Noise. It can be beautiful, and the manipulation of it is part of the essence of what it is to be a musician. However, when you are dealing with extraneous operating noise that can occur with tube amps, noise can become very frustrating. The tube amplifier itself will always have some sort of operating noise, but the severity is hard to denote without having a knowledgeable tech hear it in person. However, if you feel it is excessive, there are some things you can check on your own to reduce extraneous amp noise:
1) Take a pencil with an eraser, and while the amp is on and a guitar is plugged in, ready to play, take the eraser end and tap each of the preamp tubes (the smaller ones). If you hear an audible ping through the speakers, you most likely have a micro-phonic preamp tube. This can contribute to noise both when you are playing and not. Replace the offending tube and you should have less noise (and definitely better tone). We stock a variety of tubes here at Mass St. Music.
2) Make sure your amp is plugged into a power conditioner, or at least a surge protector. The difference is that a power conditioner has the electrical equivalent of a filter to help clean the power, and a surge protector simply protects the amp from voltage spikes. Power conditioners nearly always have surge protection as well. Plugging in to a power conditioner will filter out excess noise in the power your house supplies to your amp, which can be made more noisy by a number of factors (certain electrical devices, how they are grounded, bad wiring, etc). I recommend the Furman AC-215 ($199), or if you have a rack, the Furman PL-8C ($179) – both of which we’ll soon be stocking at Mass St.
3) Another issue could be your guitar. Your guitar’s grounding and shielding can have a direct influence on the amount of operating noise you perceive coming through your amp. If you have a particularly noisy guitar, you can take it to a good repairman to check the grounding and shielding of the instrument and correct any irregularities. If you have multiple guitars, I would try plugging each of them in, paying close attention to the amount of noise heard with each. If you think this might be an issue with your guitar, email our friendly repair shop (firstname.lastname@example.org).
4) Of course you can always get a noise gate for when you are recording or in other situations where excess noise is less then desirable. The only issue with this is finding a gate that is non-intrusive to your original un-gated tone. I would check out the issues listed above before pursuing this particular avenue. If this is the best solution for you, I recommend the TC Electronic Nova Dynamics ($169) – available soon at Mass St.
The unfortunate thing is that standard operating noise is a subjective issue, and to compound the problem, all amps have different levels of noise to be regarded as “normal”. But in troubleshooting and addressing your particular noise problem, you can at least be confident you are not significantly contributing to the issue.
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