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Thread: Why do you need a string ground ?

  1. #1
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    Why do you need a string ground ?

    Why should guitar strings, and bridge, be grounded ? It seems to me
    that the strings are only 'connected' to anything through the magnetic
    field of the pickups so I don't see what purpose grounding them would
    serve. I read that you can reduce noise by grounding the strings but
    if so where does the noise come from and how does it get into the
    amp ?

    Also, if an amp's chassis were to become live through some malfunction
    wouldn't grounded strings be a hazard ?

    Paul P

  2. #2
    Senior Member Paleo Pete's Avatar
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    I'm not sure exactly why, but if the strings are not grounded there's a very good chance the guitar will buzz or hum or hiss or pop when you touch the strings. Or all the time. My Harmony got lots of static that would quiet down when I touched the strings. I had to install a ground where none ever existed, which involved carefully drilling a long hole diagonally through the body to the tailpiece, but it stopped the hiss, hum and static completely once the strings were grounded.

    Why is a multifaceted answer, and I can only repeat some of what I've read about it. Different ground paths can cause hum, wall warts can emit a magnetic field that causes hum if your guitar cord is too close, same for any magnetic field (which is why you get loads of noise if you play in front of a CRT monitor), neon and flourescent lights cause noise, a bad guitar cable can turn your guitar into a radio antenna, and 50 or 60 cycle hum can be a big problem that gets bigger the more equipment you plug in. Good grounding with no ground loops goes a long way toward diminishing or eliminating noise, static, hum and pops in the system. Extension cords lying parallel to the guitar cables can set up a magnetic field that causes hum too. On stage I have to run my extension cord for the wall wart on the other end of the pedalboard from the guitar cables, to stop the hum it causes. Or most of it. I use a splitter I built and one wall wart instead of 4. And I have to turn off any neon beer sign within 15 feet...

    The first thing I do when I get a used amp is replace the plug with a grounded one, the ground pin is almost always broken off. If it never had a ground, I add one. with a new (to me) guitar I go through it and check all solder joints, and make sure it has a good solid ground, then if it makes noise I find out where the bad ground is, add a ground wire or figure out where the ground loop is. I also shield my guitars, at least the back side of the pickguard. It makes a huge difference, just shielding the pickguard.

    Maybe some of the guys here who actually know something about electronics can give you more details about why, I just know a little that I've looked up and what experience has taught me. Grounding, shielding and placement always matter...

    I can't even think about answering the amp question, I think it would be risky, but some older amps were built with live chassis', so it might only be an issue of watching the ground carefully. That may be why ground reverse switches were invented...

  3. #3
    Pickup Maker David Schwab's Avatar
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    The strings (and other metal parts near the pickups) act as an antenna and picks up noise.

    The pickups pick up more than just the strings. Humbuckers use two coils to cancel electrical interference, but magnetic interference still gets through.

    Grounding the strings shunts that noise to ground.
    Last edited by David Schwab; 11-23-2007 at 04:27 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Schwab View Post
    The strings (and other metal parts near the pickups) act as an antenna and picks up noise.

    Grounding the strings shunts that noise to ground.
    I can see that but what I don't get is if the strings are not connected to
    anything how can the noise they pick up go anywhere ? Can picked-up
    noise be transferred through the magnetic field to the pickup (or disturb
    the magnetic interaction between the string and the pickup) ?

    On a similar note, I understand humbuckers were created to reduce/cancel
    60 cycle hum. Is this mainly a problem on a stage with many high power
    electrical devices nearby or are pickups sensitive enough to pick up hum
    in a home environment ?

    Paul P (Happy Thanksgiving to all you turkey eaters :-)

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    if the strings are not connected to
    anything how can the noise they pick up go anywhere?
    couldn't they capacitively (electrostatically) couple into the wiring? Looks most susceptible after the volume when it is turned down. Might have something to do with the analogy of a boat on water where you don't notice as much how high or low you are relative to a fixed position since the boat moves up/down with the water (no potential difference = no voltage difference = no separate voltage apart from the signal voltage).

    something I was wondering about related to grounding is the truss rod. My understanding was that metal parts should not be left floating (not connected to anything) and it seems a truss rod is a big hunk of metal but doesn't seem to be grounded usually.

