I have a buzz, and its the bad kind.
June 18, 2010 6:27 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, I bought a new Fender Squire Affinity Stratocaster (not the Fat Strat). Tonight, I noticed that the guitar has a noticeable buzz anytime there are less than two pickups on. So, when I have the front and middle or middle and bridge pickups activated, everything is fine. However, if I switch to the front, middle, or bridge pickup by itself, the buzz is there.

Is this situation part and parcel of less expensive guitars, or should I return it and try out something else?

Thanks for your help.
posted by 4ster to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Two coils buck the hum so some of buzz is normal with only one pickup on- it should also be twangier with one pickup- that's the tradeoff. But it could be a poor solder in there too, if it's really audible.
posted by bendybendy at 6:34 PM on June 18, 2010

Best answer: That hum is typical of single coil pickups and is really always going to be there to some degree. This is not even strictly a feature of less expensive guitars, as even an American Standard strat will have some hum. The hum you're describing sounds normal. It's not normal if the hum goes away when you touch the strings or some other metal part of the guitar. In that case there's a ground loop in there or a cold solder. If you have experience with a soldering iron, you can just open the guitar up and have a look around. If you're at all twitchy about it, have a guitar tech at your local guitar shop do it. The closest thing to a solution to standard single-coil hum is to shield the body cavity with copper tape (or magnetic paint) and re-wire the pickups so all the grounds converge on a single point (it's called star grounding). If you're up for the challenge you can read up on the process here. You can get most of the supplies you need for it from these guys. Or if you're not too confident in your wiring skills, you can probably find a guitar tech who'll do the job for no more than a hundred bucks.
posted by wabbittwax at 6:49 PM on June 18, 2010

Best answer: This situation is part and parcel of guitars with single coil pickups. Less expensive ones do tend to be noisier, because they often have cheaper pickups, poor wiring, cheap pots, and not-very-good shielding. But a true single coil pickup is always going to hum unless you have more than one pickup going at once.

A cheap guitar with humbuckers will generally not hum like that.

Also, you can often eliminate the hum by positioning your body and the guitar in just the right position and not moving at all from that exact position. That's what I do when I record with my not-at-all-cheap and quite-old Strat, since I like the way its old original pickups sound.

There are "noiseless" single coil pickups out there, but they're not "true" single coils and they don't sound quite like the real thing.

The hum drives me batty, and I would slowly go insane if the only electric guitar I had was a Strat with humming single coil pickups. But that's just me.
posted by The World Famous at 6:49 PM on June 18, 2010

Best answer: TADTS! (They All Do That Sir!) That's why the dual coil pickups are called "humbuckers", they "buck" the "hum".
posted by smcameron at 6:56 PM on June 18, 2010

Best answer: Thanks for all the great input. So, if I am understanding this correctly this guitar, as well as this Fat Strat, should have less (or no) buzz because they have dual coil pickups, right (the Fat Strat has one only at the bridge)?
posted by 4ster at 7:16 PM on June 18, 2010

Best answer: The Fat Strat will still hum in some switch positions - those where the number of coils active is an odd number.

The Epiphone Les Paul will not hum like a Strat. But in my experience, the stock pickups in those low-end Epiphone Les Pauls are pretty horrible sounding and are very noisy in comparison to better humbuckers. They're not as noisy as cheap single coils, but they are not silent by any measure.
posted by The World Famous at 7:19 PM on June 18, 2010

Best answer: From my husband, whom still needs an account:
check for dimmer switches that are halfway on, and either turn them all the way on or all the way off. try plugging your amp into a different wall socket. if all else fails, slowly pivot in relationship to the amp to find the 'sweet spot' where the buzz goes away. If you're ambitious, pull the pickguard off and cover the pickup and control cavities with copper tape.

Having said all that, all of the above will only minimize the buzz - as others have pointed out, they are single coil pickups in your guitar and that's their nature. you can buy noiseless single coil from a number of manufacturers if you're willing to spend the extra dough.
posted by kellyblah at 9:56 AM on June 19, 2010

Best answer: I improved the buzz down to nothing by "star grounding" my Strat-clone. Inside the guitar, every component floats off the ground, except for its one ground wire that goes to the jack.

What happens is that the pickups make sound by modulating the difference between the signal and the ground. If there are any ground loops inside the guitar, they create differences between the apparent ground the pickup (or tone knob or whatever) sees and the real ground the amplifier sees.

In other words, look at the ground as a "drain" that flushes away all the noise. If one pickup is trying to drain away a lot of noise and that has to pass through the drain of the volume knob, it gets a little bit clogged and the drain backs up, and you get noise.

One thing to remember is that shielding is not grounding. The shield should be considered as a separate component inside the guitar that requires its own, single path to the ground.

In the cable, the shield either needs to be the only negative conductor, or it needs to be grounded at only one end. If there is a ground path and then another negative path, you will pick up hum.
posted by gjc at 10:21 AM on June 19, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the great answers. I learned a lot from them. The best answers are on me!
posted by 4ster at 9:50 AM on June 20, 2010

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