Why is it important to shield guitar electronics?
You may have probably heard of guitar-shielding or wondered why it’s a thing being done by musicians today. In basic maintenance, shielding is done to preserve the guitar’s quality, usually by having all pickup cavities, nooks, and controls surrounded by grounded electrically conductive metal material.
How are shielded guitars going to be different from guitars that are not shielded? Unshielded guitars can pick up a substantial amount of radio frequency interference or buzz from sources like radio stations, fluorescent lighting, light dimmer packs, etc. Shielding will basically prevent your guitar’s wiring from picking up floating stray signals. It will not, however, get rid of the 60-cycle hum usually present with single coils.
Single coils produce their own pleasantly unique sound; part of that is the hum. If you find it annoying, you have the option to switch to single-coil sized humbuckers that are stacked.
Shielding Will Not Change Guitar Tone
This is a myth that badly needs to be debunked. Radio frequency (RF) is not conventionally perceived to be musical; we obviously think it’s undesirable. There is a common error when it comes to shielding, however, that may add to the RF humming or buzzing problem instead of resolving it.
Shielding is mostly done by encasing the electronics with either copper or aluminum tape. If the job isn’t done neatly nor thoroughly, the shield won’t readily conduct the electricity. If there’s premium wiring, however, plus proper shielding and high-quality electric components, then your tone will be much more improved.
There are two primary ways of shielding done – again, with copper or aluminum tape, or with graphite paint. Using tape is more practical, although it could take time and effort to learn how. Graphite painting is more expensive and is impractical unless you have a lot of guitars to shield, although it does look better. But then again you would have to scour outside your local hardware store to get the job done, so we suggest going with tape.
How to Shield Your Guitar
Here’s a quick list of how you can start shielding your axe. The basic materials you will need are the following:
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Packing tape
- Copper tape (you can get a 3M adhesive-conductive copper tape online)
- Small cloth
- Razor knife
- Compressed air
Step 1: Start by cleaning the cavity. Expect tiny bits of wood or lint or anything else you might find and then use the packing tape to get rid of them. Be as thorough as possible – jam the tape in the nooks and crannies as much as you can. To be sure everything is out, use the compressed air to blow them out. Pour some alcohol on your small cloth to clean the surface.
Step 2: Still with your cloth, clean the back of the pickguard. Prepare your tape afterward – they’re usually 2 inches wide – and then cover the back. Use your razor knife to cut through the pickup holes and cavities. Always make sure no copper can be seen from the front.
Step 3: Cut out your cavity shapes next. You can choose to cut with either razor knife or scissors, but it’s going to be easier for the triangles and strips if you use scissors. There’s going to be a lot of pieces to prepare, so be patient. Always leave no paint showing!
Step 4: Angling the tape a little bit of over the top can help it contact the back of the pickguard better. You will also need the multimeter for consistent and continued measuring. It will help you connect every copper tape properly. Put everything back on the pickguard, restring it, and then test it. Follow all these and you should be all set.
Tip: If you want to test how well you did, try taking your guitar to your local guitar shop. Guitar buzzes usually happen when there’s a multitude of interference around. If it stays silent unless plucked, then you’ve successfully done it!