Modern Gretsch Guitars

Any Bright New Ideas for Managing Single Coil Hum?

1

One benefit of belonging to this site that I sincerely appreciate are the suggestions from others who have much deeper knowledge of all things associated with guitar tech and maintenance than me.

I love the spanky, chimey sounds of single coils, whether P-90s, Dynas, or HiLos. But, man, the buzzy hum gets on my nerves. I use a noisegate much of the time, so that helps. But there are guitars I won't take out live because I'm afraid a site will have noisy light dimmers, line/RF interference, or other bugaboos that will make the performance an irritant rather than fun.

I have tried multiple solutions, including shielding my guitars better, inserting a transformer, and I even tried using the EHX Hum Debugger. The EHX box worked, except for killing my tone! Heck, I even used BATTERY power on everything once (impractical for very long) and I STILL heard some buzz from the pickups.

So, I just thought I would toss this out there - is single coil noise just something we have to live with? Could there be some other solution?

2

On my Casino the neck pickup is reverse wound so the middle position is hum cancelling. That's one solution if you want to take your single coil guitar to a badly wired club.

The 60 cycle hum is part of the tone of a single coil guitar. I never used the Dolby noise reduction on my old tape decks because it would squash the high end and I would lose clarity. It's the same with single coil pickups.

3

The Hum Debugger worked well for me, except for sometimes taking out chimey highs. I just got tired of having to plug in one more thing just to sit and play for a little while. Then one day I landed a James Trussart telecaster, and was floored when there was NO hum from the single coil Arcane pickup in the bridge. I got no response when asking how they did it. So again I went on a mission to get rid of noise.

Last year about this time, I took 2 guitars (one a White Falcon with Dynasonics) to a local guy that makes custom pickups. He built and installed hum cancelling pickups. Technically they are single coils that are stacked in the same footprint. They sound amazing. I suppose humbuckers are really just side by side single coils, aren't they?

There are a few off the shelf hum cancelling pickups. I bought a Seymour Duncan Vintage Stacked set for a tele. But none for Gretschs that I could find.

4

I finally got sick of it and went back 2 buckers ... but got good results w/ Fralin noiseless P-90s. Things have come a long way in beating single coil nose.

5

Rewire the instrument with coaxial cable.

Install shielding in the guitar wherever possible.

Run signal lines at 90 degrees to power cables.

Avoid SCR lighting dimmers.

Play in A whenever possible---closest note to 60 Hz line hum.

Avoid neon and fluorescent lights and motors.

Use a line conditioner or isolation transformer on your AC feed.

6

I just live with it. It's most annoying in solo-playing situations; less so in band settings.

If there's a real problem I have the Hum-Debugger, it's on my pedal board and works for me when it's needed. I do have one guitar that is soooo noisy it's virtually unplayable without it. Again, better in a band situation than solo because it does pull some frequencies out of your signal which is noticeable if you A/B it, but MUCH less noticeable with other instruments in the mix.

7

The Hum Debugger worked well for me, except for sometimes taking out chimey highs. I just got tired of having to plug in one more thing just to sit and play for a little while. Then one day I landed a James Trussart telecaster, and was floored when there was NO hum from the single coil Arcane pickup in the bridge. I got no response when asking how they did it. So again I went on a mission to get rid of noise.

Last year about this time, I took 2 guitars (one a White Falcon with Dynasonics) to a local guy that makes custom pickups. He built and installed hum cancelling pickups. Technically they are single coils that are stacked in the same footprint. They sound amazing. I suppose humbuckers are really just side by side single coils, aren't they?

There are a few off the shelf hum cancelling pickups. I bought a Seymour Duncan Vintage Stacked set for a tele. But none for Gretschs that I could find.

– Daddy Dog

Stacked humbuckers are still humbuckers. they only look like single coils.

I had a Standard (Mexican) Tele for a little while, and it just had the worst hum I've ever heard on a guitar. It was way worse than my HiLo tenny. I tried a lot to fix it because I loved the tone. I added copper shielding to the body cavity and on the back of the pick guard, but it turns out the black paint on the body cavity is conductive and acts like shielding.