    Also, on related note there was an old post (by Steve C.?) on how when you touch the strings your body acts as an electrostatic shield to help reduce buzz (I guess the higher harmonics of hum in the environment) or something like that. Sticking a cap in between the send (noise) and receive (gtr.) passes less of the noise through and as I understand layering shields is effective since Cs in series = less capacitance (ex. 500pF + 500pF in series = 250pF) = less gets through. (I'm not sure of what is conductive in your body though. Moisture? Iron particles in blood?)

  6. #6
    Member LeftyStrat's Avatar
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    I always thought that grounding the strings simply provided a little shielding to the pickups. My EMG-SA equipped strat doesn't have the strings grounded, because the pickups are internally shielded, and I have no problems with noise.

  7. #7
    Pickup Maker David Schwab's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul P View Post
    I can see that but what I don't get is if the strings are not connected to
    anything how can the noise they pick up go anywhere ? Can picked-up
    noise be transferred through the magnetic field to the pickup (or disturb
    the magnetic interaction between the string and the pickup) ?
    The pickups don't only sense disturbances to its own magnetic field. It's a coil of wire hooked up to your amp... it will pickup noise. The strings will pickup noise, and yes, the pickups will sense that noise too because the strings are close enough to the pickups and it gets induced into the coil.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul P View Post
    On a similar note, I understand humbuckers were created to reduce/cancel 60 cycle hum. Is this mainly a problem on a stage with many high power electrical devices nearby or are pickups sensitive enough to pick up hum in a home environment ?
    Any single coil pickup will pickup hum, doesn't matter where you are.
    It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure. Albert Einstein

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    Pickup Maker David Schwab's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LeftyStrat View Post
    I always thought that grounding the strings simply provided a little shielding to the pickups. My EMG-SA equipped strat doesn't have the strings grounded, because the pickups are internally shielded, and I have no problems with noise.
    EMG's use a very effective shield. The entire pickup is encased in a brass screen (like window screen, only finer), and that screen is grounded. That acts as a Faraday cage.

    You can also use a metal cover, but that usually softens the top end of the pickup's tone a bit.

    I fully shield my pickups, and I still need string grounding.
    It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure. Albert Einstein

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    Noodle of Reality Steve Conner's Avatar
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    I believe that string grounding has its effect mostly by grounding the player's body. If the guitar has a poorly shielded control cavity, then it will pick up capacitively coupled hum from your body, which in turn is picking it up from the mains wiring in the room. But once your body is grounded it turns from a big squishy antenna into a shield.

    Pickups without metal covers can also pick up stuff capacitively, and the grounded strings help to shield them.

    My latest "amp" design needs the best shielded guitar possible, not to mention a 30ft fibre optic guitar cord for personal safety.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSAExHBrfwU
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    Member Joe Bee's Avatar
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    I agree with that, usually the hum decreases considerably once you touch the strings, and the only explanation for that is that you turn your body from a bag of noise into a grounded shield.

    I had a rather shocking experience a couple of days ago though when I had my guitar in one hand and was fumbling around at the back of my amp with the other. I touched the plates supply at the OT and got the full 430V from hand to hand. Made me drop my guitar and rethink my safety procedures.
    I also get shocked frequently from my microphone because it is connected to my computer via some USB thingie so it has no physical ground connection but is ground referenced through the Y-capacitors on the computer switch mode PSU. This brings the mike up to more than 100V through capacitive coupling.


    thus I would argue that it is a lot safer to have the strings floating, at least if you can afford EMGs that is :-)
    "A goat almost always blinks when hit on the head with a ball peen hammer"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Conner View Post
    My latest "amp" design needs the best shielded guitar possible, not to mention a 30ft fibre optic guitar cord for personal safety.
    You crazy ! :-)

