Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Keeping the hum down

My ultimate goal for "noise" is for my amp to sound the same whether anything is plugged into it or not. Unfortunately my amp has a hum of it's own, it's 36 years old, it's allowed to. There's nothing I can do about that, but I obsess about keeping my pedalboard silent.

I noticed I was getting more noise than usual. I tested by plugging my pedalboard into my amp and turning everything on. Once the buzz is going I pull the cable out of my amp's input to see if the hum goes away. Sure enough it did. Next I unplugged one cable at a time until the hum went away. I narrowed it down to my tube screamer but did some bypassing of cables to make sure that was the case. In the end I plugged everything back in and the hum was gone! A cable must have just been sitting wrong or something. Back to silence. Hmmmmm.

Here are some tips for keeping hum down:

Problem #1 - bad cables
It's important to have a good connection inside each cable. I openly hate George L cables (I used to use them so I can judge) or other solderless cables that reply on pressure or gravity to keep things in place. I highly, highly recommend soldering your own cables. It sounds intimidating but I promise it's worth it. I was able to buy a soldering gun, solder, top of the line cable, and connectors for less than the price of a George L kit. 15 minutes of learning to solder on youtube and I was ready. I noticed a HUGE difference in sound quality and noise reduction when I moved from a cheap hodge-podge of cable.

Problem #2 - ground loops
Ground loops are tricky thing to understand but for a guitar rig, the two things you want to avoid are 1) instrument cables running parallel to power cables (AC or DC) and 2) equipment plugged into two different power circuits. Power cables create an electronic field around them and if an instrument cable is running parallel it will pick that up and make a 60 Hz hum. Always cross power and instrument cables at 90 degree intersections. Set up your pedal board this way and also check when you're playing live that your cables from guitar to board and board to amp aren't crossing any extension cords or anything. Shielded cables will help avoid this problem as well. It's also good practice to plug your pedalboard and amp into the same outlet. I use a power conditioner in my rack and plug everything into that. I also use a Voodoo labs Pedal Power 2 for all my pedals. Both of those keep things regulated and isolate ground loops. If you're having a problem with ground loops that you just can't fix get a ground lift for your cable right before the amp.

Problem #3 - Too many buffers
I think the true bypass vs. buffered pedals is an entirely different post but I can tell you if you have too many buffered pedals in a row you'll get noise. If this is the case you'll want to mod some of them to be true bypass or get a multi-effects loop pedal like the stuff Loooper makes.

Hopefully this helps! There's nothing more embarrassing than the sound guy having to tell you your amp is too noisy. It's also bad for the sound of playing live or recorded when everyone hears your signal being unmutted at the sound board... song starts, everything's quiet, then huuuuuuuuum. Silence is golden.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Video Review of Diamond Memory Lane

Here's my video/audio review of the Memory Lane analog delay pedal. Also check out my written review and Diamond Pedal's website.

Part 1:
NOTE: Sorry about the clipping, it's coming from youtube, I'm working on it....

...and because I babbled too much in part 1, part 2:

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tone frustration...

I haven't been happy with the way my rig has been sounding lately. I narrowed it down to the attenuator and speakers. I knew there was a ton of harsh highs but I wasn't sure where it was coming from. Turns out a lot of it was coming from the attenuator, but the AlNiCo blues have such a bright top end, they were very clearly accenting to harshness coming from the attenuator. I decided I need to ditch the attenuator, or at lease use it less - right now it's attenuating about 7 db which is a fair amount. That means the Blues have to go since they only handle 30W and my head is 100W (that's why I was using the attenuator). I know blues are great speakers, they just don't work for my rig. I thought about getting AlNiCo Golds (higher power blues) but after talking to people who know way more about speakers, I decided against it.

The reoccurring recommendation was the Celestion Heritage G12-65. It's basically a Greenback but handles 65W instead of 25W. Greenback's are classic british marshall sound and the guy who sold me my 72' Marshall Superbass has been trying to get me to buy the half stack he used with the head - an early 70s 4x12 with greenback's. He says it's the perfect pair for the head, and I believe him, but there's no way I'm lugging a 4x12 everywhere I go. In theory the G12-65 would let me get a similar sound from my 2x12.

Which checking out speakers and getting recommendations, I came across a company called Scumback speakers. Jim, the owner, is obsessed - in a good way - with vintage celestion speakers. He spent something like 40k on a collection of vintage pre rola celestions, then had them tested to find the "best of the best" perfect speakers. Once he found them he had Ted Weber (of weber speakers) dissect them and recreate them as perfectly as possible. The process sounds quite cool and in the end you get a new speaker that sounds like an amazing vintage celestion - it even comes factory broken in to sound 20 years old! I talked with Jim and for my sound, he recommended one H75-LHDC and one M75-LHDC for my 2x12. These should sound like vintage Celestion G12-65's... just like I wanted! Only problem, it's going to take 4-5 weeks to build. Looks like I'm waiting.

This is a good lesson in trust and patience. If I hadn't talked to anyone I would have ordered 2 Golds. I hadn't even considered the G12-65s, but then again I don't know a lot about speakers. Lots of people who know what they're talking about tell me the G12-65 (0r scumback equivalent) are what I want. I hope they're right! I guess I know in mid July.