A buzzing amp can frustrate even the most experienced guitarists, making it difficult to play while, perhaps even more annoyingly, ruining your tone. So if you’re dealing with a buzzing guitar amp, it’s only normal to wonder about the causes and how to fix them as fast as possible.
Your guitar amp can buzz due to several reasons, such as dirty power, tube issues, grounding issues, loose components, issues with the speaker, cable issues, interference, pickup issues, damaged or poorly connected pedals, old strings, feedback, and humidity.
Struggling with a buzzing guitar amp? Then you couldn’t be in a better place. Read on as I walk you through the common causes of the issues and how to fix them. Let’s get started!
Dirty power is a general term for electrical power that’s unstable due to radio frequency interference (RFI) or electromagnetic interference (EMI). It usually results in surges and power spikes or unbearable line noise that affects the performance of electronic devices.
Guitar amplifiers are also affected by dirty power, which usually manifests as an annoying humming or buzzing sound, even when a guitar isn’t played. This usually occurs when the RFI or EMI is amplified together with the guitar signal, resulting in unwanted noise.
How To Fix the Issue of Dirty Power
Although dirty power can cause a lot of issues to electrical devices and affect overall performance, there are several ways you can fix the issue.
Try Using a Power Conditioner
While not viewed as a mandatory accessory for your guitar amp, a power conditioner can come in extra handy when dealing with issues surrounding dirty power. The sole purpose of a power conditioner is to filter or ‘clean’ unstable or dirty power to ensure that your electronic devices receive stable power.
A power conditioner will use surge protectors and filters to clean dirty power. The filters will remove the harmonic distortion that results from dirty power, while the surge protectors will keep voltage surges at bay.
Ground the Amplifier
By grounding the guitar amplifier, you can reduce the overall interference that’s being picked up. Fortunately, grounding the amp is a pretty straightforward process, as you’ll only need to connect a ground wire to your amp’s chassis.
Alternatively, you can also use a shielded cable for connection. Using a shielded cable to connect your guitar to the amplifier will help create a barrier that protects your guitar signal from unwanted RFI or EMI.
As a good rule, you should always check that your guitar is well grounded to avoid creating a ground loop that will almost certainly produce a hissing or buzzing sound.
Most guitar amplifiers come packed with electronic components called tubes that help in signal amplification. While these components are effective in boosting an amplifier’s overall performance, they can also lead to unwanted hissing or buzzing noises if damaged or faulty.
Tubes usually amplify the signal by allowing electrons to flow in a vacuum and are made up of either metal or glass enclosures featuring components like a filament, anode, cathode, and grid.
These tiny components are usually delicate and can be easily damaged by overheating, excessive vibration, or shock due to poor handling and overdriving (pushing them beyond their intended limits).
How To Fix Tube Issues
Replace Worn Out Tubes
It’s normal for tubes to wear out and get damaged over time. As these vacuum tubes continue to wear out, they’ll produce unclear and, at times, undesirable noise that often manifests as buzzes or hisses.
When replacing vacuum tubes for your amplifier, be sure to choose the correct ones to avoid damage and ensure they perform as expected. The good thing with tubes is they tend to last long if well-maintained.
One crucial thing to remember though is that replacing worn-out or damaged tubes comes with its fair share of risks. As such, you should always take your amp to a qualified electrician if you’re not too comfortable handling the device.
Adjust Tube Bias
Tube bias is the total amount of current flowing through a tube at a given time. And for optimal performance, the tube bias shouldn’t be set too low or high, as doing so can lead to unwanted noise and buzzes.
You’ll need to adjust tube bias to the right level, and a good rule is to check your bias controls every couple of months, especially once the sound starts to sound different.
Fix Loose Tube Sockets and Keep Them Clean
You’ll need to be hands-on when dealing with tubes, as they’re pretty sensitive and need proper care to function as expected. If you notice that the tube sockets are loose, it’s best to tighten them as soon as possible. Remember to allow your amp enough time to cool after usage to eliminate the chances of electrical shock.
Another good rule to keep in mind is proper amp care. Tubes, just like other parts of the amp, are sensitive to dust and debris. So on top of placing your amp in a clean area, you should also dust it regularly to prevent dirt buildup.
