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Thread: Those damn neon signs!

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    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    Those damn neon signs!

    I play a lot of small(ish) bars nowadays and it seems like most of them love to put one or more neon signs near the stage. The damn things radiate into everything. Last night I wanted to try out my latest project guitar with a P90. It was unusable with any gain at all. On the break shorted the input to the amp and selected the gain channel. Stil a substantial buzz. A humbucker equipped guitar is barely tolerable. Forget using a Strat in a single pickup position to. Is there any way around this problem I don't know? It's too damn common and they will never turn the signs off!

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Is the noise you get a AC cycle hum or a higher harmonic artifact like a buzz?

    Ferrite bead on the guitars hot jack?

    When I was playing out I went so far as to shield pickup cavities and pickup coils with copper, grounded. This does have a small negative effect on the tone of most pickups.

    How many clubs have neon signs so close to the stage as to cause unbearable noise from sensitive transducers? It happens, but I don't remember it being a constant problem.

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    Old Timer Leo_Gnardo's Avatar
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    Had the same problem in a club some years back. One muso asked me if using an isolation transformer on the AC line to his gear would help. I didn't think it would, but we sourced a 1500-2000 VA unit and gave it a try anyway. Running his rig off it didn't help. BUT running the neon lamp transformer off the iso did! I sure wasn't expecting that. So that's the way he ran it from then on. Only problem arose when he lent the transformer to another musician, who forgot to take the iso back home with him after the show. Next day the club was out of business, shut down & locked up, that was the end of that.

    So . . . if you have an iso transformer available give it a try unless the venue won't let you touch the neon power line at all. No promises, just this one anecdotal success story. And good luck!

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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    I think you might need to build a Faraday cage.

    Another option would be to just embrace the buzz...


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    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leo_Gnardo View Post
    Had the same problem in a club some years back. One muso asked me if using an isolation transformer on the AC line to his gear would help. I didn't think it would, but we sourced a 1500-2000 VA unit and gave it a try anyway. Running his rig off it didn't help. BUT running the neon lamp transformer off the iso did! I sure wasn't expecting that. So that's the way he ran it from then on. Only problem arose when he lent the transformer to another musician, who forgot to take the iso back home with him after the show. Next day the club was out of business, shut down & locked up, that was the end of that.

    So . . . if you have an iso transformer available give it a try unless the venue won't let you touch the neon power line at all. No promises, just this one anecdotal success story. And good luck!
    Some clubs have 2 or 3 of the damn signs within 10 feet of the stage and even over the stage. The managers/owners don’t want you anywhere near them. Their power supplies are switched by a wall switch and it can be a bitch to even find the power supply. We did try running a thick extension cord from the other side of the room. I think the problem is the damn things simply radiating into the ambient more than a line ac problem. Funny.. while I was setting up another guitarist who plays there came up to me and said, “ You know the trick is you gotta face West!” He was obviously non technical and was serious. With a humbucker equipped instrument you just ride the volume control between songs and buzz gets buried if you used a boost with the band playing. It’s just annoying with a humbucker. It’s impossible with a single coil of any sort.

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    Old Timer Leo_Gnardo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by olddawg View Post
    Some clubs have 2 or 3 of the damn signs within 10 feet of the stage and even over the stage. The managers/owners don’t want you anywhere near them. Their power supplies are switched by a wall switch and it can be a bitch to even find the power supply. We did try running a thick extension cord from the other side of the room. I think the problem is the damn things simply radiating into the ambient more than a line ac problem. Funny.. while I was setting up another guitarist who plays there came up to me and said, “ You know the trick is you gotta face West!” He was obviously non technical and was serious. With a humbucker equipped instrument you just ride the volume control between songs and buzz gets buried if you used a boost with the band playing. It’s just annoying with a humbucker. It’s impossible with a single coil of any sort.
    In the club I mentioned, there was just one neon sign placed in a window behind the band, and it was plugged into an AC outlet so easy enough to deal with. Whether the problem was AC line pollution or fielding, running the neon supply off an iso transformer solved it. I am at a loss to say exactly how, and I could conjecture but for the moment will refrain. Naturally it's beyond the ability of a club owner or manager to purchase and install a nice poky iso transformer. Gosh that might cost $200. What, do you want to drive us out of business? We're having a hard enough time making ends meet anyway, selling booze at a 500% markup.

