If you’re interested in learning more about how to ground guitar shielding, this post is for you!
Let’s get into it.
Electric Guitar Electronics are Tricky
Sure, we all love to jam on our electric guitars. But the sweet tone and the instrument’s expressive possibilities aren’t that simple.
Contrary to some opinions, there’s no magic happening in the instrument. It’s all pretty much physics and electronics that sculpt your tone. And things can get a bit complicated with guitar electronics.
When modifying your guitar’s electronics, even the slightest change can completely ruin your tone. This is why you should be very careful when making modifications. And don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a luthier if you feel like you’re in over your head!
To understand this topic, you should be familiar with both grounding and shielding.
What Is Grounding on Guitars?
Every electric system needs grounding. Yes, that also goes for guitars. Technically, all grounding of all guitars ultimately connects to the Earth’s conductive surface.
Firstly, every piece of metal on the instrument connects to one wire, even the strings and tuners. This is because one piece of this wire also goes to the bridge.
Then this wire connects to the guitar’s jack. And then it serves its purpose as a return signal to the amp. The amp itself is, of course, an electric device. The amp’s electric circuitry then connects to the ground through the electric outlet. So your electric guitar technically becomes a part of a much larger system when it’s plugged in, right?
But what’s the purpose of grounding in a guitar? What’s the practical value? Well, primarily, it’s a safety measure. The electricity travels through and out of the guitar. Amp grounding helps it dissipate, just like with any other electric device. If the instrument didn’t have grounding, you’d be at risk. This is especially true if you touch a microphone while touching metal parts on your electric guitar.
Grounding is also important in relation to sound. Without proper grounding, you’d notice an annoying buzzing noise. It’s not the same thing as the cycle hum that you hear with single-coil pickups.
In short, a lack of grounding or improper grounding can lead to a lot of noise. And it can even amplify that annoying single-coil cycle hum. We’re all surrounded by radio interference and electromagnetic interference (RF and EMI). Your guitar pickups serve as antennas and can make things noisy. Grounding helps remove some of that noise.
What Is Shielding on Guitars?
Shielding, on the other hand, is an often overlooked property of electric guitars. This is because, in most cases, guitars have proper shielding. And it won’t easily get faulty as compared to grounding.
I mentioned RF and EMI as issues with electric guitars. Well, shielding is a protective layer within your guitar’s electronics cavity. Additionally, wires should also come with proper shielding.
As the name suggests, this layer shields the electronics from interference. You’d probably be surprised at how many interfering waves are around us. A shielding layer serves as a Faraday cage. Ultimately, it removes any unwanted interference.
Bear in mind that it can’t ever remove the cycle hum of single-coil pickups. However, it can keep things as quiet as possible.
In a lot of cases, guitars come with some sort of shielding one way or another. However, some are more susceptible to interference. So how do you shield them? Well, you simply add the adhesive copper tape over all of the cavities. Yes, this also includes the pickup cavities. And, in the case of Les Pauls, this includes the additional cavity for the pickup selector switch.
What’s more, all of the wires should also be well protected. It keeps the operation as quiet as possible. Additionally, all of the plastic cavity covers should be protected with copper tape. Essentially, the inside of your guitar should be one thorough Faraday cage that covers all the weak spots.
How to Ground Guitar Shielding?
However, shielding wouldn’t make any sense if it’s not connected to the grounding. Copper tape is one of the best materials to use for shielding. Some have also recommended aluminum foil. However, it’s pretty hard to do any soldering with it.
Essentially, you can ground the shielding layer with a simple solder. All you need is a piece of isolated and well-protected wire to finish the job.
The process itself is pretty simple. The shielding, however, could take time as you need to remove all of the electronics. And then, after putting on the adhesive copper tape, you put them all together. This also includes all the soldered wires.
Once you’ve done that, locate the grounding wire that goes from the bridge. It should be connected directly to the volume pot, or one of the volume pots. Then take this additional piece of wire and simply solder it to the side of the cavity pretty much anywhere on the copper tape.
Additionally, I’d advise you to put an additional strip of copper tape over the soldered spot. It’s just there to keep it secure.
What I should also point out is that the protective tape, or paint, should make contact with the cavity tape. This completes the cage.
With that said, some guitars don’t require you to solder an additional wire to the shielding. This is the case with most Gibson guitars. The copper tape will simply make contact with the pots as they sit in their place. So it’s kind of a mechanical connection. If you don’t feel too confident about that, you can just try and add a wire as I explained above.
How to Know Whether Noise Is Caused By Faulty Grounding or Faulty Shielding?
Faulty grounding and poor shielding actually cause two different types of issues. Sure, they both manifest as the unwanted buzzing noise. But there’s a catch.
Noise caused by grounding stops immediately as you touch any metal part on the guitar. Or, at least it gets much quieter. But shielding issues are different. The noise actually increases as you touch metal parts.
Another specific issue with poor shielding is that the noise may not always be present. If you’re in a very isolated room, it will be far less noticeable. These are just some of the rules that can help you differentiate between grounding or shielding issues.
How to Ground Guitar Shielding: Conclusion
I hope this article has helped you understand how to ground guitar shielding better.
And like I said, don’t hesitate to involve a luthier in this process if it’s too difficult to do on your own!
Lastly, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!
I can’t guarantee I can help, but I’d love to try!