Finally I ended up getting the official Fender noise cancelling stacked humbuckers for Tele, which actually the bridge pickup didn't fit through the bridge plate, and I shredded the coils putting it in. Fender was a huge pain in the ass about ordering a replacement for the damaged bridge pickup, because they only wanted to sell them as a set. I finally got a replacement, and had the bridge plate cut so the pickup would fit. The pickups fixed the hum, but now the guitar sounded like crap.

If you are set on playing with single coils, the best you can do is use less distortion and compression, as both will bring the noise floor up, and face the direction where the guitar picks up the least amount of noise.

8

TV Jones wound me a set of T-Armonds without reverse winding/polarity, and I use a noise cancelling system made by Illich. They are as quiet as a humbucking set with no loss of frequencies. There are some older posts somewhere.

Another solution is to use pickups that have low output; not dead quiet, but not as noisy as hotter single coils.

9

Curiosity got the best of me and I ended up watching the John Mayer demo / defense of his much maligned PRS Strat copy. He had some great line about how the two and the four positions on the pickup switch were wired for hum canceling, but that doesn’t matter because any guitarist understands that the 60 cycle hum is like breathing.

10

60 Hz hum is probably the most common sound we hear in the US.

11

Ha, I didn’t see Journeyman’s post.

I heard about this on a podcast, I think it was Suhr, puts a coil in the guitar somewhere away from the pickups and strings, or maybe just without a magnet in it.

I’m sure they said some other guy does the same thing.

Let’s see...

I think the other one is Ilitch Electronics. They are calling it an air coil. I would have thought you would take the coil out of a pickup, so if you were doing it for a HiLoTron you would take that pickup and dispose of the magnet and put it in the body somewhere, but it looks like they make some other size and shape of coil work.

https://www.ilitchelectroni...

Fralin may be making one. No they were selling the Ilitch one.

Ah, what I assumed is known as a dummy coil.

http://www.frettech.com/fre...

12

Besides the Hum-Debugger I also have a noise gate. Again, in a band setting the noise that comes through when we're all playing is a non-issue, and when I stop the gate keeps the silence quiet.

13

Ha, I didn’t see Journeyman’s post.

I heard about this on a podcast, I think it was Suhr, puts a coil in the guitar somewhere away from the pickups and strings, or maybe just without a magnet in it.

I’m sure they said some other guy does the same thing.

Let’s see...

I think the other one is Ilitch Electronics. They are calling it an air coil. I would have thought you would take the coil out of a pickup, so if you were doing it for a HiLoTron you would take that pickup and dispose of the magnet and put it in the body somewhere, but it looks like they make some other size and shape of coil work.

https://www.ilitchelectroni...

Fralin may be making one. No they were selling the Ilitch one.

Ah, what I assumed is known as a dummy coil.

http://www.frettech.com/fre...

– hammerhands

I guess 'dummy coil' is what it is, but the Illich one really does not remove any top end. Mine was made to fit into a hollow body guitar: fastens to the inside back with two-sided tape and clips. There is a very small circuit board, not much wider than the casing on a volume pot that fastens to the underside of the pot (tone or volume) out of sight. Two tiny pots on the circuit board are adjusted for the best noise reduction and that's it. The two pickups had to be wound without** reverse winding/polarity. It was custom made for the body size or my 6120 (solid bodies need to be routed) and I sent the pickups directly to him so he would have the exact DC resistance and inductance of the pickups. It wasn't cheap, but it does work. To make sure that I wasn't losing any frequencies, I had my guitar tech assemble a switch outside the guitar so we could take it in and out of the circuit and compare the sound. Except for the absence of noise when it was engaged, there was no detectable change in the sound.

I know that some folks regard the single coil noise as part of the sound, even part of the charm of single coils; that's cool, to a point. I don't mind a bit of noise from lower output single coil pickups like Hilo'trons or the Dearmond 2000s, but the ones with more output are just too noisy for my taste. If I ever find a set of gold Dearmond 2000 pickups for my Falcon, I'll probably not bother with the coil as their slightly lower output generates less noise than the T-Armonds, for example.

