hum and noise in your rig

Greetings, fellow gear geeks. This month, I thought I’d open up the lines and take a few questions. Please feel free to email me with your questions: Peter@65amps.com.

This past month I received emails asking for advice on the everlasting dilemma: getting rid of noise in your rig, pedalboard and guitar. You may never get rid of all noise permanently, but it can be reduced. I’ll offer up a few suggestions:

Mike Elzey writes:
Do you have any tips for eliminating hum? On occasion I still run into problems at some venues with serious hum. With my Keeley compressor and a distortion box engaged the hum is so loud it’s distracting. It’s a low level, probably AC hum. I have a (not wireless) pedal board with a Furman power conditioner built in, and I tried using a power filter at one bad gig but to no avail. It’s worse with single coils, of course!

Ahh yes… We all step into the typical club that is buzz central due to poor AC power—where all the circuits are being shared and drained by cash registers, neon beer signs, house and stage lights, and power for PA and stage. The result is a bad buzz in your rig and/or an anemic-sounding amp tone (mostly with tube amps that like to see their proper voltage and current). Singlecoil pickups? Forget about it. Noisy as hell and hard to overcome, short of riding your guitar’s volume knob between every riff. Over the years, I’ve seen our soundman back in the AC mains box rewiring on the fly to isolate the PA from the lights and house… definitely guerilla club fare, not for the inexperienced!

I’ve written previously in PG about using a Variac to isolate my rig and boost the AC to proper voltage and current (“Tone Sucking Low Voltage,” August 2006) and it’s still consistently the best sound remedy in most situations. But it’s an investment ($550 or so for the proper Staco 10 amp Variac with builtin Digital Voltmeter), and you have to use it carefully! But it’s worth it if you’re playing clubs constantly. There are other potential remedies. Try a power conditioner, like those offered by Furman. But if the club’s power is bad or suffering low current, sometimes even the power conditioners can’t solve the issue. A Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor can help if placed after the compressor and distortion pedal, but if the AC-generated buzz is so loud, it certainly won’t clamp it down entirely.

A wireless guitar system can reduce noise considerably by eliminating the cable connection to your rig (and AC). It’ll at least break the ground between your guitar and the microphone, saving you from mind-altering shocks and the accompanying blue flash in your peripheral vision as your lip touches the mike. If all else fails, use a guitar with humbuckers for this gig and leave the single coils on the stand. Sometimes you just have to muscle through it until you’re out the back door heading to the next town.

Allen Randolph writes:
My rig is a Fender Hot Rod DeVille 212 with a pedal board with a Dunlop Wah, Barber Compressor, Xotic RC Booster, Fulltone Fulldrive2, Fulltone OCD, BBE Stomp Sonic Maximizer, Ernie Ball Volume pedal and Fender Tuner in the front, and a Boss Digital Reverb, Visual Sound H2O Liquid Chorus/ Echo and an Electro-Harmonix XO Stereo PulsarTremolo pedal through my effects loop on the amp. I use mostly Strats and Teles and want to get rid of the hum from the single coils and board. What is the best hum cancellation unit? Is there one worth trying? What would you do?

First of all (if you’re not already doing it) add a quality pedalboard power supply, like the Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus or the Juice Box from pedalgear.net. Then, follow a process of elimination for finding noise in your pedalboard, mostly relating to the DC power. Start with the first group of pedals on the floor, with the second group disconnected from the loop on your amp. With amp volume up and guitar volume down, remove one pedal at a time from the chain until you find the hum-causing culprit.

Many old-style Germanium transistor distortion or fuzz circuits use a reverse DC polarity (center positive); you can either get a cross cable for your power supply or just use a 9-volt battery. These pedals are usually very low draw, with a battery life of up to 9 months. Use the isolated 9V power options on your DC power supply for a pesky pedal. Most have at least two independent groups of 9V or other DC level outputs specifically for this purpose.

Hum canceling for single coil? There’s nothing available yet that really works, short of switching to specially designed active pickups or humbuckers. But again, a Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor (not a noise gate) behind your compressor and distortion pedals will help. I usually set my NS-2 to clamp down the noise generated from the pedals, not hum from the guitar. Still, it’s best to ride your volume control on the guitar when you’re not playing.

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A look at T-Bone Walker''s introductory 12-bar chorus from "I Got a Break Baby"

Welcome to our exploration of T-Bone Walker, part 2. Last month we covered some T-Bone history and ended with some classic T-Bone licks. Today, I have transcribed the introductory 12-bar chorus on “I Got a Break Baby." This is essentially an improvised guitar solo that opens the piece, and there are some fantastic classic T-Bone riffs here! An important early work, T-Bone recorded this in 1942; it’s just as fresh and inspiring today!