  12. #12
    Pickup Maker David Schwab's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Bee View Post
    I agree with that, usually the hum decreases considerably once you touch the strings, and the only explanation for that is that you turn your body from a bag of noise into a grounded shield.
    Well your body picks up noise too. Just touch the tip of your patch cord and listen! But the string grounding isn't just to ground you, because you can see that a guitar with no string ground will hum even when you aren't touching it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Bee View Post
    I had a rather shocking experience a couple of days ago though when I had my guitar in one hand and was fumbling around at the back of my amp with the other. I touched the plates supply at the OT and got the full 430V from hand to hand. Made me drop my guitar and rethink my safety procedures.
    I also get shocked frequently from my microphone because it is connected to my computer via some USB thingie so it has no physical ground connection but is ground referenced through the Y-capacitors on the computer switch mode PSU. This brings the mike up to more than 100V through capacitive coupling.
    Ouch! There's a few things you can do. One is to install a capacitor between the string ground wire and ground. This will block DC current from flowing. Some people use a cap and resistor. I forget the values off hand.

    Another smart thing is to bring a small neon bulb outlet tester with you. Touch one end on your strings, and the other on the mic, and see if it lights up.

    A small VOM would also work. I measured 80 volts once!


    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Bee View Post
    thus I would argue that it is a lot safer to have the strings floating, at least if you can afford EMGs that is :-)
    I have a '74 Ric that I had totally shielded with copper foil, and had a Hi-A (Bartolini) and Gibson sidewinder, and it had no string grounding. It was dead quiet except around light dimmers.

    What EMG does is wrap the whole pickup in a brass screen.
    It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure. Albert Einstein

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    Senior Member jack briggs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Schwab View Post

    Ouch! There's a few things you can do. One is to install a capacitor between the string ground wire and ground. This will block DC current from flowing. Some people use a cap and resistor. I forget the values off hand.
    .001uf/220K. I use to wire them into all of my guitars. Cap should be rated for 500V. The only downside is that the network acts as a fuse, needing replacement if blown by a spike.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul P View Post
    You crazy ! :-)
    I think "unwell" describes Steve adequately. That Youtube video is absolutely awesome, I want one. Well done!

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    Senior Member Sir Cuitous's Avatar
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    You can shield pickups and cavities all you want, but the they will still receive emi from the same poles that receive the string vibration. Thus your single coils are always going to have hum. The metal parts and strings are an antenna, but it will also transmit. Grounding to the bridge/strings will transmit some noise straight into the air, but much more noise will be grounded through your body when you touch the strings.
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    Pickup Maker David Schwab's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Cuitous View Post
    Thus your single coils are always going to have hum. The metal parts and strings are an antenna, but it will also transmit. Grounding to the bridge/strings will transmit some noise straight into the air, but much more noise will be grounded through your body when you touch the strings.
    What are they transmitting, and how are they going to transmit at ground potential?

    You touching the strings grounds you, and thus shunts what ever noise you are attracting to ground.

    Also, the resistance of your body is pretty high... several megohms. The resistance of any grounded part in the guitar is close to zero. Electricity flowing through a circuit will always take the path of least resistance.

    While every available path has some current flowing through it, the amount of current through each path is inversely proportional to its electrical resistance.
    It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure. Albert Einstein

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    Senior Member Sir Cuitous's Avatar
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    What path does it take when I'm not touching the strings? It sure sounds less noisy when there's a ground to the bridge even when I'm not touching. I always compared guitars to boats or airplanes. Airplanes are designed to take a bolt of lightning. If it strikes the top of the fuselage it takes the path of least resistance by encirling the fuselage and exiting through the belly. The fuselage is the ground. I always thought a guitar sounded quieter by grounding to the metal parts.
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    You don't have to have a string ground if everything else is super shielded. But a bridge ground is cheap, and much better than nothing. Your body is probably causing most of the noise, walk away from the guitar and listen, then push it against your tummy without touching metal. Ungrounded bridges extend your body across the strings, grounded strings ground your body. If you suck your fingers .