14

I don't understand this: "Run signal lines at 90 degrees to power cables".

Can someone elaborate?

15

Criss-cross!

A power cable, especially troublesome is AC power, has a magnetic field around it. Wherever you have an electric current you have a corresponding magnetic field. That magnetic field will induce a current in any conductor that is in the field, including your guitar cable or any effects pedals.

So you want to reduce the exposure to this magnetic field. If you were to run the cables together, the whole length of the guitar cable would be getting noise from the power cable. If you have to cross them, make it as short an intersection as possible (90°).

That magnetic field around an AC current is expanding and collapsing at 60 times per second, and the more lines it crosses, the more noise it will induce. So all the little traces and wires and resistors and capacitors in an effects pedal, all the strands of wire in guitar cable, all create noise based on 60hz, sometimes combining in ways to make noise at different frequencies.

It’s the same principle that makes a transformer work, two wires, one creates a magnetic field [because it’s like an electro-magnetic], which then induces a current in the other wire every time the magnetic field expands or collapses.

16

I don't understand this: "Run signal lines at 90 degrees to power cables".

Can someone elaborate?

– Daddy Dog

I'm an old school sound guy. Running power and signal cables together can cause the signal lines to pick up AC hum. Cable shielding isn't foolproof. On stage, if we had to use both power and signal, we had to run them apart to avoid hum. Hammerhands' explanation is right.

"Never the twain shall meet."

17

I had a custom Illitch system made for my 6129 Billy Zoom model. It is probably the best approach you can take. It is really the same concept as a humbucker, but the second coil (referred to as an air or dummy coil) has no magnetics to so it is just capturing the noise (inverted) which when combined with the signal coming from the single coil pickup, cancels the noise (mostly). I concur with Journeyman’s take above. I don’t detect any loss of high end. My system was build on a round flat piece of black plastic that replaces the triangular back cover of my guitar. I’ll post some photos tomorrow. It was about $280 I think and I too had to send Illitch my pickups so that he could build a custom air coil that worked well with the impedances of my pickups. Please note that this system does not eliminate 100% of the noise, I would say my is reduced by 90+%.

I found it to be a very nice improvement. Some of the venues I play in can have lots of noise. One was so bad once that it sounded like my guitar was being zapped with a caddle prod. So the Illitch system has really helped me out and I can play these venues without worrying about the noise...and keep that great single coil tone!

18

You also have to realize that most venues really don't care about clean power for the band. It's far from a priority for them. You might not have enough outlets (and wattage) available for your band. Lighting, HVAC, advertising (neon), and refrigeration (at bars and restaurants) take precedent. Nearby users can also affect your power. Proper stages, studios, and music venues should have isolation transformers.

19

My Illitch system wired in. You will see on the back side of the cover the dummy coil is there covered by a black adhesive film material. I think the idea is to get the largest diameter coil you can, thus the larger circular cover.

20

Cover taped on with the trim pots hanging out so I could adjust.

21

Close up of trim pots:

22

Cover attached, with trim pots inside. Obviously it overlaps the body, but is pretty tight. I've had no issues ergonomically with it not recessed like the triangular cover.

23

Here is a pretty good article about dummy pickups: Link

This was written by Rob Cavalier of Cavalier Pickups. I emailed back and forth with Rob and he was very helpful in my decision to go with the Illitch system. Very cool of him since he had no financial interest in helping me out!

Craig

24

Do you know what the two pots do? One must be a volume? Labels are UR1 B and UR2 N/omega?

I think if you have your guitar wired where you have a pickup that is connected at one end and not the other, like in some Tele or Strat wiring, that can introduce noise. I wonder if that’s the same noise you use for humbucking? That would be out of the circuit, not influencing the sound.

Also, you can wire pickups in series or parallel, but both can be humbucking. And you could use two coils that wouldn’t change the ohms as much. Like, say it’s a 4k pickup, you could have one 4k coil in series, then an 8k coil in parallel.

25

The best solution is to ignore the hum, turn your Master off when you're not playing, and never play 1st Avenue in Minneapolis or Bogarts in Cincinnati.


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