Avoid Overheating Tubes
Amplifier tubes tend to get hot when in use, and too much heat can damage a sensitive component like the filament. As a good rule, you should keep your guitar amp well-ventilated. The best way to do so is to keep the amp in an open area and not in a confined space.
You should also avoid overdriving your guitar amplifier as it can easily damage the tubes. Using the amp at unnecessarily high volumes is also ill-advised if you want to avoid distortion and premature tube damage.
Cable issues are notorious culprits for guitar amp buzz, especially if you’re dealing with worn-out cables. A damaged cable, more often than not, leads to intermittent connections that increase the chances of hisses or buzzing sounds.
Although designed to be durable, cables can eventually get damaged after being stepped on severally or twisted during transportation. Pulling cables too hard can also make them loose.
Another cable-related issue that can lead to guitar amp buzz is loose connections. Failure to push a cable completely in or a damaged connector also leads to annoying hissing or buzzing sounds.
Grounding issues can also affect the quality of the output. This usually happens when the amplifier and guitar aren’t properly grounded, which means the guitar will end up picking unwanted electrical signals that the amp will amplify.
How To Fix Cable Issues
Cable issues can lead to a lot of problems that can hamper your overall performance. The good thing, however, is that cable issues are usually easy to fix, and they help you rule out potential issues with your amp. Here are some ways to fix cable issues and have your amp (and guitar) perform as expected.
Check the Cable and Connections
Before you start checking your amp, it’s highly advisable to inspect the cables to make sure that they aren’t damaged. Check if there are any cuts or kinks, as they usually point out potential issues with the connection. Consider replacing a cut or heavily kinked cable before inspecting the amp for underlying damage.
You should also check the connectors, paying close attention to their appearance. A worn-out or damaged connector won’t function properly. If there’s no sign of damage, check the connectors to see if they are plugged in completely.
Check the Grounding
If the buzzing sound still persists after ruling out cable issues, next is to check the grounding to ensure both the amp and guitar are properly grounded. You can consider using a ground lift adapter or power conditioner to fix the grounding issue.
Pedals are crucial components of the guitar–amp signal chain as they allow you to shape your tone and add effects to create a wide range of sounds. Pedals work by modifying the guitar signal right before it reaches the amp, which explains why they come in different types, such as distortion, wah, or delay pedals.
Power issues, such as when the pedal isn’t receiving enough power, almost certainly lead to buzzing or hissing sounds. Grounding issues or low voltage usually affect the pedal’s performance. Faulty connections to the signal chain can also create buzzing sounds, which usually occur when the cables aren’t properly connected or if the cables are faulty.
Moreover, pedals can also malfunction if the internal components are damaged, leading to annoying buzzing sounds that take away from your overall performance.
How To Fix the Issue With Pedals
Although designed to enhance your performance, pedals can also take away from it, exactly why you must fix issues or remove them from your signal chain altogether. Here are ways to fix issues with pedals.
Examine the Power Source
If you suspect that the buzzing sound is coming from your pedals, the first step you should take is to check the power source. You should ensure your pedal is getting the right amount of power, as the power supply should provide enough voltage for the entire system to function as expected.
Examine the cables, connectors, and power supply, paying close attention to signs of wear or tear. You can also switch to a different power supply if you suspect it could be the reason behind the malfunction.
Check Your System’s Signal Chain
Another reason for buzzing sounds could be improper connections. As such, you should check to see if the pedal is correctly connected to the signal chain. This means inspecting the cables and connectors to see if they’re damaged or properly inserted.
If the connections are loose, try securing them before testing the sound. But if the issue is faulty cables or connections, you’ll probably need to get new ones to see if the buzzing sound goes away.
Change Your Pedal
Although relatively durable, pedals are not immune to damage. And in some cases, faulty pedals can be the source of guitar amp buzzes. To determine if your pedal is the root cause of the buzzing sound, you should bypass it and play your guitar directly into the amp. You’ll know the pedal is faulty if the buzzing sound disappears after playing directly.
If you’re dealing with a faulty pedal, you can consider repairing it yourself (if skilled enough) or take it to a professional for repair. Purchasing a new pedal can also work better, especially if you can’t wait for a pro to diagnose the issue due to a lack of time.