  19. #19
    Pickup Maker David Schwab's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Cuitous View Post
    What path does it take when I'm not touching the strings?
    The strings are grounded to the output jack, and then to the amp's ground, that's the path.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Cuitous View Post
    It sure sounds less noisy when there's a ground to the bridge even when I'm not touching.
    Yes, because the strings act as an antenna, and that noise gets picked up by the pickups.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Cuitous View Post
    I always thought a guitar sounded quieter by grounding to the metal parts.
    Yes, the metal parts should be grounded. But your body is not ground. Ground is established at the amplifier.
    It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure. Albert Einstein

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    Senior Member Sir Cuitous's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by frank.clarke View Post
    You don't have to have a string ground if everything else is super shielded. But a bridge ground is cheap, and much better than nothing. Your body is probably causing most of the noise, walk away from the guitar and listen, then push it against your tummy without touching metal. Ungrounded bridges extend your body across the strings, grounded strings ground your body. If you suck your fingers .
    I must have mistakenly been thinking of the current flow in reverse. Your observations and David's (..ground to amp...) make sense.
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    Supporting Member tubeswell's Avatar
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    Reading all the above, I was wondering where the 'best' place to connect a 'string' ground would be on my noisome strat. After resorting to google just now I found this article

    http://www.guitarnuts.com/wiring/shielding/shield3.php
    Last edited by tubeswell; 02-22-2008 at 06:01 PM.

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    Hi all. I have a question to David Schwab:

    To avoid noise what is a better practice,

    that the input jack is in contact with the pickguard shield and then the signal star ground connected to that shield? (no ground cable connected to jack)
    OR
    that the jack is isolated first from the shield, cable from jack to star ground and from star ground to pickguard shield (through the safety cap)?

    Many thanks in advance. Best,

    Fernando


    (I'm trying to avoid ground loops on a Gibson S-1 and getting nuts)
    Last edited by fernando; 02-23-2008 at 03:36 AM. Reason: trying to be clearer

  23. #23
    Pickup Maker David Schwab's Avatar
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    My own personal opinion is that you can't get a ground loop in a guitar. I've never had it happen, and everything I've read about it has been anecdotal. You see more people taking about avoiding ground loops, than anyone one who said they had one!

    Ground loops occur when the ground potential of one electronic circuit is higher than another, and you connect the two. Current will then flow through the ground connection.

    Here's something from a Wikipedia article.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground_loop_(electricity)

    Low current wiring is particularly susceptible to ground loops. If two pieces of audio equipment are plugged into different power outlets, there will often be a difference in their respective ground potentials. If a signal is passed from one to the other via an audio connection with the ground wire intact, this potential difference causes a spurious current to flow through the cables, eg: creating an audible buzz at the AC mains base frequency (50 or 60 Hz) and the harmonics thereof (120 Hz, 240 Hz, and so on), called mains hum.
    The problem is always with something plugged into a grounded AC outlet. This is why we have ground lift switches on DI outputs... it keeps the grounds of your amp and the PA separate. Nothing inside a guitar is at any higher ground potential than the amp it's plugged into. A guitar in this aspect is like a microphone plugged into a PA. If the guitar had a separate ground wire connected to a pipe or something, and also the output jack ground, than you might get a ground loop.

    So my opinion is that star grounding serves no purpose in a guitar, but it's very useful in high voltage situations, like a tube amp.

    Having said that, it's not a bad practice to keep your shields separate from your signal (common) ground as long as possible, but once again, look how it's been done for the past 50 years or so. I see no problem with the common practice of grounding wires to the back of pots, which are often sitting on the shield foil. Think of the guitar as an effects unit. An effects unit has an aluminum enclosure, and all the pots and switches and jacks are grounded to that case (usually... sometimes they use isolation jacks, etc.) So the shield in the control cavity is just an extension of the cans on the pots, and the shield in the coax, etc.

