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Playing back a near-perfect take and hearing a ton of background noise in the recording is a nightmare for any guitarist. It’s frustratingly difficult to fix such noise issues, and I’ve seen many beginners struggle with this to the point of giving up.
But don’t worry, I’ve compiled the 10 most common causes of guitar buzz and how to get rid of them quickly. From amp settings to the position of your microphones and more, I’ve covered everything and included pro tips on reducing guitar interference noise.
What is the best way to get rid of guitar buzz when recording?
The best way to eliminate guitar buzz when recording is to use guitar noise-reduction pedals and equalizers. This will help get rid of most of the interference noise. But you should troubleshoot each component step by step to find the source of the problem and fix it properly.
There are a number of sources that could be causing unwanted noise during recording sessions. From your guitar to your pedalboard and amplifier, including the cables and any audio interface/mixer, noise can come from a lot of different problem areas.
Since the fixes vary for each case, this can get quite confusing and frustrating sometimes. So read on to find the most common causes as well as fixes for guitar buzz and noise.
Causes and Ways to Fix Guitar Buzz When Recording
Work through this list step by step to ensure you cover each base thoroughly and don’t miss any potential cause of poor noise. If you suspect a primary offender yourself, check that first.
Cause 1: Faulty Cables and Connections
How to fix: Start by checking your cables and ensuring they are properly plugged in, with no loose or frayed ends. Make sure the end of each cable is tightly screwed-in and doesn’t feel unstable. If they seem worn out or damaged, it’s time to replace them with new ones.
Ideally, the best cables are short (just the right length to connect the equipment), gold-plated, and balanced/unbalanced based on what audio sources they’re connecting. Choosing the wrong cables is the most common reason for increased interference and humming noises.
Additionally, keep an eye on any connectors on the guitar itself, such as potentiometers (volume/tone knobs) or switches that might be loose and causing a buzz. You can use a contact cleaner to clean openings in jacks and remove any dirt or dust clogging them.
Cause 2: Old or Poor Quality Batteries
How to fix: Make sure the batteries in your effect pedals are fresh, as old batteries can cause a pronounced hum and reduce the effect quality. If your guitar has active pickups, make sure it has new batteries too, and use good quality ones (like Duracell).
While some people like old batteries in some distortion pedals as it gives a mellow feel, this isn’t recommended if you’re facing noise issues. And in case you’re using rechargeable batteries, don’t use them beyond their life cycle because they’ll cause more noise too.
Cause 3: Guitar Pickups: Single-Coil or Humbuckers
Sometimes the noise is just because you’re using single-coil pickups, which are prone to interference and humming. This is common on Fender Stratocasters, Telecasters, etc., so the best solution is to just use humbucking pickups.
Humbuckers naturally reduce interference due to their dual-coil design, so each coil’s noise is canceled by the other. This is why you’ll see that most high-gain, distortion guitar players use these pickups.
How to fix: You could either buy a new guitar with humbuckers or replace your existing guitar’s pickups. Make sure to get a good model from a renowned brand because cheap ones often have poor wiring and are susceptible to noise.
Also, adjust the pickup height on your guitar if necessary, as this affects the tone, the volume, and the chances of feedback that could produce extra noise. A very low pickup height is prone to more noise because it’ll pull the strings towards itself.
Alongside these, make sure your guitar is set up properly with good action and neck relief. Otherwise, you might encounter string buzzing on certain frets, creating more noise when recording.
Cause 4: Excess Volume Levels/Distortion
How to fix: Set your record levels correctly so they’re neither too hot nor too soft. Too loud can lead to excessive feedback and humming, while too low probably just won’t give you a good tone. This is particularly important when recording in small, closed spaces.
You can use a compressor pedal (or even a rack unit), both before or after the amplifier, to help even out the sound. But keep in mind that sometimes this causes the noise to be compressed, too, so adjust your settings accordingly.
If you’re using a lot of distortion, say a high-gain pedal and high-gain on the amplifier, this is sure to increase noise and feedback across the signal chain. So start by lowering all the gain settings, and increase them slowly while monitoring the noise.
A noise-gate or noise-reduction pedal is great in this case because it can cut off any humming or buzzing below your chosen threshold. You can even apply one in post-processing by using noise-reduction software.