T-Bone shows his interest in jazz horn-like phrasing by alternating swing eighth-note phrases with double-time sixteenth note lines. His mastery of the blues scale is apparent, but mixed in are a few jazz-like harmonies, such as leaning on the A natural note at times. Other jazz tendencies include the Charlie Christian-style licks, which use the natural third (C-Eb-E-G-C), using a pure, natural archtop tone with no overdrive, and using syncopated rhythms that are very akin to jazz phrasing (especially the implied hemiola that starts on beat two of measure 5 [F7]).

The chorus immediately following this one starts with a classic double stop (notes Bb and G played together). Continue transcribing that chorus as a great ear-training exercise and to incorporate T-Bone’s vocabulary into your own!

For more on T-Bone, check out:
“I Got a Break Baby” solo on YouTube
Also on YouTube: T-Bone Walker sitting in with Chuck Berry… the “student” honoring his main influence

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Zach takes a look at a great-playing and valuable Yamaha SG2000

Hey Zach,
I’ve got a Yamaha SG2000 in my collection, and I’m wondering if you can give me a little information on why this guitar is so sweet to play! I’ve owned it for several years and I find myself always coming back to play it. Also, what is the value of this guitar today?
Daniel in San Francisco, CA

Hey Daniel,
Since guitar virtuoso Carlos Santana played the SG2000 for several years, you know that there is something special about this guitar. In fact, the SG2000 is one of the most collectible and valuable Yamaha guitars in the used market today, and there is plenty of good reason for that.

Yamaha was founded in Japan in 1897 by Torakusu Yamaha as a piano and reed organ manufacturer. Yamaha entered the guitar market in 1941 when they announced that they were going to start building classical guitars, but full production didn’t start until after World War II in 1946. After the guitar boom of the mid-sixties, Yamaha introduced electric and acoustic steel-string guitars in 1966. Yamaha has been producing a variety of guitars ever since, including several high-end, hand-crafted instruments. However, the bulk of their production is targeted for entry-level and intermediate guitar players, with price points between $200 and $500.

The SG2000 is certainly not one of Yamaha’s entry-level models. It was introduced in 1976, and Yamaha contacted Carlos Santana shortly thereafter to see if he was interested in endorsing the instrument. He actually appeared on the cover of Guitar Player magazine in June of 1978 holding the SG2000, but the article explained that Santana actually redesigned and introduced many of the features on the original SG2000. According to Santana, the guitar was too light and didn’t resonate like he wanted. He recommended making the guitar heavier with thicker woods and installing a brass plate underneath, connected to the tailpiece (later patented as the Sustain Plate). Yamaha also used a threepiece laminated neck with two pieces of mahogany surrounding the main maple part that was patented as the T-Cross System. All these features, and the fact that the guitar was built very well, led to a great playing guitar. Santana absolutely loved the sustain this guitar could create, and it was the best guitar Yamaha had produced thus far.

Aside from the endorsement of Carlos Santana and the unique features that the SG2000 utilized, there were other factors that have made this guitar valuable today. The late seventies and early eighties was a turbulent time for many American guitar manufacturers and the big three of Gibson, Fender, and Martin were all in danger of failing. Yamaha was willing to experiment and get away from the traditional side of building guitars, which made them innovative. Also, Yamaha was one of the first Japanese manufacturers to actually set up their guitars in the US after shipping them from Japan. Long story short, the SG2000 was one of the best guitars available in the late seventies and early eighties, and it could possibly be the best Japanese guitar of the time.

For around a thousand dollars today, a buyer can pick from a basic selection of new, US-built guitars. A used late-seventies to early- eighties SG2000 typically sells for between $900 and $1200 in the used market, which is very comparable to a new US guitar. Thirty years ago, Japan was considered by the guitar industry the way China is today. However, this view has changed over the years and very few guitars actually come out of Japan anymore. While spending around $1000 on a late-seventies Japanese guitar may seem ludicrous, the market has shown that the demand is certainly there.

You also may notice that the SG prefix is very similar to a certain brand from one of the most popular U.S. builders today. When the SG Series from Yamaha became widespread in the early eighties, Gibson put a stop to it, and all Yamaha SG models were changed to SBG in the US. Carlos Santana hasn’t endorsed Yamaha for years; he was one of Paul Reed Smith’s first customers in the early eighties. Santana has several signature models with PRS and continues to play them exclusively today. I’m sure Santana along with you will continue to treasure this guitar for years to come!

Source: The History of Yamaha Guitars— Over 60 Years of Innovation by Mark Kasulen and Matt Blackett

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