Transformers use electromagnetic induction to transfer electrical energy between circuits. Their role in guitar amps is to step up or down the AC power supply’s voltage. Transformers also play the all-important role of isolating the power supply signal to reduce hum and unwanted noise.
Therefore, if faulty, a transformer can introduce noise into the signal chain, leading to the guitar amp buzzing. On most occasions, the problem could be a damaged or loose winding, a faulty connection, or a broken core, which often leads to crackling noises, hisses, or hums.
How To Fix the Issue With a Faulty Transformer
Before you get started with fixing the transformer, it’s highly advisable to rule out other causes of buzzing, such as grounding issues, pedal problems, and cable malfunctions.
Identify and Replace the Faulty Transformer
Fixing transformer-related problems usually starts with identifying the transformer causing the problem. Unplug the guitar amp and use a multimeter to test the transformers for resistance and continuity.
Once you identify the faulty transformer, the next step is to replace it. Be warned, though, that you’ll need to choose a replacement transformer with identical specifications to the damaged one. Check the transformer for specifications before ordering a new one. You can choose to install the new transformer yourself or get an expert to do a proper job (highly recommended).
Issues With the Guitar
Your guitar amp could be buzzing for a number of reasons, one of them being issues with your guitar. One common culprit is worn-out strings, which besides leading to buzzing sounds, can also affect your style and quality of performance even without an amp.
The height of your guitar strings (action) can also lead to a buzzing sound, which will be amplified by the amp once it passes through the signal chain. And as expected, worn-out frets can also cause buzzing, exactly why you should first examine your guitar before inspecting other parts of the signal chain.
How To Fix Issues With the Guitar
Change the Strings and Adjust the Guitar’s Action
An obvious fix to buzzing sounds due to worn-out guitar strings is changing them. You can try changing some of the worn-out strings and see if the buzzing sounds will go away.
As you’re working on replacing the strings, try adjusting the action, as the strings are likely to buzz against your guitar’s frets if the action is low. Raising the action may help reduce the buzzing sound if that is the problem.
Check the Frets, Nut, and Bridge
Any experienced guitarist will tell you that worn down or uneven frets can greatly affect your sound. In some cases, they can even cause buzzing, forcing you to either have them filed or replaced to fix the issue.
Similarly, an improperly installed or worn-out nut can cause buzzing. While filling the nut slots can help make them wider and deeper to eliminate the buzz sound, replacing the nut might be the best option if it’s worn out.
Finally, your guitar bridge could also contribute to or be the source of the buzzing noise. This usually happens when it’s improperly adjusted or is loose. Tightening loose screws or adjusting the height (saddle) can help fix any buzzing sounds emanating from the bridge.
Interference and Feedback
Interference from nearby electrical devices can easily cause a buzzing sound in your guitar amp. Some of the devices notorious for causing interference include televisions, computers, and even fluorescent lights, exactly why you need to be careful about your guitar amp placement.
Another issue that’s known to cause buzzing sounds in guitar amps is feedback, more specifically when jamming at high volumes when close to the amp.
How To Fix the Issue of Interference and Feedback
The good thing about buzz noises caused by interference and feedback is that they’re a lot easier to fix than most of the issues I’ve discussed throughout this article.
Turn Off Nearby Electrical Devices
If your entire system is working well, and a buzzing sound starts in between a performance or a recording session, you might want to turn off all nearby electronic devices. Most experienced guitarists usually do so. Alternatively, you can also move the amp to a location with less interference if switching off the devices is impossible or an inconvenience to others.
Move Away From the Amp
Feedback noises are usually easy to fix. You can either move away from the guitar amp or reduce the volume. Another effective alternative is to invest in a noise gate, which will help eliminate noises like vibrations and hisses without having to move too far or reduce the volume.
Now that you’ve known some of the major causes of guitar amp buzzes, you should be well-placed to address the issue at the earliest opportunity.
The trick is to start by inspecting the guitar for any cord, fret, or bridge issues. You’ll also need to inspect the cabling and confirm if the grounding is okay.
You can then examine the pedal to confirm if it’s the root of the problem. After ruling everything out, you can proceed to the amp itself, checking if the tubes are damaged or if the transformers are functioning properly.