    If the problem presents as a "fielding" situation then yes, you can orient the guitar in some particular direction to minimize the buzz field at the pickups. I'm not the only one who has put a piece of white gaffer tape on the floor and told the lead guitarist to line his neck up with the tape especially for overdriven solos. Anyone out there who has had the experience of playing at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank NJ will know what I mean. You will encounter a particularly noisy zone mid stage left. Just below the floorboards there's a junction box where all the power for the building passes through. It can be seen mounted to the ceiling of the catering room in the floor below, with one large conduit entering and two slightly smaller ones leaving. Can't imagine any smart folks would ever take it upon themselves to reroute the cables to a spot where they'll cause less trouble. Golly that might cost a couple grand! I know - there's no neon lights involved here. But in this case it's just a field problem, with the typical solutions. Guitar Johnny can take a walk downstage and play to the front row to avoid the field, or align his neck to the white tape if he insists on standing in front of his stage left rig, them's the only ways out of the buzz zone there.

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    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Leo_Gnardo View Post
    In the club I mentioned, there was just one neon sign placed in a window behind the band, and it was plugged into an AC outlet so easy enough to deal with. Whether the problem was AC line pollution or fielding, running the neon supply off an iso transformer solved it. I am at a loss to say exactly how, and I could conjecture but for the moment will refrain. Naturally it's beyond the ability of a club owner or manager to purchase and install a nice poky iso transformer. Gosh that might cost $200. What, do you want to drive us out of business? We're having a hard enough time making ends meet anyway, selling booze at a 500% markup.

    If the problem presents as a "fielding" situation then yes, you can orient the guitar in some particular direction to minimize the buzz field at the pickups. I'm not the only one who has put a piece of white gaffer tape on the floor and told the lead guitarist to line his neck up with the tape especially for overdriven solos. Anyone out there who has had the experience of playing at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank NJ will know what I mean. You will encounter a particularly noisy zone mid stage left. Just below the floorboards there's a junction box where all the power for the building passes through. It can be seen mounted to the ceiling of the catering room in the floor below, with one large conduit entering and two slightly smaller ones leaving. Can't imagine any smart folks would ever take it upon themselves to reroute the cables to a spot where they'll cause less trouble. Golly that might cost a couple grand! I know - there's no neon lights involved here. But in this case it's just a field problem, with the typical solutions. Guitar Johnny can take a walk downstage and play to the front row to avoid the field, or align his neck to the white tape if he insists on standing in front of his stage left rig, them's the only ways out of the buzz zone there.
    Yeah LG... in most situations you can find an axis “alignment” that will reduce the hum. Knowing it and doing it are 2 different things, lol! These are small stages. Same goes for finding the sweet spot for controlled feedback. I have a couple of iso transformers. I’ll see if I can try your trick next time at that club.

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    I dont think it has anything to do with the AC line itself.At our "club house" upstate,the electricity is powered by a generator.We have 4 neon signs powered by the generator.Our amps are run off a line from the electric supply in the house.Still get the noise thru the amps.Only a slight difference between my friends strat and my humbuckers.Only solution we came up with is to turn off the neons when we play.

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    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stokes View Post
    I dont think it has anything to do with the AC line itself.At our "club house" upstate,the electricity is powered by a generator.We have 4 neon signs powered by the generator.Our amps are run off a line from the electric supply in the house.Still get the noise thru the amps.Only a slight difference between my friends strat and my humbuckers.Only solution we came up with is to turn off the neons when we play.
    I have some big outdoor "generator" gigs coming up. It's always a nightmare. I played a gig in downtown Las Vegas couple of years ago where they had huge pro contacted generators. The event provided the backline. 2 JCM800s, a JCM900, and two vintage SVTs. They blew them ALL up! I have UglyFest coming up. That's all on generators. You really have to be careful with the grounds.