    If you are using a cap on your string ground to block DC current, I would only use that on the wire to the bridge, and not on any shields, and certainly not on the signal ground.

    So, if you are getting hum from a guitar, especially one with single coils, it's not from a ground loop. It's just electrical and magnetic field interference.



    Quote Originally Posted by fernando View Post
    Hi all. I have a question to David Schwab:

    To avoid noise what is a better practice,

    that the input jack is in contact with the pickguard shield and then the signal star ground connected to that shield? (no ground cable connected to jack)
    OR
    that the jack is isolated first from the shield, cable from jack to star ground and from star ground to pickguard shield (through the safety cap)?

    Many thanks in advance. Best,

    Fernando


    (I'm trying to avoid ground loops on a Gibson S-1 and getting nuts)
    It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure. Albert Einstein

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    Thank you David, it's very enlightening!


    About the safety cap or net:

    Wich value and wattage for the suggested added resistor?
    And, in series or in parallel with the capacitor?

    On the linked article a value of 0.33 uF/400V is suggested as a good compromise for protection from AC and DC.
    Do you like that value for this application?
    Last edited by fernando; 02-23-2008 at 03:06 PM.

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    Supporting Member tubeswell's Avatar
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    I used 2 x .1uF in parallel (making .2uF) and it seems to sound okay. (The two caps in parallel also gives more voltage-handling capability).

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    Junior Member BlackAngusYoung's Avatar
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    I have similar problem with an acoustic...

    I have an acoustic guitar with a magnetic pickup. It's a stacked humbucker, I believe.

    There is a buzzing noise coming through the amp, which goes away when I touch metal on the cord or amp, or the wire going into the pickup. It seems like maybe the strings should be ground like on a solid-body, but I can't think of how that could be done.

    I don't get the noise when I use a battery-powered amp.

    Anyone have a problem like mine with an acoustic? I don't think acoustics with magnetic pickups are that common, and I can't find much info about similar guitars.

    Any help would by much appreciated!






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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Conner View Post
    I believe that string grounding has its effect mostly by grounding the player's body. If the guitar has a poorly shielded control cavity, then it will pick up capacitively coupled hum from your body, which in turn is picking it up from the mains wiring in the room. But once your body is grounded it turns from a big squishy antenna into a shield.

    Pickups without metal covers can also pick up stuff capacitively, and the grounded strings help to shield them.

    My latest "amp" design needs the best shielded guitar possible, not to mention a 30ft fibre optic guitar cord for personal safety.
    YouTube - Tesla Guitar
    Oh my. All that awesomeness and it sounds like a Gorilla amp.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BlackAngusYoung View Post
    I have an acoustic guitar with a magnetic pickup. It's a stacked humbucker, I believe.

    There is a buzzing noise coming through the amp, which goes away when I touch metal on the cord or amp, or the wire going into the pickup. It seems like maybe the strings should be ground like on a solid-body, but I can't think of how that could be done.

    I don't get the noise when I use a battery-powered amp.

    Anyone have a problem like mine with an acoustic? I don't think acoustics with magnetic pickups are that common, and I can't find much info about similar guitars.

    Any help would by much appreciated!





    BlackAngusYoung,

    To easily ground the strings go to the Stewart McDonald web site and obtain a PlateMate. This is a brass plaste with holes spaced to match the bridge pin spacing. Measure your pin spacing and obtain the correct version. Before you install, solder a flexible stranded wire (about 1 foot) to the metal plate mate and connect the other end to the output jack ground connection or metal braid of the pickup lead. This will ground your strings as the ball ends of the string will rest in the notch being grounded to prevent the ball end of the string from chewing up the wood under the bridge.

    This is an undocumented use for the Platemate and works very well when using magnetic pickups on acoustic guitars.

    Joseph Rogowski
    Last edited by bbsailor; 04-05-2010 at 01:56 PM.

