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It’s as common as it is annoying for basses to start making a static noise. This is because there are a lot of potential causes that can make your bass buzz, and it`s not always apparent what is causing it.
I`ve dealt with bass static many times myself. I always had to rely on forums or educated guesses when I was in the dark, and I wished that there was a simple guide on how to fix it. Thus, I decided to write one.
I`ve done this by listing every possible cause I know of that can cause static below. I`ll also tell you exactly how to fix it once you find the cause of the issue.
All bassists will at one point experience an issue with their bass that they end up fixing by switching out their instrument cable.
One such issue is that the cable is making your bass produce a static buzz. This is because the cable effectively works as an antenna. Thus, any fault with it can have a perpetual effect on the sound it helps amplify.
Try out a different instrument cable. If you don`t have one at hand, music stores tend to be happy to let you try one out.
Is the bass` static sound only occurring when you are touching the strings? Then chances are that your bass has a grounding issue. This is especially likely if you hear a faint hum when you’re not touching the strings, but a loud buzz when you do so.
A ground connection connects every metal piece on your bass together. This is what makes electricity move from the bass to the amp through a cable. When all the metal isn`t connected, unwanted noise such as a buzzing static can occur.
When this happens, it is usually because a cable has loosened inside the control cavity of your bass. It can also be caused by other loose electronics or metal parts.
Unplug your bass from its amp. Open up the control cavity on your bass. This is located on the back of your bass, and it has a lid that can be removed with a screwdriver. If there are two lids, the control cavity is the biggest of the two. Once you have it open, inspect it to see whether any wiring or other individual parts have become loose.
If you do find a loose part, it has to be soldered back together. You can do so yourself with a soldering kit, which is available on Amazon. Alternatively, take the bass into a repair shop if you are uncomfortable with this process.
The grounding issue might sometimes be hard to find by just looking for it. It`s not always obvious what parts have become loose in the control cavity. Also, the issue might come from somewhere else, such as the jack output.
In order to diagnose where the issue lies, you can use a multimeter. This is used to see which metal parts on your bass have continuity. If two parts don`t have continuity, they are not connected and you can be 100% sure you have a grounding issue.
The solution then is always to solder the part back on, either on your own or by having someone more experienced do it for you.
If your bass only hums when not touching the strings, the static noise could be caused by radio waves interfering with its signal. This interference can come from devices such as PC and TV screens in the bass` proximity. In rare cases, your amp can even pick up radio chanels.
If the static still occurs when you play in different locations, such as band rehearsals or a live gig, this is unlikely to be the cause. If the bass static can only be heard when you are playing in your room, interference could be the cause of the issue.
Turn off any PCs, TVs, or similar types of electronic equipment with screens in the room, and see if the issue persists.
If the issues persist, move your amp to a different room in your house and try playing your bass. If the static changed or persisted during these steps, interference was more than likely the cause of the issue.
Thus, you can conclude that there is nothing wrong with your bass or your amp. To play the bass where you want to without the static occurring, it has to be shielded. This will add a layer of protection from electromagnetic fields and radio waves that are causing the static.
You can add shielding to the cavity of your bass yourself. This is done by applying a layer of copper shielding tape inside it.
Rob Doane over at NoTreble has written a great guide on how to shield your bass. If you shield your bass on your own, this is the best guide on the web you can follow. As with grounding issues, you can take the bass into a repair shop if you are uncomfortable with doing this on your own.
The action is set too low
If the action on your bass is low, the strings could be touching the frets on it. This can produce a static buzzing sound when the action is excessively low.
This is more likely to be the case if your bass is new, you have just had it set up or switched strings. It is also more likely to be the cause if your bass guitar rattles. If the strings are touching the frets, or are close to doing so, low action is likely the cause of the static.
As detailed in my in-depth guide in bass maintenance, the action on your bass can be raised with a truss rod adjustment.
The truss rod is located inside the neck of your bass and makes it able to withstand the tension of the strings. On most basses, there is a small cavity or cover where the neck meets the head. On some basses, it`s where the neck meets the body. Depending on your bass, you might need to remove the lid off the cavity with a screwdriver.
The neck of the bass should have a slight bow to it. If it looks completely straight, you will need to loosen the truss rod. If it looks overly bowed on the other hand it needs to be fastened tighter.
The truss rod can be adjusted with an alan wrench. Turn it clockwise to tighten it, or counterclockwise to loosen it. If the neck already has a slight bow despite the low action, you can skip this step.
The second step is to raise the action at the bridge. Here, every string will be fastened to a saddle. The individual saddles can be lowered or raised with the help of a small alan wrench. Turn the wrench counterclockwise to raise it.
If you are uncomfortable with these steps, a luthier can set up your bass with higher action. The average cost of a bass setup is $63.18 without new strings.
If the static only occurs when playing through a specific amplifier, the amp could be causing the noise. Transistor and tube amps in particular are known for producing static of this kind. If the static buzzing continues even when you unplug your bass, you can also be sure that the amplifier is the cause of it.
Oftentimes, this simply happens due to there being dirt in the amp, or because it has started to corrode. The bass amp`s static noise is thus often a result of issues with the electrical current inside the amplifier. Another explanation is that the bass amp is actually working as intended.
If possible, try playing your bass through a different amplifier to diagnose the source of the static. In the case that you find the amp to be the cause of the static, consider whether this is to be expected.
Amps are rarely completely silent, even when you’re not playing your bass. Thus, if the sound has persisted as long as you’ve had the amp, the amp might be working as intended. Given that all amps are different, I recommend finding out whether this type of static noise is normal for it. Reviews and youtube videos are great sources for this.
If amps of the same kind don’t normally make this static noise, the best course of action is to clean the pots and circuit board of the amp. Chances are that dust or corrosion has built up inside it. This can be taken care of at home without the need to take it in for a repair. The link takes you to a general guide about cleaning circuit boards. However, all of the steps in it can be applied to a bass amp as well.
If the noise is abnormal, and cleaning the amp doesn`t work, I recommend consulting a professional. If a part of the amp is broken, it will usually be replaced, rather than repaired. Thus, it`s preferable to see if a professional can diagnose the issue and how much spare parts will cost.
If you have an active bass with a battery, a fault in the preamp could cause a static buzz.
You can diagnose this by switching your bass to passive mode and removing the battery from it. If the static noise stops as a result of this, the preamp is the root of the issue.
If the preamp on the bass is damaged, it will either need to be repaired or replaced. Depending on what the fault is with it, a repair shop may or may not be able to repair it. It might also be more cost-effective to replace it altogether.
Thus, unless you have experience with working on line-powered gear and electronics, it is a best practice to bring the bass into a repair shop to assess your options.
As you can see, there is a good bit of diagnosing involved when fixing static noise coming from your bass.
I know from experience how tedious this can feel. The good news though, is that most of the static noise can easily be fixed once you diagnose it. While it can be preferable to have a professional fix the issue, it is only in rare cases that it is an absolute necessity to have your bass or amp repaired.
One of those cases is if none of the steps above stopped the bass` static buzzing. While I`ve made this list as comprehensive as I could, electrical equipment will always find new ways to malfunction.
If this guide didn`t fix the issue and you manage to get it solved with a help of a professional, feel free to shoot me an email. I`d be glad to add the cause to this list. This way we can prevent other bassists from having to go through the same headache.