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    I did a couple of articles on gigs on generators for Premier Guitar a ways back. I think they still have them on line. OD is right - you have to be really careful with grounds. If it were me, I'd take a multimeter and a plug/outlet tester with me to verify 120Vac +/-10% before plugging an amp in. Well, actually, I wouldn't. I'd go to ebay and buy a used 1kW constant voltage transformer of the "harmonic neutralized" type to power all of my gear, and drive my own ground rod by the stage.

    For radiated buzz, the recipe is some variant of
    (1) Shield your guitar cavity with copper foil or tape, spot-soldered into a complete shell.
    (2) Put some work in to getting IMMACULATE cables.
    (3) Properly ground your guitar amp >> for RF pickup issues <<. This is different from grounding for low power line hum. Fluorescents and neons both spray out a burst of RF 120 times a second. The hum is a buzzy one. The RF is received by the antennas (that's you, your guitar, your cables, and your amps) and finds its way to an input pin, where it's AM detected down to blips at the 120Hz rate. Intercept it as RF, and you stop the rest.
    (3a) Check your input and output jacks. If they're loose, RF crreps in. Take the in and out jacks off the chassis, buff the area under the jack bushing down to bare, shiny metal, then reinstall and tighten the bushing nuts properly. This one step can be magic sometimes.
    (3b) If you have isolated input jacks, put a toothed ring terminal under the isolating input jack sleeve, then run a 10pF to 100pF >>ceramic<< disk capacitor from the cable/jack ground terminal to the ring terminal. This bleeds RF into the shield-y chassis.
    (3c) Put a ferrite bead AND a 100R to 1K resistor in series with the signal lead over to the first stage, preferably right at the tube socket pin. The RF has an easy path to the shield through the bypass cap and a hard and dissipative one to the sensitive input.
    (3d) When treating inputs, never forget that the reverb return is a high gain input too.

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    Amazing!! Who would ever have guessed that someone who villified the evil rich people would begin happily accepting their millions in speaking fees!

    Oh, wait! That sounds familiar, somehow.

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    Supporting Member The Dude's Avatar
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    Sure there's probably "that" bar owner, but...... I've always just turned off any neon lights and don't recall any club owners ever complaining.

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    Master Destroyer nosaj's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Dude View Post
    Sure there's probably "that" bar owner, but...... I've always just turned off any neon lights and don't recall any club owners ever complaining.
    That's just because you know you like "The Dude" man..

    nosaj

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    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Dude View Post
    Sure there's probably "that" bar owner, but...... I've always just turned off any neon lights and don't recall any club owners ever complaining.
    Several of the bars I play actually have little signs telling you not to unplug them. I played a gig a while back where the "afternoon" band went long. We had 15 minutes to set up including the PA. Everything seemed ok but when we started playing we couldn't get through one song without the PA shutting down. The outlet they insisted us use had 80vac and a couple of neon signs on it. I finally had a friend run an extension cord from the other side of the building but it was an annoying cf. It was my birthday and embarrassed the crap out of me. I haven't been back to that place but my friends that still play there at least know what to do. It pisses me off. I'm usually the only one in the room that has a clue about anything technical and rarely have the time or inclination to deal with it. But if I don't check stuff out, even on my birthday everything typically goes to hell, lol! Nowadays I have an ACVM built into my pedal board. We use the same source for everything (with the same ground) so I know immediately what the AC line voltage is.

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    Last edited by olddawg; 05-07-2018 at 11:47 PM.

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    Nowadays I have an ACVM built into my pedal board.
    My fond congratulations on that. Great idea!!

