Help! My electric guitar is popping and crackling when I play it!
There is nothing more frustrating than bad noises coming out of your amp, and what makes it worse is that sometimes it’s difficult to track down where the noise is actually coming from. On this tip today we’re going to take a look at static buildup, what it sounds like, how to diagnose it, and how to fix it.
Is my guitar popping because of static?
There can be many different culprits for popping and crackling in an electric guitar setup. Let’s narrow it down a bit first.
- With your rig powered up exactly like how it is when you’re getting the popping, unplug the cable from the guitar. Now you’ll probably hear a general buzzing from the “open” system you’ve created having the instrument cable’s hot lead not connected to anything. This is totally fine, we’re just listening now for the popping noises. If they’re still happening, then the answer is somewhere down the chain, either a cable, pedal, power supply, amp, ground, etc. could be causing the popping.
- Now, with the guitar plugged back in, rub your finger gently across the pickguard. Are you hearing something? A series of little crackles and pops? If that’s the case, then you’ve got static building up in your pickguard and then discharging into your electronics, or to other metal parts like the bridge or your strings.
The voltages in a guitar are very small, so these small discharges relatively make a large impact. This is obviously heard loud and clear through the amp and will drive any reasonable person crazy faster than you can screw up the intro to Sweet Child O’ Mine.
What Causes This?
Is your house carpeted? Are you playing guitar in your socks? Do you drag your feet? Is it dry where you are? Is it winter? Do you burn firewood? Do you have a strict no touching policy in your house because of the Thor strength zaps that arc from person to person? If the answer is yes to any of these, then it’s no surprise that you’re having static issues with your electric guitar. Typically static issues occur as the relative humidity goes down. So in the dry parts of summer and winter, this will most likely rear its ugly head.
How to Fix Popping and Crackling in Your Guitar
Good quality shielding helps this problem considerably, and most higher end guitars will have this already installed. While most guitars have some metal shielded tape applied to the back of the pickguard, some will have the full cavity lined with metal shielding that grounds out any static electricity before it can interrupt the delicate signal.
Sometimes though, in the driest conditions you’ll still have some static pops. This is pretty normal, so don’t go yell at your guitar tech until you’ve tried this solve. Take a dryer sheet and rub the pickguard down evenly and thoroughly. Make sure to get around all of the pots, switches, and input jack. This should help tremendously. You will have to do this every once in awhile, but most of the time this picks up the remaining static in that plastic pickguard.
If you’re still having issues, pull the pickguard off and stuff a dryer sheet into the cavity. I have used this technique many times and it has always worked for me. I’m just not sure if having your guitar remind me that I should be doing laundry is the better of the two options.
A dryer sheet didn’t work to stop the popping
If the dryer sheet trick didn’t stop the popping and crackling in your guitar, you’re most likely looking at a different issue. The first thing that I’d check is all the grounding in the guitar. If ground wires can break at solder points, and old solder, or poorly soldered connections will cause all sorts of excess noise. Pots that are low quality or starting to go bad can also cause grounding issues. Sometimes pots will get dirty and needs to just be cleaned out with an electronics cleaner. Depending on how much you want to put into a guitar, make sure that the components are of good quality and installed correctly by a competent tech. Given good pickups, components, grounding, and shielding, you should have a guitar that is quiet from crackling and popping.
Electronic Contact Cleaner
Great contact cleaner for guitar electronics
Use this to clean your pots and your static popping woes will go away.