Cause 5: Grounding Issues
How to Fix: If your recording equipment or guitar is not properly grounded, it can create a continuous low buzz or hum sound. Make sure all your equipment is properly grounded. This includes your guitar, cables, and recording equipment.
Sometimes the grounding cable within the guitar (connecting the pickups, bridge, and other metal components) becomes loose over time, so get this checked.
Use a ground lift adapter to break any ground loops causing the hum. If you’re not able to fix the grounding, you may need to take the help of a guitar tech as well as a local professional to identify and fix any issues in the wiring of electrical outlets.
Sometimes a good power outlet/conditioner can help with these issues, especially if the issue is more due to voltage fluctuations.
Cause 6: Poorly Placed Microphones Causing Interference
How to fix: Adjust how you’ve placed the microphone to find the sweet spot for it. Make sure it is not too close to the amp, as that can make it pick up more humming sounds. You can try experimenting with different mic techniques too.
Try multiple mics at different angles, or try placing one behind the amplifier to balance out phase issues. If you find that working with mics is frustrating, I even recommend trying to record direct with an audio interface and using plugins for re-amping the sound.
Also, make sure you’re using the best quality microphone for the job. Professional recordings use expensive microphones to capture pristine sound. If you’re looking to get great sound on a budget, look into buying dynamic microphones like the Shure SM57.
Cause 7: Incorrect EQ Settings
How to fix: Incorrect equalization (EQ) settings can result in poor recording quality and cause buzzing or humming sounds. Use the EQ settings on your amplifier or recording device to make sure they are properly set up.
The EQ should not be exaggeratedly boosted or cut, and it should not overlap other frequency ranges. Even adjusting the Treble, Mids, Highs, and Presence on your amplifier can make a big difference.
You can also use EQ plugins in your digital audio workstation (DAW) to fine-tune the EQ for each individual track. This is actually a very popular and useful way of pinpointing noisy frequencies and attenuating them, so they don’t stand out in the mix.
Use a high-pass filter to reduce unwanted low-frequency background noise, such as fans, air conditioning, etc., that can add hum or buzz to your recording. And a low-pass filter can help counter high-pitched humming and feedback from other sources, even your pickups.
Cause 8: Poor Acoustics in Recording Space
How to fix: Consider finding a recording environment with better acoustics, such as a professional studio or soundproofed room. This can help reduce reflections and other undesired noises that may cause buzzing when recording guitar parts.
You can invest in acoustic panels and soundproof your own room too. But I recommend getting help from a qualified sound tech who can identify problem areas in your room’s reverb profile and add proper acoustic treatment accordingly.
If you’re using microphones and you want a cheaper, easier solution, you can try unidirectional mics instead of the standard omnidirectional ones.
Cause 9: Static & Vibrations From Surrounding Equipment And Furniture
How to fix: Place acoustic foam around your amplifier, speakers, and any other sources of sound to absorb the reverberations and reduce any annoying noises coming out of them.
Sometimes the furniture around your recording space can react and vibrate with the sound, causing minor disturbances that get picked up by any microphones and even pickups. Try to use acoustically-treated woodwork and products wherever possible.
Also, a lot of rooms have excess static: sometimes due to carpets, curtains, mattresses, etc. So try to reduce any materials that collect static, and perhaps use an anti-static spray regularly. Static noise often presents as a sharp, irregular spike in your recording.
Cause 10: Faulty Pedals or Other Electronics
How to fix: If you’ve checked everything till now and there’s still a frustrating level of noise in your recording, it often points to faulty electronics. Check all your effects pedals and other electronics one by one for possible faults – from cracked wires to loose connections.
Make sure they are all correctly wired and functioning properly. It’s really important to test them individually, otherwise you might miss the real problem. If you find an issue that you don’t think can be fixed by a professional, it’s probably best to replace the electronic/pedal.
These issues are also really common on cheap pedals from unreliable brands, so if you’re using some on your pedalboard, check them first.
How do you record guitar clearly?
Is amp buzzing normal?
What is grounding on a guitar?
I hope this guide helped you identify and fix the most common causes of guitar buzz when recording. Remember that if you’re not confident in fixing some of the more technical issues, it’s best to seek help from a professional. By following these tips, you should be able to achieve great sound quality and get back to making more music!
Feel free to send in any suggestions or queries, and share this post with any friends who could benefit from it.