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    Amazing!! Who would ever have guessed that someone who villified the evil rich people would begin happily accepting their millions in speaking fees!

    Oh, wait! That sounds familiar, somehow.

  15. #15
    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    You can shield a cavity all day but a single coil pickup will still pick up radiated hum and buzz. Especially a P90. This particular one is a "dog ear" Mount and has a large steel back plate. It shields it better than a "soapbar" configuration. But I found out Saturday night it will still hum like a whore on meth in a bad room. There's one club I know that's even worse. The back wall of the stage is up against a large gas station with a thousand fluorescents and a power company stepdown transformer farm.

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    Last edited by olddawg; 05-08-2018 at 01:05 AM.

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    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    Attachment 48777
    Quote Originally Posted by R.G. View Post
    My fond congratulations on that. Great idea!!
    Like this.. there's a bunch to choose from on Amazon.
    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	IMG_7343.JPG 
Views:	81 
Size:	71.8 KB 
ID:	48778

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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    I wasn't kidding about the Farady cage. A grounded screen between you and the neon sign should help, even with P-90s.

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    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

    "I happen to have an original 1955 Stratocaster! The neck and body have been replaced with top quality Warmoth parts, I upgraded the hardware and put in custom, hand wound pickups. It's fabulous. There's nothing like that vintage tone or owning an original." - Chuck H

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Here's a stupid, crazy idea... (read on at your own risk )

    Build a neon dummy sign. Multiple tubes that can be added or omitted. Run it in opposing phase. plug it in as close to the offending sign/s as possible. Add or subtract tubes until you have the quietest configuration.

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    It is a good idea in many ways. However, if it's the RF bursts that are doing most of the buzzy-hum, it may not help. The radiated RF doesn't come out with a phase related to the AC power line phase it started with, down at the micro-level of the RF. It may well be that either phase of the new dummy tube just increases the hum a little.

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    Amazing!! Who would ever have guessed that someone who villified the evil rich people would begin happily accepting their millions in speaking fees!

    Oh, wait! That sounds familiar, somehow.

  20. #20
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    I've been experimenting with noise reduction circuits lately and maybe there lies a fix (though not a cure). My setup for inducing hum is a circular fluorescent light centred over a G&L MFD single-coil pickup in a Telecaster. I can completely eliminate all noise, even hands-off using various circuits such as 'hard' noise gates and downward expansion. There are pros and cons to all of these but the NE570 circuit I'm working on right now is working fairly well and has some promise. I haven't any experience of the HUSH pedals, nor the Decimator but they may be something to try. The Decimator in particular has a good reputation.

    The main problem with most noise reduction pedals is they don't remove noise when playing and if the signal content has a high proportion of noise it's very noticeable. There's an older dynamic noise reduction IC, the LM1894 that was used in an Ibanez pedal to 'remove' noise from the signal and the demos I've heard are quite good (more for hiss though than hum/buzz). There are also intelligent systems that sample the noise floor and digitally remove it from the signal.

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    Last edited by Mick Bailey; 05-08-2018 at 05:13 PM.

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    Old Timer J M Fahey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by r.g. View Post
    i did a couple of articles on gigs on generators for premier guitar a ways back. I think they still have them on line. Od is right - you have to be really careful with grounds. If it were me, i'd take a multimeter and a plug/outlet tester with me to verify 120vac +/-10% before plugging an amp in. Well, actually, i wouldn't. I'd go to ebay and buy a used 1kw constant voltage transformer of the "harmonic neutralized" type to power all of my gear, and drive my own ground rod by the stage.

