We all tend to spend quite a bit of time (and money) experimenting with amps, effects, and guitars—fine-tuning our rigs until they produce the tones we hear in our heads. It’s just as important, however, to eliminate the sounds we don’t want our rigs to make! I’m talking about 60-cycle hum, ground loops, and the noises things like dirty guitar pots and vibrating tremolo springs can make. Sure, sometimes extraneous noises from things like microphonic unpotted pickups on vintage guitars can be charming. It’s part of the vintage mojo, right?
Pickups. Single-coil types are notorious for 60-cycle hum. Way back in the mid ’50s, designer Seth Lover invented the humbucker, a pickup that solved this problem. But, of course, humbuckers don’t sound like single-coils.
Unbalanced coil humbucking pickups. It’s worth mentioning that not all humbuckers are created equal when it comes to noise cancellation. There has been a trend as of late towards humbuckers with unbalanced coils. Pickups wound in the ’50s and ’60s were more inconsistent than their modern counterparts because there was less automation in the production.
Pots and wiring. Making sure your guitar is properly wired and shielded is important. If it wasn’t done at the factory, a good tech can shield your guitar control cavity with paint or by lining the cavity with shielding material.
When it comes to guitar pots, I’ve found that most become noisy over time. I really dislike hearing the scratchy sound of a noisy volume pot when riding it to make dynamic changes or volume swells. A can of DeoxIT spray, however, can work wonders on noisy pots
Bridges, nuts, and other extraneous noises. Sometimes, especially on high-gain settings, my tremolo-equipped guitars make sympathetic ringing or howling noises after I play tight, palm-muted chords or phrases. Most of these noises can be attributed to vibrating tremolo springs, which are amplified by the pickups.