Studio Diary #22: It’s All Ticking Along (A Little Too Well …)

I have a problem. A ticking kind of problem. It’s been plaguing my setup for years. And then, last week, while working on the First Impressions post for the Wampler Belle, I had a breakthrough.

Well, sort of.

Maybe you can make more sense of it than I can.

What’s The Problem?

Some pedals – notably fuzz circuits – pick up and amplify a ticking sound. It’s rapid, constant, and very very noticeable.

I’ve always assumed that the pedals are picking up a noise source from the mains. These old houses in the Welsh valleys aren’t exactly a model for how to wire up a house in the first place, and in extended dry spells we get even more noise as the ground dries out. (Yup, we have a ground spike buried behind the house.)

Over the last few years, I’ve tried everything I could think of to reduce the noise, with no success.

Earlier this year, I built and installed custom shelving for my amps and pedals. As part of that, I replaced some cables, and that seemed to eliminate the ticking noise problem. I assumed I’d finally discovered a faulty cable, and spent the summer enjoying a noise-free setup at last.

At the same time as installing the shelves, I switched from digital delay and reverb pedals to a couple of analogue reverb pedals – the Anasound Element and Fender Tre-Verb. I didn’t realise it at the time, but that – not the replaced cables – was what had cured my noise problems.

So What Changed Last Week?

Last week, I got my Wampler Belle, and sat down to start writing up a First Impressions blog post. While these posts are meant to be a “fresh out of the box, first 24 hours” kind of vibe, this pedal is different. I’ve got the Claymore finish, in tribute to Alex Abernathy Clay, and anything I have to say about this particular pedal might be a bit more sensitive than normal.

Why does that matter? Well, a couple of evenings into exploring the Belle, I started to noticed it sounding a little dark at times. That’s an important detail to cover in a blog post about a pedal. Before I did, I wanted to be sure.

To make sure, I swapped out the Anasounds Element for my old digital reverb pedal. This is a topic that deserves its own post, but the long and short of it is that the Element that I have does darken the signal path.

And now the ticking is back. Ugh.

This is why I haven’t posted the First Impressions of the Belle yet. Now that I can reproduce the ticking problem at will (just add digital reverb pedal), I wanted to use this as an opportunity to find the source and fix it once and for all.

But Wait, There’s More To It Than That

Let me explain my signal path:

  • Guitar into Gigrig G2
  • Each drive pedal in its own loop on G2
  • G2 out to my Neutrik patch bay
  • Patch bay out to my delay and reverb pedals, and back to patch bay
  • Patch bay into front of my Blackstar Studio 10 6L6 amp

This setup might look crazy, but it allows me to swap over to other amps without having to put the delay and reverb pedals into the front of those amps.

To cut a long story short, I’ve spent my recent evenings and this morning (Saturday) working through every item in the chain, trying every signal path combination I could to isolate the problem.

Only one thing worked, and I’ll be damned if I understand why.

Gigrig G2 Eliminates The Noise

If I put the delay and reverb pedals in a loop on G2, the ticking noise is gone. Completely gone.

I’m using the same pedals, powered by same power supply as before, plugged in using the same cables, the same everything. The only difference is that there isn’t a loop going from my patch bay to the digital pedals and back again.

I can’t explain why this works.

  • Even the most direct signal path of guitar > digital pedal > amp doesn’t eliminate the noise.
  • G2 isn’t sold as containing any noise filtering tech at all.
  • It’s only the signal from the digital pedals that’s going through G2; they’re still powered by the exact same power supply as before. I haven’t switched over to using Gigrig’s power adapter for the pedals.

The one downside of this solution is that (for now) I’ve lost the ability to route my delay and reverb pedals through my patch bay. By putting these pedals through G2, they now have to go into the front of the amp. While it’s not the end of the world, I would like to have that option back at some point.

I’m hoping someone with more understanding than me will see this, and be able to tell me what’s going on.

Any Ideas?

If you’ve got any idea why this works, please either leave me a comment here on the blog, or ping me over on Twitter. I’d be grateful.

UPDATE: this has only cured the electrical noise that was being picked up by my digital pedals. Vintage fuzz circuits, alas, are still completely unusable.

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