    For radiated buzz, the recipe is some variant of
    (1) shield your guitar cavity with copper foil or tape, spot-soldered into a complete shell.
    (2) put some work in to getting immaculate cables.
    (3) properly ground your guitar amp >> for rf pickup issues <<. This is different from grounding for low power line hum. Fluorescents and neons both spray out a burst of rf 120 times a second. The hum is a buzzy one. The rf is received by the antennas (that's you, your guitar, your cables, and your amps) and finds its way to an input pin, where it's am detected down to blips at the 120hz rate. Intercept it as rf, and you stop the rest.
    (3a) check your input and output jacks. If they're loose, rf crreps in. Take the in and out jacks off the chassis, buff the area under the jack bushing down to bare, shiny metal, then reinstall and tighten the bushing nuts properly. This one step can be magic sometimes.
    (3b) if you have isolated input jacks, put a toothed ring terminal under the isolating input jack sleeve, then run a 10pf to 100pf >>ceramic<< disk capacitor from the cable/jack ground terminal to the ring terminal. This bleeds rf into the shield-y chassis.
    (3c) put a ferrite bead and a 100r to 1k resistor in series with the signal lead over to the first stage, preferably right at the tube socket pin. The rf has an easy path to the shield through the bypass cap and a hard and dissipative one to the sensitive input.
    (3d) when treating inputs, never forget that the reverb return is a high gain input too.

    ************* please make this one post a sticky. Not kidding. ***************

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    Juan Manuel Fahey

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    Old Timer J M Fahey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck H View Post
    Here's a stupid, crazy idea... (read on at your own risk )

    Build a neon dummy sign. Multiple tubes that can be added or omitted. Run it in opposing phase. plug it in as close to the offending sign/s as possible. Add or subtract tubes until you have the quietest configuration.
    Sadly it won´t work, gas discharge noise is random in all aspects: frequency, phase, amplitude, no way two such noise sources can cancel each other. Sorry

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    Juan Manuel Fahey

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    Quote Originally Posted by J M Fahey View Post
    Sadly it won´t work...
    Aw, c'mon Juan! I'd love to see the guitar player at every gig plugging in and removing various bits and pieces from some monstrous breadboard during a gig. This is one of those "well, don't ask US, try it and see!" moments! And, as you know, someone out there will try it anyway, just like they try swapping the output transformer every time the forget to turn their amp to "play" mode because they think their amp blew up...

    Justin

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck H View Post
    Here's a stupid, crazy idea... (read on at your own risk )

    Build a neon dummy sign. Multiple tubes that can be added or omitted. Run it in opposing phase. plug it in as close to the offending sign/s as possible. Add or subtract tubes until you have the quietest configuration.
    Chuck,

    That'd make one heck of a great-looking humdinger! Forget Juan, I think you should build it anyway!
    "If you build it, it will hum..."

    Justin

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    "Wow it's red! That doesn't look like the standard Marshall red. It's more like hooker lipstick/clown nose/poodle pecker red." - Chuck H. -
    "Of course that means playing **LOUD** , best but useless solution to modern sissy snowflake players." - J.M. Fahey -
    "All I ever managed to do with that amp was... kill small rodents within a 50 yard radius of my practice building." - Tone Meister -

  25. #25
    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    There's another local band here that I cross paths with a few times a year. The vocalist/guitarist also owns the largest Harley franchise in the county. He's got lots of money. Before every gig he has a guitar tech set up his at least $35k in vintage LPs, Strats, and Teles with a laptop computer (I use a TU2 on my pedal board like most sensible people) for the same low tier gigs I'm at, lol. I have no idea what the tech is doing on that laptop. It doesn't seem to help the band much. If they sounded like they looked it would be a start, lol. I guess perception is everything.

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    Hmmmm. Here's a thought. I wonder why I've never seen a band fire up a really impressive Jacob's Ladder.

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    Amazing!! Who would ever have guessed that someone who villified the evil rich people would begin happily accepting their millions in speaking fees!

    Oh, wait! That sounds familiar, somehow.

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    Supporting Member The Dude's Avatar
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    There's a Spinal Tap skit in the making.

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    “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”

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    Valvulados.com jmaf's Avatar
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    I thought 7 to 15 kV neons were gone forever. I tried to buy a neon transformer for a Tesla coil and drove all around town until I found one at a junkyard.