  29. #29
    Noodle of Reality Steve Conner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ronsonic View Post
    Oh my. All that awesomeness and it sounds like a Gorilla amp.
    Yeah, unfortunately it sounds like crap (I've tried a Gorilla, and this thing is worse!) and there are serious physical reasons why it's always going to sound like that. The cool appearance of the sparks is mutually exclusive with improved tone.

    If I wanted it to sound good, I'd gang it up with an ordinary guitar amp, but then the Youtube peanut gallery would accuse me of "cheating".

    Ironically in spite of the terrible sound, it got me far more internet-famous than any of my efforts as a regular guitarist. My various musical Tesla coil videos have over a million views between them, and my boss now insists that I play the thing at open days.
    Last edited by Steve Conner; 04-05-2010 at 11:30 AM.
    "Enzo, I see that you replied parasitic oscillations. Is that a hypothesis? Or is that your amazing metal band I should check out?"

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    Junior Member BlackAngusYoung's Avatar
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    That looks like a great idea. I could maybe even make something that would work in that way.
    Thanks a lot for the help.

    And, wow... my pictures showed up a lot bigger than I'd hoped!
    (Sorry about that if anyone's annoyed. New to the forum.)

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    Junior Member BlackAngusYoung's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbsailor View Post
    BlackAngusYoung,

    To easily ground the strings go to the Stewart McDonald web site and obtain a PlateMate. This is a brass plaste with holes spaced to match the bridge pin spacing. Measure your pin spacing and obtain the correct version. Before you install, solder a flexible stranded wire (about 1 foot) to the metal plate mate and connect the other end to the output jack ground connection or metal braid of the pickup lead. This will ground your strings as the ball ends of the string will rest in the notch being grounded to prevent the ball end of the string from chewing up the wood under the bridge.

    This is an undocumented use for the Platemate and works very well when using magnetic pickups on acoustic guitars.

    Joseph Rogowski
    And that isn't a shock hazzard or anything, right? I mean, my body would be a part of the guitars electronics in a way. Sounds kinda dangerous but it's basically the same on my Strat [copy] isn't it?

  32. #32
    Pickup Maker David Schwab's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ronsonic View Post
    All that awesomeness and it sounds like a Gorilla amp.
    I had a really nice Gorilla bass amp once. It sounded good with guitar too.. and was loud for a little sucker. It was actually my girlfriend's bass amp, but I used to borrow it for rehearsals when I didn't want to lug my GK 800RB.
    It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure. Albert Einstein

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  33. #33
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    Basically the same. Yes. Learn to tap microphones on stage with the back of your hand after set up and before stepping up to sing.

  34. #34
    Junior Member BlackAngusYoung's Avatar
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    Homemade PlateMate

    Quote Originally Posted by bbsailor View Post
    BlackAngusYoung,

    To easily ground the strings go to the Stewart McDonald web site and obtain a PlateMate. This is a brass plaste with holes spaced to match the bridge pin spacing. Measure your pin spacing and obtain the correct version. Before you install, solder a flexible stranded wire (about 1 foot) to the metal plate mate and connect the other end to the output jack ground connection or metal braid of the pickup lead. This will ground your strings as the ball ends of the string will rest in the notch being grounded to prevent the ball end of the string from chewing up the wood under the bridge.

    This is an undocumented use for the Platemate and works very well when using magnetic pickups on acoustic guitars.

    Joseph Rogowski
    I made my own out of something metal I found in my secondhand shop. I ran the ground wire like you said and it works perfectly. Thanks again, Joseph, you really helped me out!!!

  35. #35
    Pickup Maker David Schwab's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ronsonic View Post
    Learn to tap microphones on stage with the back of your hand after set up and before stepping up to sing.
    Better yet, get a neon bulb circuit tester. Touch one probe to your strings and the other to the mic. If it lights up you have a ground problem.

    I once read over 80 volts between a mic and the strings. I wouldn't even want to put the back of my hand on that.
    It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure. Albert Einstein

    www.sgd-lutherie.com
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    www.myspace.com/davidschwab

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