    120 Hz wavelength is 2500 kilometers. You can't shield that pesky RF, it finds its way into everything. Unless you're from the 1980's when playing inside Faraday cages was still in fashion.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Supporting Member SoulFetish's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by R.G. View Post
    I did a couple of articles on gigs on generators for Premier Guitar a ways back. I think they still have them on line. OD is right - you have to be really careful with grounds. If it were me, I'd take a multimeter and a plug/outlet tester with me to verify 120Vac +/-10% before plugging an amp in. Well, actually, I wouldn't. I'd go to ebay and buy a used 1kW constant voltage transformer of the "harmonic neutralized" type to power all of my gear, and drive my own ground rod by the stage..
    These Transformers have their own panel breaker?

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    If I have a 50% chance of guessing the right answer, I guess wrong 80% of the time.

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    Bent Member Chuck H's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jmaf View Post
    I thought 7 to 15 kV neons were gone forever. I tried to buy a neon transformer for a Tesla coil and drove all around town until I found one at a junkyard.

    120 Hz wavelength is 2500 kilometers. You can't shield that pesky RF, it finds its way into everything. Unless you're from the 1980's when playing inside Faraday cages was still in fashion.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    You managed to attach two (of maybe ten guitarists) from the 80's worth noting

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    "Take two placebos, works twice as well." Enzo

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    Valvulados.com jmaf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chuck H View Post
    You managed to attach two (of maybe ten guitarists) from the 80's worth noting

    Right?

    I immediately thought of this album cover when I thought of people playing in cages. It's been burned into my DNA.

    For those who don't know, the idea for the album cover came up because Marty and Jason wouldn't stop fighting during the recording and rehearsals, someone said put them in separate cages. No neon signs involved.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SoulFetish View Post
    These Transformers have their own panel breaker?
    There are two main styles. One comes with just terminals on the primary and secondary, intended for hard-wiring into a building or equipment. The second and more useful for this kind of thing has a heavy input power cord, an overall metal shell, and outlets on the secondary side so you can just plug into them.

    I don't remember seeing any with what would be a breaker panel. But then, I'm fairly cavalier about what appurtenances come with electrical gear. If I wanted a small breaker panel, Home Despot carries four breaker panels for about $20, and breakers are about $5 each.

    Here's one example.
    https://www.ebay.com/itm/Minigard-35...gAAOSwUuFWuO9G
    This one will provide power for any combination of loads up to 500W. Your amp will have a rating plate on the back. Well, it SHOULD have a rating plate on it. That plate will tell you how many watts it uses. If your amp is less than 500W, this one will do fine. The only bad news with this one, like all CVTs, this one is heavy. It's 40 pounds all by itself. So it costs to ship and hurts to schlep.

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    Amazing!! Who would ever have guessed that someone who villified the evil rich people would begin happily accepting their millions in speaking fees!

    Oh, wait! That sounds familiar, somehow.

  33. #33
    Senior Member mhuss's Avatar
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    Many years ago, I 'liberated' a dusty old (unused) 15kv neon transformer from a storefront we used to rent (for practice space). This was back in the day when people still used analog radios and TVs. We made a spectacular Jacob's ladder with it plus a pair of metal coat hangers, but boy did it mess up Radio/TV reception while running!

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    Better Tone thru Mathematics bob p's Avatar
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    What? People don't use analog radios any more?!?

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    "Stand back, I'm holding a calculator." - chinrest

    "I happen to have an original 1955 Stratocaster! The neck and body have been replaced with top quality Warmoth parts, I upgraded the hardware and put in custom, hand wound pickups. It's fabulous. There's nothing like that vintage tone or owning an original." - Chuck H

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    Old Timer olddawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bob p View Post
    What? People don't use analog radios any more?!?

    AM works when nothing else will. I have one that runs on a tiny crank generator. Even a crystal set if everything went to sh@t....

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